Throw back Monday! Enjoy this one from a year ago once again. One of my favorite experiences.
We would not have normally come to Bangladesh, except the opportunity was here because our friend Natalie is a teacher in Dhaka. I preach frequently the need to visit less tourism developed places – and yet am guilty of wanting to see places like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Table Mountain.
And so our decision to visit Bangladesh helped us make the leap to a place no one goes, except our friend Natalie.
We connected with Deshghuri Tours – one of a handful of tour companies catering to the few Westerners who come here, mostly Canadians, Germans and
Americans. Because our time was short we booked a three-day tour with Deshghuri. It’s difficult to see Bangladesh without a guide. The cities are crowded and Dhaka is plagued with air pollution. Driving here is, shall we say, daunting. So a tour is a must.
Our first day was to see the densely packed city of Dhaka – home to 20 million people. Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world and
Dhaka has a density of 23,234 people per square kilometer within a total area of 300 square kilometers. We spent the day weaving in and out of traffic, but also enjoying getting in and out of the car to see some remarkable sites; mosques, temples, university, and the 600-year-old Lalbagh Fort that serves as a lovely oasis in the city. It was here we really began to feel how unusual it is to have a westerner walking around Dhaka. Bangladeshi
stopped and gaped at us, some asking for selfies, others discreetly taking our photo without asking. Very strange.
At the end of the day we arrived in Shadarghat, the steamer terminal and one of the busiest places in Dhaka (which is saying something). Here we
boarded our first of seven boats: the 100-year-old “Rocket” paddle wheeler that plies the waters of the Buriganga River. These boats were, in their time, the fastest thing to ever hit these waters (thus the name), but today faster and more upgraded ferries provide service. The Rocket continues to work however, and tours often include a night aboard these vessels for the “experience”. It was definitely an experience as we were on one of the oldest and most worn down vessels.
On arrival in Barisal early the morning of day two of
our tour we were met by our new guide Ontu. After breakfast we went by car three hours to Bagherhat, a UNESCO world heritage city and one of the most historic cities in Bangladesh. On the way to Bagherhat we rode a very small and crowded car ferry which is boat number two. On reaching Bagerhat we toured three remarkable mosques, built in the 15th century! All still in use today. Two of these mosques were a
remarkable architecture design of domes rather than minarets. The first was a nine dome and the second was an 80 dome mosque. Truly fascinating for the time period and in wonderful condition considering the climate and the years.
We continued by car to Mongla, where we boarded
boat number three: a small wooden pirogue which we stood in to cross the very busy river. On the other side we boarded boat number four, known as a country boat. It was just the two of us with our guide and we sat back and enjoyed cruising the river on this small 20-foot boat. We enjoyed a
traditional Bangla lunch onboard, then went ashore at the Sundarban’s breeding sanctuary where we saw deer and crocodiles and walked the mangrove forest.
Back on the boat and back to Mongla where we
met the car, returned to Barisal (including car ferry-boat number five) and to our hotel in Barisal. It had been a very amazing day.
Day three we were up early, and instead of car we were in a Tuk Tuk before the sun had risen, driving an hour from Barisal to the banks of the Shondha River. Here we would board boat number six, a long deep river dwelling vessel, for what would turn out to be my favorite part of our
tour. Cruising through the backwater region of the Shondha we enjoyed the floating vegetable market as well as seeing the river people going about their daily life – scratching out an existence on and in
the river. The river is both highway and washing machine, bathtub and food source. We got off the boat several times, including a visit to an ancient and scrabbled together Hindu village where the people were so kind and generous and interested in us. When we tell them we are from
the United States they say it is their honor to have us in their country. This is the Bangladeshi way – welcoming, kind and generous; even if they have nothing to give, they will offer you a cup of tea.
