Finding a bus to take me to Sonargaon at Gulistan bus station in Dhaka was surprisingly easy, and I could even buy a ticket for the bus before boarding. The bus left not even half empty, which was another pleasant surprise: apparently the ticket vendor was confident the bus would fill up eventually, which it of course did. I was on my way to Sonargaon, the old capital of the old kingdom of Bengal. For quite some time, we were driving through the madness of Dhaka traffic, and I wondered if Sonargaon had been swallowed by the ever growing capital. Fortunately, it had not, and when I stepped out of the bus, the place gave me a relaxing feel, despite the frenzy of the traffic on the main road. I walked towards what I thought was the direction of the old part of town. Very soon after leaving the main road behind, the atmosphere turned friendly and quiet, and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk. Even though it was obvious where I was going, there were hardly rickshaw drivers trying to win me as a passenger: they greeted me and respected my wish to walk alone. One of the very reasons I had come to like the country so much: despite it being overcrowded, and despite most of the people living below the poverty line, the respect with which you are treated is amazing. So it was that I walked through this former capital city, the most prominent city of the country from the 13th to the beginning of the 17th century. Its most famous ruler was Isa Khan, who ruled Bengal in the second part of the 16th century.
On the right hand side, I saw the Sadarbari, a beautiful palace-like building now housing the folk museum. I skipped it for now, and continued walking until I reached Painam Nagar, or the city of Panam. This actually used to be part of the old capital of Sonargaon, where in the late 19th century wealthy Hindu merchants had richly decorated mansions built. Subsequently abandoned after the partition of India, the houses have never really found new occupants. The result is a street of ghost-like houses, slowly decaying under the tooth of time. It is, however, not difficult to imagine the sheer beauty of these mansions, their decoration, or whatever is left of it, still visible in most of the buildings. The arches, the tiles above the windows, the elaborate stairs and pillars - one only wonders if they would look better in a well-kept condition, or if the decades of neglect have only added to their attractiveness.
After exploring the street, I walked next to the historical bridge of Painam Nagar towards the ruins of a Shiva shrine - much of it covered by vegetation. On the way back, I got invited to attend a decisive cricket match - a big event where I got invited to join the ranks of the VIPs. After a joint lunch and a meeting with teachers, I continued my exploration of Sonargaon. I walked through the fields to Goaldi mosque, a fine example of early 16th century mosque building I had seen before in Bagerhat. After that, I retraced my steps to end at the Sadarbari, that beautiful early 20th century palace building or rajbari. Aptly standing right on the banks of a pond in which its pink and white facade reflects perfectly, the steps leading right into the pond make for a direct visual link between the building and the water. Two sculpted horses guard the top of the stairs and make for a photo opportunity most Bangladeshi do not miss. Inside is the folk museum, but to be honest, I found the exterior of the building much more interesting - as well as the park-like surrounding grounds. As the sun was going down, I got myself another rickshaw for the ride back to the main road. Coming back to the busy Dhaka-Chittagong highway catapulted me right back from the stately, elegant early 19th century of old Sonargaon to the noisy 21st.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Sonargaon (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 Sonargaon.
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