Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh.
Dhaka is a thriving, colorful and congested metropolis of some 12 million people, and growing steadily. Many people might take sometime to adjust in Dhaka at first sight - it has to be one of the most frenetic places on Earth. The streets are rivers of chaos filled mostly with very colorful rickshaws - around 400,000 to be exact, the highest number of any city in the world.
According to recorded history it was founded in 1608 A.D. as the seat of the imperial Mughal viceroy of Bengal. Dhaka has been developing fast as a modern city and is the country's center of industrial, commercial, cultural, educational and political activity. The gap between rich and poor is widening throughout the country but it's at its most glaringly obvious here. Depending on where you start from, a thirty minutes to even one hour rickshaw ride can take you from impossibly crowded shantytowns near Old Dhaka to the glitzy high-class neighborhoods of Gulshan and Banani where a meal costs more than most people make in a week.
Motijheel is the main commercial area of the city. Dhaka's main waterfront, Sadarghat, is on the banks of the river Buriganga in Old Dhaka and is crowded with various ferries, yachts, paddle steamers, fishermen's boats and floating dhabas all bustling with activity.
The weather is tropical - hot and very humid during the monsoon season (April-August) and drier and cooler in the winter (October-March). Visitors from colder countries might want to visit in the winter when temperatures are around 20C and humidity is low (around 60-70%).
Visa extensions are available at the Immigration and Passport Office on Agargaon Rd in Central Dhaka. Most drivers know it, an auto-rickshaw from Old Dhaka will run about Tk 50. Su-Th 10AM-1PM receiving applications, 3-5PM delivery.
Zia International Airport (ICAO: DAC) is well served by international flights from most continents.
British Airways has direct flights from London, Thai Airways has direct flights from Bangkok (also flies to Chittagong direct. There are also gateways from Nepal on GMG Airlines, Hong Kong on Dragon Air, Malaysia, Singapore, Delhi, Kunming and Kolkata. You can also travel to Dhaka from Middle East by Gulf Air, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Iran Air, Yemenia, and to Chittagong by Oman Air and Air Arabia.
Being the capital and geographical center of the country, Dhaka is the natural hub for the countries bus companies. There are several bus stations around Dhaka, and which one you need to be at depends where you want to go, so ask around before heading out to one of them. Most are as crowded as you would expect them to be(because of population).
Luxury buses like Green Line, Shyamoli, Silk Line and Shohagh serve the major cities and tourist attractions. They all have a few offices around town, the most central being those near the Eastern Hotel on Inner Circular Rd in Central Dhaka, just north of the Motijheel area. Green Line serves Chittagong (Tk 400, 5-6 hours), Cox's Bazar (Tk 630, 8-9 hours), Rajshahi (Tk 350, 4 hours), Sylhet (Tk 400, 5 hours), Khulna (Tk 450, 7 hours) and Jessore (Tk 400, 5-6 hours) in its comfortable Volvo buses. It also has a couple of super luxury Scania buses to Chittagong (Tk 550) and Cox's Bazar (Tk 850) if you feel comfortable floating through a developing country in high style and have enough taka to spend.(which will also help develop Bangladesh more). Seats are huge and fully recline. The quality of these buses are similar to the Business class of an airlines!! (there are also Hino A/C luxury buses as well as Volvo n Scania). Recently, the S.Alam and the Saudia, two of the leading (non-ac) bus service providers have jointly launched Mercedes-Benz luxury bus services to Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and some other major cities. One of the ticket counters has been opened at the Panthapath, an area where one can locate all major luxury bus ticket counters.
From India there are a number of land entry points for Luxury Buses. The most common way is the regular comfortable a/c buses from Kolkata to Dhaka via the Haridaspur / Benapole border post. Private bus companies Shohagh, Green Line, Shyamoli and others operate daily bus services. Govt. buses run under the label of the state owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). WBSTSC and BRTC both operate buses from Kolkata every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 5:30AM and 8:30AM, and 12:30PM while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:00AM and 7:30AM. The normal journey time is around 12 hours with a one-way fare of Rs550 or BDT600-800, roughly $8-12. If you're only headed to Haridaspur the fare is Rs86 (2.5 hours).
