Saturday, April 27, 2019

Mode a la Mode

What I have discovered about Dhaka, is I enjoy discovering Dhaka. Sure, there is the sheer madness of the traffic, the bad air, the constant honking of horns and the foul smells. However there is much to discover here. It is the mode of transportation you choose to get around this madhouse that adds to the absurdity that surrounds you. Some of your choices will find yourself questioning said choices and suddenly wondering if you had your Last Will and Testament up to date let alone your health insurance. In no particular order here we go.

Uber is an excellent option. I use it often and normally without issue. Now that being said, be prepared for some cars that have seen better days and drivers who know zero English. The only constant  issue is that too many drivers do not have a GPS map on their phone. Weird since they are registered Uber drivers. How difficult would it be to download Google Maps as a requirement to be an Uber driver? More than once I have had to hand over my phone  to the driver so they know where they are going. Issue number 2, they usually do not know where they are going. I get that this is a huge city but at least know the neighborhoods. Come on man!  I am speaking in generalities because I have had some flawless rides, but they are more rare then normal.  Issue number 3. Is having the driver actually find you. This is a global Uber issue and I do not speak Bengali. When they call we do our best. However, and without fail there is always someone around to help (because they will be standing and staring at you anyways). Someone will speak enough English to offer to take the phone and guide the driver. It has never failed me.

Uber Scooter and Pathao
If you are looking for a bit of madness and adventure, choose the scooter option with Uber. All the same challenges apply in finding your ride. When they arrive, you are given a helmet, you jump on the back and be prepared for the ride of your life. The driver will take care to not "kill you". After all, he has a reputation to uphold. You will weave in and out of traffic, way to close too buses, cars and other scooters, never mind the myriad of rickshaws. The good thing is traffic is so congested you are never going over 15 or 20 km an hour. That is until you hit an open part of the road and off you go like the proverbial bat out of hell. Oddly, I feel comfortable on the back of these scooters. I think I like the air and openness around me.

*** I was quickly reminded of how dangerous these modes of transport can be. A young girl was riding on the back of an Uber Scooter in Dhaka the other day. It was hit from behind by a truck. She fell off and was run over by the truck. Read the story here.  A quick reminder that madness of the traffic and the recklessness of the drivers are very real.

10 seat microbus
A battered city bus
In the back of a CNG. Naturally a friendly driver
City corner madness
A napping Uber Scooter driver
CNGs  Compressed Natural Gas - My personal choice most days

CNG - Compressed Natural Gas
My new personal favorite is the CNG, compressed natural gas. Yup, a small explosive device raging through traffic without a care in the world. CNG drivers are by far the most aggressive on the streets of Dhaka. You can find them everywhere, they usually know where you are going if you show them the location on the phone and they are cheaper than Uber. They are enclosed with a cage so you get the fresh, well Dhaka fresh air as you find your way. I have yet to find a CNG driver who was not friendly and courteous. They do have a meter inside the cab but I like to negotiate a fare beforehand. Usually it is more than what the meter would be but it works for me. No surprises like "boss, I cannot find the place" and they drive around raising the fare. CNG will go anywhere in the city.
* These are popular all through India. They have just been introduced in London England and are taking the city by storm. Look for them at a city near you.

Dhaka, the rickshaw capital of the world has approximately. 500,000 rickshaws operating every day. Some days you would think that all 500,000 are on the same stretch of road you are on.
Rickshaws are great for short trips around your neighborhood, heading back from the market, home from having a few drinks or you just want to take a spin. They are incredibly inexpensive. I never negotiate a price beforehand. I just jump in and pay something at the end. If it is not enough the rider will speak up. I am talking 50 Taka, or C$0,80 for a ride of about 20 minutes or so. If he wants another 50 then I am more than happy to oblige. Sometimes a short trip from the market home, about 5 minutes will cost you 20 Taka, and the rider is happy for it. They guys work  hard for very little money and they are all obviously lean.

