Flying into Dhaka will introduce you to a city of many contrasts. Home to more than 18 million people, it’s bustling and hectic, yet boasts areas of outstanding beauty from medieval ruins to colonial palaces and mansions to serene parks. Life here takes place out in the open, so expect to discover a warts-and-all display of Bangladeshi culture.
Dhaka is the rickshaw capital of the world so these little peddle-taxis are likely to be your number one means of traveling between the sights if not by boat. The enormous Sadarghat river is the city’s lifeblood – a hotbed of the city’s working culture and economy – and can be explored by ferry, small boat tours, or even by renting your own rowing boat. It’s not a place where you’d want to eat though, so head to the Robindro Sorobor amphitheatre afterwards to savour the local streetfood and perhaps even catch some live entertainment. Or try Nilket Road near the University of Dhaka, which is home to a huge book market that really does have something for all tastes.
Dhaka is predominantly Muslim and offers many religious sites for an insight into the city’s spiritual life. Hoseini Dalan Mosque, Khan Mohammed Mridha’s Mosque and the Star Mosque are just three of the must-visit Islamic temples, but also check out the striking Dhakeswari Temple for a slice of Bangladeshi Hindu life, or St. Thomas’ Church and the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection – two beautiful examples of Dhaka’s Christian architecture.
People and Traditions
Bangladesh’s history has cultivated a patriotic people who celebrate many national holidays with grand festivities, such as Independence Day, Victory Day, International Mother Language Day and Pahela Baishakh (or Bengali New Year). The country is overwhelmingly Muslim but Buddhist, Hindu and Christian holidays are celebrated as well as the main Islamic ones such as Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Mawlid.
Dhaka has a high poverty rate, meaning that you’ll find many people competing to make a living on the streets, whether begging, selling goods or providing small services like tours and transporting luggage.
Dhaka is warm, with temperatures typically ranging from about 20ºC in the winter to 30ºC in the summer. Monsoon season is from June to September, when the climate is at its most wet, hot and humid.
Bangladesh boasts a number of stunning natural landmarks and historic monuments worth traveling to from Dhaka. Day-tours are widely available to such highlights as Ramsagar National Park, Paharpur’s ancient Buddhist Bihar, and the beautiful Cox’s Bazaar Beach – the longest unbroken sea beach in the world. All are great ways to escape the hectic capital, but if you fancy a little respite within the city, Dhaka has many tranquil parks and gardens. The Botanical Gardens, the Baldha Gardens and Ramna Park are all sublime. Suhrawardi Park is also worth a visit. It’s the site of the Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence and hosts a lively open-air market at night.
Bangladesh has a rich history that can best be explored at Dhaka’s National Museum, from its Buddhist and Hindu past to the emergence of a secular state following the War of Independence. If the country’s struggle for independence is of particular interest to you, then look no further than the Liberation War Museum for a comprehensive if occasionally harrowing overview of the era.
Curzon Hall and the magnificent Ahsan Manzil – also known as the Pink Palace – are among the best examples of colonial architecture on the continent. Sonargaon was the seat of medieval Bengal’s Muslim rulers and the Lalbagh Fort is a 17th-century citadel that was never finished, providing a unique insight into the architecture and construction methods of the time, not to mention a fascinating story. There’s also the ruins of the Bara Katra, which was once the residence of the Mughal prince Shah Shuja.
The Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts and the University’s Faculty of Fine Arts offer plenty for culture vultures to sink their teeth into, while families will relish a day at Fantasy Kingdom – one of the most colourful theme parks you’re ever likely to visit. The park’s Heritage Corner is also a great way to get kid’s excited about exploring Dhaka’s historic sites.