Most ferries arrive at and leave from Sadarghat in Old Dhaka. This area and the streets surrounding it are unbelievably hectic so allow plenty of time and watch your bags and pockets carefully. If arriving here, fight you way to the left on the frontage road and then make your first right - this turns into Nawabpur Road and leads north to the hotels. Even if you aren't staying in this area, it's easier to walk several hundred meters north to catch an onward rickshaw, the ones near the ghat are at a standstill.
The Rocket Steamers (P.S. 'Tern', 'Masud' and 'Ostrich') run to Barisal and Khulna several times per week, departing from Sadarghat around 6pm. To Barisal is Tk 480/300 in first/second class, while all the way to Khulna will run Tk 1010/610 and take 26-30 hours. Tickets should be booked at the BIWTC office in Motijheel just east of Dilkusha Circle I. It's open until 5PM Su-W and until 2PM on Thursdays, closed on Fridays. A quick heads-up in that the link to the BIWTC tariff mentioned above is in 'Takas' and one should double check the fares.
Chandpur is the second major river station 3 to 4 hours journey from Dhaka and 5 to 6 hours Journey from Barisal.
Multiple other boats are available for short and long distances - head to Sadarghat or Badam Tole ghat (about 1 km further west) and ask around. Tickets aren't pre-sold, and bargaining is likely necessary.
Given the plethora of all forms of transport, if you're having trouble getting a decent fare with a driver walk a few feet to the next one. Not all are out to gouge you, so better to find the honest ones and give them your business. Occasionally a driver will demand more money on arrival - the best way to deal with this is to hand over the agreed fare/metered fare and walk away. Make certain from the start that the driver knows where you're headed (unless you can direct him yourself) - they often have limited local knowledge, but will always SAY that they know where somewhere is and take you round the whole city searching whilst the meter ticks.
There is the stunning Parliament Building, designed by Louis Kahn, numerous bookshops, and art galleries around the city, Ramna Park, Lal Bagh Fort and museum, Old Dhaka, the Shahid Minar memorial, the Shadarghat port, Ahsan Manjil, the National Museum, Bangabandhu Memorial, the Mukti Juddha Museum, National Poet's Graveyard, Suhrawardy Uddyaan, National Leader Mausoleum, Banga-Bhaban, Shadhinota Stambha, the Charukola (Arts & Crafts) Institute, Curzon Hall, Old High Court and 1857 Memorial, the National Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, Baldha Garden, Sitara Mosque, Baitul Mukarram Mosque, Hindu and Christian churches and temples, New Market, Boshundhara City Mall, countless other bustling bazaars and shops, and many other places to visit.
Ahsan Manjil, the pink palace, has a 2 taka entrance fee and a small exhibition about the history of the palace and a garden. Star Mosque (Sitara Mosque) is a small mosque dating back three hundred years, inlaid with mosaic and tiles. 'Shishu Mela' is the children playground in Shyamoli.
The capital city Dhaka predominantly was a city of the Mughals. In hundred years of their vigorous rule successive Governors and princely Viceroys who ruled the province, adorned it with many noble monuments in the shape of magnificent places, mosques, tombs, fortifications and 'Katras' often surrounded with beautifully laid out gardens and pavilions. Among these, few have survived the ravages of time, aggressive tropical climate of the land and vandal hands of man.
But the finest specimen of this period is the Aurangabad Fort, commonly known as Lalbagh Fort, which, indeed represents the unfulfilled dream of a Mughal Prince. It occupies the south western part of the old city, overlooking the Buriganga on whose northern bank it stands as a silent sentinel of the old city. Rectangular in plan, it encloses an area of 1082' by 800' and in addition to its graceful lofty gateways on south-east and north-east corners and a subsidiary small unpretentious gateway on north, it also contains within its fortified perimeter a number of splendid monuments, surrounded by an attractive garden. These are -- a small 3-domed mosque, the mausoleum of Bibi Pari (the reputed daughter of Nawab Shaista Khan) and the Hammam (bath-house) and Audience Hall of the Governor. The main purpose of this fort was to provide a defensive enclosure of the palacial edifices of the interior and as such, was a type of palace-fortress rather than a seige fort.
