Breath-taking Bangladesh: Our unforgettable experience

I had never imagined that I would find myself in Bangladesh, but you never know where life will lead you: the man I fell in love with grew up in Bangladesh. He had survived his visit to my native Essex, so it was only fair I visited his country! My husband is from Dhaka but it had been a while since he had visited, and he wanted to use a tour company to take the stress out of organizing outings and negotiating the formidable traffic.

Our research led us to Nijhoom Tours and we decided they were what we were looking for. We booked two day trips: the Sonargaon Old Capital Tour and the Old Dhaka Tour.

Day-01: Old Capital Sonargaon

Sonargaon was once the capital of Eastern Bengal, centuries before British rule, and is the site of reminders of a bygone age. Mushfiq our guide for the day arrived on time to pick us up from our hotel – no mean feat in Dhaka’s traffic. He introduced himself and our driver for the day and outlined what sights we were going to see. We were joined by just one other tourist – a nice small group.

He apologized about the traffic but pointed out that we would see many interesting scenes from our car windows on route. He was not wrong – at one point we were joined by an elephant at some traffic lights! The traffic was bad but Mushfiq kept us entertained by talking about Dhaka’s history and people. Eventually we left the traffic and hustle and bustle of Dhaka behind, and were cruising through lush green countryside.

Our first stop was an enchanting 500 years old red brick mosque, not used anymore but preserved as an example of the architecture of the time.  While in the area, we dropped in on a school made out of bamboo where we were invited in to see the end of an English lesson. The children seemed delighted to have visitors and were very keen to practice their English and have a go on Mushfiq’s iPad!

Children being taught English on a school at Sonargaon in Bangladesh.

Waving goodbye to the children we continued through Sonargaon’s sleepy back roads to a beautiful pink and white palace. Now a museum, it was once a Hindu merchant’s home that has been beautifully preserved.

Taking a respite from the history tour, Mushfiq wanted to show us something of life on the banks of Bengal’s mighty rivers.  Being close to the confluence of 03 rivers (the Meghna, Brahmaputra, and Buriganga), he led us through a street market to the shore, where we cast off in a motor boat for a small village on an island in the middle of the water. The river is so wide you can’t see one bank from the other. Through the haze we saw many brightly painted dredgers in action in their daily battle to clear the silt clogged river, boats laden with red bricks and small fishing boats- their occupants waving enthusiastically as we passed.

The boat push off on the way to a remote village in a river island at Sonargaon in Bangladesh.

The villagers gave us a very warm reception and were keen to show us the new houses they were building and the new village toilet. Mushfiq acted as translator so we could answer the villager’s questions and them ours. We found out that they grow several types of rice and also catch fish to earn income. We wandered through the village with a growing number of excited children behind us and ended up on a bridge with a breath-taking view of the various islands spanning the river.

I was reflecting on what it must be like to live in such a remote place as we made our way back to our boat, when one of the children requested that we ‘like’ the village Facebook page!

Once back on the boat, Mushfiq made a phone call to place our lunch order at a local restaurant so that it would be ready just as we arrived at the restaurant on the other side of the river. He informed us that before adding a restaurant to their list, Nijhoom tests out and makes sure that their kitchens have good hygiene standards before taking any guests there.

Our delicious lunch consumed, it was time to head off for what was the highlight of the day for me – the abandoned merchant city Panam Nagar.

Decoration on a building at the abandoned city Panam Nagar at Sonargaon in Bangladesh.

The city grew up in the late 19th century as a trade center for cotton fabrics during British rule. The grand colonial European inspired houses were built by Hindu cloth merchants. Falling into disrepair at the end of British rule and the area being abandoned after the Second Kashmir War in 1965, these beautiful buildings are now gently decaying and being reclaimed by the jungle.

Fortunately the area is now protected under the Department of Archaeology of Bangladesh. Many intricate details have survived however and we spent a long time marveling at the houses and imagining the lives of the former residents. There are people living nearby, so despite the houses being empty, the street was quite busy and we were also much in demand for selfies with the locals!

