Bangladesh: Sonargoan Panam City

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This image made me want to visit Sonargoan Panam City.

8th December 2015

The traffic was ghastly and I found myself dozing off for the drive to Sonargoan Panam City. The noise in the background and roads being sealed off ( strikes)  was surprisingly bearable. Normally, I’d be restless but for this trip, I reminded myself the importance of enjoying the moment and going with the flow.

I sat at the back of the car taking in as much of Dhaka’s city scene as possible. That feeling of looking out a window and spying on people who have no idea of your existence is great. It is even cuter when locals spot you and wave at you – so friendly!

Spying on people again
A silent observer spying on locals again

I arrived at the destination and it is hard to believe that the place is so quiet and soothing despite being relatively close to noisy Dhaka.  First stop was Goaldi Mosque- small- built in 1519 and relatively well maintained although one side is cracking up.

I hope that the right side stays on
I hope that the right side stays on

I had to make the trip to the bamboo school since carrying donations back to Dhaka would be silly. Setu ( my guide for the next few days) told me that an American built it to offer local children access to proper education.  Tucked behind the main road, I walked down the narrow path, passing locals in their homes and of course, since I have a soft spot for children, I started to goof around with them after handing over some education supplies to the principal. These village kids are sure darlings! Adorable and equally curious, I stayed around before rushing to see the main attraction- Panam City (Panam Nagar).

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Sonagaron is one of the oldest and original capitals of the Bengal region. It has survived through many historical periods under various rulers, sultanates and empires. From mid-13th Century, it was the seat of the Hindu Deva Dynasty then independent for some years before being under the rule of the Sultanate of Bengal, Delhi and the Mughal Empire.  Then came the British and the city was later settled by Hindu merchants who fled to India during the Partition of India in late 19th Century.  It is a single street containing some 50 or so buildings with varied architectural designs. All were constructed towards the end of the 18th Century.  All are here for me to see!

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Smaller than what I’ve imagined it to be, the abandoned city refuse to give up her charm. Nature made her mark in the cracks, adding a kind of lingering and timeless beauty to the once busy street. I prefer the city in this dilapidated state since if everything is 100% new then that charm would be manufactured and no longer genuine. Bangladesh is not manufactured or commercialised yet – in my view, it is perhaps the last handful of countries that I see as genuine. It might change but for now, this is how I feel.  As the only foreigner on site, I was able to , from the roof of a building, watch locals quietly carrying on with  their daily farming activities with no disruptions.  I found myself being fascinated by the most common sights and the smallest of details.

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I love the colours from the clothes that the women just finished washing. I love how they hung from the bamboo stick in front of a group of children, laughing and splashing about in the pond. Their smile emitted convincing happiness born  from a simple lifestyle. I greatly admired that since this is what I lack.

The stroll was relaxing and long since I couldn’t put down my camera and had to snap away. Every house started whispering their story. I imagined what it must be like back in the busy days. The spirit of the former occupants must be standing behind the locked doors, peeking out and also spying on me- the strange foreigner.

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Many doors and windows have been chained, locked and sealed up to prevent vandalism.
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Setu told me that site staff live inside this building. If only I can call it home for a day.

I walked past one grand two-storey building and noticed that the front door, although chained up, was slightly ajar. As a bandit, my natural tendency is to take one quick peek inside.  I must see what it looks like.

I imagined myself dancing to the music that the former owners enjoyed listening to...one upon a time . 
I imagined myself dancing to the music that the former owners enjoyed listening to…once upon a time .

Dust flew inside the great hall with only the sun paying a visit for a few hours daily . It was eerily beautiful although I do not appreciate the graffitis on the walls. Vandalism is a problem in Bangladesh. It is a shame that visitors cannot enter into these buildings to admire the structure from within but I’m glad that officials are taking steps in protecting the site.

I took one short break at another cha stand near the bridge that has, for some strange reason, captured my undivided attention. I guess this stemmed from my love for the design and its orientation. If this bridge had eyes then it would be watching the entrance to the city everyday.

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The drive back to Dhaka was smooth and a lot quicker than expected. Before going to the wharf for the 6pm Rocket Steamer, I went to Hindu Street for a quick stopover.  Setu told me that 20,000 people live there, hence the energy. The spices, scent and colours reminded me of February 2015, when I attended a friend’s wedding in India. Argh…memories!

It was time to head to the wharf for my 6pm Rocket Steamer.

Anyone interested in making donations can visit the bamboo school as part of your day trip to the abandoned city.

NOTES :

  • From the newspaper articles, corruption is high and remains a problem for the country.
  •  Cigarette is expensive- especially the better ones which is why many men only buy one at the numerous cha stands in Dhaka.
  • Election is held every 5 years and the next one is set for 2019.
  • Education and healthcare is not necessary free and many who can’t afford it miss out.
  • Relationship with China is good. Many signs of investments from China, Japan and South Korea. I predict high growth rates for Bangladesh in the next few years as rising labour costs in China forces companies to look elsewhere.