Other attractions in and around Dhaka include the Institute of Arts and Crafts (Charukola) with its representative collection of folk art and paintings, handicraft shops. Aparajeya Bangla monument, picnic spots at Chandra and Salna, industrial estates of Tongi, Narayanganj, Demara, Tejgaon, cruising by country boat in the nearby river or a visit to a village to see jute cultivation, weaving and pottery making. Last but not the least travel by a horse driven cart or rickshaw along busy Dhaka streets is a rewarding experience.
About 27 km. from Dhaka, Sonargaon is one of the oldest capitals of Bengal. It was the seat of Deva Dynasty until the 13th century. From then onward till the advent of the Mughals, Sonargaon was subsidiary capital of the Sultanate of Bengal. Among the ancient monuments still intact are the Tomb of Sultan Ghiasuddin (1399-1409 A. D), the shrines of Panjpirs and Shah Abdul Alia and a beautiful mosque in Goaldi village.
Frequent bus services to Sonargaon operate from Gulistan, Saidabad and other bus stands in Dhaka. Tickets may be bought on roadside counters. Mention your destination as Mograpara as you might end up at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel instead. The price of the ticket from Gulistan bus stand is Tk 22.
The main places of interest in Sonargaon are the ruins of Panam Nagar, the local crafts museum or the Lok Shilpa Jadughar, the tomb of Sultan Ghiyasuddin, the Goaldi Mosque, and the shrines of Panjpir and Shah Abdul Alia. The first two lie on one side of the Dhaka-Chittgong Highway and the rest lie on the other side. Once at Mograpara, a rickshaw may be hired for sightseeing. It is best to hire the same rickshaw for a fixed amount (Tk 200-250) for seeing all the places in Sonargaon. Most rickshaw pullers know the more popular destinations like Panam Nagar, the Lok Shilpa Jadughar, etc. Some may not know of the tomb of Sultan Ghiyasuddin or the Goaldi Mosque and the shrines. Usually rickshaw drivers who are locals from the village know all of these places.
Also note that the Goaldi Mosque, the tomb of Sultan Ghiyasuddin or the shrines are not huge monuments or structures. Rather, they are lone structures and lie within Mograpara village. Visiting these places also affords a very good experience of rural life which is a very pleasant change from the noise and traffic in Dhaka. Also, the Lok Shilpa Jadughar is the only place where one has to pay an entry fee. It may also be closed just before Eid celebrations. The rest of the places are open and free for the public and do not have any specific openin or closing times.
Hajiganj is another place of historical interest, situated about 10 kms from Mograpara bus stand. However, the above mentioned places usually take up most of the day and it is best to return to Dhaka before evening. Sonargaon and Hajiganj may be combined into a single day if one sets of very early from Dhaka.
Bangaldesh Parjatan Corporation owns two picnic spots with Bunglows at Chandra and Salna which can also be hired by tourists.
There's a lot happening around the city -- please check this events-site,
Explore the site well, many events are detailed with addresses and contact phone nos.
To get a feel for what things should cost in the local markets check prices in the western-style fixed price shops and then deduct 10%.
Dhaka has an enormous variety of food catering to all budgets. Old Dhaka is overflowing with cheap Bangladeshi food where a meal can be had from Tk 50 ($0.70), while in the upscale neighborhoods like Gulshan and Banani you can find just about any type of cuisine you can imagine - Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Mexican, and franchises such as Pizza Hut, KFC are abundant - at prices that the majority can't afford. Reservations are usually not required in most restaurants. A lot of the Buffet-style restaurants in this neighborhood have Taka 250 to 400 prix-fixe menu pricing.
Local sweets (misti/mishti) like rasgullah and gulab jamun are excellent. To the uninitiated these are bite-sized soft cheeseballs dipped (drenched) in syrup, coming in white and red varieties. Shops throughout the town (and especially near Gulshan) sell imported condiments from the U.S., Dubai and Malaysia at a premium. Imported chocolate is especially expensive - and usually not in the best condition as it gets melted and resolidified daily in the tropical heat. Fresh is better.
