Bangladesh is mainly composed of vast, low lying alluvial plain, cut by networks of rivers, canals, swamps and marshes. The network of rivers contributes to the socio-economic life of the nation. The main rivers are the Ganges, the Jamuna, and the Meghna, which after joining has created the largest delta of the world. The hilly regions lie only on the North-east and the South-eastern part of the country and some areas of high lands lie in the north and north-western part of the country.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated (150 million people) countries of the world with an area of 55,598 square miles. The country is bounded by India to the west, north and east, by Myanmar to the southeast and by Bay of Bengal to the south.
Dhaka is the capital of the country and a major commercial, manufacturing and cultural centre served by the nearest port Narayanganj.
Climate and clothing
Bangladesh generally enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. While we have six seasons, three seasons are mainly prominent – summer, monsoon and winter. The winter is normally from November to February with usually a temperature of about 20° Celsius. The Monsoon starts from July and lasts till October. This period accounts for 80% of the annual rainfall and is the principal season for floods. Tropical cyclones however occur during April to November. The summer is normally hot and humid at about 35° Celsius.
The last couple of years have seen a sudden change in the climatic pattern, mostly felt through a chilly winter, with temperatures scaling down to as low as 6° Celsius in late December to mid January. The most ideal time to visit Bangladesh, visitors coming in the winter should be carrying warm winter clothing.
If visiting during the summer, you are advised to wear loose fitting clothes made of cotton fabrics. Female visitors could choose to wear clothes that would cover shoulders, upper arms and legs while going out to public places. For places outside Dhaka one might prefer ‘Shalwar Kamiz’ (similar to loose trouser, long loose shirt and scarf) as that is one of the traditional dresses worn by most Bangladeshi women. This however is not mandatory!
A sunscreen lotion could be of great help in our summer.
Even a few years back, the city air used to be filled with smog that was caused by emission of vehicles – especially three-wheeler auto-rickshaws. You will not experience this so much these days after the faulty vehicles had been restricted from plying the roads, but if you move more towards the city center, or the older parts of the city, it still may begin to bother you. A growing number of people now wear cloth-made masks as a measure to avoid inhaling the polluted air. If you are traveling by a car it is advisable to keep the windows rolled up.
While many internationally acclaimed travel guides have identified Bangladesh as a Malaria prevalent country, and advises travelers to take specific drugs before entering and/or during stay in the country, it actually is not required if you are planning to remain only in the capital city. Malaria has been controlled quite successfully in the large cities and almost across the country. However, the problem still exists quite rampantly in a few pockets, especially in the remote hilly areas in the South-East.
Dengue fever, quite unknown to this country about two decades back, has found its way into Bangladesh over the last few years. Prevalent almost exclusively during the late monsoons, the disease spreads through the bite of a certain large mosquito. Incidentally, the mosquito bites only during early mornings and early evenings. So it is advisable to carry an insect repellent.
We would request you not to drink water from taps, as it may not be safe for drinking. Bottled drinking water is available all over the country. While buying water bottles, please ensure that the seal on the cap is not broken, and that there are no precipitates, which might result from improper or prolonged storage.
If you are on any regular specific medication, for any medical condition whatsoever, you are advised to carry your own medical supplies, as some foreign medicines are not always available in our local medicine stores. But for general medicines that are purchased over the counter, you need not bother carrying them, because, we not only have almost met our own need, Bangladesh is now exporting some medicines to different countries across the globe.
There are no immunization requirements while entering into Bangladesh.
Culture and our people
The Bangladesh population is ethnically fairly homogeneous although there are 47 minority groups with their own rich customs, culture, language & practices. People here practice various religions – Islam, Hinduism, Christianity & Buddhism, but the majority practice Islam. The religion (Islam) constitutes a strong social force and the mixture of Islamic ethos and the indigenous traditional culture of Bengal have gone into the shaping of a cultural heritage that is unique to Bangladesh. The literacy rate is about 60%. People mostly speak Bangla but in urban areas English is widely understood. With the introduction of Cable Television Network across the country, Hindi is also widely understood nowadays.
People mostly use their right hand, as that is the norm in Bangladesh. For passing on or accepting things the right hand should always be used and the left hand in this context should preferably be avoided. People in Bangladesh mostly use their right hand while eating. However, if you have an impairment in your right hand, your limitations in this area will be readily accepted by all.
Our people are very warm and hospitable. They take especial interest in somebody who is a foreigner. Please do not feel uncomfortable if you feel people are watching you. It is only because they understand you are new to the culture, and so are on their toes to come to your aid. If you warm up to them or simply smile back, for them it could well be a day to remember!
Bangladesh is rich for its traditional and cultural festivities that go on round the year – with a predominance in the winter. The year starts with a month-long international trade fair in January. This is followed by a month-long book-fair in February encompassing the Language Martyrs Day on 21st February commemorating the brave countrymen who laid down their lives to establish Bangla as the State Language in 1952. UNESCO has now declared this day as the International Mother Language Day. March 26 is celebrated nationally as the Independence Day. April hosts a weeklong festival to celebrate the Bangla New Year on April 14. December 16 is also celebrated nationally as the Victory Day. In between, religious, traditional and cultural festivities add color and spices to the lives of Bangladeshi people.
All traffic moves on the left hand side of the roads and all vehicles are right-hand-drive. This might call for a little extra caution for visitors coming in from countries where traffic moves on the right hand side of the roads.
The main entry point
The main entry point for visitors is the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, which is about a 20 minutes’’ drive from the diplomatic areas by car. We have two other international airports in the country at Sylhet and Chittagong also, located North-East and South-East of Dhaka respectively.
Though not known to many visitors, Bangladesh is a tourists’ paradise! The country has a rich heritage of historically important built structure, and at the same time is a playground of natural beauty. On the one hand, you would find historical or religious structures that date back by centuries, and on the other hand, there are modern infrastructures of architectural interest.
Wherever a visitor would wish to go outside Dhaka, there is a good road and some or other form of comfortable transportation – air, bus or launch – to take you there!
All hotels and modern guesthouses can arrange site-seeing trips to any of these locations. If you have the time to visit any, please ask at the Reception Desk of your hotel or guesthouse for any help in this regard.
Some recommended places in and around Dhaka:
The National Museum: Centrally located, the museum contains a large number of interesting collections including sculptures and paintings of the Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim periods. A large gallery there is dedicated to our liberation war.
The National Parliament: Perhaps the crowning dream creation of the great architect Louis Kahn, this massive complex, when completed, was rated as the tenth most expensive building in the world.
The Language Martyrs Memorial: Known in Bangla as the Shaheed Minar, it was erected in memory of the martyrs of the great language movement in then East Pakistan that peaked on 21st February 1952. Every year on this day more than a million people take part laying floral wreaths here to pay their respect. In a way, the Shaheed Minar is like a power house for all movements in realizing an independent Bangladesh. Situated in the Dhaka University area, there are many sculptures around the memorial and you can take a walk to see the Dhaka University, which has many sculptures and century old buildings. Throughout February, a month-long National Book Festival is organized at the National Bangla Academy to commemorate this day.
The Liberation War Museum: Situated at Shegun Bagicha area of the city contains rare photographs of the Liberation War and items used by the freedom fighters during the period.
The Lalbagh Fort: Located in the old part of the city, The Fort of Aurangabad, popularly known as the Lalbagh Fort, was built in 1678 AD by Prince Mohammad Azam, son of the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb, who was then the Viceroy of Bengal. The fort was the scene of bloody battle during the first war of independence (1857) when 260 sepoys stationed here backed by the people revolted against British forces. The fort has a three storied structure with slender minarets at the south gate. It has many hidden passages and a mosque of massive structure. Outstanding among the monuments of the Lalbagh Fort are the Tomb of Pari Bibi, an Audience and the Hammam of Nawab Shaista Khan now housing a museum.
The Ahsan Manzil: On the bank of the river Buriganga in Dhaka, the pink majestic Ahsan Manzil has been renovated and turned into a museum. The home of the Nawab of Dhaka and a silent spectator to many events, it is an example of the nation’s real cultural heritage. Today’s renovated Ahsan Manzil is a monument of immense historical beauty. It has 31 rooms with a huge dome atop which could be seen from miles around. It now has 23 galleries displaying portraits, furniture and household articles and utensils used by the Nawabs.
The Curzon Hall: At present, housing the science faculty of Dhaka University – this building named after Lord Curzon is an exquisite blend of British & Mughal Architecture.
