Dhaka river trip – The quintessential Bangladesh experience

Buriganga River in Dhaka

In November we travelled to Bangladesh for a month to have a Bangla celebration of our wedding, see family, and backpack from the Southeast to the Northeast of the country. As Rif has family in Dhaka we knew we will be coming back, thus decided on travelling just the Eastern side of the country, saving the Western areas for another trip. Bangladesh being one of the least travelled countries in the world it was a wise decision. Things take time there, infrastructure is poor and it’s people and sceneries are best discovered in a slow pace.

One of the coolest things we did, and one of the things that stick in my mind the most, was to spend an afternoon on the River Buriganga in Dhaka. You can say that this river is like the busy main street of a city, but in a quite black, dirty, muddy, slightly smelly, wet version. Traffic here is not less dense than the roads though, and you’ll see thousands of tiny wooden rowboats and motorised boats darting carelessly in between big old paddle-wheel steamers, rusty three-tiered passenger ferries, and massive cargo ships heading to sea.

We arrived at the water front after boiling for an hour and a half in a CNG (the Bangla version of tuk-tuks) through Dhaka’s blazing heat and frustratingly slow and dense traffic. We went for a small walk along the riverside, where we knew it should be possible to get hold of a man with a boat. Even if we hadn’t managed to arrange a boat trip, this walk alone would have made the trip worthwhile. The life and activities that goes on there are fascinating, and you will easily be able to spend half a day browsing the small stalls and looking out on the river life.

Bangladesh has almost as many kilometres of rivers as she has roads. They criss cross the Ganges Delta, on which the country is situated, like blood vessels and leaves it lush and fertile, with more nuances of green then you could ever imagine.

Life is lived on, around, and because of the rivers, as they provide a daily catch for the fishermen and leave the soil rich and alluvial for the farmers to grow crops, when the annual flooding withdraws. The rivers are also a place to do your washing or make a living doing someone else’s washing. A place to bathe and brush your teeth. Where you can work as a river taxi, ferrying people and goods from one side to the other. Or, if you’re a child, where you can play with your friends and cool down from the unbearable heat, once you’ve done your chores.

Boys on the river bank, going fishing

Boys on the river bank, going fishing

A man fixing his boat

A man fixing his boat

A man brushing his teeth

A man brushing his teeth

A man sorting his boat

Sorting the boat

Kids sitting along the riverside

Kids chatting and laughing along the riverside

Our boat man taking us down river

Our boat man taking us down river

Boys and young men fishing

Boys and young men fishing

A boat so full with cargo that it can barely stay afloat

A boat so full with cargo that it can barely stay afloat

Kids playing amongst the hulls of old abandoned ships

Kids playing amongst the hulls of old abandoned ships

Workers carrying cement from the boats onto land - no health and safety regulations here

Workers carrying cement from the boats onto land – no health and safety regulations here

Man fishing

Man fishing

Going on a boat trip on one of the rivers of Bangladesh is a brilliant way to see the country from a different angle, and an absolute must-do if you’re planning a visit. There are several rivers to choose from, more than 700 actually, so you should be able to find one no matter where in the country you end up.

If you’re brave enough to venture out on the hectic Buriganga River in Dhaka, head to Old Dhaka and the area between the Sadarghat [shod-or-ghat] Boat Terminal and the Rowboat Ghat. The Sadarghat Boat Terminal is where the larger passenger ferries depart from, including the Rocket if you’re keen to try out this old-fashioned paddle-wheel steamer on a trip towards the south coast. You can also hire smaller wooden boats here for short trips, and should be able to get one for around 300 taka for about an hour, depending on how many people you are. We paid 700 taka for a large boat taking 8 of us out for an hour, but obviously we had the advantage of some local family members who spoke the lingo doing the bartering. Chances to find an English-speaking boat man are minuscule, so you’ll need all the body and sign language you’ve ever learned, but it’s all part of the charm. People in Bangladesh are amongst the most honest and helpful people we’ve ever met, so don’t be too afraid that they’re ripping you off.

If you can’t be bothered negotiating with touts, or don’t feel confident haggling without being able to speak the language, walk up to the Rowboat Ghat where small wooden taxis ferry people across all the time. They charge around 2-5 taka per person per way so just sit back and enjoy the scenery and river life float by.

Visited November 2014

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