The auto rickshaw (or CNG as they are popularly called) drivers in Dhaka are a crazy, adventurous bunch. Make no mistake, having lived in Mumbai for many years, I have had my fair share of crazy rickshaw drivers racing on the streets, cheating traffic or simply being reckless. But the rickshaw drivers of Mumbai are no match for the Dhaka rickshaw drivers. These guys take crazy to a whole new level. Okay, maybe I’ve said ‘crazy’ far too many times, but bear with me. After a few days in Dhaka, and sitting through a few adventure rides, I finally met the rickshaw driver I can only describe as ‘The Ultimate Rickshaw Champion’.
We were three girls on our way to Banani from Mirpur, in search of the Korean restaurant Pyongyang. Between English, Hindi and broken Bangla, I managed to communicate the address to the driver, who only spoke Bangla. Like every other evening, Mirpur road was packed with traffic. So, he decided to head to the opposite road and go in the wrong direction, for a whole 20 minutes. Yes, that is how they cheat in Dhaka- bold, fearless and free of any sign of guilt. If confronted, they dismiss it with a crooked smile and shrug and get going. He tried to take us through the Military Cantonment area, but we were stopped by an army official. Being foreign women, we needed military clearances to pass through the cantonment. We would have to go back all the way to crowded Mirpur road. I do not know whether it was the disappointment or desperation in our voices that he heard (or just growling stomachs), but suddenly he turned into James Bond.
Like an F1 racer, he drove through narrow winding lanes, expertly dodging people, cycle rickshaws, cars and occasionally a horse, and never once slowing down. His turns were steep and would often result in screams from us. A few times we could only shut our eyes and pray that person in front of the CNG had not been blown away. It’s a good thing the auto rickshaws are closed from both sides, unlike the ones in Mumbai, or we would have pretty much been out of the CNG. We screamed and he just laughed and dismissed it with a wave of the hand. He said something in Bangla, which seemed like, “Don’t worry, you will get out of here alive”. Between screams, prayers, laughter, and final goodbyes, the three of us agreed that we were ultimately safe because he did not really seem suicidal. Teddy, a fellow intern at Grameen Bank talked about how the U.S. Air force should recruit him to pilot fighter jets. Another intern, Aelia talked about how the journey felt like a ‘Rickshaw Safari’, with the CNG almost flying through the narrow bylanes of Dhaka. We felt like we were in an action movie. I had this mental image of the rickshaw driver being a secret agent, chasing some national enemy through the streets of Dhaka. The camera zooms in on the number plate of the CNG, which reads , “007”! Yes, I do have a very vivid imagination.
This was one unexpected adventure we had embarked upon and whether or not we would reach Pyongyang, this was a journey I would remember for the rest of my life. After about 2 hours and several requests for directions, we finally reached Pyongyang, relieved to have made it alive.
Read more about my Bangladesh travels on my Bangladesh travel blog.