Travelling in Bangladesh: Sadarghat and the Rocket April 13, 2013

Sadarghat Launch Terminal

Sadarghat is Dhaka’s heaving boat terminal. Teeming with people it is without doubt one of the most crowded and busy areas of the capital city. It is a fantastic place to visit. Arriving can be overwhelming as you are bombarded by people in every direction. People flock here to catch boats out of Dhaka but also to cross the river Buriganga on small row boats. 50,000 people, on average, use the terminal daily. Locals are ferried across the river by single oarsman in their small wooden boats. Barges carrying cargoes arrive from the south laden with produce, some so heavy with sand that those barges are almost fully submerged. Ferries are docked alongside the jetty picking up their next lot of passengers to be taken to far away destinations. Men unload goods from boats into the warehouses on the waterfront. Rickshaws line the banks waiting for passengers to whisk away into the crazy streets of Dhaka. Its a place of constant activity and visiting the area simply to experience the liveliness of the place is well worth it. 

Small boats wait on the shore ready to ferry locals across the river and rickshaws line the bank, Sadarghat

I was at Sadarghat to catch the famous Rocket. I’d heard that the Rocket was the best way to depart Dhaka. I was to find this to be true. Dhaka is overwhelming, crowded, noisy, dirty, overpopulated, and if you can safely navigate the roads to the Sadarghat Ferry Terminal then floating away on the Rocket Steamer is the most rewarding departure of a city you’ll ever have. The Rocket remains from the British rule period and has been steaming down the rivers ever since the British left.  Before the Rocket departed I stood on its roof and watched the action of the terminal. Simply watching the life of the river happen before me was one of the most enjoyable 2 hours of my life. It was fantastic. When the call to prayer began I could hear the singing from 3 different mosques floating down the river . Listening to the calls that were sung in slightly different ways and at different speeds I felt completely immersed in a city known as the ‘City of Mosques, amongst a culture so foreign, yet so beautiful.

The Rocket Steamer

The Rocket is smaller than I expect, especially considering it carries 300-500 passengers. It is old, the yellow paint is peeling and its 50-60 years of use are showing. Locals who have bought the cheapest tickets have claimed their piece of floor where they will be spending a long and uncomfortable night amongst many others doing the same. I’m in 1st class (possibly the only time in my life I ever will be) and am blessed to have a bed. The journey from from Dhaka to Hularghat is a 14 hour journey. I sleep soundly in my private room and wake at 6am to the sound of cargo being unloaded at Barisal Terminal and an incredible sunrise.

Morning sunrise on the Rocket Steamer

I wake to find that overnight my surroundings have changed. Gone are the crowded and dirty banks of Dhaka. Now all I can see is a rustic countryside; rows of wooden shacks line the banks and through the morning haze I can see fisherman out on their small boats. I spend the morning sitting on the deck and watching the river life go by. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’d heard that this country relies on its rivers but to see it first hand really put it all into perspective. 

Fisherman out early in the morning

I’m the only foreigner on the Rocket. I love it and so do the locals. People find me fascinating and want to talk to me, even just to say hello. Most people don’t speak English but a nod and a smile is enough to make their day.

I’m fascinated to watch the unloading of goods at each stop the Rocket does. Bedheads and food seem to be the most common thing and its all hands in to get the load off and the Rocket ready to leave again all within 15 minutes. Its quiet impressive.

Young boys sitting on the front of the Rocket Steamer

Not long before I am to depart the boat I meet Mr Friedo on the front balcony of the Rocket. He wants his photo with me and I glady oblige. I will soon find out though that many, many locals are going to want their photo with me over the coming weeks.

Mr Friedo and I

One girl has had a particular fascination in me during the entire trip and has almost continuously been not so secretly taking photos of my on her mobile phone. I suddenly feel like I know what its like to be famous. After what must be the 100th photo taken of me I turn and take a picture of her taking a picture of me.

“Look its a white person!”

The Rocket Steamer is one of the best things I’ve ever done in all my travels. It was a fantastic introduction to the country. The highlights are definitely that you are travelling like the locals, with the locals and are the only foreigner on board….I imagine this is what travelling the world use to be like many years ago.

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