A shaky start in Bangladesh
Dhaka Travel Blog› entry 27 of 37 › view all entries
Looking back on our year away, of all of the places we visited, this was probably the hardest one to just turn up in and expect things to go smoothly. That's not a comment on the place or the people, merely on the experiences that we had.
It all started with us coming the closest we ever came to having nowhere to stay for the night. The flight from Kolkata to Dhaka was delayed by three and a half hours, so by the time we got to Dhaka airport it was after 9pm. Then we had to negotiate a taxi fare into town. The taxi drivers' negotiating technique seemed to be to start high and go higher; whereas the Lonely Planet suggested it should be about 80 taka, we were quoted 500, then 650 etc. Eventually we managed to get someone to take us for 200, but he refused to go the last block because we hadn't paid enough.
Then we had to find a hotel. It turned out that of the two listed in the Lonely Planet, one was no longer there, and the other showed no signs of life. All of the other hotels on the street had a no-foreigners rule (which is pretty common in Bangladesh). We spent a long time walking up and down, and being generally hassled by rickshaw drivers. Our packs were feeling very heavy indeed, and it all got a bit desperate. I've never had to sleep on the street, and I didn't want Dhaka to be the first place I tried.
Just as we were on the verge of getting in a rickshaw, heading to the Hilton, and letting the credit card sort out the problem (OK, so there was a way out - we weren't that screwed), we came across a hotel that was open, would take foreigners, and even had rooms free.
Our sightseeing in Dhaka should have commenced the following day, but Zoe was in the process of trying to shake off a terrible cough which she'd developed in Kolkata, and it wasn't shifting. We did potter around to see a few sites, but in some places they wouldn't let us take cameras in, and we didn't want to leave them in the unlocked wooden draw at the gate, so we missed out on a couple of things. I don't think that the sights are quite on the scale of some other cities we'd been to, in any case, so we weren't too disappointed. One of the best things that we did was to visit the Hindu quarter where Zoe bought some shell bracelets, which are a really unusual souvenir.
The best thing about Dhaka was to contrast it with the cities we'd been to in India. We'd expected conditions in Bangladesh to be worse than those in India, in terms of poverty etc, because of what we'd heard in the media. But, our experience in the city was that it was slightly more organised than the cities in India (there are pavements, place to put litter), and so had a slightly nicer feel to it. There seemed to be some key cultural differences between the two countries that made Dhaka a slightly more pleasant place to be, all else being equal.
Another thing which makes visiting Bangladesh different to visiting India is that almost no-one does. This means that everyone's interested in you, so you do get looked at a lot. But it also means that there aren't so many people who are clued up on the best ways to rip you off, which makes a pleasant change.
We managed to find some little local places to eat, where the food wasn't great but we felt that we were experiencing local life. We'd always get good treatment from the restaurant owners.
We spent a total of four days in Dhaka, before heading off the Bogra for three days. On returning from Bogra we had another two days in Dhaka.