After our eventful day touring Old Dhaka, we bid farewell to our young tour guide and driver, and boarded the iconic Rocket Steamer.
The Rocket Steamer, now a dilapidated looking structure, battered to within an inch of its life, was built in 1929 in the dockyards of Clydebank, Scotland before being shipped to the Bay of Bengal as a passenger ferry, a colonial relic of the British East India Company’s time in Bengal.
Once the fastest passenger ships on the country’s 700 plus rivers, these days the Rocket Steamer boats are floating relics, not rocket speed at all. There are now faster and sleeker boats out on the water. In comparison, the Rocker Steamer is outdated and obsolete. However, they are still on the river ways serving tourists looking for a historical journey, and still embraced by locals with nostalgic memories of growing up traveling on the boat.
We walked passed many second or third class passengers who were busy staking out space on the deck for themselves and their family.
Our cabin, pre-arranged by the tour company was in first class. There were twelve of these compact first class cabins. Each cabin had twin beds, a wash basin, fans, and also central air conditioning. The beds were firm but comfortable enough for one overnight stay. There were several toilet rooms down a corridor for sharing among the first class passengers.
Our room had two doors, one opening out to the dining area with a large dining table. The other door opened to the outdoor deck area. Shortly after we settled into our cabin the boat departed the port of Dhaka. We climbed up to the roof top of the boat, and from there we were able to capture this sunset photo.
Dinner was served at 8:30 pm. It was curry chicken, eggs in curry sauce, mixed cooked vegetables, and a large bowl of marshalla rice. The meal was hot and tasty. We finished off with cups of sweet milk tea.
The first class area guests were primarily young international tourists. We met travelers from Italy, Qatar, India, China, and two other Canadians beside us.
After a bit of reading, we went to sleep early. During the night, we awoke twice to find us at different ports. At each port, a few people embarked and disembarked, but a lot of cargo was unloaded and loaded onto the Rocket Steamer.
We woke up at 7:00 am to the idyllic river scenery blanketed by fog.
Soon, the sun came up, and the fog dissipated.
As the Steamer navigated through some small channels, we can start to see the shore activities. We cruised by villages, mangrove forests, farms, large boats, and smaller boats.
After about an hour the fog lifted to a clear day changed the previous mystic scenery to clear images of hard working communities thriving along the river. Every few minutes we passed by new landscape, new industries, new villages.
At 9:00 am, we were served a simple breakfast of small omelettes, toast and coffee.
A short time after breakfast, we arrived at our destination of Hularhat, a small village on the banks of the Kaliganga river. We were met at the port by a guide/driver from the tour company.
He confirmed that the plan was to drive for one hour to the world heritage city of Bagerhat, where we would visit 6 different mosques, the most important one being the 60 Dome Mosque, and the shrine of Khan Jahan Ali, the saint from Turkey who came to this area to spread Islam and founded the city of Bagerhat.
The rural scenery on our way to Bagerhat was fascinating. We saw rice farms being worked by farmers using oxen. Banana groves, betel nut groves, palm trees being harvested by primitive methods for the palm juice. Some of the homes were a mixture of concrete, bricks and thatch but many were just metal sheets strung together in hap hazard fashion. We also saw an elementary school with children dressed in colorful uniforms.
Also notable was the large amount of roads, and electrical poles construction activities throughout the area. There were some machines deployed for the construction work but much of the work appeared to involved manual labor.
We arrived at the Mosque city of Bagerhat, UNESCO, formerly a lost city, was founded in the 15th century by Turkish general Khan Jahan Ali. Khan Jahan, brought Islam to this area. He founded some townships, built mosques, roads, highways and bridges, excavated a large number wells and ponds. The most notable of his architectural monuments is Shat Gumbad Mosque (60 Dome Mosque).
Throughout our visit, we felt like celebrities. People were openly staring at us, and some would ask where we are from. They seemed really pleased to hear that we are Canadians. Our previous day’s tour guide explained to us that people in Bangladesh admire the diversity, freedom and tolerance in Canada. They also like Chinese people because China has been helping Bangladesh with many infrastructure projects.
Many young people wanted to take selfies with us. They were polite and friendly, just having fun. Bangladesh, especially rural areas, do not see too many international tourists. So naturally, we were a curiosity.
At the conclusion of our visit to Bagerhat, we drove another hour to Khulnar, an industrial city and third largest in Bangladesh. Khulna is in south Bangladesh, and a large part of the Sundarbans (a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal) is located at Khulnar.
After an overnight in Khulna, we boarded a train for a long train ride back to Dhaka.