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Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh and as one of the most crowded countries in the world, it comes as little surprise that their capital also fits that bill. Home to some 12 million people, Dhaka is a hectic, polluted and congested city where you constantly find yourself bumping into people. And it's not just people that are plentiful - Dhaka also holds the world record for number of rickshaws in a city, something that adds a flash of color to the endless rivers of chaos that make up Dhaka's streets.
Dhaka has been developing fast as a modern city, much in contrast to the rest of Bangladesh, and it has clearly become the country's hub of economic, educational and political activity. That doesn't mean that everyone living in Dhaka has been able to ride it's growth, if anything the gap between poor and rich is most obvious here where just a few minutes ride in a rickshaw will allow you to experience both sides first hand. For visitors the destination would be considered cheap by most standards.
Dhaka has a tropical monsoon climate. There are roughly three seasons. The cool season from November to February, although warmer than in much of India. Than during the hot season from March until early June some rainstorms occur and these are often thundery. Temperatures and humidity combined makes this time not the most pleasant one, but it beats the rains during the the main rainy season of the southwest monsoon from June to September when the rainfall is heavy and frequent. September to November is wet as well, with changes of cyclones particularly during these months, although they can occur in August already. Temperatures are roughly 25 °C or a little more in summer during the day and 12 °C or 13 °C at night. April is the hottest month with average daytime temperatures of around 35 °C but over 40 °C is no exception. Nights from May to October are around or over 25 °C! July is the wettest month with more than 400 mm of rain.
Shahjalal International Airport (previously called Zia International Airport), located around 25 kilometres from the city, is well served by international flights from most continents.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines has flights mainly to the southern parst of Asia and to Hongkong, Rome and London. GMG Airlines is a bigger airline though and based at Dhaka as well. It has the same destinations as Biman, with the exception that it flies to Milan instead of Rome.
Jet Airways has cheap flights between Delhi and Dhaka while also AirAsia X has chartered budget flights from Kuala Lumpur and low-cost airline Air Arabia is planning to fly from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, making it possible to fly cheaper to Bangladesh compared to direct flights from Europe. Tiger Airways has cheap flights from Singapore to Dhaka. Other major carriers that fly to Dhaka include: Thai Airways International, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines from Southeast Asia; Dragon Air from Hong Kong; China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines from China; Druk Air that connects Dhaka to Paro in Bhutan and to Bangkok; Gulf Air (Bahrain), Qatar Airways (Doha), Kuwait Airways, Emirates (Dubai), Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi) and Saudi Arabian Airlines from the Middle East; and Pakistan International Airlines for Karachi.
Bangladeshi rail services connect Dhaka to most parts of the country including Chittagong, which is served twice daily from the capital and some carriages are airconditioned. The main train station in Dhaka is at Kamlapur. Trains in general take more time than travelling by bus but are in general more comfortable and safer.
New luxurious bus companies have joined the market though including Green Line, Shyamoli and Shohagh. They serve Dhaka to and from dozens of places in Bangladesh, with Chittagong and Cox's Bazar being the most important destinations. These and other bus companies have offices across Dhaka, including at the three main bus terminals, Sayedabad for buses to the south and east, Mohakhali for buses to Mymensingh and the north, and Gabtoli for buses to the north and west.
Standards of 'luxury' on bus services vary, company to company and bus to bus. At festival times bus fares increase substantially, though still cheap, seats can be hard to come by, travel times and the chance of accidents greatly increases. It is best to avoid travelling before and after festivals if possible.
To/from Kolkata via the Haridaspur (India) to Benapole (Bangladesh) Crossing:
There is a direct bus route that runs direct from Kolkata in India to Dhaka. The trip takes about 8-9 hours and runs several times a day. It costs about US$10-$12 one way. Crossing is at Benapole most of the times and there are about three to four direct trips a week by BRTC and privately owned Shyamoli Paribahan. Dhaka also has direct bus links to Siliguri in West Bengal and Agartala in Tripura, India.
Direct buses between Dhaka and Kolkata are usually airconditioned and offer greater comfort. However it is cheaper and easy to make the journey independently, and this might even be faster since there will be less time spent waiting at the border (especially for westerners who are often given priority on both sides). To take the journey from Kolkata, first catch a train from Sealdah Station in Kolkata to Bangaon, which will take up to two hours and cost around Rs. 20 (those trains can get very crowded). From Bangaon, which is the last station on local services, the border is a short distance by auto-rickshaw, for about Rs. 30. At a slightly lower price a rickshaw may be hired instead, and the journey from the station to the border is very pleasant along a beautiful tree-lined road, with a Hindu temple on the way if you care to stop. From the Bangladesh side it is easy to hire a rickshaw or cycle-cart for about ten taka to travel to the small town of Benapole (also the name of the border post) from where there are numerous bus services to Dhaka. The bus company counters line the main road and are impossible to miss. Travelling from Dhaka, there are many bus services direct to Benapole leaving from Gabtoli Bus Station or the bus company offices in Shyamoli on the western side of the city.
