The best place to begin would be the Lalbagh Fort, at the edge of Old Dhaka. This fort overlooking the Burigonga River is an imposing yet incomplete Moghul fort. Begun in 1678 by Prince Azam, the third son of the last great Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb, the construction was taken up by his son NawabShaista Khan. Legend has it that, the death of his favorite daughter, locally known as BibiPari, caused a total suspension of the construction. The fort consists of long fortified walls with octagonal bastions. Within the walls there is a mosque and theMausoleum of BibiPari, and the Audience Hall. There is an on-site museum that will enthrall the visitors.
Now that you are in the locality, you must visit the old city. Walk along the Waterworks Road until you reach the hub of the old city – Chowk Bazaar. You will be walking through a maze of tightly twisting roads, and you will be living and breathing 19th century Dhaka. The roads are narrow, and lined with tall precariously poised old buildings, the ground floors of which house shops, both wholesale and retail, selling everything that one can imagine. The streets are seething with pedestrians, innumerable rickshaws, pushcarts and even on occasions, a hackney cart. You may have the equal misfortune of almost being run over by a bullock cart or a late model Mercedes Benz.
At Chowk Bazaar, you will get to see the remains of the Bara Katra, a 1644 edifice built by Mir AbulQasem. Little survives of this place, but it was originally built and conceived on the traditional caravansary model embellished with Moghul features. Close to it is the ChhotaKatra, built in 1663 by Shaista Khan.
Further south, you can get to see the newly refurbished AhsanManzil, or the Nawab’s place as it is often called. This was built in 1872 close to Wise Ghat, and was named after NawabAhsanullahBahadur. Partially destroyed by a tornado in 1888, the building was abandoned and housed homeless people for many years until recently refurbished.
Another interesting sight to visit in the old Dhaka, is the Armenian Church, in Armanitola, built in 1791 by the Armenian colony on Holy Church Road. The Baldah Gardens is another must see, in Wari. This is a botanical garden built under the patronage of the Maharajah of Baldah, and amongst other fine specimens, houses one of the few examples of the Amazon Lily in this part of the world.
Along Islampur Road, you will find the Tara Masjid, the Star Mosque. This is one of the striking mosques in a city, which is often called the city of mosques. The name derives from a glittering mosaic of broken china. Originally built in the 18th century, the mosaic was a later addition by a zealous and pious businessman. While we are on the topic of Mosques, let us not forget a Mughal mosque built in the provincial Moghul style in the 17th century by Shaista Khan. The ShaatGombuj– Seven Domed – mosque can be found in the northwestern corner of the city, in Jafarabad. The mosque stands on high bank overlooking the Burigonga. It has three domes over the prayer hall, and four corner domes over octagonal towers.
Let us now move towards the somewhat newer parts of the city, to buildings and sights from the British Raj era. Curzon Hall in Ramna is a happy blend of European and Moghul architecture. These homogeneous looking buildings were built around 1905, after the partition of Bengal. They have a Victorian edifice with Mughal trimmings of cusped arches and kiosk-like turrets. This was originally built to be the town hall by Lord Curzon, the then Governor General of British India, but has now been taken over by the Dhaka University and is part of the Faculty of Sciences. Almost opposite is the Old High Court building; also built in 1905 in the prevalent neoclassical European way, it was originally conceived as the Governor’s residence.
Let us wend our way to Dhaka’s downtown, fast resembling metropolises anywhere with high rise buildings vying for supremacy in the commercial area of Motijheel. Right in the heart of this busy area is the National Stadium, officially seating 60,000, unofficially over a hundred thousand. Right next door is the BaitulMuqarram National Mosque built in a stylistic rendition of the Holy Kaabah in Mecca. The Kamlapur Railway Station is another must see, with its “gothic” like architecture.
Recently a new National Museum has opened up in Shahbag, and has a rich collection from Bangladesh’s history. Close by is the ShahidMinar, the Martyrs Memorial, commemorating the deaths of 4 people in February 21, 1952 at the hands of police protesting against Urdu as the sole national language of Pakistan. The series of protests, called the BhashaAndolon – language movement, initially calling for Bangla to be one of the national languages, gave rise to a nascent Bengali nationalism which eventually reached fruition of independent Bangladesh, after a 9 month long Independence War in 1971. The ShahidMinar is a stylistic representation of a mother and her children, representing Bangla the mother and Bengalis, her children.
Another striking set of buildings in Dhaka are the JatiyoShongshod – National Parliament – complex at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, A colossal complex of geometrical proportion, it was conceived by the famous American architect Louis Kahn.
No trip to the city is complete without visiting the various monuments and mausoleums dotting the city. You have already seen the ShahidMinar, and further north of the city at Savar is the National Monument, commemorating the victory over the Pakistan Army, the Tin NetarMazaar, the mausoleum of three leaders, the ShahidBuddhijibiSmritiShousdho– the martyred intellectuals memorial, and the Mausoleum of deceased president Ziaur Rahman.