Getting around Dhaka city

There are various and diverse transport options on offer when negotiating your way around Dhaka city.  They do have some common elements however, you can be sure your journey will be noisy, dusty, and erratic, with any number of near impacts before you eventually reach your destination.

For shorter journeys you always travel by rickshaw, which mainly operate in side streets and are prohibited from main roads before 8am.  This is actually a blessing in disguise, as at this time of day the roads are choked with traffic, and being fairly lowdown in the value chain, rickshaws are bullied and robbed of road space by almost every other vehicle on the road.  But Dhaka plays host to over 400,000 of them, the highest number in ANY city, and they do in fact make up the bulk of Dhaka’s traffic.

In the main rickshaws are rented, with only 20% being owned by the pullers, who consist mostly of landless agricultural day laborers.  It costs between 8o to 100 taka to rent a rickshaw for the day, which on average earns them around the 200 taka mark, and they rely on this seasonal employment, cycling a minimum 8 hour shift in the sweltering conditions of Dhaka’s streets.  Many times I’ve hired a rickshaw only to find I know the way better than the puller, who’s clearly new in town and squeezing an income this way.

If you plan to travel any distance across the city you can either opt for hiring a CNG or hop on one of the local buses. CNG stands for Compressed Natural Gas, the fuel that powers these tiny three seat taxis, which look more like fairground bumper cars than the viable form of transport they clearly are. Although the combustion of this fuel does produce greenhouse gasses, it offers a more environmentally clean alternative. 

CNG taxi

CNG taxi

Open sided, you take your chances exposed to the elements: dust, noise, street hawkers and beggars when caught up in the many traffic jams you’ll surely encounter en route.  You’ll also have to haggle and negotiate your fare, as more often than not drivers plead a broken meter as this method would almost certainly prove cheaper.

Traveling by bus is a whole new experience, and to call it confusing is an understatement to say the least. Rows of wooden tables with several young men seated at each greet you at bus stations, but not until the bus actually pulls up do you rush to buy your ticket, engulfed in an excited frenzy as everyone leaps up shouting out the price they’re offering, emulating stock exchange trading. Then clutching your ticket you’re hustled onto the bus with barley moments to spare before it lurches back out onto the choked street.

The condition of city busses also amazes me.  So bashed about, their paint work in some cases is non existent and they look as if they’ve been constructed from papier mashe. Frequently they’re so full, passengers hang from the doorway often with a tentative foot hold. Appreciating what goes where and when to disembark leaves me dazed and confused and I only travel by bus with Bishwajit, who gets us across the city efficiently for 10 taka, but when in his company I simply follow and have none of the confusion to grapple with.  Solo would be a nightmare for me personally and I’m yet to attempt it. 

A typical Dhaka city bus

A typical Dhaka city bus


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