SAMPAN a quintessential Chattogram ride
There are a few things that every city can call its own. Whether it's the yellow taxi cabs in New York or the street food in Dhaka, these are the things that capture the essence of these cities. For many Chattogram residents, its Sampan -- a wooden boat going around the Karnphuli for years -- is something that is everything quintessentially Chattogram.
The structure of this boat has been derived from the traditional Chinese sampan. Over the years, the designs have evolved to give it a look that is proudly Chittagongnian in every sense.
In the span of 200 years, these sampans have managed to keep their existence on focus in most of the ghats of Chattogram such as Avoymitra ghat, Char Pathar Ghata, Old Bridge Ghata, Kalar Para and Dighir Para.
The dependency of the port city on the Karnaphuli and the availability of the easiest route of communication between north and south Chattogram are considered to be the reason why the fame of the sampan boat took a rise.
Compared to any other travel route, the sampan journey began to gain more acceptance among people, as it required less time and money.
"It takes only 20 minutes and Tk 20 to reach Anowara from here whereas the bus would've cost Tk 90 and taken almost two hours," said Jamir Uddin, a businessman crossing the Karnaphuli from ghat-15.
The livelihoods of the scullers also started to move in a better direction because of these boats. There are currently 3,000 members of Karnaphuli River Sampan Majhi Welfare Association. Around 1,700 boatmen own boats.
Most are in the profession for generations, like Rafiq Miah, who came to work as a boatman at a very young age with his father.
"Now my son has inherited my engine-run Sampan," he said.
Each boat can carry 10 passengers at a time. The daily income of a boatman is around Tk 500, which came down to zero during the pandemic.
Motorised Sampans have taken away much of the attention from the antique ones, due to being time savvy. Trying to save the legacy of sampans, the scullers have been trying to get back to their old form as well.
According to the information presented by the association, a total of 2,700 sampans pass through the 16 ghats of the Karnaphuli. Of them, 250 are manually operated.
Sailors of Sampans are constantly struggling to keep the spark of the tradition alive. They have complained of being scammed in various issues of tax and lease and extortion by big merchants and traders, who are snatching the leases from them.
Amidst all this, Sampan upholds a classical feature of Chattogram, for which it has been projected in many special ways like in the monologue of Chittagong University, the fountain area of a five-star hotel etc, as a reminder of its heritage.
And the lives of many people in some areas of Chattogram are still driven by this heritage in a determined way, as it has been associated with life since time immemorial.