At first impression, Dhaka is a typically modern Third World capital with wide boulevards and cement-block towers, everything laid out in orderly fashion but in rapid states of decline. But on further investigation you discover that Dhaka is an old and venerable city in the true South Asian manner.
Dhaka's urban history is a reflection of the changing fortunes of the sub-continent as a whole. It was established by Buddhists in the 4th century, later dominated by Hindus and then fell into the hands of Muslim Mughal rulers in the 13th century.
This was the start of the golden age of Dhaka, when it became a great Mughal trading port and finally the capital of Bengal in 1608.
The Mughals built Dhaka into a magnificent city, with a sultan's palace, dozens of ornate mosques, covered markets, gardens and a huge citadel to protect it from pirates and foreign powers.
The Old City is a veritable labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, difficult to find your way around without a guide. Running along the waterfront is the Bund, a bustling street that overflows with rickshaws and vendors, sweaty workmen in white loincloths humping goods up from the ghats, and eager commuters rushing down to the ferry piers.
Central Shahid Minar
There is something interesting around every corner. Ahsan Manzil, the palace of the last Nawab of Dhaka, stands just behind the waterfront. It's now fully restored.
The last of the great caravanserai is Chotta Katra. Istara Mosque with its unusual stellar motifs is the most interesting of the Muslim places of worship in the Old Town, while the old Armenian Church is one of the few remnants of the large community of Armenian and Greek traders who settled Dhaka in the late 18th century.
They weren't the only ones attracted by the dazzle of Mughal Dhaka.
Portuguese, Dutch, British and French all came here to trade during the 17th century, establishing their own enclaves along the waterfront. They tussled with one another for the favour of the Mughals, but it was the British who finally triumphed (as they did in most of India) and took Dhaka as their own in 1765.
Under the British an entirely new colonial city was built to the north of what became the Old Town. Great government buildings and posh bungalows arose along the shaded avenues. And Dhaka continued to prosper on trade, this time as a conduit of raw commodities from jute, sugar, tea and indigo plantations established by British planters in the interior of what was then Bengal province.
The Ramna area — the old British part of Dhaka — is still dominated by colonial buildings with Greek columns and whitewashed facades. This district is the artistic and intellectual heart of the whole nation, where you find the libraries, colleges, art galleries and the National Museum.
Ahsan Monzil Museum
Lalbagh Fort : The Fort of Aurangabad, popularity known as the Lalbagh Fort was built in 1678 A.D. by Prince Mohammad Azam, son of Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb who was the then Viceroy of Bengal.
Suhrawardy Uddyan : Formerly known as the Race Course, Suhrawardy Uddyan is a popular park of the city. The Child Education & Recreation park (Shishu Park) is also located in a comer of this big Uddyan.
National Poet's Graveyard : National poet Kazi Nazrul Islam died on August 28, 1976 and was laid to rest here. The graveyard is adjacent to the Dhaka University Mosque.
Churches: Armmanian Church (1781). St. Mary's Cathedral at Ramna, Church of Bangladesh or former St. Thomas Cathedral (1677) at Tejgaon.
Bangabhaban: Tourists can have a look (outside view only) of Bangabhaban, the official residence of the President.
Zoological Garden: Called Mirpur Zoo, it is situated at Mirpur. 10 km. to northwest of Dhaka, on 230 acres of land.
Shahid Minar: Symbol of Bang-ladeshi nationalism, this was built to commemorate the martyrs of historic Language Movement of 1952.
Botanical Garden: Built over an area of 205 acres of land at Mirpur, just east of the Mirpur Zoo. Object of garden: botanical education, research, preservation of plants and some recreation.
1857 Memorial (Bahadur Shah Park): Built to commemorate the martyrs of the first liberation war (1857-59) against British rule, It was here that the revolting sepoys and their civil compatriots were publicly hanged.
National Museum: Housed in an impressive building the Museum contains a large number of interesting collections including sculptures, coins, paintings and inscriptions,
Ramna Green: Ramna Park is a vast stretch of green ground surrounded by a serpentine lake.
National Art Gallery: Situated in the Shilpakala Academy premises this has a representative collection of folk art and paintings by artists of Bangladesh.
Ahsan Manzil Museum: Located on the bank of river Buriganga in Dhaka. It is an example of the nations rich cultural heritage. It was the home of the Nawab of Dhaka and a silent spectator to many events. Today's renovated Ahsan Manzil is a monument of immense historical beauty. It has 31 rooms with a huge dome atop which can be seen from miles around. It now has 23 galleries in 31 rooms displaying portraits, furniture and household articles and utensils used by the Nawab.
Baldha Garden: Baldha Garden has rare collection of botanical plants and flowers.
National Assembly Complex: National Assembly Complex in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar designed by the famous architect Louis Kahn has distinctive architectural features.
Mosques: Dhaka is better known as a city of mosques.The number of mosques in Dhaka city—old and new—would be more that one thousand.
The only surviving monument of the pre-Mughal period in Dhaka is Binat Bibi's mosque (1457) in Narinda. Other monuments of the Sultanate period around Dhaka are the single-dome Goaldi Mosque (1493-1519) and Mosque of Fateh Shah at Mograpara (1484).
The earliest Mughal monument in Dhaka is the Eidgah, an open field for Eid prayers, located in Dhanmondi residential area.
One of the finest examples of Mughal mosque architecture in the 17th century is the three-domed Sat Gombuj mosque which appears to be seven domed, hence the name sat which means seven. Another typical example of architecture is the three-domed mosque built in 1679 and situated behind the old High Court building.
The mosque of Khan Mohamad Mridha located closer to the northwest corner of the Lalbagh fort was built in 1706. The only parallel to Mridha's two-storyed mosque is the five-dome Kartalab Khan's mosque at Begum Bazar near the Central Jail. This mosque was between 1700 and 1704. It has a graceful two-sided roofed, hut-shaped room along its northern face, which, with its curvilinear eaves, gives it a very distinctive look.
The Chowk Jame Mosque, according to an inscription found on the building was built in 1676. Perhaps one of the best known and frequently visited mosques in Dhaka is the petite Star Mosque in Armanitola which has an inlaid star pattern made of broken pieces of china. It was built in the early 18th century.
Baitul Mukarram, the National Mosque in the down town area is the forerunner of a number of strikingly beautiful modern mosques. It is modelled after the rectangular shape of the holy Kaaba in Mecca.
National Memorial: Located at Savar, in the suburb of Dhaka city, is the National Memorial. It was built to commemorate the martyrs of the war of independence, Jahangirnagar University and its sprawling campus is also located nearby.
Sonargaon: About 29 km. from Dhaka is one of the oldest capitals of Bengal. It was the seat of Deva dynasty until the 13th century. From this period onward till the time of the advent of the Mughals. Sonargaon was a subsidiary capital of the Sultanate of Bengal.
National Park: Situated at Rajendrapur, 40 km. due north of Dhaka within Joydevpur Thana in the magnificent Bhawal region on Dhaka-Trishal-Mymensingh Highway, this is a vast (1,600 acres) national recreational forest, ideal for those who love nature.
Wildlife Sanctuary : About 128 km. from Dhaka is Madhupur, an interesting wildlife and game sanctuary of the country.
River Cruise: During the dry winter months river cruise is available. The cruise provide an opportunity to have glimpse of riverine Bangladesh and its lash green countryside.
(Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), the national tourism organization and The Guide, a private tour operator runs regular city sightseeing tours and river cruise).