JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH FABEHA MONIR FROM DHAKA, BANGLADESH!
Fabeha Monir is a Dhaka based journalist, photographer and filmmaker. As a humanist photographer, she tells people-focused stories that explore the themes of social development, migration, gender violence, and forced exile in marginalized communities. She uses intimate and involved story-telling approach to communicate meaningfully about the human experience.
Does ‘Made in Bangladesh‘ ring bells with you? It’s highly likely that at least one piece of cloth in your closet bears that label but it’s a shame that the country which is also one of the happiest nations in the world is not really high on many people’s travel bucket list. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated country in the world with a Muslim majority. It’s landscape and physiography is molded by its rivers.
Located north of Buriganga river, Dhaka, is the most populous city in the whole of South Asia with an estimated population of more than 165 million. There are two theories attributed to the origin of it’s name. It could be because once the area had high number of Dhak (Flame of the forest) trees or that it was named after the ‘Hidden Goddess’, Dhakeshwari, whose shrine is located in the western part of the city.
Dhaka is known as a “Jadur Shohor”— a magical city. The magical force of the city remains with its people. Living here is like catching the last minute flight. The city is chaotic, vibrant and invincible. But here in this unlivable city, resides the kindest and most warm heart-ed people of the planet. Nothing can be fixed about the city. It is fluid by nature which is the most adventurous pursuit for its people. And once you leave, the city will call you to return no matter how far you go.
What is the best time to visit Dhaka?
The city is different in different season. Dhaka is vibrant and untiring. It’s always chaotic, no wonder it’s called the third least livable city in the world by ‘The Economist’s Global Liveability Ranking 2019′. The only thing forever unchanging in Dhaka is the spirit of its people, who are always full of life..
To indulge into Dhaka the best time for a traveler is October – February. Rest of the year is too humid. But if you want to experience the Bengali heritage of people of Bangladesh, irrespective of their religious faith then visit us in April during Bengali New Year or Poila Baisakh. As per the Gregorian calendar, the festival falls in mid of April every year and is celebrated with processions, fairs and enthusiasm.
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Dhaka?
Uber and relevant services are available in the city. But one must experience a Rickshaw ride during their Dhaka trip which is widely used for short distances. The colorful, traditional vehicle represents a unique character of the city. In chaotic Dhaka you will also find people running after buses or haggling with auto rickshaw drivers over fare. Choose what suits you the best.
A traveler can call an Uber or get a taxi, CNG Auto Rickshaw, rental car from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport of Dhaka which is around 17 kms away from the city centre. Almost all hotel offers free airport pickup which is very convenient and safe if it’s the first visit.
What are the top three must visit places in Dhaka?
Dhaka is called the ‘City Of Mosques’, with a several thousand of them spread all over the city. According to a 2008 survey of the Islamic Foundation, there were 5,776 mosques (really?) in Dhaka. However, the most famous of them are the Star and the Baitul Mukarram National mosques. Although narrowing down the list is hard, apart from the mosques, the three must visit places are:
Shakhari Bazar : Shakhari Bazar with its unique urban fabric, elaborate artistry and craftsmanship, the ambience of a vibrant culture and traditions has an awe inspiring presence. Shakhari Bazar is one of the a traditional neighbourhood Old Dhaka. Located near the intersection of Islampur Road and Nawabpur Road and only a few block away from the Buriganga River. Shakhari Bazar stretches along a narrow lane, lined with thin slices of richly decorated brick buildings, built during the late Mughal or Colonial period. Despite rampant modifications, accretion, extension over time, even redevelopment, many still bear the testimony of a rich tradition.
Shadargat River Port : One of the most dynamic places in Dhaka and a great location for photographers. Sadarghat river port is located in the southern part of Dhaka, on the river Buriganga. Almost 50,000 people use the terminal for departure and arrival every day. It’s fascinating to watch the transition.
Kawranbazar : Kawranbazar is the largest wholesale market in Dhaka city. There is no holiday in the market, which operates 24 hours a day but the early morning is the peak hour for the wholesale and fish markets. Starting at 12 A.M, all night the vegetables and goods come from around the country. All kinds of vegetables, fish, rice and other commodities are supplied to the small markets from here.
At the end of eighteenth century Kawran Singh, a Marwari merchant, first established the bazaar in the nineteenth Century. It was later extended and developed into 1255 stores, of which 55 are owned by Dhaka City Corporation.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Dhaka?
Panam Nagar, one of 100 ruined historical cities of the world, was the trade center of cotton fabrics during the British rule. It was inhabited by Hindu merchants who fled the city after the end of British regime as this part of Bangladesh became East Pakistan. They abandoned the city leaving their houses with keepers who later fraudulently claimed the houses as their own. The Bangladesh government took the houses back from them and this place is currently under the archaeological department.
Panam Nagar is located in Sonargaon of Narayanganj district, which is a few hours’ drive away from Dhaka. Sonargoan used to be the medieval capital of Bengal until the 17th century when the capital was shifted to Dhaka. Panam Nagar is the most famous tourist spot in Sonargaon.