The last stop of the day was the remains of a very grand Indo-European house. Many locals refuse to go near it as it is said to be haunted. The encroaching jungle has shut out most of the daylight and with it’s overgrown courtyard and damp crumbling passage ways, it was indeed a little spooky.

A haunted house at abandoned city Panam Nagar in Sonargaon.

Leaving the countryside behind we soon found ourselves back in Dhaka traffic but spent the time laughing and joking with our fellow traveler, Mushfiq, and the driver, and before we knew it we had arrived back at our hotel.

Day-02: Old Dhaka

Mushfiq and the driver arrived on time and we set off by car but quickly swapped to rickshaws, as these are far better at navigating the narrow streets of old Dhaka. Again, Mushfiq explained the sights we would see on the tour.

Our first stop was the brightly colored Dhakeshwari Temple, where we saw Hindu worshipers making offerings and dancing, followed by another adrenaline fueled rickshaw ride that took us to the Star Mosque with its beautiful mosaic interior. We were also able to admire the Armenian Church, set up by the community that migrated to Dhaka in colonial times, but have now moved on.

Family on a rickshaw at Old Dhaka in Bangladesh.

The next sight – Lalbagh Fort, was a haven of tranquility away from Dhaka’s crowded streets. Inside the pale pink walls are green lawns, water features, and well-tended rose patches, which make a perfect backdrop for Dhaka’s young love-struck couples to stroll through. Work on the fort was started in 1678 by the Mughal price Muhammad Azam. He was called away by his father and work on the fort stalled. Shaista Khan, the new subahdar of Dhaka, felt unable to complete the fort when his daughter Pari Bibi died there. His daughter’s tomb is one of the main features of the fort.

The highlight of the Dhaka tour for me was a short boat trip on the Ganges with commuter boats, steamers and ferries negotiating their way along the almost jet black river.

Commuting Ganges style on the river Buriganga at Old Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Throughout the day, Mushfiq informed us about the history of each site in a very engaging and articulate way. He is clearly passionate about his city, and his enthusiasm for it definitely rubs off on you.

Why I will be back!

Bangladesh is a breath of fresh air compared to many well-worn tourist routes where you are constantly hassled by touts or traders and subjected to phony ‘local’ experiences, dressed up for the masses with a gift shop at the end. It is a country where tourism is in it’s infancy and people will be delighted that you have made the effort to visit their homeland. You will become a tourist attraction for the locals, so expect to appear on many Bangladeshi Facebook pages!

Dhaka is one of the most populous cities in the world, and those not used to such cities could feel overwhelmed or get hopelessly lost! Using Nijhoom Tours meant that we could focus solely on safely enjoying the many attractions whilst our capable guides dealt with the logistics.

I can’t wait to go back!

If you’ve enjoyed the story, consider sharing it in social media so that more travelers can know about this amazing country which is little known to everyone. Enjoy!

Editorial Note: Have you ever visited Bangladesh? How amazing have you found it? Share your thoughts and experience with us in comments. Contact us to publish your Bangladesh travel story here. Check out our Bangladesh tour packages and holiday packages in Bangladesh to visit Bangladesh with comfort.

My 11 days vacation in Bangladesh during security alert from the west

A couple of weeks ago I returned from Bangladesh. I spent there 11 days.

It was a long-awaited trip for me. At first several years ago I chanced to read a book written by Dr. Muhammad Yunus which had been just translated into Russian. Then I bought a book in English about Bangladesh history. I hadn’t found a contemporary edition of history book in Russian and ordered this one in some USA online shop. Generally speaking, 30-40 years ago we had a lot of books published in Russian about Bangladesh, including Bengali language textbooks and other numerous works. And I hope the number of books translated into Russian will increase.

Books in Russian that inspired me to travel Bangladesh.

Besides reading, I love traveling. And to that time I had already been at least twice in every country bordering Bangladesh: India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. And every time traveling to South Asia, I was planning to visit Bangladesh “next time”. I imagined how nice it would be to find a way to visit Bangladesh sooner or later.

