Saturday, January 31, 2009

Faces of the Faithful

The Bishwa Ijtema taking place near Dhaka is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims after the Hajj. An estimated 1.5 million people participate. Here are some people at this year's Ijtema.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Things to See and Do in Bangladesh

I recently received some emails from people considering a visit to Bangladesh. So here is a list of possible sights and activities.


1. Sundarban - a visit to Sundarban, a large mangrove forest in Southern Bangladesh, would be #1 on my list. This is a multi-day guided tour, since you need a boat to get there and explore. See my report on this topic.

2. Srimongol - about 3.5 hours by car from Dhaka, this area contains several tea gardens and Lawachhera national forest. It is easy to explore both Lawachhera and the tea gardens. If you need to stay overnight, the Tea Resort is a good place. Or you can make it a (long) day-trip from Dhaka.

3. Old Dhaka - those interested in architecture as well as exploring narrow alleys and disorientingly crazy crowds can spend days walking through and exploring old Dhaka. Don't miss Bara Katara, Lalbagh Fort, Star Mosque, Armenian Church and Dhakeshwari Temple.

4. Sonargaon - this was the first capital of Bengal, and it still retains historical buildings. Panam Nagar, dating back about 100 years, is an interesting ghost town. A few km away is a replica of Taj Mahal. About an hour from Dhaka.

5. New Dhaka - Curzon Hall, Shaheed Minar, Parliament Building (designed by Louis Kahn) etc.

6. Chittagong Hill Tracts - The Hill Tracts are supposed to be very pretty, but I have not been there for many many years. Guide Tours has a hotel in Bandorbon; there is also Peda Ting Ting, an eco-resort on an island near Kaptai.

7. Coxs Bazar and Kuakata - beaches.

8. Buddhist ruins - There are several ancient (1000+ years) Buddhist ruins spread around the country, including Moinamoti, Paharpur and some near Rajshahi.

9. Rajshahi, Chittagong, Sylhet - The first two are pretty cities to explore. The outskirts of Sylhet (towards Tamabil, and the airport road) are very beautiful.

Also on my list of places to visit are Birisiri, Madhupur and St Martin's Island, but since I have not been there, I cannot tell you too much about them.


1. Bird-watching - Bangladesh has a huge number of birds, specially in winter. Catch a sight of the Masked Finfoot in Sundarban. Kingfishers, kites, hoopoes and orioles are also common.

2. Mountain Biking - Bangladesh is a great country for mountain biking because there are no mountains. Country roads that connect the villages together provide a splendid network for exploring, and if you come to a river, most likely you will find a boatman who will take you across. Bicycling through the meandering tea-garden paths is also fantastic.

3. Riverboating - a number of companies, including Contiki tours, take tourists on rides on the rivers. Try to get to the Dhaleswari, Meghna or Padma river, and give Buri Ganga and Turag a miss. Balu is ok, too.

4. Learning to Recycle - in Kamrangir Char near old Dhaka, there are some amazing recycling facilities.

5. Hiking - virtually any place outside Dhaka is good for walking. The more remote the place is, the more privacy you will have.

6. Metal Crafts - about 1 hour from Dhaka is Dhamrai, famous for its art and craft. At Dhamrai Metal Craft you can learn how those amazing metal sculptures are made.

7. Photography - if you are into photography, you will find the people of Bangladesh friendly and willing to pose. Or, if you take a trip on the Rocket launch, you will have plenty of opportunities to take pictures of birds and river dolphins. Tea gardens of Srimongol are great for nature photography, and old Dhaka provides opportunities for architectural photography.

8. Gastronomy in old Dhaka - start with some Bakarkhani crackers (available all over old Dhaka) and rich milk-tea, or eat breakfast at Haji's Biriyani in Bangshal (they slaughter 40-50 goats evey night for next morning's biriyani), lunch on a giant Rui-fish steak at Al Razzaque restaurant and in the evening head for mouth-watering kababs at Star Kabab.

9. Shopping - Dhaka is not Dubai, but then you don't need a thick wad of cash either. At Bongo Bazar you can buy export-quality clothes for a pittance. Aarong, Jatra and several other stores sell high-quality handcrafted goods. And don't forget the DVDs.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Early this morning I went outside wearing a short-sleeve shirt and the cold caught me by surprise. It was at least five degrees cooler than the past few days, the sun was MIA, and a cold wind was blowing. Looking around I realized most others were better prepared for the cold than I was...

Children found warmth with Mommy...

...and Grandpa.

Three cold men kept each other company.

...but this elderly woman was walking alone.

The fruitseller was well-insulated both internally and externally...

...but this girl huddled behind her schoolbooks.

Riding on a rickshaw is brutal on a cold morning...

...but walking with your head exposed is no fun, either...

...and the cold can turn you catatonic... most people cover up, with chadors...

...and hoods...

...but perhaps this woman found the best protection against the cold :-)

Well, anyways... Finally, this girl's smile warmed my day.