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Travel

Dhaka, Part 1: Architectural Eyesore

by a lone southasian woman traveller in Dhaka (14-28 March, 2012)

(All views expressed here are personal and should not be generalised.)
(Thank you RM, for inspiring me to write)

Dhaka was always meant to be a busman’s holiday, so it is little wonder that I only had a day to go around the city at leisure. The rest of the two weeks went by in negotiating the traffic and the CNG fares. Two weeks is the third longest time I have spent in any country outside of India (Australia: 9 months; Thailand: 1 month and Bangladesh: 0.5 month). Traversing alone through the crowded city, I was engulfed by the sight of ugly buildings; maddening traffic; crowds of people; men in lungis; women on the streets wearing Hijabs, Niqaabs, Sharees, and Shalwars; the middle class; the elite; and the warm hospitality.

This is an attempt to showcase glimpses of Dhaka, in a series of short blogs. I begin here with the eyesores of the city: (mostly) ugly buildings built dangerously close.

Part 1: Architectural Eyesore

One of the first noticeable things in Dhaka is its maddening traffic, and the numerous characterless buildings. With a population of over 16 million, Dhaka is a fast growing urban city. I lived in Mirpur when I first got into Dhaka and its streets are teeming with people all through the day. Mirpur is the largest suburb of Dhaka and I have been told that nearly 1/3rd of Dhaka’s population lives in Mirpur.

Booming construction at Mirpur

In a bid to accommodate the increasing population, new buildings are being built all over the city, (Mirpur is no exception) albeit dangerously close to each other.

Dangerously Inching Closer

Dangerously Inching Closer
The average distance between buildings does not seem to be more than 6-8 feet.

Residential buildings with match-box windows, kissing each other
Not only are the buildings so close (I was very tempted to throw things into the house on the other side), but they are also ugly: resembling a big match-box with small openings for windows.

Land-money, a phenomenon in growing urban cities is not unfamiliar in Dhaka. Several Bangladeshi expats own vast pieces of land in the city and have earned ample ‘land-money’ by selling them or building new high-rise apartments.

AC (a wonderful person I met) even thinks that if one could take people who approve such ugly buildings, to trial: they should be tried in court. I could have also said the buildings are of a simple design, but somehow ugly describes it better. This is not to say that all buildings in Dhaka are as ugly, some are less ugly like the buildings in the commercial area who resemble the long-lost sisters of buildings in apna Nariman Point, Mumbai.

Buildings in Motijheel Area

In Old Dhaka, there are very many fancy new buildings including some as close as 2 feet away from the walls of the Lalbagh Kella (Kella= Fort). When walking along the roof-terrace of the fort, I could hear men having their showers; watch women hang out their clothes to dry; and one house even shared a common wall with the fort.

Close Closer Closest
Buildings as seen from the roof-top garden at Lalbagh Kella (Fort), Old Dhaka

The saving grace of Dhaka is the Jatiyo Sangsad Bhavan created by Louis I Kahn. The huge green lawn in the front and the inviting steps were rendered useless as the Parliament was in session, so I could not get any closer to the building.

Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, the National Assembly of Bangladesh
Designed by architect Louis Kahn

Coming up next: Dhaka, Part 2: Marvels of Old Dhaka; Lalbagh Kella and Sitara Masjid

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About Sarita

My 10,000th day on Planet Earth was June 28, 2010

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