Be careful when buying food from street vendors as health and hygiene standards are not always topnotch. Unlike Bangkok -- street food in Dhaka is only for locals. Foreigners should stick to larger, organized (and unfortunately a little expensive) food outlets.
Restaurants are crammed throughout the narrow alleys and along the main streets - duck into one of them and you'll likely not be too disappointed. A full meal will usually run less than a dollar, though fish will push it closer to two.
These areas are packed with crowded trendy and upscale restaurants, a magnet for the Dhaka elite who like good food or just want to be seen in their shiny new sedans.
There is a party network between the different expat clubs (Dutch Club, Canadian Club, Scandinavian Club, International Club, American Club, etc.) and some Bangladeshi clubs (Heritage, Privilege, etc.). These clubs usually require membership to enter, or befriend a member and have them sign you in. From there, you can purchase a book of tickets or a cash card and then use it to order your drinks.
Although Alcohol is most easily available at the international clubs and top hotels, there are a few local places to find a drink for the enterprising traveller.
You can try La Diplomat at Road 20, House #7, near Gulshan 1. Don't expect to be rubbing shoulders with any French ambassadors, however. The Dip, like most other Bengali bars, is a smoke-filled darkened room where many of its patrons would rather not be recognized too easily. Definitely an experience, nonetheless. Beers cost upwards of 150 Tk, and "tots," which are single ounce servings of gin, vodka or whiskey, are available from 70-150Tk. Female patrons may feel slightly uncomfortable.
There is a duty paid shop in Mohakhali which is only permitted to sell alcohol to passport-bearing foreigners or their drivers who bring their passports in when they purchase. The address is 12 Abbas Garden, New Airport Road, phone 988 1936-9. Their stated opening hours are from 9:30pm - 4:30pm, and closed on Fridays. To get there you need to coming towards the flyover as if you were going to Banani, but instead of going on to the flyover you take the second left after it begins. You will see a small sign labelled "Abbas Garden." Turn left and tell your transport to wait while you purchase.
Old Dhaka is the best bet for the budget conscious, and if you've arrived or are leaving by the Rocket Steamer, Sadarghat is about a 10-15 minute walk south of most of the hotels down Nawabpur Rd.
If you're staying long term consider one of the many guesthouses in the Gulshan and Banani areas.
Rigs Inn, in Gulshan Circle 1, is a good choice. Grand Prince Hotel is best in Mirpur area.
Dhaka isn't terribly unsafe, but as in any huge city you should keep aware of your surroundings and try not to walk around at night, especially females traveling alone. There's a very large amount of people living on next to nothing in the city, and while the vast majority are friendly there's undoubtedly a few that would love to help you depart with some of your seemingly abundant wealth.
There has been a recent rash of incidents (as of July 2007) in which some foreigners have been targeted for bag snatchings while riding rickshaws. Often these have occurred at night, after 11pm. If you must be out after this time please do your best to leave your valuables at your friends' places or hotel and you can pick them up in the morning. The simplest way to reduce your potential loss is to not leave with valuables in the first place if you anticipate the need to travel after 11pm. The safest mode for travel for a tourist is to hire a yellow cab. These can rented for a trip as well as by the day. Be sure to write down the license plate number.
The greatest danger probably comes from speeding buses and rickshaws - keep well alert when walking along main roads.
Being the capital, it's the area most affected during hartals, and you should do your best to keep a low profile during times of political unrest. Avoid any sort of large gatherings, even positive ones, as there's a good chance you'll become the center of attention and you probably don't want that from a group of raucous chanters.
Pollution (like most other cities in the subcontinent) is high. It's not uncommon to see people with face masks on, and at the least you should carry a handkerchief with you to cover your mouth and nose during rickshaw rides.
Internet is most widely available in Gulshan and Banani at numerous Internet cafes hidden in the various shopping complexes - ask around. Tk 20-30 per hour. You may also stumble on to a computer or two in Old Dhaka or Central Dhaka.
A new place in Gulshan - 2 Circle, Building #11, Road #46, above the Philips showroom, in the same lane as Coopers - provides free Wi-Fi and Internet kiosks for their customers. Now that's convenient. And these guys really have great coffee.