Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
It took a boat trip on the river to convince us that the waterways are the major thoroughfares in this country. The surface road there was a dirt track barely capable of taking the traffic. (Apparently it shows as an expressway on maps of the country! Some cartographer’s joke, surely?)
The river is a bustling commercial thoroughfare, and reasonably picturesque to boot. The banks are covered with coconut palms, bananas and the occasional sugar plantations. There seems to be no natural levee bank, or perhaps the monsoonal rain had lifted the water level up to the brim. Further downstream there were quite a few heavy industries in full swing, including cement works and shipbuilding plants. Plying the waters were many barges with bricks, cement and foodstuffs. In the hinterland, where the residential sectors are, there are many flagpoles bearings the national flags of Argentina and Brazil. No-one seemed to be able to explain this except to point out the obvious fact that the soccer world cup had been held recently in South America.
We stopped at a Hindu temple which stands in the grounds of a splendid zaminder’s palace, constructed in 1878. (Zaminder = rich landowner from 19th century) The place is no longer in private hands and is no longer splendid (real estate agents might deem it to be a renovator’s delight).
water on the pitch
In the expansive grounds there were several soccer games in progress. These games bore the hallmarks of every impromptu soccer game the world over: skins vs shirts; makeshift goals and the linesman’s frond substituting for a flag. The only difference was the large amount of water and the resultant smell of eutrophication. The lads seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely and were excited to find themselves playing in front of an audience.
If Bangladesh ever wants to mimic their neighbours and encourage tourists to these shores they will assuredly need to do something about the road network. At the moment it’s sub-standard, to say the least. It struggles to cope with the demands of contemporary traffic, let alone the vehicles that will be here when the middle class demand more cars.
Signage in the city informs us that there is a plan for elevated expressways to ease some of the congestion. I suppose the local authorities know that the experience the world over is that as soon as you build a road, it will be filled with cars and then you will want to build another one, and so on in a never-ending circle.
The bus system in Dhaka appears ramshackle but definitely serves a crucial function. The buses themselves are clearly second-hand stock and surely near the end of their days. They all bear countless scrapes and dints from collisions and sideswipes from days of yore. These buses are almost invariably full and often have riders on the roof. Foreigners avoid these conveyances, but my friend Shuvo has promised to take me on a trip from one part of the city to another, with a seat on the roof as part of the deal. Perhaps I could send a photograph from the perch, or do you think I should hang on to something?
There is no doubt that Bangladesh developed around its waterways. Why wouldn’t that be so? Waterways cover an extraordinary 6.5% of the land. Can you imagine that? (That doesn’t include lakes.) Much of the coastal territory is very fertile but is at or near sea level. This makes it susceptible to environmental disasters like tidal waves. Think of the irony: the country which has contributed the least to global warming, ends up suffering the most from it. The irony is not lost on these long-suffering people, let me assure you.