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Day 121: Dhaka

Dhaka, Bangladesh 
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The bane and bounty of Bangladesh. Millions of tonnes of Himalayan water meet the heaviest monsoons in the world to make Bangladesh's landscape both fertile and fragile.
Michael Palin - HimalayaThere's a bracing, nerve-shredding excitement to Dhaka's street life, especially as we near the river, at the heart of the old city, where the traffic is infiltrated by hundreds of people weaving in and out of the crush, dodging from warehouses to shops to dealers with heads and shoulders full of anything from fish to electric fans and company ledgers to car parts.

There are women in black burkhas and women in riotously coloured saris, men in white skull caps and long robes, men in dark glasses with two-piece suits. Ishraq is emphatic that Bangladesh is ideologically tolerant and politically diverse. This may be part of its problem but it also explains the relative absence of the religious fundamentalism we saw in Pakistan.

We emerge from the press of markets and wharves and out onto the wide open spaces of Friendship Bridge Number 2, a graceful, grey curve slung across the River Buriganga by gift of the Chinese government. Adverts for 'Green Love' condoms have been slapped onto its concrete columns and beneath it is surely one of the most tumultuous stretches of river on earth. It reminds me of those paintings of the lagoon in Venice or the Pool of London in their heyday, before there was any other way of shifting goods and people en masse. The parallel is relevant. Only a few miles upstream from downtown Dhaka, the Ganges (known here as the Padma) meets the Brahmaputra (re-christened the Jamuna) and a combined total of 3357 miles (5730 km) of water sweeps on down to the sea. The only form of transport that can adequately deal with the delta is waterborne. Hence the ranks of multistoreyed ferries, drawn up off-shore like floating new towns, the broad-bottomed junks fat with sacks of rice, the smeared and shabby freighters carrying steel rods twisted like barley sugar, the barges almost invisible beneath cones of sand and, everywhere, the slim, low-slung, cigar-shaped water taxis waiting to launch out into the middle of this mayhem.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 121: Dhaka
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Dhaka
  • Book page no: 272

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