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  • Writer's pictureShNaajh

The Roads and Rickshaws of Dhaka

My last visit to Dhaka was so long ago that I barely remembered a thing. That is why, when we returned to my dad's home city in late March this year, I was prepared to fully immerse myself in the experience and make new memories. What I didn't know was how many of those new memories would be made on the roads of Dhaka.


If you are ever in the capital city of Bangladesh, you must experience its roads and rickshaws. If you can't decide which roads, I hope my top picks help!


Driving from Uttara (New Dhaka) to Old Dhaka

It was our first day in Dhaka as tourists and also my first time experiencing the traffic the city is infamous for. From the cool comfort of my grandad's car, I saw dust wafting in the air creating a foggy haze. The sound of car horns coming from all directions filled my ears and we were surrounded by buses and rickshaws that threatened to scrape against the car. There were intersections where we stood still for minutes on end, and pedestrians used the lack of movement to cross the street - some of them had huge boxes and large plastic packets balanced on their heads, their confidence astounding. The lanes that keep cars from going too close to each other in Australia served no such purpose in Dhaka as vehicles freely crossed over them.


We drove a lot that day, and for the first time, I felt I understood the true meaning of sensory overload.



ShNakharibajar

ShNakharibajar has to be the narrowest street I've ever walked in. There were shops on either side of the road - some were cooking up breakfast, some had craftspeople making jewellery, and some simply had vendors waiting for customers.



The road might have been 4-5 metres wide, but the crowd made it seem like 3! Whenever a rickshaw or a CNG would pass, people would press up against the sides of the road to make room for the vehicle. From all the wheels and feet that trod on the road, dust flew in the air mixing in with the smell of deep-fried food, incense from the temples, raw fish and sweat. Ever so often there was a small temple with people praying inside. My Thamma (grandma) went into most of them but spent the longest time in the Kali temple.



Above our heads were wires intertwined for years. We soon entered a much narrower alley, so narrow that you could touch the walls on both sides. Wires were hanging so low in places that you had to watch your head. Bells would ring constantly from the countless rickshaws speeding through the street.





ShNaakharibajar was a lively place with lots going on no matter which way you looked. Even though I found the crowd, the sounds and the smells (both the good and the bad) overwhelming at times, I still wouldn't have wanted to miss out on the experience.


Crossing Mirpur Road in front of Gausia Market

Gausia Market was apparently the only place where we could buy falls for my mum's saris. It took us forever to find the shop, but I had no complaints since the shopping centre was air-conditioned, The moment we got out though, the heat and humidity hit us hard. We had to cross to the other side of the road, which I knew would be no simple task. The cars were slow but steady; they refused to stop for anything. Crossing the road meant risking it all; taking one step into the busy street could be costly, but there was no turning back.


In Australia, people put their hands up to a driver to say thank you for giving way. But the second a person puts their hand up in Dhaka while stepping into the traffic, it can mean only one thing, and that is to tell the approaching vehicles to stop, which they don't by the way - they just slow down to give you an extra millisecond to pass!


We followed other people to get to the fence that separated the two directions of traffic, but that was only half the journey, a checkpoint and a resting place before the mission went on. I looked across the fence completely baffled as to how we would get to the other side until I spotted them, the gaps between the metal bars that lined the fence. It seemed that some of the bars had been removed from the fence so people could duck under the gaps and make their way through the second half of the road, once again taking brave steps through the honking cars and bell-ringing rickshaws, finally to the safety of the other side of the road. That's exactly what we did too.

 

Then we stood on a skinny concrete divider that rose as a safe island between the steady streams of vehicles, rickshaws and pedestrians. Everyone would stay perched up on the concrete until they spotted a rickshaw to take them, or a bus or their car. We stood like barrelmen, the concrete platform our crow's nest, as we looked out onto the busy road in search of my grandad's car.


The Elevated Expressway

It was the afternoon rush hour and we were returning home. The roads were so congested that we found ourselves moving very little with each passing minute. To escape the traffic, we chose to take the Elevated Expressway. Each journey on it costs a small car 80 taka. This was the first time since our arrival in Dhaka that we were driving at 60 kilometres per hour, without any signals and without any traffic.


From the vantage point of the Elevated Expressway, the horizon could be seen. The car was drifting smoothly and there was no sound of honking or beeping or ringing around us. The familiar madness of driving around Dhaka had vanished. There were other cars, but they were barely noticeable.


The sun was setting. It looked like an incandescent ball of flames suspended in the air, The sky was painted in grey watercolour. My gaze drifted back down to the flats, offices and houses that looked like an assortment of matchboxes each basking in the glow of the departing sun before it took its final bow and hid behind the horizon.



Padma Bridge

We'd heard that Padma (pronounced pawdda) Shetu, the 3.686-billion-US-dollar bridge over the Padma River, was an engineering marvel. My dad had already been on it and wouldn't let us leave Bangladesh without seeing it!


We paid a toll of 750 taka - that's each way - and my granddad's small car sped up like we do in Australia when entering a freeway.



The day was overcast. It felt like the car was driving in the sky and was surrounded by clouds. It seemed like we had entered a separate world from our own, with the distant buildings made nearly invisible by the thick fog that shielded the bridge from the rest of the world. There were very few cars on the road, and the familiar hustle and bustle of the city had disappeared.


We drove smoothly. Through each window, the distant water could be seen down below. As it was summer, the river bed was visible in places. They looked like small islands scattered far and wide or clustered together. The buoys I spotted stood tall and confident but aimlessly rocked back and forth in the water. The cargo ships, on the other hand, were sailing steadily through the fog. Everything seemed mysterious.



After we'd been to Padma Bridge, a Dada (a friend of my grandad) told me that new drills had to be manufactured so they could go deep enough into the river bed to build the bridge.




The Rickshaws

The streets of Dhaka became the new F1 racecourse as I climbed onto the cycle rickshaw with my mum to go to the Aarong in Jashimuddin Avenue, Uttara. As soon as the rickshaw began to move, I found myself holding on for dear life! The roads were bumpy and the whole rickshaw thudded when it came crashing back down after each pothole or speedbump on the road. Any opening of even the smallest kind to get ahead of everyone else sharing the road was seized by the driver immediately and instinctively.

Cars honked from every direction, but not enough to stop the rickshaw from slipping in in front of them. The rickshaw driver would shout, trying to scare the others into giving him space as the rickshaw's wheels threatened to get caught on those of the neighbouring rickshaws. Passengers were faced with a whirlwind of emotions and the biggest question was whether to be impressed by the feat the driver was undertaking or to be scared by what could come next. It was as if the brakes no longer existed! The rickshaw would near the vehicle in front of it, and just as I would squeeze my eyes shut and hold on tight to my seat from fear of the impending crash, the rickshaw would swerve like a pro F1 driver!


Battery-Operated Rickshaws

And then there were the battery-operated rickshaws! The rickshaw sped through the streets as the battery whirred beneath the driver's feet. Some of them didn't even have pedals. The bumps that had once filled the rickshaw rides could barely be felt, thanks to the smoothness provided by technology! It quickly became clear that the battery-powered rickshaws were at the top of the pecking order as they seemed unstoppable rulers of the roads.


After riding on a battery-powered rickshaw, whenever I saw older cycle-rickshaw drivers, I noticed that they either had no passengers or struggled to carry the ones they did. It made me wonder whether having a battery-powered rickshaw would've made their lives easier.


Even after returning to Melbourne, I found that parts of Dhaka stayed with me, most often in the form of me forgetting to put on my seatbelt! And when we went Aurora-hunting in Brighton last month, I found myself holding my hands up as my parents and I jaywalked! This was our Dhaka-style road-crossing! When we're driving somewhere, sometimes I look out the window, surprised by the absence of traffic that I had grown so used to during my week there. I cannot say I miss it, but the roller-coaster-rickshaw-rides? That's a different story!

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24 Comments


Guest
Jul 05

ShNaajh's writing about Bangladesh impressed me.Thanks to her!

-Mamun

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Guest
Jun 21

ShNaajh’s article about her experience in Dhaka is incredibly vivid and engaging! The descriptive writing transported me to the bustling streets of Bangladesh, and I love how the sights, sounds, and smells have been so vividly captured. Her writing has a palpable energy, making it a true delight to read. Great Job 🧿👏🏻

Trisha

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Guest
Jun 17

দিদি ভাই এর ঢাকা ভ্রমন কাহিনী পড়েছি !

খুব সুন্দর লিখেছে! শাঁখারি বাজার, গাউসিয়া মার্কেট, রাস্তা পারাপার আর রিকশা ভ্রমণ; চমৎকার বর্ণনা ! মনে হয় সব কিছুই যেন চোখের সামনে দৃশ্যমান !

-Kiran

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Guest
Jun 16

Thanks ShNaajh for writing your memory of visiting Bangladesh. You described everything where you put your deep thought. I know some issues of those but you wrote your visiting history nicely. Wonderful memory! Anyway, hope you enjoyed your travel to Bangladesh. I wish you to visit there every year, if possible.

-Ashraful

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Guest
Jun 15

Wow, she grasped every bit of essence of Dhaka. Kudos to the fantastic reflection of her mind in the script.❤️❤️❤️

-Sumona

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