DHAKA may seem to be a bustling, overpopulated city most of the times, but at night it bears a totally different appearance. With roads that were once stuck with traffic jams and areas once crammed with people, the city takes a new look at the darkest hours of the night, displaying empty streets and 'under-populated' areas.
Police patrolling the roads at night and almost all stores closed up, Dhaka paints a grave picture compared to other main cities around the world. The idea of 'night life', not supported by our culture seems to be a far out thought. However, even amidst all this graveness and solitude lies areas in the city, which are filled with activity, the Bangladeshi way.
Old Dhaka seems to be the most happening place at these nocturnal times. With shops and restaurants open for practically the whole night at places, visiting certain areas in Old Dhaka at even 3 in the morning can appear to seem like the evening if one doesn't keep track of the time. 'The area doesn't seem to go to sleep' says a shopkeeper at Alauddin Road.
Alauddin road near Bongshal seems to be the most bustling area in Puraan (Old) Dhaka. Most of the stores are open and it may seem queer to many people but it isn't to the Old Dhaka dwellers. "Things have been like this for many years in the past, we have grown up with this." This bustling atmosphere sees people getting into restaurants or hotels and even sitting in for adda late at night.
Many people just hang around the road, with friends or relatives and some even come in for late shopping even at 2 o' clock in the morning. The whole area seems to be beholding a festive atmosphere. Sleeping late at night and waking up late in the morning seems to be a traditional Bangali custom but the pressures of modern working day life seems to have changed all of that. Inspite of all this, this happening part of Dhaka has just clung onto customs.
A restaurant owner in Alauddin road shot into laughter when he was asked whether he had customers coming in for the whole of the night. He replied "We're open all night, we have customers coming in all night, but I can't assure you about the food, it gets sold out after about 3-4 in the morning". Interestingly enough, Alauddin road has one of the few saloons, which are open 2 in the morning, so if you need a haircut in the middle of the night, this is the place to visit. However, hotels or restaurants in Alauddin road seem to be the only ones open for the whole of the night in Puraan Dhaka. Even the famous two-storied Nirob Hotel at Nizamuddin Road doesn't keep open after 12:30 am. In Puraan Dhaka, one of the more popular stores amongst customers, seems to be the DVD and VCD rent stores. These are open until about 2 in the morning at many places scattered around the area.
Chalk bazaar is totally closed after 1 am in the morning and the only store open after those hours are tea-stalls and some small stores. However if one is looking for fruits, Chalk bazaar has its fruit shops open till about 1 am. Puraan Dhaka may seem to be tough to reach during the morning but during these hours, there is no traffic jam and one can even take their cars out into the small alleys.
Adda seems the most popular activity in most of the city areas at such irregular hours. Even policemen and officers join into the adda at different locations in the city. One can see people sitting around a tea-stall and chatting away and talking about all aspects of life. Spending the night out in the city, guarantees a session of adda for almost everyone, whether it is with your rickshawpuller, the police, a tea-stall keeper or even a mugger.
Security seems to be the main problem late in the night. There are petty crimes and some serious crimes now and then, not to mention robberies. Although the police patrol most parts of the city, they are the ones who themselves seem to create a lot of hassle. Harassment seems to be first on the agenda, although it sometimes pays off and some petty criminals are caught. However, more often than not, a completely innocent person is harassed at first and may even end up in prison for a night all depending on the policeman's discretion.
According to one such policeman, the rule states that the police can pick up anyone 'suspicious' without proper identification and reason to be out at such hours. Un-social acts also take place in the city at the awkward hours of the night, this maybe known to people and so getting into the topic further is irrelevant. Even the police take part in such acts, and it can be often seen how they deal with the situation. It is a shame to the entire police force.
Taj restaurant and Ujjal hotel are the restaurants open in the Moghbazar area late at night. In fact they remain open for the whole of the night. Rajdhani hotel in Gulistan is one, which is also open for the whole night, and it serves good food. Nilkhet has tea stalls open all night and also eggs and parata for the whole night. This place is particularly popular amongst hall students.
Amongst residential areas, Dhanmondi and Lalmatia seem to bear the touch of calm solitude. The only noise one would expect would come from patrolling policemen and the odd car or two. Both these areas can be quite enjoyable to just walk in or drive across late in the night.
Dhaka cannot be viewed like that in any other time of the day. The street lights, the sky and of course the whole city itself, creates an atmosphere which is worth experiencing. If one is bored with that, he/she can always go to a neighbourhood tea-stall. Trucks unload their goods throughout the night and this can sometimes become very noisy and irritating.
Gulshan and Banani are quite similar, and it just seems like a sleeping city especially in the smaller roads. However it can be said that there are slightly more cars out in the night here and there. Mirpur doesn't have much activity either. Only a few stores scattered here and there are open, but sometimes one may find a food store open.
'The nightlife in Dhaka is dull, there is almost nothing to do apart from hanging out at a friend's house," complains a student. This is justified, but it can be said that this is mostly due to our society and culture. However there are small private parties now and then, which do provide entertainment for a few invited people. Apart from these, certain exclusive clubs in the city have late parties. However, subtle habits like chatting over the Internet throughout the night can be seen through the windows of quite a few people. The most conventional habit of all, studying throughout the night can also be seen all over the city. The small table light and a student meritoriously studying away are ordinary sights at these hours, as students try their best to keep up with the competition.
Transport is never a problem, once you are prepared to take public transport. Rickshaws are present in almost all the corners of the city, and a small rickshaw ride can be quite refreshing although sometimes risky. Public transport like bus services are open although one would have to wait for quite a long time to get one.
Dhaka bears a unique atmosphere at night, especially after midnight. Most of the city falls into deep slumber with streetlights being the only form of light apart from the moon. This can be quite enjoyable for insomniacs and also the average person who finds it hard to sleep one night.
By Mishel Ali Khan
| Issues | The Daily Star Home|
© 2003 The Daily Star