Dhaka, Bangladesh – Finding The Glory in Chaos And Noise
Despite the fact that we have a sizable Bangladeshi community in Singapore, with many of us living alongside neighbors from Bangladesh, most Singaporeans are not familiar with Bangladesh as a holiday destination.
We may have picked up some cultural tidbits, watching people lost in an intense game of carom, or sampling some delicious Bangladeshi cuisine, at “Bangla Square” in Little India (officially known as Lembu Road Open Space), an area within the Indian ethnic quarter where the Bangladeshi community gathers, but mention Dhaka and you’ll more than likely not find anyone who has travelled there as a tourist.
Coming from crowded and busy Singapore, Dhaka sounds like the last place where you’d expect to spend a nice, relaxing vacation. And that truly is the case. The capital city of Bangladesh, bustling with almost 17 million people, Dhaka has the capability of redefining chaos. A ton of people, loads of traffic jams and a whole lot of hustle and bustle. Quite intimidating, and definitely a culture shock for a first-time visitor, to say the least.
But behind the overwhelming crowds, the dizzying madness of traffic, and the crazy confusion-laden streets, hides charm that no other city in the world can offer. From the moment you hop onto one of the famously colourful, old school rickshaws that ply the street (fun fact: there are an estimated 1 million of these rickshaws in Bangladesh, and Dhaka is considered to be the rickshaw capital of the world!), to when you take a boat ride on the serene Buriganga river, Dhaka is a place that will enchant and allure.
There’s a lot to do in a city like Dhaka, and here are some areas you can focus on:
3. Architecture and history
This chaotic city which was a part of pre-independence India still has visible traits of British influence in its architecture. Attractions such as the Ahsan Manzil (the pink palace), the Lalbagh Fort and Dhakeshwari temple will leave you in awe – the architecture and the rich history that encapsulates these places is stunning.
The half completed Lalbagh Fort is best experienced in the morning light, as your soak in the freshness of the gardens that surround the fort, while the pink palace is a snapshot into the life of the city’s wealthiest zamindar Abdul Ghani, who built his home on an old French factory site.
Some of the structures like Dhakeshwari temple are over 1200 years old, while others like the Star Mosque and Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque showcase the Mughal heritage that is so much a part of Dhaka’s history. The Star Mosque in particular, is an awe-inspiring mosaic masterpiece, with motifs of stars (and interestingly enough, motifs of Mount Fuji as well) dominating the décor both inside and outside.
2. The art and music scene
Dhaka has a pop-art culture that amalgamates the modern world with that of the old school. Art galleries such as the Dhaka Art Center, Gallery Jolrong, Athena Gallery of Fine Arts and many more will have you wanting more!
Street art is prevalent throughout the city and if you’re a photo-enthusiast, you might find yourself lost in your own world capturing these urban canvases. The world’s longest alpona (a type of sacred art done on auspicious occasions) was actually painted onto Manik Mia Avenue, a main stretch of road, for the Bengali New Year in 2012. It measured 1 kilometre long, used up 3600 litres of paint, and took over 200 artists 6 hours to paint!
In terms of music, Dhaka has an interesting mix of genres that it is known for, and no, not all of them are traditional. From raucous Bangla rock to throbbing electronic beats, the music scene here is thriving, with many music events held at hip places like Jatra Biroti, a rooftop art and music lounge. The annual Dhaka Jazz Blues Festival brings together world class musicians from all over the globe for three days of the best performances, so be sure to bookmark those dates and plan your travels accordingly.
Classical dance forms like Monipuri and Santal are practiced widely in the city. If you want to experience a local drama performance, then be sure to head down to Baily Road. Street plays are regularly held here, hence rightfully earning it the nickname of ‘Natak Soroni’, or the Theatre Street.
So you’ve got your tourist attractions, art and music, and the manic energy of the street. The cherry on top? The food! Dhaka’s cuisine is a mix of Mughlai and Bengali cultures – known for aromatic spices, flavour and a full tablespoon of heartiness!
Biriani (or Biryani, as we know it here in Singapore) is famous in Bangladesh, so what better than to get a taste of this rice and mutton dish when you are in Dhaka. You can also tantalise your taste buds with other iconic Bangladeshi dishes like morog-polao (a rice and chicken dish) and vuna khichuri (rice, dal and meat, usually chicken or beef).
Dhaka has a rather large South Korean expat community (South Korea being the largest foreign investor in certain special export zones), so somewhat unexpectedly, Korean cuisine is also rather easily found in Dhaka. Although not South Korean, a quirky restaurant you might want to add to your must-visit list is Pyongyang Restaurant, part of a chain of state-run restaurants serving North Korean cuisine, complete with authentic North Korean performers dressed in traditional hanboks.
With so much to see and do, a wide variety of food and a thriving art and music scene, Dhaka is a city you wouldn’t want to miss! It’s a city that needs to be on your bucket list, a city that will charm you, a city that will love you, and a city where chaos is the new serene!