Bangladesh by car: Dhaka to Sundarbans

An extraordinary road trip through time, space, and hospitality
Thursday, August 10, 2017 to Friday, August 18, 2017

Where can I find Bangladesh on the map?

Bangladesh does not show up on many touristic maps. The country is nearly fully surrounded by India and is labeled as dangerous because of political tensions and sporadic incidences. On the other hand, Bangladesh is well known for the beautiful Bengal Tiger and as a producer of most world's textiles. Only a handful of tourists find their way to Bangladesh, mostly visiting one of the world's longest beach in Cox's Bazar. All this sparked my curiosity, and I started a research about the country's safety and even asked locals about the situation. Despite the negative media coverage, my personal analysis resulted in a rather positive response. Bangladesh doesn't seem dangerous for neutral visitors, who are not involved in politics. Without hesitation, I followed a friend's call and started my journey from Dhaka to Sundarbans.

Exploring Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh

Dhaka was my very first impression of the Indian Sub-Continent. Before meeting my friend in Jessore, West Bangladesh, I had one day to get lost in the streets of Dhaka. Driving from the Dhaka airport into the city center is one of the most intense experience. This dense and loud metropolis is packed with cars, tuc-tucs, rickshaws and over 18 million people. However, to my surprise, I even found some peaceful places in the very heart of Dhaka. Quiet parks are the only place where I ever saw lovers holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes. At the harbor, I made my first encounter with the Bangladeshi hospitality. An excited local (a tour guide without tourists) helped me to cross the Buriganga River (the Old Ganges) on a small boat. On the other side, he first introduced me to Dhaka's textile industry and then invited me to his home, meeting his wife and drinking tea.  

Personal invitation from a Bangladeshi

On the second day, I flew to Jessore to meet my local friend. Nishat gave up his corporate life and is now a proud online entrepreneur, working with clients around the world. Staying with him and his family for a few days was an amazing experience. I got a real insight into Bangladeshi life and culture as he introduced me to his extended family and many good friends. They all stuffed me with local delicacies and brought me to many cool places; I would never have gone by myself. He also helped me to organize a car with a private driver at a very reasonable rate. Bangladesh is one of the few countries, where it is close to impossible for foreigners to rent a car without a chauffeur. So, I could start my big Bangladesh road trip, a personal quest from Dhaka to Sundarbans.

Diving into the Sundarbans National Park

Sundarbans is a large national park shared by Bangladesh and India. It contains the world's largest coastal mangrove forest and hosts rare animals such as the Bengal Tiger. On a day trip from Jessore, we drove as a group to the northern entrance in Mongla. Unfortunately, it was not the right season, and I did not have much time at hand. There were no tours and only a few boats available to explore the Bangladeshi mangrove forest. With my friends help, I managed to embark a wooden boat and go on a short tour. The Sundarbans National Park is a vast territory where you can easily spend a week, cruising around, trying to spot a tiger. My adventure was completed after exploring the area for half a day.

On the footsteps of the Mughal Empire

Since one millennia, Bangladesh is influenced by the Islam. During the Mughal Empire, the region prospered, and many lavish palaces were built. The most beautiful are located in Dhaka, such as the Lalbagh Fort. However, the Islam arrived much earlier and brought marvelous architecture and beautiful mosques. Especially in West-Bangladesh, between Bagerhat and Jessore, I discovered a series of stunning Islamic relics. I visited about a dozen red bricked Mosques, many of them in a questionable condition. Finding abandoned historic buildings and staggering around overgrown ruins is one of my favorite travel experiences. Luckily, more and more places in Bangladesh are protected by the UNESCO world heritage. This prevents people and nature to further destroy those wonderful sites. 

A road trip along many abandoned palaces

Another highlight was my excursion to the North-West of Bangladesh. There, in the middle of nowhere, are even older miracles hidden away. In between the Padma and the Brahmaputra Rivers, I discovered a series of ancient Buddhist temples. Some of them are two millennia old, yet not as famous as South-East Asian counterparts. Sompur Mahavihara and Mahasthan Garh even feature small museums but otherwise are silent keeper of their past secrets. My last stretch on the way back to Dhaka revealed another surprise. Along a narrow road through rural villages, I discovered an abandoned merchandiser's mansion. The architecture reminded of Europe's renaissance, lovely decorated with angel statues. I could not believe my own eyes. All the way to Dhaka, I could not stop smiling happily.

Bangladesh is a hidden gem for explorers

When I landed in Bangladesh, I was very curious but a bit skeptic. Why is nobody ever reporting anything good from this country? I had to go for myself and discover what I already sensed: Bangladesh is a surprising and fascinating country! This was a true revelation after spending a few months in the backpacker overrun South-East Asia. During my two weeks driving across Bangladesh, I have not met a single foreigner! Instead, I could interact with many locals, taking selfies and laughing together. Despite some political tensions, the Bangladeshi people are utterly hospitable and happy. Go and explore Bangladesh yourself, from Dhaka to Sundarbans. 

Special thanks to Nishat and his family who took great care of me during this trip!

My waypoints on this journey

Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC) - getting caught by Bangladeshi bureaucracy at the airport
getting caught by Bangladeshi bureaucracy at the airport
Dhaka - diving into the culture and cuisine of Bangladesh's capital
diving into the culture and cuisine of Bangladesh's capital
Lalbagh Fort - lovely remains of the mighty Mughal Empire in the heart of Dhaka
lovely remains of the mighty Mughal Empire in the heart of Dhaka
Clothing Industry Bangladesh -
visiting some small sweatshops at Nuru Market in old Dhaka
Pink Palace Dhaka - a huge aristocrat's building coloured all in pink called Ahsan Manzil
a huge aristocrat's building coloured all in pink called Ahsan Manzil
Shadar Ghat -
exploring the Port of Dhaka from Shadarghat on a small boat
Jessore - visiting and staying with my friend and colleague in western Bangladesh
visiting and staying with my friend and colleague in western Bangladesh
Jessore Collectorate Park - one of the oldest British buildings on the Indian subcontinent
one of the oldest British buildings on the Indian subcontinent
Bangladeshi Food - having a rich and delicious cuisine with a lot of meat and sweets
having a rich and delicious cuisine with a lot of meat and sweets
Paan Masala - getting an overdose on my tastebuds from over 30 spices
getting an overdose on my tastebuds from over 30 spices
Khulna - third largest city of Bangladesh with 1 million people
third largest city of Bangladesh with 1 million people
Abhaynagar - stopping at a rural vegetable market on the road to Khulna
stopping at a rural vegetable market on the road to Khulna
Sundarbans -
world's largest mangrove forest hosting the rare bengal tiger
Northern University of Business and Technology Khulna - spontaneously visiting a university in Bangladesh
spontaneously visiting a university in Bangladesh
Khan Jahan Ali Majar Masjid - tomb of a Moslem saint and local ruler in the 15th century
tomb of a Moslem saint and local ruler in the 15th century
Sixty Dome Mosque - the largest 15th century mosque in Bangladesh with 77 domes
the largest 15th century mosque in Bangladesh with 77 domes
Tree Nursery - growing a variety of plants and trees for sales
growing a variety of plants and trees for sales
Bagerhat - architectural marvels make it the mosque city of Bangladesh
architectural marvels make it the mosque city of Bangladesh
Fish Market Bangladesh - coming from a fish farm and ending up on a plate very soon
coming from a fish farm and ending up on a plate very soon
Bangladeshi Jute - an important industry and natural fibre for Bangladesh
an important industry and natural fibre for Bangladesh
Lalon Shah Mazar - mausoleum of the most important Bengali songwriter and philosopher
mausoleum of the most important Bengali songwriter and philosopher
Barobazar - a series of ancient Mosques in a small village of West-Bangladesh
a series of ancient Mosques in a small village of West-Bangladesh
Mahasthan Garh - one of Bangladesh's earliest excavated urban places
one of Bangladesh's earliest excavated urban places
Pancharatna Gobinda - the raspberry-like Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna
the raspberry-like Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna
Puthia Shiva Temple - beautiful temple with the largest Shiva Stone in Bangladesh
beautiful temple with the largest Shiva Stone in Bangladesh
Sompur Mahavihara - ruins of the largest Buddhist monastery south of the Himalayas
ruins of the largest Buddhist monastery south of the Himalayas
Baliati Palace - unique mansion build by a rich merchant's family in Bangladesh
unique mansion build by a rich merchant's family in Bangladesh
Floods in Bangladesh - Bangladesh is a natural floodplain effected by the yearly monsoon
Bangladesh is a natural floodplain effected by the yearly monsoon
Road Trip Bangladesh - driving across Bangladesh is an adventure with little dangers
driving across Bangladesh is an adventure with little dangers
Pakutia Zamindar Bari - completely run down and abandoned mansion in a rural village
completely run down and abandoned mansion in a rural village