This is my second trip to Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. During my last stay, I did not find time to explore the city. But this time I was determined to do a bit of traveling in the old part of Dhaka.
After a busy day with board members and senior staff at Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BWCCI), the primer business association on South Asia serving over 2500 women entrepreneurs across Bangladesh, where I was working with them in developing a Strategic Plan, I hit the road on an auto-rickshaw (called CNG here because it uses compressed natural gas as fuel). My guide was Mehdi Hasan, Training and Capacity building Officer from BWCCI. Mehdi’s seven month old son was sick today, and he came to work a little late, but he happily took me on this trip to old Dhaka, where he lived during his childhood. He is after all a South Asian, you know, we are full of hospitality and respect.
CNG took us to the closest intersection to the old part, but due to a procession that was celebrating Hasina Wajid’s return to Bangladesh (it is an annual event), we got down and crossed the road to take a bicycle rickshaw. It was my first time in this environment friendly vehicle pulled by a skinny man, I asked him if he is a local resident. No, they come to Dhaka only to make some money, with an average income of about 300-400 Taka, of which 80 Taka goes to the owner of rickshaw; they hardly make enough to survive! But this is the most effective way of traveling short distances in the city.
So Old Dhaka – almost all residents of old Dhaka were Pakistanies, means non Bengalies. After separation from Pakistan in 1971, they opted to stay in Bangladesh and are still called Pakistani. This is not strange for me, because those Bengali families, which stayed back in Pakistan, are still called Bengali.
Crocked and narrow streets of old Dhaka reminded me of old Lahore, red brick tall buildings were quite similar to inner Lahore. One could smell Kacha Biryani from a distance (meat biryani, very similar to Palo Rice). Small shops were making puri and kachoori. Our rickshaw puller knew I am a foreigner, in expectation of reasonable reward; he gave us a big round of the area. We passed through wholesale markets selling auto parts, bicycles, food grains etc. I saw many small food vendors selling noodles and peeled cucumber, which were fully poised with dust and other pollutants!
It indeed was an experience. Old Dhaka is a different city within the city.
Most interestingly I was told to keep only little cash in the pocket, CNG rickshaw have doors that one needs to keep locked (fear of snatching!) and Mehdi said “You look different”!
It was a trip, I can never forget. My thanks to Mehdi for taking time out for this unforgettable experience.