Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world. The city of Dhaka is infamous for its chaotic crowds and traffic. I had been warned by a Bangla friend about how confusing Bangladesh and the Dhaka International Airport could be to the first time visitor. “Be careful of pickpockets,” said one friend. “Watch your bags at the airport like a hawk,” said another.
Of course, this being my first solo journey ever, I was more than a little worried about having decided on traveling to Dhaka, Bangladesh on an impulse. I wondered if I would like living and working in Dhaka and if I would be miserable within the first few hours, wanting to take the first flight back. I knew for a fact that my dad had been worried sick when I’d first announced to him that I was ready to travel solo to Dhaka. “Why Dhaka?” he’d asked patiently, knowing that had he dismissed it at once, I’d probably fly the next day. Just to prove to him that I could.
A day or two before my flight, I decided to brush aside the worries and keep an open mind. I would be careful but not paranoid. I would get my own experiences.
As it turns out, the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is no jungle. The staff was friendly, just like they are at other airports. Bangladeshi people, in general, (I have to say this after spending some time in Dhaka) are very helpful. Some of them are willing to go well out of their way to help you, simply because you are visiting their country, and they are proud of that.
The traffic in Dhaka is crazy, especially in the evenings. One of the reasons is the road work going on along the Mirpur road (true as of 2012). I guess that makes all the drivers (auto-rickshaw, taxi and bus) a little crazy. I mean, these guys make you feel like you are in a Hollywood thriller/action movie.
A crazed driver sent very kindly by my hotel drove me to the Grand Prince in Mirpur, where I was to begin my Grameen Bank Internship the next day. Although I was exhausted, I didn’t want to die sleeping in a car, so I kept my eyes wide open throughout the journey. As if dying with your eyes open is somehow better. More like looking death in the face. Or so I told my paranoid self. It was strange, trying to make out the shapes of people, trees and vehicles that passed us by in the darkness, with no street lights most of the way.
Walking the 10 minute distance to the Grameen Bank, early next morning, introduced me to the sights and sounds of Dhaka. What fascinated me most were the cycle rickshaws. They are beautiful, adorned with vibrant colours and unique rickshaw art. The cycle rickshaw riders are like true heroes, I would learn in a few days.
Shopkeepers were just getting started, cleaning their wares, arranging window displays. Roadside vendors, selling fruits, vegetables and kitchen wares were busy setting up their makeshift carts, sometimes shouting, “Hello, how are you?”, having spotted us foreign interns walking along. Tourism is very new to the country and most people can only say, “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you”, but no more in English. A tourist or anyone who does not look local gets a lot of attention in Dhaka because really, how many people do you know can say they have or will travel to Dhaka?
If you’re wondering about traveling to Bangladesh as a solo female, here’s a great guide to solo female travel in Bangladesh.
Beggars of all ages were getting ready to start business, positioning themselves along the footpath, at the same time chatting up the vendors. Men stood in small groups on the street, sipping on their morning tea from the tea vendor. Groups of school children huddled, some walking to school, some waiting for the bus and some younger ones being packed into cycle or auto rickshaws. The traffic on the roads moved in all possible directions, as the drivers pleased. We walked along, keeping in sight the logo of the Grameen Bank on a tall building not far away, taking it all in. Just another morning in Mirpur, in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Curious about why I traveled to Dhaka? You can read about my internship with the Grameen Bank and the week I spent in rural Bangladesh. If you’re planning a trip to Dhaka, read about the seven-layered tea, worth making a short trip from the city.
Have you been to Dhaka, Bangladesh? What was your first impression?