On the Friday of last weekend, my father and I went on a cycle ride out to the Shitalakhya River, to the east of Dhaka. The ride starts out going up Papa’s beloved Progati Shoroni Avenue in Baridhara, then starting to go west up onto the Tongi Diversion Road, then onto the Purbachal Express Highway. This takes you way out of Dhaka, and way out of Dhaka is where Papa and I went.
The first thing that one notices after the first few minutes on the Tongi Diversion Road is the sudden absence of city. Dhaka is such a big city, but it has such a definite border: when you leave Dhaka, the city just stops and the rural area begins. This has such an impact on you: the first time I left the city, I was amazed at how quickly it went from city to rural countryside.
All around the Purbachal Expressway is developing area. Due to its growing population, Dhaka is a growing city, constantly morphing and expanding. And the areas on the city borders are evidence of this. Roads being constructed, lone buildings being erected, new residential areas being developed. All in preparation for 50 years from now, when Baridhara DOHS fills up and Mohakhali becomes unable to house another family. This is where everyone will come, to the outskirts of the city, and in 100 years the sandy plains that we passed on our ride will be a hub of activity within Dhaka.
But for now the only activity is the occasional roadside market, with maybe 50 farmers from separate houses, farms and residential converging to sell their produce to passing motorists and neighbours. Construction workers walk up and down the road, cows graze in green pastures, and that’s about it. It’s mainly vast sand plains that go as far as the eye can see.
We cycled past a few rivers that were the main hubs of activity on our ride. Children splashing in the water, women washing dishes, boats chugging up and down the waterways. There were loads of little communities, all centered around the river. The rivers are also ways to ship raw materials from various parts of the district into Dhaka. So there were giant heaps of sand and rocks, being carted on and off of barges. The barges would maybe be 10 metres above the water when empty, but when they were full they would sink right down to the level of the river. And there was such an intriguing unloading process that Papa and I watched for 10 minutes or so. The men would walk onto the barge and get their baskets loaded up with rocks/sand. Then they would walk back, dump their load on a pile, and then would get given a coin. So they were getting paid by the load, not just for doing the job. (This process in seen in the picture at the top).
After maybe an hour of cycling, we reached the major “spaghetti junction” of the Purbachal Expressway (which was in fact two roads joined with a dirt track). We bought a coconut each, and commented on the ride while drinking. We went on for about 200 metres, to a bridge that spanned the Shitalakhya River. Such an amazing sight at the end of such an amazing ride. It was not the biggest river that I had ever seen, but just looked so powerful. Again several little boats were putting up and down and people were splashing and washing themselves. It was the picture of tranquility, so calm and peaceful and perfect. Then we turned around back into the world of dust and giant trucks and cycled home. A truly marvellous experience, and such an insight into the world outside of Dhaka.