Shuvo shokal from Chittagong,
Getting around on the sub-continent is always interesting. Traffic in Dhaka is a study all on its own. Being in the middle of it can be infuriating and exciting in equal proportions. And perhaps the most exciting mode of transport is the CNG.
The CNGs are gas-propelled three-wheelers which would fit in the smallest room of the house quite easily. They have a top speed of about 60 kph and have a two-handed steering apparatus rather than a steering wheel. These are all manufactured in India and are so numerous they probably outnumber the rickshaws by now.
A journey in the cage behind the driver is a memorable experience and a half. (Some foreigners promise themselves not to have the experience at all.) A recent dash through the traffic of Chittagong had all the elements. It was one of those white-knuckle rides you’d pay a lot of money for in a theme park, with the distinct difference that at least on the theme park rides one can have full confidence in the outcome.
The drivers of these CNGs seem to believe that opportunity lost is the opportunity not taken; the opportunity being the narrow gap in the surrounding traffic, widening almost imperceptibly into a wedge just large enough to dart forward into to claim the space, hoping all other drivers have equal peripheral vision and equal regard for safety. During the helter skelter trip through the city, Linda can be heard to utter a squeaky “I’m not sure about this” or “Did you see that?” or, more likely, “Oh God”. (And she’s not a particularly religious person.)
I do have to report too, dear reader, that Linda has been known to close her eyes during these CNG rides, too, presumably to enjoy the aural experience just that little bit more. I suppose this is what she means when she subsequently admires the drivers’ “spatial consciousness”. It always surprises me when Linda makes a beeline for the CNG nowadays when other more conventional options are available.
Identical vehicles in Sri Lanka are called tuk tuks but the name hasn’t caught on here, where they go by the less glamorous epithet of CNGs. They were introduced to the streets of Dhaka as a measure to reduce pollution in the city and are all green (presumably to denote their environmental cred). But, like so many other things in an overcrowded country, the solution to one problem is the genesis of another.
The drivers are usually renting from company owners and are desperate for the fares. It’s unquestionably – from the passenger’s point of view – a buyer’s market. So they take any fare they can secure. It’s not unusual to see 9 or 10 people or freight or even a motorcycle sticking out both sides. Make the system cut-throat and safety becomes a minor consideration.
The surprising thing is that there don’t seem to be many accidents. In Bangladesh, the CNGs have dozens of dints in their duco but these are usually put their by the unrelenting cops who move them along by striking them with batons.
The CNGs provide another dimension to life in Dhaka. Who’s game?
khoda hafez from Chittagong