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CRUISING the lifeline

The rivers of Bangladesh are becoming synonymous with the phrase 'choking lifelines of the country'. Rapid, unplanned urbanisation and unauthorised filling of lakes and rivers are restricting the once favoured route of travelling to the history pages. However, despite the troubles, the intoxicating beauty of the rivers of our country is still very much alive and this winter presents the perfect opportunity to go cruising in the many rivers of our country.

First off, the southern tip of Bangladesh offers perhaps one of the most scenic river cruises the country has to offer. Once the primary mode of transportation through this water-logged haven of nature, the journeys have now taken a turn towards the luxurious. Dhaka Holidays, a member of the Tour Association of Bangladesh, arranges fascinating cruise trips for those residing in Dhaka city and seeking a break from the mundane nature of city life. One of the reasons Dhaka Holidays stand out is because of their first-class tours on the famous paddleboats built during the British Raj.

These paddleboats, among others moulded in the shape of a Majestic Swan, are quite popular and thus hard to get during the peak season. With trips starting from Sadarghat of Dhaka in the mornings and then cruising to Murilganj, with stops in nearby islands, Dhaka Holidays paddleboat cruises are one of the best ways to experience the rivers of Bangladesh. The stopovers also provide the opportunity to enjoy the famous hospitality of Bangladesh. Prices vary according to the number of people taking the cruise, destination, time period, package required, etc.

If you thirst for thrills along with scenic beauty, then opt for Bangladesh Expedition's Rocket Steamer Cruise. This cruise takes you into the heart of the Sundarbans, bringing you as close to nature as possible. With all amenities provided, the cruise goes upstream to Herbaria Forest Station and also travels on the canals that snake around the home of the Royal Bengal Tigers. You will also have the opportunity to go trekking into the jungle, although as a cautionary note, one should avoid the deep recesses of this untamed wilderness.

Tranquil at all times, this cruise happens to be one of the most peaceful ones on offer currently. A three-day trip, including food and lodging, will set two adults back around 310 dollars. The price decreases as more people join the package. Along the journey, there will be stops at numerous points, including world heritage sites, century-old mosques and forest reserves. Bangladesh Expeditions Rocket Streamer Cruise is highly recommended and is indeed a surreal experience.

For those who want to enjoy the riverside along with a taste of rural Bangladesh, we suggest taking the river cruise starting from Pagla Mary Anderson Ghat. The 3-storied cruising boats plying the river offer the perfect opportunity to experience the rural side, some of which still remain almost untouched by the rapid urbanisation surrounding them from all sides.

As the city recedes in the background, you will be greeted by the calm of the river and the serenity that is on offer on all sides. Three hours into the journey, you will find yourself immersed in the awe-inspiring beauty of the coalition formed when the mighty rivers of Meghna and Padma meet each other. This is where the legacy of the Bay of Bengal begins.

For Tk.1600 per person, not only will you be able to take in the view but the price will also include food, air-conditioned vehicle for transport to and from the boat, experienced guides and the most special attraction -- a local folk singer for on-board entertainment.

There are also numerous cruises on the Shitalokkha River, River Ganges and numerous others. If you are interested in sight-seeing and learning the rich history of Bangladesh at the same time, opt for Galaxy Holidays, which offers a Meghna Cruise with stops at the ruins of Panam City, Rupshi Jamdani Village and Virgin Islands villages. Shitalokkha river cruises travel upstream to the historic Murapara Palace, Sonargaon, Bengal's ancient capital, and the village of Demra Ghat. If you just don't want to trouble yourself with finding the right cruise, booking and other such factors, get in touch with Scarecrow Tourism Bangladesh. Scarecrow Tourism Bangladesh, a tour operator company, will arrange your desired tour, plan your itinerary and suggest the trip, which best suits your requirements. With their affiliation with Parjatan Bangladesh, Scarecrow Tourism Bangladesh offers the quickest and most reliable service and therefore will be your best option.

Finally, you can opt for Excursion and Resorts' ideal cruise vessel. With a 24 couch/sofa arrangement, modern toilet, an open deck, kitchen facility and buffet, the Mayuree is a luxurious cruise vessel indeed. For 3500 tk per person, one can enjoy the scenic view from Demra till Kanchon bridge, with a stop over at the lovely landlord's house at Murapara and then learn more about our culture by stopping at the Rupshi to observe the Jamdani weaving. The vessel can be booked for a group or the entire thing can also be chartered altogether and is worth the effort.

