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Over the past decade, the serene beauty of the Ashulia embankment has been attracting an increasing number of city dwellers seeking a break from Dhaka's smog, din, and traffic. Tired of the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, they take trips to Ashulia on the weekends, to relax and hang out by the river. During monsoon ripples of the swelling water and clouds in the sky attracts more crowd to the embankment.

However, in the last few years the embankment has started drawing people for a completely different reason: a fish market that supplies local fish fresh out of the river, still jumping.

Situated near the embankment sluice gate, around three kilometres away from the Gabtoli bus terminal, the market is gaining popularity everyday.

The market has two shifts, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Shoppers cram the place during the market hours, and the roadside remains blocked with their cars. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days at the market. The embankment remains alive with various activities. Fishermen repair fishing boat and net on the embankment, vegetable sellers join in the trade, peanut sellers add extra crisp to the environment.

Iqbal Hossain Mollah, one of the arathdars (wholesaler) at the market said, "This market started around 10 years ago, but it has became popular only recently. People from far and wide come to this market hoping to bag fresh fish," he said.

This trend can be put down to the revelations of various toxic elements, most commonly formalin, being sprayed onto fish to preserve them while they are transported to markets. The consequent surge in demand for fresh, untreated fish has fuelled the operation of the Ashulia fish market.

Early in the morning, fishermen from villages adjacent to the embankment such as Bongao, Shadullapur, Birulia, Rostompur from Tongi, Ashuliya and Savar come with their catch. They sell their catch to the wholesalers who later sell fish to the regular sellers. Around 700 fishermen, 60 sellers and 9 arathdars are the focal point of the market said Mollah. Sellers mostly live in and around the Mirpur area.

The word kilogram has no meaning for the sellers. They have their own unique way of trading. They only sell fishes by the thalis, which is a large aluminium plate that can hold at least 5kgs of fish. Thalis always have mixed species of fish. A thali with a good catch can cost up to Tk.4000.

According to Mollah, the market sells about Tk.1.5 lakh worth of fish everyday. On Fridays and Saturdays the sell goes up to around Tk.2 lakh.

The place however, is not very suitable for members of the middle-income group, Mollah mentioned.

Syed Shahed Kabir, lecturer of IBAIS University went there with two of his friends. ?I first noticed this market the last time I came to visit Ashulia. It is full of fresh fish not available in the average kitchen market,? he said. Kabir bought a bag full of koi at the price of Tk.600.

Hasan Tareque from West Shewrapara went to Ashulia embankment with his wife to spend some stress-free hours. He was actually more interested in prawns than the scenic beauty.

"The reason I am interested in these prawns is because they are straight out of the river, still moving, and the best part is they are not treated with formalin," said Tareque.

"The sellers have a great collection here. These fish however, are very expensive, two times the price range of the New Market kitchen market," Tareque added.

Mrs Fatema Mannan, from Mirpur section-2, took a long rickshaw ride to the embankment market hoping to buy some fresh local fish. However, she went home disappointed. "Yes the collection is really alluring. But this place is not for the middle class. I am heading back home empty handed because the fish are too expensive for me," she said.

In the past few years some words such as formalin, fabric dye, adulterate food, carbide or the mobile court have become everyday jargon of Bangladeshi lifestyle. These words are literally shaping a new way of life. People are more conscious about their eating habit these days. The sluice gate market is a response to the Dhaka dwellers need for food without hazardous toxic elements.

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