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RAMNA fact file

Surely Ramna Park is one of the most beautiful and biggest parks in Dhaka city, and it also has a long history, stretching back to the 17th century.

The development of Ramna Park commenced under the reign of the Mughals, who named the place Ramna. However, after the fall of the Mughal Empire, Ramna took a turn for the worse: overlooked and neglected, the dilapidated place, like many parts of Dhaka at that time, became a small jungle. It still hosted temples and beautiful buildings, but amidst bushes and trees Ramna had become a forgotten haven.

It was not until 1825 that the place would be developed for a second time. At that time, Ramna was cleared of the bushes, and many of the buildings, tombs, temples and monuments were also demolished. Interestingly, the work was done by prisoners.

In 1908, the work of growing a garden began, and it is believed that the project took a staggering twenty years to complete. But it was not until the late 1940s or the early 1950s that the garden took its current form. This 68.5acres of beautiful land is host to about 211 species of plants, consisting of several rarities, medicinal plants, forest plants, fruit plants, etc.

By M H Haider
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


Al fresco Dhaka

We Dhakaites, ensconced in city existence though we are, are still prey to the prevailing season. There are activities that go with every turn of weather -- in spring people go out of doors, take in the colours and the sights of natural renewal; monsoon sees us staying indoors and sipping hot cups of tea, waiting for the steaming khichuri to make its way from the stove to the dining table; and the long days of hot summer has us taking day trips with friends and family out of the city and rushing into juice bars when the mercury reaches levels too hot to handle.

Winter, a favourite of many as it provides respite from the heat, is a time when Dhaka is gleaming and ringing out with the sights and sounds of the wedding season. But on evenings when you will not have a wedding, a 'gaye holud' or whatever's-the-new-addition-to-the-wedding-circus-this-season to attend, there are ways to enjoy the cool evening air outdoors. Thankfully, Dhaka is host to a burgeoning al fresco dining scene, with options varied enough to suit all tastes and wallets.

Star Lifestyle has examined some of these options so that our readers can think about enjoying winter evenings with their loved ones under the star-studded sky, eating good food with the cool weather making for a cosy setting.



Think family -- think large
First, let's look at family outings and start with three of the pricier options. If it's a Friday outing you are looking at, and feeling generous to boot, look no further than Ruposhi Bangla. Every Friday from 7-11pm, the five-star hotel puts on a poolside barbeque spread, right beside its restaurant Italia, and the atmosphere is as magical as the food delicious. Live barbeque stations where various types of grilled meat sizzle audibly form part of the buffet table, which features items such as steak, tomato rice, lamb chops, saslik and other mouth-watering numbers.

From Shahbagh to Khilkhet, Dhaka Regency also has a special treat for diners looking for an open-air winter evening. Grill on the Skyline, a classy rooftop restaurant spread over 20,000 square feet, is perfect for the purpose. Relax by the rooftop pool, look over the railing at Dhaka's sprawling expanse and watch planes taking off and landing at the airport nearby. It's a seafood lover's haven as the main dishes include special grilled seabass, grilled king fish, Turkish mixed grill, grilled king lobster, grilled pomfret and grilled lamb chop and Arabian mixed grill if seafood is not what you are looking for. The cuisine is overseen by Regency's Executive Chef, so the quality is assured.

The open sky and the chilly winter air calls for some good old meat bonanza. If you want to warm yourself with some delicious steaks, make your way to Steak House in Gulshan-2. Their menu needs no introduction, but what steak lovers may not know is that they have an excellent outdoor dining arrangement on their first floor balcony that seats up to fifty people.

But for many Dhakaites, a dinner out with family often means a Chinese or Thai eatery. You do not have to break tradition if that's the case, because Atrium serves great food and their al fresco setup is a charming little break from the busy Progoti Sharani road just over the walls. With the little water bodies and small bridges, stone walkways lit by fairy lights, it is sure to be a hit with the children and also the cheesily romantic types. As far as the food goes, the Thai thick soup is excellent, and do not leave the place without trying their flaming duck.

And back to barbeques, from the western kind to the some eastern favourites with Bar-B-Q Tonite on Dhanmondi's Road #27. They have ample seating arrangements in the open air, and although the seating and general ambience is pretty stripped down with the basic plastic tables and chairs and the bright lighting, the food takes centre stage. The kebabs are excellent, but a visit to Bar-B-Q Tonite is incomplete without sampling their Chicken Green Karai, a gravy-filled item that goes wonderfully with their Rumali Roti.

Friends and cafes
The cafe scene in Dhaka has cashed in on outdoor dining options, and in most places the small balconies, patios or rooftops are set out in a chilled-out ambience that allows diners to let their hair down and relax. Options abound:

Recently, the newly opened Soi 3 on Dhanmondi Road #3 has been making waves because of its romantic, outdoor dining space. The whole cafe has an al fresco feel to it as even the covered areas are open on all sides. The rooftop has been put to excellent use, with lanterns hung from the overhanging tree branches and the low seating arrangements tucked away in corners make for a very cosy, intimate atmosphere. They have a wide-ranging, reasonably priced menu with great kebabs and their coffe is excellent, perfect for wintry evenings.

Cafe Mango has a similarly cosy outdoor arrangement, but the seating capacity is much less. Cafe Mango has been a favourite among Dhaka's cafe for quite some time, and the food on offer is immense -- the items on their menu number 113, and feature a variety of cuisines. A favourite of the cafe regulars is the brownie with ice cream.

Roll Xpress Cafe in Banani is the one-stop destination for kebab roll lovers. Their roll menu is enough to send kebab lovers into raptures, and they are as tasty as they are filling. Must-mentions are the egg beef rolls and the egg chicken paneer rolls. There are also other items, and those of an Indian culinary style like the dosas and the chaats are highly recommended by many of their regular diners. The clincher, of course, is that they have converted a backyard space into an excellent outdoor dining area that seats around 40, so you can enjoy the outdoor chill with the hot, steaming rolls.

Talk of Dhaka's cafes would be incomplete without mentioning Time Out. In Gulshan and Banani, it has been the hangout spot for college students for some time now. Both outlets have outdoor seating arrangements. Must-tries are their hot wings and their cheese with mushroom wrap.

Street smart
While all of the above are excellent al fresco dining options, there are many among us for whom an idea of a good time outdoors is to take in the city's hustle and bustle, for whom all it takes is an adda at a favoured roadside phuchka stall. They will each have their favourite spots suited to their specific tastes, some of them treasures hidden away in one of Dhaka's countless corners. One of those treasures came under our radar on New Baily Road, a tong right in front of Viquarunnisa College. Move over Bihari Camp, because Dhakaiya Kebab and Soup has entered the roadside chaap-luchi scene. It is just one stall though, but the quality is quite superb. Order a chaap, khiri fry, brain fry, take some luchis and enjoy the cool evening air sitting on whatever transport you came in, and if that fails there is always the footpath. That is al fresco dining for you.

It may be that you loved all of the above or none. Maybe we missed out on some gems you know of and love frequenting. That is not important; what is important is that winter is not going to be here forever -- enjoy this lovely Dhaka season by taking your favourite people out and spending evenings outdoors with food that you love. Happiness does not ask for much more.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Location: Soi 3


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