Running calmly through the centre of Old Dhaka, the Buriganga River is the muddy artery of Dhaka and the very lifeblood of both this city and the nation. Exploring it from the deck of a small boat from Sadarghat (shod-or-ghat) is to see Bangladesh at its grittiest. The panorama of river life is fascinating. Triple-towered ferries leer over pint-sized canoes, and country boats bump against overladen barges with barely an inch of clearance above water.
On the foreshores, stained with grease and mud, you’ll find children fishing with homemade nets in the lee of rusting tankers. Further out, repairmen busy themselves crashing, bashing and scrubbing ship hulls while floating on planks of wood.
Among all the large ships are the tiny wooden ones that you can hire. These are available almost everywhere along the waterfront, though most people hire them from around Sadarghat boat terminal. If you just walk along the jetty here, English-speaking boatmen will find you and offer you a one-hour tour of the river. If you can barter the price down to Tk 30 you’ll be doing well.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy a price battle with the touts, walk slightly west to the small rowing-boat landing; from here wooden rowing boats ferry passengers across the river all day for a set price of Tk 5 per person. The opposite riverbank is of no particular interest – it’s packed with clothes shops and stalls, although there are some snack stalls and tea stands, too – but it’s the trip there and back that’s the attraction.