Bangladeshis rely on the ferry services that ply many of the country's rivers. River services are operated by the Bangladesh Inland Waterway Transport Corporation (BIWTC). A ferry operates from Dhaka to Khulna four times a week, taking over 24 hours. These services leave from the busy Shadarghat Ferry Terminal in Old Dhaka.
Note that ferries can become very crowded and as a result can be dangerous. Every year there are several accidents, killing tens of people. To minimise the risk, take ferry services on week days and avoid in particular days around festivals as many locals travel at that time from the city to their village homes by boat. Bangladesh's major rivers are large, navigable routes that constantly change with tides and riverflow. Ferry services may be delayed in winter due to fog, year round due to low tides (watch the boatman at the front with the bamboo pole, sticking it periodically in the water to check the depth), and during the monsoon season when the rivers are at their least calm.
Nonetheless, travelling by ferry can be the highlight of any trip to Bangladesh. There can be no better way to experience this country of rivers than to journey by boat. Watching fisherman in tiny boats, the crowds at the wharves, the millions of stars overhead on a clear night as the ferry slowly plies to its destination is indeed enjoyable. While it is not possible to expect luxury, such journeys are made a lot more comfortable by hiring a cabin. It may be advisable to travel with provisions, although there is usually simple food and hawkers aboard each ferry service. For westerners it may be impossible not to make friends with local passengers when taking ferries. Ferries are often three floors high and have open deck space where passengers roll out mats in the evening for sleeping. There are historical paddle-steamers on the route from Dhaka to Khulna.
In Dhaka private cars normally employ a permanent driver, and when the owner is not around and the car unrequired, it is not uncommon for them to double as taxi drivers: use at your own risk!
Dhaka is the world capital of rickshaws, tricycles with a seat for two (sometimes three if you watch the locals) passengers. Rickshaws are an extremely pleasant way to get around since they allow time to take in the scene and the street life along the way. They are environmentally friendly and works of art, with rickshaw-art recognised as a distinct popular art form. The drivers, called 'rickshaw wallahs' or 'rickshaw pullers' in Dhaka are usually from villages and have come to the city to earn a better income. It puts food on the table. Having said that, driving rickshaws is not a 'get rich quick' scheme and it is really hard work (finding a quiet spot in a village might lend the opportunity to try it out, if the driver agrees). Most rickshaw pullers rent their rickshaws on a daily basis in Dhaka. In Dhaka in particular there are rickshaw-free roads which limit the ability of rickshaws to travel across the city; they are however allowed to use these roads after 10:00pm and at other times can often cover the same route using back streets which really give a glimpse of local Dhaka life. A fare from one side of the city to the other would never be more than 100 taka (and more realistically 50 taka), and most fares are much less. A short journey would cost 10-15 taka only. Rickshaws are also found in Chittagong (where drivers have the additional challenge of managing the hills) and in district towns and villages across the country. To save hassles, always negotiate the price beforehand.
A motorised version of the rickshaw are the green CNGs which were previously gas-guzzling, polluting auto-rickshaws (the Indian name) then called baby-taxis in Bangladesh. Since the switch to clean energy, the name also changed: CNG is not only the fuel, it is the vehicle too. CNGs are more expensive than rickshaws, with a trip across Dhaka up to 200 Taka. They are useful for longer journeys, and can outperform cars when it comes to negotiating traffic jams and dodging snarls. CNG drivers typically rent their vehicles on a daily basis (at up to 600 taka per day, though the government has set the official rate at 300 Taka), and as such do not make a huge income from their endeavours. They work long hours. Newer versions of similar vehicles are employing battery technology and are available in some areas, such as Uttara, in the north of Dhaka. Outside Dhaka, it is possible to find both CNGs and their polluting predecessors, the baby-taxis. Though CNGs are fitted with meters these are almost never used: negotiate the price beforehand.
There are many other modes of transport based loosely around the rickshaw and CNG, including wooden carts to sit on, tempos and small people-movers and various vans to be tried.
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Hidden in the various shopping complexes at Gulshan and Banani there are numerous internet cafés. Costs will be approximately TK 20-30 per hour. Computers can also be found in Old- and Central Dhaka.
See also International Telephone Calls
It's easy and cheap to buy a SIM card for your mobile and with low call rates, this can be an excellent way to stay in touch.
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