Friday, February 23, 2007

Bicycling Tour of Old Dhaka

I took seven bicycling friends (all expats) on a "guided" tour of old Dhaka today. We picked Friday to avoid traffic congestion.

The plan was to bicycle from Gulshan 2 to see old Dhaka sights. These are ordered to start in the southeast and end at the northwest.

1. Shakhari Bazar (aka Shakhari Patti)
2. Ruplal House
3. Pink Palace
4. Armenian Church
5. Bara Katara
6. Lalbagh Fort
7. (if time permits) Khan Mohammed Mridha's mosque

At the end of the tour our cars met us in front of Lalbagh Fort.

We started from Gulshan 2 at 7:15am and bicycled through Tejgaon industrial area, Maghbazar, Kakrail and turned into Najrul Islam road, made a left into Bangabandhu Avenue and then on to Nawabpur Road. Straightforward, but there were still a few busses on the road, specially near Maghbazar.

From Nawabpur Road we turned right into the road leading to Shakhari Patti, then walked our biycles. We looked through some open doors to see the narrow and deep houses of Shakhari Patti. Two monkeys entertained us perched on second floor verandas and windows. The triple-arch facade of an old house also attracted my friends' interest. But despite many requests I could not get anyone at Shakhari Patti to let us into a house and see the inside. Too early in the morning?

We bicycled out of SP and went around Bahadur Shah Park (after a quick briefing on 1857 Sepoy Revolution) by North Brook Road towards Farashganj. As we entered the spice trading area, we ran into a jam caused by trucks delivering wholesale spices and had to walk our bicycles. We found Ruplal House and admired its exterior.

RH is inhabited by families of Armed Forces, and at first they refused us permission to go inside. I tried to reason with the guards (the interior courtyard is very nice and gives one a sense of times past) to no avail. As we were turning around disappointed, they changed their mind and said ok, but strictly no photography.

After checking out RH, we crossed into the road that runs in front of the river (Lalkuthi Road) and bicycled towards Ahsan Manzil. Here I made a mistake. I kept going straight to show a nice view of Ahsan Manzil from Sadarghat Road. Should have turned right and taken Patuatuli Road instead, because the front of AM was a horrid, claustrophobic jam that lasted for several hundred feet. Trucks delivering wholesale fruits had blocked the road and zillions of people and Van Garis carrying smaller loads were also trying to move. It took us 15 minutes to cross this part, but my friends took this little adventure in good humor.

Then we went under the Buriganga bridge ramp and back into Islampur Road. Shortly we turned right towards the Armenian Church dating from 1781. The caretaker let us in and opened it up for us. It was a surprising island of tranquility - with memorials, one statue, and lots of green. We also went to the roof and enjoyed the scenery.

Onwards on Islampur Road, we headed towards Chawk Bazar where we turned left into a narrow alley to see Bara Katara, Dhaka's oldest building (1644), now the home of a Madrasah. After we viewed the exterior dome, a teacher graciously showed us inside and took us to the roof for some nice views. Inside the Katara, some rooms and passages looked really old - could be original.

After this we bicycled to Lalbagh Fort. Since we had time, we biked another half km and saw Khan Mohammed Mosque. This pretty mosque is build on a platform. The basement served - and still does - as a dormitory.

Back we came to Lalbagh Fort. My friends did not mind the differential in admission between Bangladeshi admission (Tk. 5) and foreigner admission (Tk. 50) - they were happy to pay it and hoped the money be used for upkeep. The grounds of the Fort were well-kept and beautiful. I overheard a boss type barking instructions to a gardener on how to prune and beautify the garden. We spent time around Pari Bibi's (Shaista Khan's daughter) Mausoleum. Then we headed to the Hammam Khana (no, not for a shower!) and the museum.

We finished at noon. My friends all enjoyed the trip. One commented that even though he had visited some of the same places before by car, the bicycle trip afforded him a level of immediacy not available in a car.

I am planning Part 2 of this trip. Let's see... Tara masjid, Goal Talab, Hossaini Dalan, Nurjahan House, what else???


Seth said...

"My friends did not mind the differential in admission between Bangladeshi admission (Tk. 5) and foreigner admission (Tk. 50)"

We used to call this the bideshi tax. Generally, we didn't mind paying a little more since we were visitors and had comparably more resources to draw from. Though one time a dokander told me that a can of soda was 20 and when I gave him 20 Tk. he said, "No, 20 DOLLARS." I couldn't help but laugh at that one.

ulysses said...

Ouch, $20 for a can of soda? Was it gold-plated?

When the dokanders ask me outrageous prices, I state, deadpan, that I no longer have the tree which grows money. That usually shuts them up :-)

Regarding bideshi tax, it is a little embarrassing, but I think it is common practice in this part of the world. For once, I was in the favorable end of the deal!