Forlorn pictures of antiquity paint images of sun-beaten men rowing their boats through the blue-grey waters of the Shitalakhya -- their faded orange sails swishing with the breeze and the lonely air occasionally pierced with the folk songs of Hasson Raja emanating from the deep vocals of the majhi.
Yes, no Bengali can escape the allure that these waterways hold for us. This monsoon it is time to splurge in the bliss of spending a day on the boat and experience the slow life aboard burnished wooden boats glistening in the soft light of the sun hidden by the monsoon sky.
All aboard the Contic
Where the mighty Ganges river tied the knot with Jamuna and took the party towards Meghna, the communion of fresh and salty water birthed the largest mangrove forest in the world. The famous Sundarban, mystical as ever, stands as the last untouched bastion of Bangladesh's brimming wildlife. The magical interior of the forest is fabled to be protected by proud, majestic and fearsome creatures -- The Royal Bengal Tiger. Thus, the impenetrable forest is made more daunting. Thankfully, Contic Cruises offers the opportunity to wade through the streams, lakes and water bodies surrounding the enchanted Sundarbans, offering a rare glimpse into the depth of the forests.
The brainchild of a couple passionate about the rural beauties of Bangladesh, Contic also offers unique boat rides on some of the major rivers of Bangladesh. Here is a chance to take a glimpse back into the past, where the rivers were one of the main sources of travel, navigation, trade and in short a lifeline to the Dhaka city growing in the heart of the rivers.
Sights of the old city, a breath of fresh air and a gateway to what once was a busy river city -- Contic packs all these elements into one. With options ranging from half-day, full-day to overnight stays the Contic cruises have something on offer for all. Prices start at Tk.4500 for Contic Cruises.
Rediscovering the wetlands around Dhaka
While most of us choose to go far from the city in hopes of a vacation, the outskirts of Dhaka offer a quick respite from the busy life as well. Dhaka, which is re-imagined every year as the next Venice, with so many lakes and ponds dotting the apparent concrete city, is now making use of its wetlands.
Driving out into Ashulia which is barely an hour away from the city you will find yourself in a vast sprawling expanse of wetlands now under the grips of development. Yet nature finds a way to fight and you see stretches of water punctuated with tall grasses and reed lands growing in the water. Boat rides in Ashulia can prove to be exhilarating experiences and one company that offers such rides complete with lunch and a well furnished deck from where you can enjoy the sights is Keari Cruise and Dine in Ashulia. You can take a seven-hour river cruise from the Ashulia B.I.W.T.A ghaat. Prices start around Tk.2200 per person and they usually advise to bring in a total of 80 guests under a package programme. Closer to the main city, lies the misunderstood and often maligned locality of Beriband. At the end of Mohammadpur, the so-called dam offers a huge water-body, with unclaimed islands sprouting up every now and then. The setting for the famous Monpura movie, here boating is treated more as a necessity than a tourist venture. Boat rides are cheaper around this part, starting from a meager Tk.50.
Perhaps the most intriguing boat ride the city can offer is the short boat ride that takes you from the hustle and bustle of Gulshan traffic to the relative calm of the nearby Korail. Accessible by a worn down road also, locals prefer the short boat ride, costing Tk.20, from the bridge in Gulshan 1 to Korail. One of Dhaka's most populated slum areas adjacent to Dhaka's most posh area, the juxtaposition of the two does indeed make for a unique experience.
In the heart of the city
Who would have thought that in the busy clamour for development, Dhaka would still conserve pockets of nature where one can escape to? In the busy locality of Dhanmondi lies one such iconic getaway -- Dhanmondi Lake. Come evening, throngs of people are seen frequenting the lake premises in the hope of some much needed fresh air and greenery. And to top that off, Dhanmondi lake comes armed with boat rides. These are paddle boats that you can hire from the premises for 30 minutes to an hour and enjoy a relaxing evening touring the lake the fun way! Of course, the idyllic setting and the paddle boats require you to not really relax all that much, as paddling is hard. However, once you make it out onto the middle of the lake or perhaps a secluded corner near a tree-shade, you can sit and watch the world literally crawling to life around you. Dhanmondi Lake is almost always densely populated by hangers-on from all walks for life. Students, poets, singers, artists, office workers on a break and the fitness bugs are all found in this one corner. After boating, there is still a lot to do. One can watch the fishermen casting their hooks, look out for the snakes that are known to swim the lakes or even go swimming. Seeing the expansive water-body, one can't help wonder of times when all the lakes were linked, from Dhanmondi to Hatirjheel to Ashulia. Dhaka once was the city of boats and though the lakes may have faded, the love for water and boats seemingly has not.
Bangladesh and boats almost go hand in hand. With so many stories of lonely Majhis occupying a great many years of our childhood, it is hard not to wonder about the mystic charms that our rivers carry. It is time to discover some of those charms.
Special thanks to Md. Anisuzzaman, Associate Professor & Chairman, Department of Printmaking, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka for allowing to use his watercolour paintings as illustration.