Touring Old Dhaka | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 05, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 05, 2011

TANGENTSBy Ihtisham Kabir

Touring Old Dhaka

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Praying in Star Mosque. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

Dhaka's deserted streets during Eid present an opportunity for exploring old Dhaka. There are many sights and surprises, so where do we start and what do we cover? Here is a route I follow by foot and rickshaw when I take friends or relatives for a tour. You can see several historic Dhaka highlights in three to four hours, starting near the Court Kachari and ending at Polashi.
The first stop is Victoria Park, built to commemorate the martyrs of the 1857 Rebellion against the British. On early morning or late afternoon you can catch the throngs of people doing their exercise. In the centre is the only obelisk I have found in Dhaka.
From here, walk south towards the river port of Sadarghat. Thousands of people travel by boat every day from here. Climb into a large launch and go to the rooftop to get a sweeping view of the river. The Nawab's palace, Ahsan Manzil, is close by if you want a quick look.
Returning from the river, Shakhari Bazar is across Victoria Park. The narrow lane was built for Hindu craftsmen in the 19th century who made ornaments from conch shells and is now the scene for many Hindu festivities. Few of the original triple-arched entrances remain, but peek into any open doorway to see the narrow and deep houses intended to maximize the storefronts.
From Shakhari Bazar, take a rickshaw to Armanitola to see Tara Mosque, possibly the most beautiful in Dhaka. Nearby is the Armenian Church, with a well-preserved Christian cemetery.
Did all that sightseeing make you hungry? Al-Razzaque restaurant in Bangshal can be reached by foot or rickshaw from Armanitola. The restaurant serves fresh fish at lunchtime. Biriyani and lamb roast are also available. Their faluda dessert and rich sweet tea are special treats.
Next destination: Chawk Bazar, reached by rickshaw. This is a large square block where much of Dhaka's wholesale business activities take place.
On the south-eastern edge of Chawk is an alley that leads to Bara Katara. Dating to the 16th century, it might just be the oldest building in Dhaka. It was originally built as a caravanserai (inn) for traders who came to Dhaka by boat. Now it is a Madrasah. Admire the main archway on the alley, beautiful but dilapidated. Then enter the Madrasah for exploring the Katara complex including its labyrinthine stairways.
Next, take a rickshaw to Lalbagh to see the elegant mosque of Khan Mohammed Mridha, built on a raised platform. From here, walk five minutes to the Lalbagh Fort. This unfinished Fort was built during the time of Moghul emperor Aurangzeb, started by Prince Azam with further work by the great Shaista Khan.
Inside the Kella are Pori Bibi's tomb, the Hammamkhana, and remains of a Moghul garden built atop the barracks. The beautifully kept gardens add charm.
At Polashi, the Dhakeswari national Hindu temple is a short distance from the Kella. After seeing the temple complex, we end our tour of old Dhaka.

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