The Suhrawardy Uddyan: Centrally located in the city is the Suhrawardy Uddyan (garden), formerly known as the Race Course, the popular park of the city. It is here that the clarion call for independence of Bangladesh was given by the Founder of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 7th March 1971, and curiously enough it is again here that the commander of the occupation forces surrendered on 16th December 1971.
The Bahadur Shah Park: Built to commemorate the martyrs of the first liberation war (1857-59) against the British rule, it was here that the revolting sepoys and their civil compatriots were publicly hanged.
The High Court Building: Originally built as the residence of the British Governor, it illustrates a happy blend of European and Mughal architecture.
Sites of all Faiths: Historically, Dhaka is known as the City of Mosques with thousands of them located at every nook and corner of the city. Amongst all these, there are some that have stood the test of time due to their architecture and aesthetic beauty. The most known is the Star Mosque in the old part of the city. But this city also has a plethora of sites for people of all other faiths. The Dhakeswari Temple, the Armenian Church and the Buddhist Vihara are just a few such examples.
Sonargaon About 30 kms south from Dhaka. Sonargaon is one of the oldest capitals of Bengal. A Folk Arts and Crafts Museum has been established here. Just about a 10 minutes’ walk away, you will come to the historic Panam City, the residential area of the top business people of the late 19th and early 20th Century. About 30 houses, built on both sides of a road still stand tall, with some still in fairly good condition.
The National Martyrs Memorial Located at Savar, 35 kms from Dhaka city. The memorial designed by architect Moinul Hossein is dedicated to the sacred memory of the millions of unknown martyrs of the 1971 war of liberation.
The Heritage Park About an hour’s drive from Dhaka, the Heritage Park has been created to give a visitor a glimpse of the historical buildings (in miniature scaled down size) that have made this country a haven for tourists.
Visits (day-trips) to any of these sites can be arranged from your guest house on advance booking and payment.
If you are willing to stay on longer and visit some other tourist spots far away from Dhaka, those recommended are:
Cox’s Bazaar: (4 days including travel) Miles of golden sands, towering cliffs, surfing waves, rare conch shells, star fishes on the beach, colorful pagodas, Buddhist temples and tribes, delightful sea-food and the sun setting into the sea – this is Cox’s Bazaar, the tourist capital of Bangladesh. Having the world’s longest (120 kilometers) undisturbed beach sloping gently down to the shark-free blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, Cox’s Bazaar is one of the most attractive tourist spots in the country. Cox’s Bazaar is connected both by air and road from Dhaka. Other attractions for visitors are conch shell market, tribal handicrafts, salt and prawn cultivation. You can drive down by the beach in “Lunar Vehicles” to Himchhari or Inani for pure sea bathing pleasure with the sea to the west and a background of steep hills to the east. Or you could take a speed boat ride to Moheshkhali Island, fringed by mangrove jungle, where in the hills on the coast is built the shrine of Adinath, dedicated to the Lord Shiva. By its side on the same hill is a Buddhist Pagoda. Or you could take a four hour drive by the sea shore to Teknaf, the southern-most tip of Bangladesh, where the wide sandy beach in the backdrop of high hills with green forests and the estuary of the Naaf River is an enchanting scene never to be forgotten. Spending an extra day, one can travel to Saint Martin’s Island, the only coral island of the country.
The Sundarbans: (5 days including travel) In the south-western part of Bangladesh lies the Sundarbans, the world’s largest natural mangrove forest spread across 6,000 square kilometers, and home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Sundarbans is a cluster of islands, where land and water meet in many novel fashions, wildlife presents many a spectacle. This is indeed a land for the nature lovers and photographers with its abundance of game, big and small, crocodile, monkey, wild boar, spotted deer, pythons, wild-birds and above all the Royal Bengal Tiger, cunning, ruthless and yet majestic & graceful. For the less adventurously inclined, there are ducks & snipes, herons & coots, yellow-lags & the sandpipers. It is also the land for the ordinary holiday makers who desire to rest or wander around at will to refresh their mind and feast their eyes with the rich treasure that nature has so fondly bestowed. The famous spots are Hiron Point, Kotka, Dublar Char and the Tin Kona (three cornered) Island.
The Kuakata Beach: (3 days including travel) Locally known as Sagar Kanya (Daughter of the Sea), Kuakata, about 320 kms south of Dhaka, is one of the rarest places which has the unique beauty of offering the full view of both the rising and setting of the crimson sun in the Bay of Bengal in a calm environment. That perhaps makes Kuakata one of the world’s unique beaches. The name Kuakata has originated from kua (well) kata (digging) on the sea shore by the early Rakhaine settlers in quest of collecting drinking water, who landed on Kuakata coast after being expelled from Arakan by the Moghuls. Later, it has become a tradition of digging wells in the Rakhaine homestead for collection of water for drinking purpose & general use. The long & wide sandy beach here has a typical natural setting, with gentle slopes into the Bay, where bathing is as pleasant as is walking or diving. Kuakata is truly a sanctuary for migratory winter birds, a series of coconut trees, sandy beach of blue Bay, a feast for the eye. Forest, boats plying with colorful sails in the Bay of Bengal, fishing, surfing waves – everything here touches every visitor’s heart. The unique customs and costumes of the Rakhaine tribal families and the century old Buddhist Temple indicate the ancient tradition and cultural heritage, which are objects of great pleasure. Kuakata is the place of pilgrimage of the Hindus & Buddhist communities. Innumerable devotees arrive here at the festival of Raash Purnima‘ and Maghi Purnima. On these two days they take a holy bath & traditional fairs are held here. All these additions to the panoramic beauty make the beach more attractive to the visitors.
Rangamati: (4 days including travel) From Chittagong a 77 km road amidst green fields and winding hills will take you to Rangamati, the headquarters of the hill District, a wonderful repository of scenic splendors with flora & fauna of varied descriptions. The township, located on the western bank of the Kaptai Lake, is a favorite holiday resort because of its beautiful landscape, scenic beauty, lake, colorful tribes (Chakma, Marma etc), its flora & fauna, an ethnic museum, hanging bridge, homespun textile products, ivory jewellery and the ethnic men & women who fashion them. For tourists the attractions of Rangamati are many – ethnic life, fishing, speed boat cruising, water skiing, hiking, bathing or merely enjoying nature as it is. A recent addition to a tourist’s must visit list in the district is the Sajek River Valley, a green grassland surrounded by hills and forests, almost 2,000 feet above sea level. It is a surreal place where people of Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Pankua, Lusai and Sagma tribes coexist on peace, and women lead almost all of the socio-economic activities.
Bandarban: (4 days including travel) 92 kms from Chittagong, Bandarban is the home town of the Bohmong Chief, who is the head of the Mogh tribe. The Buddhist Moghs are of Myanmar origin, jovial & carefree by nature and hospitable people. Bandarban is also the home of the Murangs who are famous for their music and dance. Traveling into the interior one will meet several other tribes of great interest for anyone who cares to make the journey. Spend a night at the ethnic styled cottages built on the steep slopes of the hills, overlooking the valley below with shampans (local variety of boats) cruising along the serpentine Rigri Khyong (the Shankha River), or ethnic people maneuvering large piles of bamboo stocks along the river to local markets. Take a ride to Chimbuk, the highest peak accessible by road-transports, and stop at Meghla to view the country’s largest natural stone-falls.
Sylhet: (4 days including travel) Nestled in the picturesque Surma Valley amidst scenic tea plantations and lush green tropical forests, Sylhet is a prime attraction for all tourists visiting Bangladesh. Lying between the Khasia and the Jaintia hills on the north, and the Tripura hills on the south, Sylhet breaks the monotony of the flatness of this land by a multitude of terraced tea gardens, rolling countryside and the exotic flora and fauna. Here the thick tropical forests abound with many species of wildlife, spread their aroma around the typical hearth and homes of the Manipuri Tribal maidens famous for their dance. The Sylhet valley is formed by a beautiful, winding pair of rivers named the Surma & the Kushiara both of which are fed by innumerable hill streams. The valley has a large number of haors (big natural depressions), which during winter are vast stretches of green land, but in the rainy season turn into turbulent seas. These haors provide a sanctuary to the millions of migratory birds who fly from Siberia across the Himalayas. Historically, before the conquest by the Muslims, Sylhet was ruled by local chieftains. In 1303, the great Saint Hazrat Shah Jalal came to Sylhet from Delhi with a band of 360 disciples to preach Islam and defeated the then Raja Gour Gobinda. Sylhet thus became a home of saints, shrines and daring but virile people. Its rich potentialities became easily attractive and the 18th century Englishmen made their fortune in tea plantation. For miles and miles around, the visitor can see the tea gardens spread like a green carpet over the plain land or on the sloping hills. Sylhet not only has over 150 tea gardens, but proudly possesses the three largest tea gardens in the world both in area & production. Sylhet is also well-known for its wide variety of exquisite cane handicrafts. Chairs, tables, tea trays, flower vases, bags and the exquisitely designed fine Sital Pati (a kind of mattress having natural cooling effect) are colorful and useful souvenirs.
The Mainamati Ruins: (day trip) About 150 kms south-east of Dhaka by the Dhaka-Chittagong highway lies a range of low hills known as the Mainamati-Lalmai ridge, an extensive centre of Buddhist culture. Scattered on the slopes of these hills lie a treasure of information about the early Buddhist civilization (7th-12th Century AD) at Salban. In the middle of the ridge, excavations have bared a large Buddhist Vihara (monastery) and an imposing Central Shrine. It has revealed valuable information about the rule of the Chandra and Deva dynasties which flourished here during the 7th to 12th century. The whole range of hillocks run for about 18 kms and is studded with more than 50 sites. A site museum houses the archaeological findings which include terracotta plaques, bronze statues and casket, coins, jewellery, utensils, pottery and votive stupas embossed with Buddhist inscriptions. The Museum is open Sunday-Friday and closed on Saturday.
The Historic North Bengal: (5 days of traveling) take a day-long journey to Dinajpur, the northernmost greater district of the country. This is home to the Ram Shagor (great sea) Lake, a good picnic spot having facilities for fishing and rowing in a serene and quiet green countryside atmosphere. Kantanagar Temple, the most ornate among the late medieval temples of Bangladesh is situated near Dinajpur town. It was built by Maharaja Pran Nath in 1752 A.D. Every inch of the external temple surface is beautifully embellished with exquisite terracotta plaques, representing flora, fauna, geometric motifs, mythological scenes and an astonishing array of contemporary social scenes and favorite past times. The Maharaja’s Palace with relics of the past centuries and local museum are also worth a visit. Travel down to Bogra to visit the ruins of Mahasthan Garh, the earliest archeological site (3rd Century BC) discovered so far in Bangladesh. There are plenty more archeological sites around. Drive west to Paharpur, a small village in the Naogaon district where the remains of the most important and the largest known monastery south of the Himalayas have been excavated. This 7th century archaeological find covers an area of approximately 27 acres of land. The establishment, occupying a quadrangular court, measuring more than 900 ft. has a total number of 177 rooms. The architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is profoundly influenced by those of South-East Asia, especially Myanmar and Java. Take a break to see the historic Kusumba Mosque (known as Bengal’s Black Pearl) on your way to Rajshahi on the bank of the Ganges, the city of silk factories. Visit the Barendra Research Museum and drive down to see the Maharaja’s Palace at Natore, which is now the President’s Official Residence of the northern region. It is situated amid well-kept grounds, surrounded by a fine moat, an imposing gateway and a fine garden decorated with statues of white marble. Complete this trip with a detour to Shahjadpur Kuthhibari in Kushtia, which carries the memory of the Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore who made frequent visits to this place in connection with the administration of his zamindari and enriched Bengali literature through his writings during that time.
Over the last decade, Dhaka has seen the mushroom growth of restaurants even in Gulshan and Banani areas. There are all sorts of restaurants – Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Spanish, Turkish, Vietnamese etc. Western food is available in all major hotels and most of the big restaurants in the city. But local dishes are normally far better and more exotic. Most local specialties are usually served with rice and based on chicken, mutton or beef. We would like to recommend seafood (particularly prawns) and kebabs.
Bangladesh is reputed for her handicrafts. Exquisite hand-made articles with a large variety are readily available and prices are reasonable. Cottage industry products like fabrics, printed sarees, pink pearls, wood products, coconut masks, folk dolls, shital pati (mattress having cooling effect), terracotta toys and jute products for decorative purposes are very typical of Bangladesh. Brassware, delicate silver trinkets, embroidered silk sarees, Jamdani sarees, scarves, purses, bamboo decoration pieces, cane & conch shell products, gold and silver ornament, jute carpets and a host of other attractive handicrafts can be bought in the shops, at the handicraft sale centers and galleries in the cities and also at tourist spots.