I came back from travelling in Asia a wee while ago. I went all over the place.
Shanghai. Beijing. Dhaka. New Delhi. Hong Kong. Singapore. Calcutta.
Those were just some of the cities I travelled too. And while you probably didn’t realise, that list was in a descending order of city population. I bet you glimpsed back to check. And now I bet the next question on your mind is, “Dhaka? What? Where is that?”
It’s shocking, but I’m yet to find someone outside of Dhaka who knew where it was. It’s in Bangladesh. And it’s the 11th biggest city in the world. For some perspective, think twice the size of London or New York. Or, if you’re a Kiwi, think 10 Aucklands, or 4 New Zealand’s.
And here’s the fun bit. Somehow, they’ve crammed 17 million people into an area 20% the size of London. 16% of New York. Half of Auckland. Think of that. Ten Aucklands. In half its size. So yeah, trust me. You don’t know what traffic is.
Dhaka was also just voted the least inhabitable city on Earth by The Economist. That’s three wins in four years.
The only city voted upon that could beat it was disqualified because it had extraordinary circumstances. That city was Damascus. In Syria.
So yeah, you could say that Dhaka’s a pretty rough gig.
But it’s funny how people work isn’t it? I loved Dhaka so much, that I decided that working there for two months wasn’t enough. I went back. I went back for two weeks, because I figured it would be a good place to relax before going home.
Think about that. I could’ve carried on motorbiking in India. I could’ve climbed mountains in Nepal. I could’ve relaxed, drink in hand on some beautiful Thai beaches.
Nope. I wanted to go back to Bangladesh.
And it’s not like I’m alone in this. Everyone I met who had travelled there felt the same way. It’s funny, as a place, it’s terrible at first. But when it comes time to leave, you just… don’t want to.
I think it’s the contrast. It’s the differential between the good and the bad. Because Dhaka’s so bad, you actually notice the good bits.
If you go outside during the day in Dhaka, expect to be covered in clouds of smoke. Expect your ears to ring after a day full of car-horns. Expect sweat. Expect crowds. Because that’s what Dhaka is all about.
But it’s a city which comes alive at night. And it comes alive, because when you can’t go anywhere or do anything, you end up on the rooftops. And the rooftops of Dhaka are special. No matter the time of year, the evening is pleasant. It never rains. And there isn’t a lot better than sitting on a rooftop, surrounded by lights and an endless sky, drinking illegal beer with your friends. Or just chatting and having dinner. Or throwing them into the pool. Or eating mishti doi. Or playing cricket at 12 storeys up. Or any of the number of things you’ll find yourself doing which usually aren’t you.
Really, that’s what Dhaka was for me. Friends. Your life begins to revolve around them. It’s not like there’s anything else to do there.
I think it’s an insight into what actually matters.
I can’t tell you what you’d get out of it. But what I got was an understanding that the people you surround yourself with are what make a place special. They’re what make a life worth living. And it’s not like this is only something that happens in Bangladesh.
Let’s face it. It’s not like Dhaka is the only city with Rooftops.