Okay so to be honest, I’ve only been like four places in Bangladesh and by far the most time I’ve spent there has been in the chaotic capital of Dhaka. It’s a world of its own, a place of fond memories and bad memories (nearly died of anaphylactic shock here), a place where they have banned both two-stroke auto rickshaws and plastic bags.
So, in a place renowned for its pollution, it’s actually done some environmental good. I heard a conversation on the radio the other day where the commentator was arguing AGAINST banning plastic bags because, you know, it was unfair or something. Inconvenient. Yet in Dhaka, you won’t find them.
But I started this Monday morning blog post with a digression and I apologise. I first went to Bangladesh in 2002, flying into Dhaka. Dhaka is likely to be your first port of call if flying into the country, although some airlines will fly internationally to Chittagong I believe. I had already been to India twice, so I have a fair idea of what to expect.
It was a university trip dealing with ‘development’ for want of a better word. So, I was with a group of around 20 students and a few lecturers and some had been travelling before and a few hadn’t. To watch their faces filled with wonder and perhaps a little shock was actually an experience in itself. We had an airport pick-up in a couple of mini-vans, and the experience was similar to arriving in Delhi with throngs of people at the airport.
Being in a group with an organized pick up though was certainly a way to limit the chaos, and we zoomed through the suburbs into Dhaka at a fair old pace in and out of cars, massive trucks, auto and non-auto rickshaws. This was before the ban on two-stroke engines and the pollution was serious. The first thing one noticed when one left the airport’s confines.
We were fortunate enough to have a great guesthouse we were all staying in with incredibly helpful and friendly staff. We experienced the auto-rickshaws for the first time the next day as we weaved in and out of the most incredible traffic you are ever likely to see. My biggest memory of my first day in Dhaka is of the traffic. Of being stuck for hours waiting to go a few hundred metres down the road surround by huge trucks and breathing in fumes like nobody’s business.
We went to a cricket game there at the main stadium. Bangladesh were losing but the crowd was in fine spirits and everyone was enjoying the night. It was a great place to mingle and meet! We saw the parliament house, a grey concrete structure that was in amongst some ‘parklands’. Not far away we visited a museum and learnt about Bangladesh’s fight from independence from Pakistan (it was once known as ‘East Pakistan’ and administered from Islamabad) which was very eye-opening.
Dhaka is a pretty ‘mad’ city, but I felt it was mad with a soul. Getting from A to B was always a massive challenge and there was often no telling how long it was going to take. I returned to Bangladesh and Dhaka in 2004 and was just as warmly received by the people I had met on the first trip.
If you’ve never been to the sub-continent before, it’s going to be a major shock to the system. Bangladesh I believe is the world’s mostly densely populated non-city country. And Dhaka is at the heart of the country. Despite its madness, I kinda liked it. Have you been? May the Journey Never End!