This year I’ve decided that neither the absence of direct flights from Moscow to Dhaka, nor the small number of reviews from travelers would be a significant obstacle for me. Also it was great that I found a good travel company from Dhaka – Nijhoom Tours, who had an excellent website and were attentive to my numerous questions and replied very quickly and professionally.

It was a well-organized and informative trip. Bangladesh is not an easy country for traveling independently but with the help of the local travel agency, it becomes a really attractive and easy trip.

Waiting for train in a train station in Bangladesh.

Capital City Dhaka

In Dhaka, you find yourself in the heart of one of the most densely populated countries. There are too many people everywhere. It’s a very lively and active city. And as we were in the country with a very rich heritage, we chanced to see many interesting places, including National Assembly Building, Lalbagh Fort, Dhakeshwari Temple, Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque, Armenian Church, Star Mosque, and Ahsan Manzil.

In Ahsan Manzil, a beautiful palace from colonial period in Bangladesh.

Most of all I liked the National Parliament House (one of the largest legislative complexes in the world, 200 acres) and Ahsan Manzil. Ahsan Manzil is a national museum nowadays and it was built as a palace (its construction was started in 1859 and was completed in 1872). After sight-seeing, we had a boat ride at river Buriganga and enjoyed sunset on a wooden row-boat.

Sunset at river Buriganga on a wooden row-boat.

As for accommodation, most hotels here are rather simple. But people are very hospitable and friendly everywhere and we felt like very dear guests in every hotel on the route. Anyway, in Dhaka I stayed for a night in a very nice place.

Sundarbans Mangrove Forest and Srimangal

Then we had a night on Paddle Steamer called Rocket and arrived Hularhat station in the morning. Our goal was visiting Bagerhat. There are many magnificent and ancient Mosques here. This is a very unique and beautiful place.

We stayed for a night in a hotel in Mongla.

And then we went to the boat which forwarded us to Sundarbans forest. Sundarbans is one of the most beautiful place in the world if not the most beautiful! It is the world’s largest mangrove forest and covers a territory of 6,000 sq km. Rivers in the Sundarbans are meeting places of salt water and freshwater. It is a mix of the freshwater of the rivers originating from the Ganges and the salt water of the Bay of Bengal.

Sunset in Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest on earth.

We spent 3 days on the boat. It was a very relaxing time. We explored creeks and canals on a wooden boat in the forest. We visited Jamtola beach on the edge of Bay of Bengal. We saw many colorful birds, many deers and other wildlife. And there were nearly no other people at all. I’m not a good photographer (and my smartphone is not a good tool for this) but I guess my companion made a thousand photos. It’s a heaven for those who love photography. And there were fantastic sunsets too! And dolphins…we saw many dolphins.

Deers in Sundarbans, the most beautiful place on earth.

After Sundarbans, we had a long way to Srimangol where we visited tea plantations and tribal villages. We tasted its famous 7 layers tea. We also did a trekking in the Lawachhara National Park and spent here several hours watching giant spiders and listening to gibbon cries. It was a nice experience.

Tea workers going to deposit the tea leaves after full day's peaking.

I wish to come back!

So our program was interesting, intense, but not exhausting or tiring. All the hotels during the trip were comfortable: Wi-Fi (in one hotel it was available at the lobby only and in the others – in the rooms too), hot water, good food and drinking water…everything was OK.

In conclusion I must say that I have never met so many sincere, smiling, and helpful people as in Bangladesh. They are glad to meet you, do selfie with you on the streets, help you with your luggage in the train; they invite you to join their family events!

Photo shooting with the locals in Bangladesh.

We’ve heard from the news that Bangladesh (as many other Asian countries) was continuing to face numerous economic, social, and environmental challenges, including poverty, over-population, and global warming. And recenty there have been added alarming reports concerning possible terrorist activities in the region. The issue of security is very important and I was in doubts whether it’s a safe place for coming or not. But while being in Bangladesh, it became clear to me that my anxiety and doubts had been groundless, and a hype in the Western press was too exaggerated. The security situation here is like in any other tourist destination around.