This is the season for river cruising. The mists, the beauty and the calm of the river make December to January the peak season and therefore you must plan your trips well in advance. Bangladesh's rivers are the best possible ways to really experience the true nature of this wonderful country of ours and thus should be experienced at least once.

By Osama Rahman
Contact nformation
Galaxy Holidays, Taj Cassilina, 25 Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka. #988 331
Scarecrow Tourism Bangladesh, House # 125. (1st Floor), Road #13 (4 Embankment Drive Road), Sector # 10, Uttara. #0168 087 8738, 0191 159 2138
Dhaka Holidays, House #57/E Road #13, 1st floor, Banani. E-mail: info@dhakaholidays.com. #988 1492
Dhaka River Cruise: dhakarivercruise.blogspot.com/
Excursion & Resorts Bangladesh Ltd.House 108, Road 8
Banani, Dhaka 1213, Phone: 01714020711
Photo courtesy: Excursion & Resorts Bangladesh Ltd


Visiting Chatuchak can keep even the most shopping-phobic travellers entertained for a day. A few things to keep in mind when you visit:
· Chatuchak gets hot! Wear light and comfortable clothing and shoes.
· Bring a backpack or other re-usable bag for your purchases. The rampant abuse of plastic bags at this market is enough to send any tree-hugger into a coma.
· Bring enough baht (most vendors do not accept cards) and bring it in small bills. It helps to haggle when you can hand over the exact amount you want to pay.
· While this market is eons safer than comparable ones in, say, Dhaka, you still need to beware of pickpockets and watch your belongings.
· Pick up a free map from one of the information kiosks even if you just plan to wander, it will help you find your way out after!


The largest open market in the world

Bangkok is famous for both its chaotic open markets and an overwhelming array of shopping malls catering to consumers looking for replicas to originals. However, on its miles of gleaming upscale shopping malls -- a beacon of the future -- one can find the much-desired originals.

Each Bangkok market has its own unique feature, but the most famous and formidable of them all is: Chatuchak. Chatuchak, also known as JJ's (JatuJak), is a staggering 35 acres of land holding more than 15,000 stalls, visited by over 200,000 people each weekend. It is open on Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 6pm. Plant sections are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 7am to 6pm.

To get there you need to get off on Mochit -- the last station on BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) and from there it's a 5-minute walk from Exit 1 to the largest open market in the world.

Those not on the skytrain line can take the MRT subway to Chatuchak Park station, take Exit No.1, then follow the crowd until arriving at the minor entrance leading into the market's clothing section.

The assortment of goods for sale at Chatuchak is awe-inspiring. From clothing and accessories to ceramics and art, from animals and pet accessories to home decor and furniture, from typical tourist souvenirs to plants and gardening tools, you can literally find it all at Chatuchak. And the goods for sale aren't the only source of entertainment -- there are buskers vying for spare bahts along the main sois.

All that shopping can work up a real appetite, and Chatuchak delivers on that front as well. Street vendors hawk cold drinks, 5-baht popsicles and other snacks while mini sit-down restaurants serve more varieties. I would recommend the Thai tea, which is more like tea with carnation milk and lots of ice. It's pretty charming in the heat.

The secret to shopping in Chatuchak is not on its bargain because by the time you come to Chatuchak you probably have learnt how to bargain in Bangkok. So, the secret is to buy the stuff that you think you want because you will not be able to come to the same shop again even in the same hour. Such is the size of the market that I kept wandering and loitering for hours thinking that I will be able to mind map it in the end but was unable to do so.

On my first visit I had no idea which area I was in or what I was doing or. My second time, with my wife, I felt a little bit more confident. I tried in vain to be aware of my location but ended up getting lost anyway in the labyrinth of stalls. Still, I managed to seek out a few sections I was interested in seeing, like shoes. Many aspiring young Thai brands are born here. You will find the same shoes that you get in Terminal 21 in Asok at close to half the price.

Chatuchak has a huge animal section where you can buy dogs with passports, birds with passports and alligators without passports. Basically all sorts of animals that can be sold are sold here.

Keep in mind that this market has increased in notoriety and tourist popularity over the years, so these aren't the most dirt-cheap deals available on the planet. Remember that in Thailand, a friendly smile goes further than you could ever imagine even in the midst of cutthroat negotiations, and that bargaining is not only accepted but expected.

