Dhaka

The streets of Dhaka by CC user bensutherland on Flickr

Introduction

Being the national capital of one of the most densely populated nations on Earth, those that are claustrophobic will be in for a challenge, while those that like urban grit will be in for a treat. Within the frenzy that defines the congested streets and narrow alleyways of this place is a place whose humanity and lives are the primary attraction, as they are both in abundant display here.

Playing host to Buddhists and Hindus in the past and then being a seat of power for those of the Islamic faith (which is the dominant faith here in the present day), Dhaka is filled with many palaces, temples, mosques and monuments just waiting to be discovered.

As previously mentioned though, the one thing that one takes away from this crush of humanity is how a society with wide inequality of opportunity can still manage to function daily, slowly but surely, and often with a pearly white smile.

Star mosque by CC user rapidtravelchai on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

As mentioned before, Dhaka and Bangladesh is predominantly a Muslim city/country these days, but in the days of yore, it used to be a place where the Hindu community was present in much greater numbers.  Today, there still is a minority population of Hindus in the city and country, and the main focal point of their religion in Bangladesh is centred on Dhakeshwari Temple, especially after the Pakistan army razed their former great meeting place, Ramna Kali Mandir during the Liberation War of 1971.

Dhakeshwari Temple dates back all the way to the 12 the century, when it was constructed by King Ballal Sen; while some claim that Dhaka was named after this temple, there is no concrete evidence to substantiate that. The best time to visit Dhakeshwari temple is during Durga Puja, when there is a big celebration involving food, music, colourful vestments, and important dignitaries.

While there are bigger halls of worship in Dhaka, the most unique mosque within the city limits is none other than the Star Mosque, so named for its design scheme when it was constructed in the 19th century. Upon the outer domes and on the beams and walls within are scores of stars, even including a decorative pool in the courtyard that contains a large concrete star, making this mosque stand out from most of the rest in the city.

In order to become the capital in the sovereign state of Bangladesh that exists today, the Bengalis had to fight its bigger cousins from Pakistan (then West Pakistan) for that privilege. They paid a huge price in blood for the right to guide their own affairs, and that sacrifice has been recorded in the annals of history at the Liberation War Museum.

10,000 artifacts detailing the prior history of the Bengalis in this region, the onset of the war itself, and the terrible price paid in genocidal tactics that were employed by the Pakistani army are on display here.  From skeletal remains pulled from mass graves to the weapons cobbled together by the pro-independence forces that would eventually win freedom for their nation, these items will help you gain a better appreciation for the pride that everyday Bengalis feel for their country, given the hell they had to go through to secure their place in the world.

Ahsan Manzil (Pink Palace) by CC user 28705377@N04 on Flickr

Other Attractions

Sticking out like a sore thumb on the banks of the Buriganga River, the Ahsan Manzil is a hot pink coloured palace that housed wealthy Bengals, lords, merchants, and colonial officials through the years from the 16th century onwards.  In the present day, it has been converted into the Bangladesh National Museum, where exhibits from the history of this amazing nation have been gathered for the perusal of interested culture hunters.  Of note also is the garden outside, which has been kept in pristine condition.

A bulwark against foreign aggression from over the years, the Lalbagh Fort was originally built by the Mughal Empire in the 17th century, serving in many skirmishes over the ensuing years, from revolts against the British, to providing safe cover for revolutionary forces battling Pakistan in 1971. Features include a mosque, a tomb, and a quaint reflecting pool.

Finally, be sure to experience the daily goings-on of normal everyday life in Dhaka by renting a rickshaw, and taking it for a ride through the streets and alleyways of Old Dhaka.  These veterans know their own turf well, and will take you to places that no guidebook could ever know about!

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