So I have many precious memories from my journey. This is a very friendly country, it was a fantastic time and I wish to come back!

If you’ve enjoyed the story, consider sharing it in social media so that more travelers can know about this amazing country which is little known to everyone buried in some popular myths. Enjoy!

Editorial Note: Have you ever visited Bangladesh? How amazing have you found it? Share your thoughts and experience with us in comments. Contact us to publish your Bangladesh travel story here. Check out our Bangladesh tour packages and holiday packages in Bangladesh to visit Bangladesh with comfort.

Bangladesh: Off the Tourist Trails, and Off the Beaten Track

Our two week holiday in Bangladesh began with a flight from Guangzhou, China to Dhaka. I was pretty excited about returning to Bangladesh, after 46 years and had organized a tour guide through a company called Nijhoom Tours, which I found on TripAdvisor. I asked them what they could provide and together we made a two week package.

You see I’ve already lived in Dhaka; in the 70’s. I was a volunteer smallpox vaccinator for WHO, and lived with my family who were working on a New Zealand aid program teaching pilots how to fly. I am one of the last people to see smallpox on the planet.

Boat ride on green-water canal Lalakhal in Sylhet, the north-eastern part of Bangladesh.

I already knew that Dhaka was a chaotic place and to buy tickets for transport would be hours – valuable time, that I did not want to waste on my holiday. So all of the purchasing was done ahead of time by Hassan at Nijhoom Tours.

We traveled at the end of the monsoon. I like this time because the air is really clean, and the rivers are full and the paddy fields still hold lots of water. It is very picturesque. Actually Bangladesh is photo heaven.

Our lodging at Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh.

On arrival we went and had lunch in Old Dhaka and then went on the little wooden boats on the river for a small paddle before boarding our 1929 paddle steamer to go on an overnight journey to Bagerhat.

We traveled First Class, Bangladesh style. We are both physically fit and used to camping. Bangladesh is a developing nation so nothing is what you expect, the beds are hard, things can look grubby and run down, and people stare at you. If you are a 5 Star tourist, this is not the place for you.

On the other hand if you love color, other cultures, and have some travel endurance, then this might be your next destination.

Bangladeshi ladies in colorful saries.

We traveled on little boats, big boats, trains, tri–shaws, hiking, cycling, and a jeep from one side of the country to the other. We ate everything, and everywhere and never got sick. We used signs and laughs and smiles to communicate with the local people, and we got plenty back. Bangladeshis made us feel like we were visiting royalty. They were so pleased that we had come to their country to visit them. And of course by being there we were helping the local little communities by spreading our dollars.

We were in a country with 160 million Muslims. That’s quite a few and I have to say I felt safe the entire time. Bangladeshis are people going about their lives eking out a living, and feeling very optimistic about their future.

Trekking inside Rajkandi Reserve Forest at Srimangal in Bangladesh.

Now remember I’d lived there in the 1970’s and things had changed. This is a quick-list of the changes..

Women are loving wearing brightly colored saris.
There is not a strong prevalence of skin disease among the children.
There were few beggars.
The pie dogs look healthy.
People are optimistic.
People work hard.
There is plenty of healthy food and everyone appeared well fed.
Our tour leader Arafat was conscious of litter in the National Parks and collected it up.
It was OK for cross dressers to collect funds on one section of the train route.

The traffic in Dhaka is worse, so get out into the country.
Book a tour leader AND GO EXPLORE.

If you’ve enjoyed the story, consider sharing it in social media so that more travelers can know about this amazing country which is little known to everyone. Enjoy!

Editorial Note: Have you ever visited Bangladesh? How amazing have you found it? Share your thoughts and experience with us in comments. Contact us to publish your Bangladesh travel story here. Check out our Bangladesh tour packages and holiday packages in Bangladesh to visit Bangladesh with comfort.