Andrew Buncombe: Silence descends on the noisiest city

Dhaka Notebook: I wonder whether Dhaka's reputation might be somewhat unfair

Related Topics

I had left in anticipation of noise and chaos, of gridlocked streets, of snarling, fume-belching traffic, of hordes of people. After all, isn't Dhaka the world's most densely populated city? Doesn't it have the world's worst pollution? Isn't everyone forced to wear face-masks because the treacley, unshifting air is so bad?

When I arrive, it's something of a surprise then, to discover there's nobody here. The roads are all but empty of traffic, there are no queues, no noise. The journey from the airport takes barely 20 minutes rather than the hour or so I'd expected. It's not as though I'm disappointed, but I wonder whether Dhaka's reputation might be somewhat unfair.

I learn there is good reason for the unnatural calm. I've arrived in the middle of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice when millions of cattle and goats are slaughtered and – more relevantly in regard to the traffic situation – everyone tries to return home to their villages. Heaven knows how many animals get the ritual chop, but the meat doesn't go to waste; tradition dictates that those who can afford to hold sacrifices donate a third to the poor, a third to their relatives and neighbours and retain just the remainder for themselves.

I suspect that Eid is also something of an occasion to show off one's wealth. One evening, being pedalled back to my guesthouse in the upmarket Gulshan district, I spy four huge cows standing tethered outside a large, beautiful home. "He must be a very rich man," says the rickshaw driver.

A few days later, the people are back. The trains into the capital from the rural hinterland are so full that people are forced to sit on top. Of course, along with the people comes the noise, the chaos and pollution. This may be the Dhaka I had expected, but I know which I prefer.

Election? What election?

On the issue of quiet, there's a general election in two weeks, but you wouldn't know it. The interim government, which has ruled under a state of emergency for two years, banned contesting parties from putting up posters or holding rallies. The parties seethe that this prevents them from doing their job. The Daily Star newspaper, however has found at least one person who approves, quoting Mahamuda Begum, a supposed city resident who said: "The nicest thing this year is that the candidates are not allowed to hold rallies ... and block the movement of people, which used to be a constant irritant."

I should Coco

I'm learning Bengali slang. Some of it's rude, some is fun. Pongo – a word that apparently dates from the days of British rule – means sick or ill. A medical facility properly called the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation is known by everyone simply as Pongo Hospital.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Day In a Page


Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride