Our Cathy Pacific Dragon flight arrived in Dhaka just before midnight. The plane was full, and although we were one of the first to disembark, by the time we walked over to immigration control, lines were forming.
We spotted the visa on arrival desk with two officers on duty. The visa on arrival procedure required an application form, an arrival form, proof of hotel booking, proof of departure flight, an invitation letter from a tour company, and a fee of $51 USD per person. No visa photo was required with the application as a picture was taken at the application desk. Two sets of finger prints were also taken.At 1:30 am, when we finally exited the airport, the pre-arranged free shuttle ride driver from our hotel was patiently waiting at the arrival hall. As we expected, the scene outside the airport was completely chaotic. There were crowds of people everywhere we looked. Some were obviously waiting for passengers but others appeared to be just milling about, perhaps waiting for potential customers like us.
We expected a quiet drive to our hotel at 1:30 am. But as soon as we exited the airport parking area, we had to brace ourselves for the wild ride. The three lane highway was jammed packed with vehicles of every types: passenger vehicles, large trucks, small trucks, motorcycles, and tuk tuks (auto rickshaw). No one adhered to the lanes. It was a free for all going at fast speeds, weaving in and out to get into any available space.
But after about 5 minutes of initial shock, we just resigned to trusting the driver to deliver us in one piece to the hotel.
Our hotel is in Gulshan, a suburb of Dhaka, an affluent diplomatic enclave with many embassies and high commission offices. We noticed as we approached the area that the driver had to go around several security road blocks patrolled by armed police officers. When we arrived at the hotel, the hotel staff had to open two security gates to allow the car through. We also had to walk through metal detectors at the entrance to the lobby.
But after this late night adventure, the hotel night staff were helpful and courteous in settling us in for the night.
The next morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel, we checked out Gulshan and the nearby Banani area, another suburb of Dhaka.
Gulshan was quiet as we walked around the nice streets lined with ritzy building with nice landscaping and ornate gates. Bicycle rickshaws plied the streets and they were all trying to convince us that we should be riding with them instead of walking in the sun.
We headed over to the Gulshan Lake Park. The gardens around the Gulshan Lake were quite lovely with many large, established trees that provided cooling shade. There is a well maintained 900 metre track all the way around the lake with many people walking about. We met a young group of university students, studying economics, from a nearby school, enjoying a break at the park.
We continue to the Banani area, which is supposed to be another posh residential suburb. We came upon another lake within this district but it was not nearly as nice as the Gushan Lake.
At this point, we negotiated with a tuk tuk driver to take us to the National Parliament, located at the city center.
The Bangladesh National Parliament is the world’s largest legislative complex in the world, comprising of 200 acres or 800,000 m². The tuk tuk driver wanted our business but did not really understand our destination. He spent the first half hour driving us here and there, seeking out people on the street and within the traffic to clarify our destination. At last, he located a young man who understood that we actually do want to visit the National Parliament.
The National Parliament complex was only 6 kilometers away. But the horrendous traffic congestion turned the tuk tuk trip into an hour long ride. It was an hour long ride with non-stop vehicle honking, jammed packed buses, passenger vehicles, motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws, all competing to move without any regards to rules. Pedestrians added to the chaos by crossing into the traffic, weaving in and out to cross the roads, seemingly unconcerned whether the vehicles would stop or avoid them.
As soon as we disembarked at the National Parliament’s main entrance, security guards came up to ask our intentions. We explained that we were interested in visiting the Parliament and the surrounding grounds, if possible. After a phone call to the main office, the security guard waived us in to report to the reception office. The reception area personnel, quite busy with other matters, told us to walk around the grounds and report back for permission to go inside the Parliament building. But when we returned after visiting the grounds, taking photos of the Parliament building, they told us we needed to apply three days in advance. We concluded it was just their polite way to rid of some annoying tourists who have no business going inside the National Parliament Building.
Next, we hopped on another tuk tuk for the Bangladesh National Museum. This time, we had less trouble communicating with the tuk tuk driver regarding our destination since it was a genuine tourist attraction, and we had a picture on our phone via one of the travel apps to show him.
The short tuk tuk ride, only 4 kilometers away, took another 45 minutes to get there, as it was now early afternoon, and the traffic appeared even more chaotic. At times, the tuk tuk would be completely stopped in the traffic for over 5 minutes. The tuk tuk driver would either make tapping sounds to kill time, or at times, appear to doze off out of boredom.
The National Museum was worth the visit. It was a large building with three floors of displays. The first floor has 22 rooms. The first room displays a large map of Bangladesh and its 64 districts. The second room displays animals of Bangladesh including displays of two royal Bengal tigers. The third to tenth rooms consists of natural beauties found in the country. In one of the room, there is a showcase of a tongue of a whale. The other rooms, tenth to twenty-second contain some historic relics of Bengal up to 1900. There is a room which shows the different boats used by the rural people.
The second floor consists of photos of famous people and exhibits of the Bangladesh Liberation War, and the Language Movement of 1952. We found this floor the most interesting.
The third floor consists of pictures of international politicians, artists, scientists, famous pictures and four international galleries.
It was late afternoon when we finished touring the museum. Knowing full well the traffic would only be busier than ever, we decided to end our day with the unavoidable chaotic, noisy, polluted, ride back to our hotel. Sure enough, the 10 kilometer back to our hotel took about one hour. Incredibly, we realized afterwards that we actually lucked out with the ride. According to recent traffic studies, the average driving speed in Dhaka is seven kilometers per hour, with 3.2 million working hours wasted daily due to traffic congestion.
We are off on a 3-day, 2-night excursion on the historical Rocket Steamer tomorrow!
Next: Exploring Old Dhaka