Dhaka: Take Two

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June 29th 2008
Published: July 18th 2008
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With 24 hours to take on Dhaka with a vengeance, we waste no time getting stuck in, despite my still somewhat feeble condition. We ride cycle rickshaws all around Old Dhaka, even though the UK government travel pages warn against it. (I think we only live once but it's debatable.) These are the first subcontinental vehicles i have travelled in that crash constantly. As Seth puts it, when you're travelling at 2 miles an hour, it hardly matters, does it? It's fun getting stuck in jams and seeing all the rickshaw art - film heroines and heroes, peacocks and animals - up close, even if it means we are in fact hurtling into the back of the given rickshaw. Each narrow street seems to be dedicated to the trade of a different necessity - here's where you buy your kids clothes, this is where toys are sold, that's the street where you go to buy mutton and this one is where you pick up a megaphone for the mosque's call to prayer. The faces of other rickshaw passengers flash by, as do those of shoppers and shop keepers. Kids in uniform are on their way to school. There's a constant soundtrack of painful, tringing bicycle bells. When journeys are like this i feel disappointed when we reach our destination.
We take a glance at the Lalbagh Fort, then visit the Sitara Mosque, which i think is the prettiest place of worship I've ever seen, all in white and decorated with stars. Near Bicycle Street, we buy rickshaw art and take chai with the artist and the rest of the folks in the workshop. In the Hindu district, we buy some tiles depicting Hanuman and Krishna. Then at the busy Sadarghat boat terminal, after taking in the scene and all its characters, we pay a man in a little wooden boat to take us out on the river. The massive ferries (the ones you sometimes see on the world news because they infamously and tragically sink, claiming lots of lives) look like giant icebergs as we sail between them. People on board wave at us and grin. I know the safety records of these vessels are awful, but as i wave back, i still wish we'd been on one. Nothing that gets you from A to B in Bangladesh is considered safe - not cycle rickshaws, not autos, not ferries, certainly not buses - and if you avoided all these things, well, you'd be stuck at the India/Bangladesh border. It's as though when you travel here, you live life on a slightly edgier level, but doing so is unquestionably worthwhile. I don't even care about how sick i got yesterday. All worth it.
Now, after waving at and photographing tens of people in boats, and watching all these vessels, including our own, glide along invisible streams and lines, yielding to one another as if these water networks were roads, we ask to be set down at a fruit and vegetable market along the ghats. It's thronging with people balancing baskets of onions on their heads and groups of serious looking men scrutinising great piles of jackfruit (of course.) I'm happy to enjoy the buzz of passing through the place then hop in an auto to our next destination, the Sat Gumbad Mosque, but Seth is dallying. He loves these markets and sees differences in each one that i just can't see. I'm not very sympathetic and ask to head straight to the mosque before it gets too dark (Lu popularity rating = minus one.) The journey to the mosque takes ages, including some rickshaw complications (Lu popularity rating = decreasing further.) It's very dark when we get there (...and further...), too dark for photos (...hitting rock bottom...), but you can still see how impressive the mosque is. Close by, we find a lamplit, muddy market full of big silver fish, piles of eggs, dangling pineapples and slabs of meat (Lu popularity rating = rocketing. Thank God.) Crowds gather around us to see what we're up to, as Seth photographs dishes of live, flapping fish, including two fat catfish in a gold bowl.
We take an auto to the Sheraton for dinner (because i am now terrified of food) and are stuck in traffic for over an hour, breathing in horrendous exhaust fumes. It's the journey from hell and we spend it frowning at each other and covering our faces with bandanas. By the time we're in the hotel bar, having our first and only beers of Bangladesh, it feels a bit like Dhaka and i have spent the day throttlling one another. But it's every bit the intense, crazy place i'd always hoped it would be.

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7th July 2010

u still in dhaka?
hi there- are u still in dhaka? i just moved in about 3 months back. you can contact me by mail.

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