From the chaos of Dhaka I made my way to Chittagong on an easy 6-hour train ride. Even though it’s much smaller than Dhaka, it has all the same traffic and pollution problems of the capital. Stepping out of the train station I was greeted with a scene similar to that of which I had just left. I saw this bus and wondered if it really did go to where it says on the proverbial tin.
I did consider for a moment getting on the next bus to a nice city when my hotel booking fell through. The place I booked at didn’t have wifi, and the manager was kind enough to let me find another place without incurring a cancellation fee. I stood out the front and pondered if I should push on to the beach or stay. In the end I stayed, and I’m glad I did. Beyond the smoking piles of garbage there are some interesting things to see here.
I went to get lunch and it soon became apparent that being a foreigner in this city would be quite the oddity. After all the waiters introduced themselves the manager came out and had a chat as well. Selfies were taken, and I returned the photographic favour.
As with Dhaka, the city is filled with rickshaws.
Chittagong used to be an important trading port before the partition, so I figured there must be some remnants of that era to see.
I just walked towards the river hoping to find something, and I ended up stumbling upon Strand Road. As soon as I saw the name on the map I knew that it was going to be a special road.
Every city should plant trees like this.
It turned out that Strand Road is a treasure trove of historic buildings, most of which are in a dilapidated state.
Unfortunately pollution is a recurring theme here. This stream of black doom is on its way to the Bay of Bengal.
If this building was in Eastern Europe it would be a hipster ruin pub by now.
There are so many fixer uppers here that I hope someone does come and fix them up.
This road is a non-stop visual delight.
For the whole length of the Stand I had kids following me and saying hello, and workers stopped what they were doing to ask for a photo.
One guy followed me for a while filming me on his burner phone, so I filmed back. As you’ve probably gathered by now from the photos, the streets are a total sausage party.
All along the road are workshops that are servicing the maritime industry.
And some of the buildings are still habitable enough to run an office from.
This road is such an asset to the city yet there is no mention of it in any tourist guides that I read.
I finished my walk on the Strand thoroughly impressed with the amount of heritage buildings, and equally sad that they will be left to rot until there is no trace of them. Putting on my town planning hat, I exclaimed to myself “If I was in charge of this town I would move the maritime businesses and create incentives to restore the old buildings to a habitable state”.
Heading back inland there is another section of old Chittagong that is lined with beautiful big old trees.
This giant was my favourite.
The old railway station is in this part of town.
Opposite the station is the Bangladesh Railway Hospital.
Another colonial remnant is the Chittagong War Cemetery. I’m always drawn to the Commonwealth war graves for their history, and also just for being a well-kept park to walk through. The last one I visited was the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
I always go and say hello to the Australians who are buried here. It’s also interesting to see soldiers from other parts of the Commonwealth that you would not expect to see.
Aside from the last vestiges of colonialism, I just took delight in wandering around and observing every day life.
In any city there’s always something interesting to see, and I relished the feeling of being the only tourist in the town.
The combination of me walking everywhere and having a camera dangling around my neck meant that I got photo requests all day. My camera is a compact mirrorless that is quite beat up by now. I don’t feel self conscious about having it out all the time, and by having it out it invites more people photos.
One gentleman literally dragged me into his restaurant, where he invited me for lunch. I said I just ate but he was having none of it. He grabbed my arm and took me inside. He made me a coffee, got a waiter to run next door to buy an accompanying biscuit, and then got me a coke. He had worked abroad for decades in the gulf states before moving back to Chittagong, and he was happy to see a foreigner on his street.
When I left Dhaka airport I saw eight foreigners in Dhaka over three days. In Chittagong I saw one foreigner in my three days there. She was a German woman who was having breakfast with a tour guide, most likely on the way to somewhere else.
I first started thinking about this when I got off the train while I watched all the passengers stream out of the carriages. Chittagong is not a place that foreigners linger, but even so I still expected to see more tourists here as you do in India.
At one point I found the Radisson Blu, which stands alone as the only international-class hotel. It’s near the cricket ground and near a new convention centre that’s being built. If I had of timed my visit a few months earlier I could have seen Australia play here.
I considered dropping in there as I was getting desperate for a coffee, which would have increased my foreigner count if I did go there.
In the end I found what was probably the best coffee shop in Chittagong at Rio Coffee Corner.
Life here can be hard going. I watched this crew clean out a drain, clearing out the black muck by hand. There were boys in there up to their waist in toxic goo, which is just wrong.
And above all there is just dust everywhere. Sweeping is a never-ending activity here.
I sought refuge from the heat in any park I could find.
The few streets that have trees and wide footpaths really show what a more habitable city should look like.
I enjoyed my urban wanders and meeting all the kind people I met, but my lungs were ready to breath some sea air. Next stop was Cox’s Bazar.
Every country has some good and bad things. I will not talk about the dirt and all that but i would say images that you capture is good enough.
Pierre Gosselin says
I had Bengladesh in my mind for quite sometime, you have convinced me. Can you tell what hôtel you have used in Chittagong?
James Clark says
Great! There are a bunch of hotels on Station Road, opposite the train station. Here is what a $20 a night room looks like https://www.nomadicnotes.com/asian-sr-hotel-chittagong-bangladesh/
Phil Hockings says
Spent two weeks in Bangladesh back in Nov. Dhaka, boat to Morrelganj,visit to Bagerhat, boat to Barisol, Boat from Barisol across the Bay of Bengal and bus up to Chittigong, down to Coxs Bazaar and then Teknaf. Back up to Coxs and then flew to Dhaka and out. I was a rockstar during much of the trip. The folks there are amazed when they see some white guy wandering around. Take a local bus from Coxs south to Teknaf across the river from Myanmar. You will drive through the Rohinga refugee camp area. Interesting to say the least! Bangladesh is not the easiest travel but it is rewarding!
I am not sure how long you stayed at Chittagong, but Station Road is not the best place to stay on. Also, apart from Strand Road, there are may more colonial remnants (and even some well-maintained structures). You could have seen a lot of foreigners if you stayed or wandered around the central part of the city. Another fact is that Chittagong is also a seashore, and there are seven beaches in total! However, the city indeed needs to restore or repair the relics of its mentionable past as you said. Thanks for the visit and interesting writing, btw!
That was most fascinating. Your blog is the most interesting I have read in some time! I liked your very insightful thoughts. Thanks and that’s gotta be a lot for the senses to take in, I’m sure.