Yes, I had seen them elsewhere, before - but the amount of rickshaws I saw on my first day in Dhaka was staggering. Much of the traffic, especially in the older part of town, consists of these tricycles. Banned from some parts of the capital city, they are still very numerous. So much so, in fact, that Dhaka is also known as the rickshaw capital of the world. In Bangladesh, you hardly see hand-pulled rickshaws; rather, they are the cycle-powered type. While I initially thought that a rickshaw could carry one passenger, it soon turned out that this was of course a naive miscalculation. During my stay in Bangladesh, I sometimes saw entire families balancing on the narrow back of the rickshaw. Alternatively they are sometimes used for transporting goods, even though the cart-type cycles seem more apt for that. Moreover, when you pay closer attention, rickshaws are riding pieces of art. Especially the backside of the rickshaws is full of it: brightly coloured paintings of landscapes, movies, or religious themes - and although some of them look similar, they are all unique pieces of art.
With so many people in the city, the streets of Old Dhaka are often simply blocked by the amount of rickshaws trying to push through its narrow arteries. Rickshaw drivers, called wallahs, appear to have a special radar for the dimensions of their vehicle: standing by the side of a crossing and seeing how close they pass one another, preventing collisions by a matter of centimetres, is amazing. The wallahs are also pushy and will inevitably try to use all the open space they see in front of them. Rickshaws seldomly follow a straight line: rather, they dive into every space they think will make their rickshaw pass. This obviously only adds to the chaos, together with the irregular shape of the rickshaws, it often results in a total rickshaw jam. I have been in several of those jams for a longer time - during which no one was willing to budge and the wallahs were putting their rickshaws only closer to each other. It then took an armed policeman to give instructions and try to unravel the enormous, seemingly impossible, knot of intertwined rickshaws.
To be honest, it took me some time before I took a rickshaw myself. At first, the idea of sitting on the back of a rickshaw, while a tiny Bangladeshi was sweating in an effort to transport my lazy body to somewhere I could basically also walk to, seemed preposterous. Then, I decided to give it a try for once, after which I actually got addicted. Rickshaw wallahs are often people arriving from the countryside - it is a job anyone with strong legs can do. In fact, even though I was a stranger myself, I was often the one to point out the way to the driver. For a very modest amount of money, you can take a pretty long rickshaw ride, and I found big pleasure in sitting on the back, and seeing streetlife unfold right in front of my eyes. Speed is, at least outside Old Dhaka, faster than walking. Especially taking a rickshaw in a car-free area is a great sensation. You only hear the ringing of bells, the breathing of the wallahs, the brakes, the soft sound of a moving bike. Sitting on the back of a rickshaw, seeing how strong my wallah was at cycling and how skillful at steering, I often wondered if there could not be a hidden cycling champion in one of them.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Bangladeshi rickshaws (Bangladesh). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Bangladeshi rickshaws. Read more about this site.