How to survive Dhaka - the city of 19 Million Souls

A capital city of these propertions, and with that many people, can be a little bit overwhelming. Just a bit.

But once you pop your earplugs in, and cover nose and mouth to fight the horrendous pollution - you’ll start seeing Dhaka with different eyes (and ears). In a place where all its 19 million inhabitants seem to want to travel from point A to point B at the same time, something magical happens. As if all are part of some grand dance routine, twisting and turning to move into the right position.

And somehow it works.

The honking aside -which is just part of the game-, I didn’t see real roadrage anywhere. The people seem to accept that the only way to live together in this crazy city with so many people, is to live - and let live. (And every single car has massive bullbars around them, which might also help in keeping damage -and anger- to a minimum in a City where everyone is bumper-to-bumper).

For me, the first mouthwatering delicious Biryani (with mutton, chicken and sides of picked onions, pickled apricots and salad) I devoured and the colours and buzzing on the streets made me start to appreciate this ferociously beating heart of Bengali culture for the first time.

Bangladeshi Biryani

So I was trotting the muddy, busy streets of Old Dhaka with my backpack looking for a room. Not another foreigner in sight and by the looks on the people’s faces - no foreigner had visited the area I wandered into in a long time. A long time.

The good thing about that though, was that aside from all the curious glances in my direction, nobody spoke English and was hassling me to visit their shop or to book some tour with them. Not that there were any souvenir shops or Tour offices there - but that aside. Hassle-free (sort of)!

I finally managed to find a place that would host me and was rewarded with an aweful damp, grotty room - with mould on the walls, a rockhard bed, a bathroom full of bugs and suspiciously stained sheets. Oh - the joys of traveling. On the upside, I only paid 500 Taka, which equals some 5 euros. So what do you expect right!

Old Dhaka

Old Dhaka is an intricate maze of tiny narrow alleys, cramped with people, livestock and cycle-rickshaws. Anything bigger than a cycle-rickshaw would probably sandwich itself around the first corner, to be stuck there forever - hence no motorized vehicle dares to enter.

And even though the cycle-rickshaw drivers viciously ring their bells, I was delighted at how soft those sounds were - compared to the eardrum-ripping honking of cars, buses and auto-rickshaws. In all the chaos, it was a quiet oasis after all!

Cycle rickshaw driver Dhaka

Bangladesh is water and water is Bangladesh

I tried all modes of transport in the City: cycle rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, a bus (during rush hour, we barely moved an inch, it was hysterical) and Uber. I got to admit, with the heat, humidity and noise of Dhaka, I enjoyed traveling in a quiet, airconditioned Uber perhaps more than I should, but hey people - its 2018!

But even with my great Uber experience, the second day I didn’t want to face Dhaka’s morning rush hour - so I thought: let’s escape to the water. That must be a quiet retreat surely. Or not. Rush hour appeared not to be limited to the streets at all - it just continues on the water.

Big, 3-storey high, overcrowded ferries looming over tiny wooden canoes, all fighting for their spot on the river. No matter the size of the boat, all are welcome on the waters of Dhaka. Just a tad bit intimidating if you find yourself on a small wooden boat and a gigantic oil tanker comes for you at full speed, belching out a petrifying horning sound - this was a once but never again!

Dhaka River Traffic

Pink Palace

So my search for that one quiet spot in Dhaka continued. And I realised - I need to go somewhere where you need to pay an entrance fee. Classic! So I headed for the Pink Palace - obviously. A quiet place close to the fish market, where only young couples and school classes will go.

Dating from 1872, the Pink Palace of Dhaka (Ahsan Manzil) was built on the site of an old French factory by Nawab Abdul Ghani - the city’s wealthiest land owner. The highlight for me was the display of the skull of Nawab Abdul Ghani’s favourite elephant: Feroz Jung. Really something you’d want that in your living room.

Pink Palace Dhaka

But with the Pink Palace, my options of finding a (relatively) quiet place in Dhaka sort of ran out, so for a whopping 2500 Take (25 euros) I bought a domestic flight for the next day to Sylhet - north eastern Bangladesh. Time to get back into nature - let’s explore Sylhet in North-East Bangladesh!

Want to save this article for later? Pin it!

How to survive Dhaka - The city of 19 million souls

—- You may also like —-