When a business trip came up for Dhaka, Bangladesh for 3 days, I didn’t know what to anticipate or expect. We were invited to attend the unveiling of the trophy of the prestigious Bangabondhu Gold Cup 2018 for Karim Associates. Initially we wondered whether it would be safe, whether we should go or politely decline the offer, but I must say we were pleasantly surprised. Visa sanctioned, flying business class, we landed at the Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka and were welcomed by our hosts who took care of everything – from our bags to comfortably escorting us to the hotel. We were mighty impressed. We checked into Hotel Westin Dhaka at Main Gulshan Avenue which was centrally located in the heart of the city.
For the next 2 days we witnessed immaculate hospitality, witnessed a super event organised meticulously by High Voltage Dhaka and also got half a day to roam around the city. Here are the reasons why you could visit Dhaka someday:
- Super Clean – The first impression as we left the airport and drove towards the city, there was utmost cleanliness everywhere. We traveled for 30 minutes everyday across different parts of town and it was very clean. The streets, the buildings, the shops, everywhere there was no dirt. We were very impressed.
- Unexplored completely – The Bangladesh Tourism Board is now getting somewhat active and starting to develop its tourism strategy. The country and city of Dhaka are completely unexplored. The countryside has some beautiful offerings like our very own India and the city has some historic monuments like the Lalbagh Fort (a 17th century fort), Ahsan Manzil (Landmark Palace of the Dhaka Nawabs) and Sonargaon (a museum of folk art and history). The Buriganga River, previously known as “Old Ganges”, flows past the southwest outskirts of Dhaka city, the capital of Bangladesh. I was told a boat ride from Sadarghat is a must next time I visit Dhaka. The quaint alleys of the old city and the masses conversing in homely Bengali, there is much to discover at this artistic and cultural melting pot. Do not forget to savour its legendary Bengali cuisine.
- Land of Pearls and Jamdani Sarees – If you want to take home something memorable from Dhaka, pink pearls are the best choice. The main residential area Gulshan has various shops with antiques, souvenirs and many jewellery shops in which most of the product is pearls. You will find a huge choice with different colors and sizes to choose from. Remember that these are cultured pearls which is the most indigenous and highly developed industry of Bangladesh. Another thing that you will find a lot is ceramics. There are various shops which sell ceramics and the variety and quality is really good. But it can be a pain traveling with it. So you could buy a set or individual pieces of something exquisite that you find. Another favourite are the famous Jamdani silk and cotton muslin sarees which can range from US$60 to US$600. We visited a few local shops in Gulshan and were surprised by the variety that was on offer. You can bargain at the local markets. Visit Aranya – the most popular store in Dhaka where you can find everything under one roof. They work with the local artisans and craftspeople helping them to establish greater recognition of their contributions to culture and society.
- Sports Mania – Bangladesh is now organising quite a few international tournaments and has emerged as one of the upcoming countries with Cricket, Soccer teams playing internationally. The popularity of cricket started when their Bangladesh national cricket team took the ICCP Trophy in 1997. In 2011, Bangladesh co-hosted the Cricket World Cup along with Sri Lanka and India. Other popular games in Bangladesh include football, hockey and even chess. As a matter of fact, Bangladesh has produced many of the world’s best chess players like Niaz Murshed, the first grandmaster out of South Asia (1987). Kabaddi is the national sport of Bangladesh. Bangabondhu International Volleyball Cup, Gold Soccer Cup, Asia Cup and various other tournaments are attracting visitors to the country.
- Hospitality – It doesn’t feel different when you are visiting Dhaka. It feels very much like a part of India, like you are in Kolkata. People speak Bengali and most of the culture of West Bengal has been imbibed by the country. Struggling with a huge population of 17 million people, but yet warm and polite, the Bangladeshis are proud of their culture and heritage. There is huge urban development just like India. A lot of international chains of Hotels like Westin, Conrad, Pan Pacific, Meridien, Amari, Radisson and Intercontinental are already present while Hilton is being constructed. The taxi guys are friendly and try to understand some Hindi while a few do speak some as well. If you are Bengali then you are sorted. You will feel like home.
All in all, we were pleasantly surprised by this country which is supposedly considered a poor country. By no means is that true. Everything that we saw or visited was far more expensive than even our own Mumbai. The country is growing by leaps and bounds and every prominent brand that you can think of is available there. From Porsche, Ford, Range Rover, Rolls Royce, the variety of cars plying on the road are even better than what we see in Mumbai. In Gulshan, you will feel like you are in a foreign country with posh buildings, 5 star hotels, beautiful pearl shops, best restaurants all around you. I cant wait to come back and visit the different parts of this country like a tourist when there is a direct flight available from Mumbai of 3.5 hours. Surely on my Bucket List!