This blogpost is written by Abidur Rahim, one of our first year students. The article was originally written for SLASH, the online magazine of our student association Caerus.
“Since the chances of me getting struck by lightning are higher than the chances of someone actually deciding to visit Dhaka after the sole act of reading this article, I will focus more on the peculiarities than the practicalities. I, of course, was born and raised in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the small country beside India (P.S. our relationship is not the best).”
The first thing that will strike you about this glorious city is the sheer number of people. Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Over 18 million people live in an area of only 270 km². To put that into perspective, if everyone in the Netherlands moved to Rotterdam, Dhaka would still have a greater population density. No, we do not have to sleep on top of each other. Bangladesh is home to over 160 million people, or about 2.2% of the total world population. As one may thus be able to imply, Dhaka has some of the worst traffic on Earth. It is not uncommon for traffic to stay still for hours on end in some places. And if some politician decides to take a ride outside then good luck with getting to your destination in time (all traffic is restricted on the roads they will take). Traffic police on the side of the road are not required to control traffic according to the street lights, they just move the cars however way they want a lot of times. So sometimes you can literally get out of your car and get yourself some classic sweet milk tea (ah the nostalgia) and cigarettes from the makeshift store at the side of the road before the traffic starts moving again. But if you think you are going to rent a car to travel around Dhaka then think again! Almost everyone drives recklessly, especially the buses. In fact, if you manage to get yourself around the city with your car unscratched, you will be entitled to a cookie from my part (but only one though).
Dhaka isn’t full of life; it is overflowing with life. I think one of the things that make it so special is its diversity. Shabby places where you can get more than a full meal in under a euro (not recommended for people with weak stomachs), international fast food chains, expensive restaurants, huge shopping malls, five-star hotels, tin houses, you can get it all in one city. The old and the new live together in the harmony with the sound of car horns. Dhaka used to be the Mughal capital of the world, and a very important center for trade, commerce and education. Although it is not as great as it once was, its rich history is still evident today. At one time it was even called Venice of the East due to its ample waterways, some of which are still in use today.
If you ever take the time to visit Dhaka, here is a list of things that make Dhaka awesome. Remember that most people have a grasp over the English language and all decent shops have menus and everything in English. These are minus the usual museums and historical attractions, since all cities have those!
- Restaurants: Oh, how we love food. There is no shortage of great restaurants in Dhaka. From traditional to Chinese and Thai to Western to Italian and Mexican and even Japanese, food is one thing all Bangladeshis love spending their money on. There are buildings that are completely filled with restaurants. The best things to try is probably the distinctive biryanis and kebabs you get near the older parts of town. The bakeries are also notable, especially for their sweets that are sold by the kilogram.
- The Bengali New Year: The Independence Day, Victory Day and International Mother Language Day are all celebrated with much emotion, but there is something cheerfully unique about the New Year on 14th April. The streets are painted, people wear colorful clothes (red and white usually), eat traditional food (fish, rice), have carnivals, sing, and basically go out and enjoy themselves. Imagine an acid trip on Valentine´s Day but it’s also the New Year and everyone is actually sober.
- Six Seasons: Yes, there are apparently 6 seasons in Bangladesh, summer, rainy, autumn, late autumn, winter and spring. The monsoon rains with continuous downpours and flooded streets are a sight to behold. Just don’t go outside unless you know how to swim.
- Books: There is a certain place called Nilkhet where you can get photocopied and even original books for around 2 Euros. No joke. There are also normal, expensive book stores. There is also a huge book fair every year in February but all the books are in Bengali. However, you are welcome to go see an ocean of people buying books. Just watch your phone and wallet.
- Everything is cheap: Except alcohol, that’s expensive. But you can get weed for about 15 cents a gram. Enough said. You will never look at the the price tag the same way after you return home.