It was particularly interesting to me how astonished everyone – men, women and children – were with my white hair. They found it fascinating and we felt like celebrities. Very
We learned a lot about river life, about the kindness of strangers, about how important community is to this ancient way of life. We learned about religion (Islam is the largest religion of Bangladesh; Muslims constitute over 90% of the population, while Hindus constitute 8.5% and Buddhists 0.6% are the most significant minorities of the country. Christians, Sikhs, animists and atheists form 1%), we learned about food, we learned about education.
But mostly we learned about how much we take for granted.
Saying farewell to our boat driver we were back in the Tuk Tuk for the hour ride back to Barisal where
we had time to tour the market before our departure. The market was remarkable to me mostly because not a single tourist item was there. This was perhaps the most authentic market I have been to (except for Ethiopia and Burkina Faso). In fact I have not even been able to find a postcard in this country – a sign of how small the tourism
industry is here.
We said goodbye to our wonderful guide and boarded a river ferry, faster and more modern than the Rocket, for the overnight return to Dhaka. Boat number seven.
Seven boats, three days, one rare Bangladesh. I’ll not forget my time here. Unique, remarkable, rewarding and above all, humbling.
I can’t tell you I would want to visit here…..but I so enjoyed what you wrote. It is no doubt some place I SHOULD go…..that I might learn “grateful”.January 30, 2018 at 11:28 pm
It is really incredible. Thanks for reading.January 31, 2018 at 12:46 am
Thank you for sharing your Bangladesh trip. You’re right, no one thinks of this country when it comes to tourism, I never considered visiting too. I was smiling at the thing with your white hair. It must have been a great experience to meet the locals and feel their hospitality. This is what I love most when traveling.February 3, 2018 at 6:56 am
Love the idea of a place with no tourists and no tat. I hope it keeps its authenticity.February 3, 2018 at 6:57 am
Looks like you had a wonderful time and an interesting experience 🙂February 3, 2018 at 10:50 am
I’ve always wanted to visited Bangladesh – my best friend at school was from there, and she used to tell me about what it was like out in the quieter parts of the country and how she could spot tigers in the wild. Sadly I lost contact with her when she moved back to Bangladesh, but I’d love to visit someday and see the things she described!February 3, 2018 at 12:26 pm
Seems like a great story <3February 3, 2018 at 12:48 pm
I almost went to Bangladesh 25 years ago when I was travelling but didn’t make it. Loved reading about it. Although having seen that rocket steamer I understand why there are so many ferry disasters in Bangladesh, it looks like it’s on its last legs!February 3, 2018 at 5:09 am
It was, to say the least, a wee antiquated. But we survived!February 3, 2018 at 5:40 am
I never thought about travelling to Bangladesh but after this article I will research more. Your photos are looking good and it looks like you had an amazing experience.March 17, 2018 at 11:49 am
It was a most incredible experience. Not for the faint of heart but I loved it!March 17, 2018 at 10:50 pm
The rocket steamer 🙂 Looks so cool. As an engineer, I like seeing old pieces of technology, that are still in work. Can I get to know more about it somewhere?March 17, 2018 at 12:52 pm
It was a great experience. Definitely unique. Here is a link to Rocket Steamer info. Also in the blog is a link to the tour operators we used and they were absolutely wonderful!! I highly recommend them.March 17, 2018 at 10:52 pm
Though I live in India, Bangladesh for most of us has never been on the travel list , particularly because it is not considered a tourist destination. After reading this, I have a totally different impression now and might make a plan to visit the country soon !! Thanks for sharingMarch 17, 2018 at 2:52 pm
I was a bit fearful but I am so very glad we went!! Thanks for your comment.March 17, 2018 at 10:49 pm
Some of the best stories come from places you never had any intention to visit 🙂 Ever since I went to Nepal, I have begun to wonder about the countries where the other kind of ‘expats’ to my country come from – the ones who come to labour at the lower ends of the workforce. Bangladesh is one of those countries. Typically we Malaysians are overly enamoured with the origin countries of the other end of ‘expats’.March 18, 2018 at 4:07 am