As an aside, it would be easy to toss 200 Taka to a rickshaw rider because it is not a lot of money. However, you must learn to live within the rules of Dhaka when it comes to paying and not overpay. You cannot create an isolated price and market for foreigners because we will pay more. Oddly you need to argue for every Taka. I know it seems trivial but it is important

City Bus.
When you are not taking a bus you can look at the mess that they are and wonder why you would climb aboard. Scratched, dented, dirty and overcrowed. I have taken a bus a few times now. A short trip from Banani, across Gulshan to Baridhara which took about 15 minutes. The bus was  not crowed at all this being Banani and the ride cost 15 Taka, $0.24 Canadian. You buy a ticket from a vendor on the side of the road and off you go. I had a good lesson on taking this bus so it was flawless. There are so many lumbering, smoke belching and nasty buses outside of Banani and Gulshan that even students at the school shriek in horror when I ask if I should take one. Reason enough to give it try one day I guess

There are over 1 million rickshaws in Bangladesh
I can not describe the noise
Flatbed delivery bikes
Cold food delivery bike
A little bike maintenance on the side of a very busy street
Recycling bicycle

A Micro Bus or Micro Taxi is built for 10. Naturally, it is normally crammed with 12 or 14. Anise explained them to me but I can not see me ever using them. They are the short route buses, much like rickshaws. I was told you tell the driver where you are going and he will get  you there, if it is within his driving zone. The cost is 10 Taka and they are popular with uniformed school kids and their parents.

Once you choose your mode of madness you can get anywhere in this town. Last year according to the Daily Star, Dhaka was rated as the second worst city in the world to live in, behind Damascus Syria which has been in a civil war for 5 years!! This year we held strong at number 2 according to the Economist. These facts are all true, but Dhaka is also interesting and historical. It has a myriad of neighborhoods and slums, yes slums to explore. There are ancient sites to walk around such as Lalibagh Fort, which was erected in 1678. There are also plenty of museums, parks, and historical monuments to find. That my friend is what this is all about. Choosing a place to visit is great. Finding it in the cauldron of madness that is Dhaka, now that is where the real fun is.

The Revolutionary Museum opened my eyes to a part of world history, the Bangladesh War of Independence from Pakistan. Growing up I remember there being an East and West Pakistan, formed after the independence of India from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947. After years of repression from Pakistan, Bangladesh launched a final campaign for Independence. It was bloody, brutal and hard fought. With so many independence fights in Africa, SE Asia and Central America this war was largely ignored in the West. I am a result of that ignorance.

The Concert for Bangladesh Poster from 1971
George Harrison hand written lyrics
Nicely painted entrance
The entrance to the Liberation Museum
The museum entrance memorial
Poignant words from a revolutionary

Take the time to listen to the full concert HERE on YouTube. Live Aid in the 80s was massive thanks to the drive of Bob Geldof. Steven Van Zandt left the E-Street Band and rose up with Artists against Apartheid in the mid 80's with Sun City. Artists from Canada, The USA and the UK brought attention to the famine in Ethiopia and Farm Aid helped American Farmers, also in the 80's. These concerts all had roots from George Harrison. He was much more than the Beatles. He was a humanitarian and well ahead of his time. Bangladesh remembers George and we need to as well.

Lalibagh Fort goes back to 1678. That is over 400 years for those keeping score at home. I have never been asked to take so many selfies in a 2 hour period.  It was not a real busy day so I stood out as the only guy wearing short, "jorts" naturally, on a sunny day where the temperature hovered about 40 degrees Celsius. I also noticed from the photos that I am wearing my blue checked Colombia shirt. A shirt that I bought almost 10 years ago and has been with me every step of the way. There are no holes, frays and blemishes considering where it has been and what I have put it through. I should send a message to Colombia and let them know I am a fan.

Nice view of the Tomb and Lalibagh Fort
Another view of the interior of the Fort Complex
Selfies selfies and more selfies
A water drainage ditch..that worked 400 years ago. They need it now
Part of a photo shoot that took at least 15 minutes
My photo shoot crew

The fort is easy enough to get to as a major attraction for both tourists and locals. There were also quite a few school groups here. None of them gave a shit where they were, they just wanted to take photos, which brings me back to the selfies. With every few steps and an opening I was greeted with a "what country" and followed by a shy "selfie?" So it went. Families, young couples, kids which are cool. When they realized I was approachable, the hoards of students descended like a pack of lions on unsuspecting prey. There were selfies with groups, selfies one on one, selfies with pairs and selfies with selfies. Each time a friendly hand was extended followed by "thank you sir". It was fun and they were more than willing to take photos of me. That being said one quick touristy photo for this blog became an extended photo shoot that included different poses, standing, sitting, horizontal, vertical angular. All I needed was a swimsuit and pouty duck lips....Now you are picturing me in a swimsuit aren't you. How is that working out for you?😂😂😂

No comments: