Saturday, October 17, 2009

touring Dhaka

Tour was a very good idea. We went to places that I would not have gone on my own. The first thing we saw, before leaving our familiar neighborhoods, was a monkey crossing the street. I'd heard there were monkeys in the area, but hadn't seen one yet.

We started at Dhaka University, founded in 1904, and completely different from the setting of my vertical, two building university. Dhaka University has grounds and big old buildings. It's also the site of historical uprisings in the 1950s against Pakistan's decision to make Urdu the national language, thus marginalizing Bengali. The movement was a National Language force, still highly revered in Bangladesh even though independence from Pakistan took nearly another 20 years (1971).

Then we went to the port called Sadar Ghat where over 30,000 people a day travel by boats in and out of Dhaka. The boat we saw loading had 3 levels - people were spreading blankets on the lowest level to stake out seating spaces. They were leaving for a 6 hour journey. Lots of fruit sellers and other stands.

Next was a place called Pink Palace, more correctly known as Ahsan Manzil. Apparently the site was French and then in the late 1800s built into a palace by one of the most politically influential "zamindars" (translated in my guide as

feudal landlord, but I think it's more about implementing the British rules. could be wrong about that). Lots of portraits and household items, including the dining room and one of the bedrooms, but most unique was the elephant skull and tusks. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the building; they collected cameras at the entrance so I only have a picture of the outside.

Then the Shankharia Bazar which is also known as Hindu St. We are a day or two before a Hindu celebration so there was much excitement in the quarter. Platforms were built crossing the narrow streets -- we had to duck under them to go through the streets. Inside the platforms, statues were being set up. People were peeking under the curtains and taking pictures of the ones that were ready. We were also invited to see turtle soup being prepared but the combination of live turtles and very bloody preparation area gave me enough warning that I wanted to pass on this. Didn't even take a picture as I was getting kind of queasy. I did take pictures of sugar sculptures (hmmm, do I sugar coat this adventure, or what?). We also went down one of the side paths to see rooms where people live, a well, and someone with more challenging laundry issues than I have.

It was really nice to have the driver meet us at the end of our walk through so that we didn't have to double back.

We travelled through neighborhoods where the rickshaws outnumbered the cars by, I'd say, 100 to 1, unlike in the area we live and work where the cars, while still in the minority, are more like a third of the vehicles on the road.

Star Mosque is the only mosque I've been in so far. I'm not sure how to approach entering the ones in our neighborhood, so it's good to have a guide who insisted that it was open and found a door on the side. From the early 18th century, unique in its mosaic work.

Then we went to Lalbagh Fort which is from 1678.

Its buildings are seen on the 10 taka and 100 taka notes. Beautiful grounds with grass and flowering bushes. Interesting museum inside with coins, documents, weaponry, and baths. I'm going to ask in my language class what it says on the sign; what I understand is that there are three entrance fees and the third one is for foreigners!

The last stop on our tour was at the National Assembly, built from the 1960s until the 1970s. The current government meets there but the opposition party has been boycotting the meetings since the election last December. Not sure yet how to explain that.

Then Matan and I got dropped off near a restaurant that we hadn't been to since our first week in Dhaka. Good thing I asked for a business card or we'd never have found it again. We had very spicy food and now have clear sinuses. After that we took a CNG home and have just relaxed for the rest of the day.

(Pictures are taking forever to load -- I'll get back to you on the National Assembly!).

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