World Monument Fund published Panam Nagar in the list of 100 world-renowned historic installations in 2006. There are 52 establishments in the colonial period at the two sides of Panama City. There are 31 in the north and 21 in the south. In the architecture of the structures, a mix of Mughal artistry is seen with European art.
What is the most celebrated holiday/event of the year in Dhaka?
Pohela Boishakh! The celebration of Pohela Boishakh has become an integral part of Bangalis since it began over six centuries ago. This celebration is deep-rooted in cultural identity.
As the sun started to rise in the east, Chhayanaut, a leading cultural organization in the country, greeted the new year with a chorus, singing the songs of Pohela Boishakh, poetry recitations, and traditional songs. On every return of Pohela Boishakh, the first day of the Bangla year—also the country’s biggest cultural festival—people of all walks of life, especially the youths, come out on the roads at daybreak wearing traditional dresses to celebrate the day.
Thousands of people will throng traditional venues in different parts of the capital, including: Ramna Park, Suhrawardy Udyan, Central Shaheed Minar, Dhaka University , Shahbagh, and Dhanmondi Lake areas, to welcome the Bangla New Year.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Dhaka?
Old Dhaka (Puran Dhaka) has always been the place where all the people from Dhaka gather for many festivals. It is an old part of Dhaka town with many histories. And when it comes to food this place has its own stories to tell. Rice is the main ingredient used here for cooking, infact not only in Dhaka but whole of Bangladesh. Most of the savory and sweet dishes here are rice based. Like different types of khichuri, pilafs or biryanis.
Kacchi biriyani is a special Bangladeshi dish that has been around on this continent since the ‘Mughal era’. In this dish the biryani ingredients are combined raw (not cooked) in layers along with spices. Hotel Al Razak, Star Kebab, Hazi Nanna Beriyani has been popular for decade.
For something sweet try misthi doi (sweet yogurt) or sandesh (fresh cheese dessert). Dhaka is not a place to get a great variety of vegetarian dishes. To try traditional Bengali food popular among all generations head to ‘Banglar Thala’, you won’t be disappointed.
Where to head for shopping in Dhaka? Which is the local craft or souvenir of your city?
New Market, Gawsia, Nurjahan Mansion, Aziz Super Market is very popular for shopping at reasonable price. But if you would like to get traditional and unique purchase then Jatra, Aarong, Kumidini these are shopping destination to see local craftmanship. Traditional products include jamdani, embroidery, silk, and jewelry. Listed as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO, the Jamdani saris are highly breathable muslin saris of Bangladesh, famed for being so fine that the whole sari can be folded into a matchbox.The Victoria and Albert Museum of London have a fine collection of Jamdani saris.
You can find painted toy rickshaws in Jatra and posters of local celebrities. Kumdini is famous for its good quality clothes, embroidery and jute products. Aarong is the authentic place to buy souvenir promoted by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.
Which are the best streets of Dhaka worthy of taking a stroll on?
Old Dhaka, Sadarghat, Dhaka University area these are the location which will bring a traveler close to the local life style and culture.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of Dhaka?
A great number of flyovers has been built in Dhaka city. As soon as someone land here will get plenty of times to see the city from different point of view.
Would you suggest any shows in Dhaka to drama, music or art lovers?
To explore art, drama it’s best to spend an evening in Silpokola Academy. The national cultural center of Bangladesh, the Silpokola Academy is the national academy of fine and performing arts. The academy organizes various cultural performances, workshops, seminars and training in the field of fine performing arts.
Do you want to give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to Dhaka?
The energy and spirit of Dhaka will be with you forever. And the smile of the people and their openness is something which you are going to remember always. So come with open heart to make new friends, to explore invincible. If you like adventure, colour and warmth then Dhaka is your next destination.
Things to know :
Visa : Following 31st August, 2015, it is possible to get Bangladesh visa on arrival on the land ports too beside the international airports. General required documents for Bangladesh Visa application can be found here.
UNESCO Listed Sites : There are three UNESCO heritage sites in Bangladesh. Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat (7 h from Dhaka), Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur (11 h from Dhaka) and Sundarbans: The Abode Of The Royal Bengal Tigers.
Tap water : Water that comes out of most taps in Dhaka city is not fit for drinking until it is boiled or purified in some form.
Electric Socket : Wall outlets in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh are Type G (BS-1363) and Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug) and Type D (BS-546) and supply electricity at 230 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency.
Sim Cards : Buy them from booths offering you a prepaid sim card just outside the arrivals section of Dhaka airport. The 3 biggest private operators are Grameenphone, Banglalink and Robi-Airtel. In February 2018, Bangladesh has started 4G internet network service.
Drones : Flying of drones without permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh has been banned in Dhaka and is considered a punishable offence as it creates panic among people.
Bad condition of roads, crowded streets, unbearable traffic, pollution and airport delays might put you off, be prepared.