A great observation. And truly my visit to Bangladesh helped broaden my world knowledge and understanding. A wonderful experience.March 18, 2018 at 4:58 am
What an adventure! I would love to visit Bangladesh. I’ve never seen anything quite like the Rocket before! Must have been an experience to take a trip on it.March 18, 2018 at 5:19 am
Worth the effort and an eye opening mind blowing experience.March 18, 2018 at 7:39 am
OMG Bangladesh is such an incredible place to visit!Thank you for sharing your amazing adventure. Reading this post makes me feel as if I am going on such an adventure. Love this post so much!March 18, 2018 at 4:27 pm
It was amazing. Thanks for reading!March 18, 2018 at 8:25 pm
Loved reading this post, I have not been to Bangladesh, but it is on my list, as I have read several articles recently on the country. I love your photography captures you shared and it looks like you had an incredible adventure there.March 19, 2018 at 2:13 pm
Thank you. It was surprisingly one of my favorite experiences.March 19, 2018 at 9:00 pm
Bangladesh has never really been on my list but it looks like a great place to explore! So many beautiful sights!March 19, 2018 at 5:25 pm
Lol. It wasn’t on my list either! So glad I went.March 19, 2018 at 9:01 pm
I’ve been visiting Bangldesh over the past few years on work. There are many westerners in Dhaka, a few working in social development and others in the garment industry, but it is the first time I’m hearing of western tourists in Bangladesh. The country does have a few surprises up its sleeve, including the tea gardens of Sylhet, Sunderbans (where you seem to have visited), historic sites in Dhaka, hills of Chittagong, Cox Bazaar beach etc., but not many people outside the country know of them.March 20, 2018 at 10:27 am
Yes and the people are friendly and interesting. So glad we went!March 20, 2018 at 11:33 am
Thanks. I felt the same but sure glad I went!March 21, 2018 at 8:13 pm
Finally! I get to read something about our immediate neighbour. Before you begin to think I am an Indian, and I live in Calcutta. So Bangladesh is like our next door neighbour. It’s so nice to read about your experiences there and I am inspired to plan a trip there soon. Loved your eighty dome picture and the floating markets. Since we speak Bangla in Kolkata, it will be much easier for us to communicate there. So I can have all the fun you had and no language barrier.March 22, 2018 at 7:49 am
Ahh thank you! Do go. We enjoyed it! And our tour operator was excellent!March 22, 2018 at 8:29 am
I totally understand how you feel about wanting to go to off-the-beaten-track destinations but also yearning to visit those popular tourist spots – I guess people like us just want to see it all and that is what fuels our passion to travel. Bangladesh looks like an amazing place to travel, and one good thing about such underrated travel destinations is that you have the entire place to yourselves!March 22, 2018 at 1:33 pm
I`m 65 and seriously considering doing a 7 day trip with the same tour company. I hope you don`t mind me asking a few questions! Did you at any time feel unsafe for any reason? Should women wear head coverings? Did you get bitten by mosquitoes whilst on the boats? Which boat did you like most and which least? Thank you in advance for your reply and any thoughts you might offer to a fellow `older` traveller!May 11, 2018 at 8:05 pm
Hi. Sorry for the delay but I have been a cruise without WiFi. The company we used which is linked in the blog was great. I was traveling with my husband. We never felt unsafe. I’m sure there are certain times of the year when mosquitos can be a problem, but it was winter when we were there and not too hot. I only wore head dress when we went into the mosque but it’s not necessary everywhere.May 14, 2018 at 4:56 am
Thank you so much for your advice Laureen. I have booked a 8 day 7 night tour departing at the end of October so I hope the weather will not be too hot! May I ask one more question please? Should I bring my own mosquito net (we spend 3 or 4 nights on boats) or is one provided? I`ve seen `pop up` mosquito nets for sale – so no need for hangings. Do you think I should consider taking one? Sorry so many questions! I am very grateful for your help. LizMay 15, 2018 at 7:32 pm
I would bring one just to be safe.May 19, 2018 at 12:29 am
Many thanks!May 20, 2018 at 7:07 am