There is one main walkway circling the market and branching off into numbered alleyways (Soi 1, Soi 2, etc.). The alleyways are grouped into 27 sections, though each section might hold a variety of different goods. So the system is fairly useless for finding, say, all the vendors that sell pet crocodiles, although it may help you locate where you are when you really need to use the washroom. Free maps are available at the visitors' centre, and the clock tower in the center can serve as a useful visual reference.

Still, if you are looking for a particular category, it at least helps to have a rough idea of where to start looking.

By Taskin Rahman


Be careful

By Nasreen Sattar, Former CEO, Standard Chartered Bank,

A couple of months ago I got a call from a person who identified himself as a senior official of Robi telecom. I was told that I was chosen as one of the 10 lucky winners and will be getting Tk.90 lakh in my account. My heart stopped beating and I thought of all the various things I could do with that money. I am embarrassed to admit that having been a banker for so many years and even writing about fraudsters I fell for this trick. I was told to deposit Tk.600 into a Robi account, which will be the registry fund. Without even wasting a minute I rushed to the nearest top-up booth to deposit the money. My husband watched me as I ran out and was smirking -- I paid no heed.

After depositing the money and while coming back my driver asked me the reason for going to the booth, as I had never done this before. When I brought him up to speed, he stopped the car and told me I was duped in a royal fashion. Apparently a few days back the bearer in our house got the same call and borrowed money to deposit it. I asked myself what was the difference between a seasoned banker and a bearer in the house? We were both cheated, I can understand his reason for falling in the trap but why me? I came home totally red-faced, my husband of course was too sacred to say anything and the household staff must have been having a quiet laugh behind my back. This is the power of money and how it can alter people's judgment.

Recently a friend got an email from her close friend who was on vacation asking her to immediately remit her some money as she had lost her credit cards and whatever money she had. It was a strange request as this particular friend would never make such a request, she would have other means. My friend had the sense to call her and ask and sure enough she had made no such request and nothing had been stolen from her.

There are so many ways we can be cheated and with advanced technology, online transactions have become so easy and dangerous too. Never ever share your password with anyone be it for email or online banking or ATM, not even to people you trust.

Recently I was overseas, working as a consultant to a bank where an elaborate fraud took place because staff had shared passwords and one of them used it to transfer funds from the bank to newly opened accounts of his friends. The particular bank could have lost millions of dollars if not for the quick action of a diligent and honest member of the staff who noticed the suspicious movements. The bank still lost a substantial amount before all the transfers could be blocked.

Please be careful -- fraudsters are on the rise and everyday they think of new ways through which they can cheat people. Please remember that a con artist or trickster succeeds because of our greed, and he counts on this. If only they could use their intelligence for more productive things.


Dreaming of wheels

By Ehsanur Raza Ronny

Quote of the day: It's not my fault, it is?

I am the proud father of a two-year-old toddler who can correctly identify the difference between a cool Porsche 911 and an ugly, fugly, piece of junk new shape Corolla, Premio, Suzuki Dezire, etc. Yes, I just made a few enemies who love the latter mentioned cars. But those are not cars, those are appliances; no soul, no style, no character. And my toddler agrees. Although he just simply finds them 'pocha'.

My boy knows a Corvette. Knows that all six generations of Corvettes since 1953 looked cool. And Lightning McQueen is cool because he's a talking car. If you have not seen the cartoon “Cars”, you must see it. Talking cars and a gripping plotline about friendship, goals and love. I've seen it at least 70 times by now because my kid watches it like a mantra.

He already has a preference for alloy wheels painted black, bronze or gunmetal grey. He thinks flashy chrome wheels on new cars are in poor taste. He's always busy pointing out 'kala chakka' to me on the roads. It's why my car has dark bronze rims. My son tells me in his broken vocabulary that racing stripes are cool. I hope he understands it only applies to cars like '69 Dodge Chargers with a 426 Hemi engine. Stripes on a bog standard Maruti Alto taxi just isn't kosher.

So he knows cars. Which is a bit worrying as my wife pointed out that we have run out of certain storage space because those are crammed full of boxes full of scale model cars that belonged to me. I can't put them outside on display because the kid wants it. And the kid can't have them yet because those are pricey and fragile. They are not toys, they are collectibles. So I have to hide them. The wife is threatening to oust the cars. How could she, being a car fan herself? Because she is a mother who has to listen to a child go on and on about cars all day and sometimes in his sleep too. Apparently, it's all my fault. Women!

But it is worrying indeed because right now he is being cute. Then he will grow up and instead of studying hard, he will draw cars. And then the biology teacher will send him home because he drew a car as part of a food chain. It's happened before. And then the mother will flip because it's all my fault.


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