Today we took a bus ride west of Dhaka to the meeting of the Ganges and the Jamuna Rivers, crossing the river by ferry and exploring the ferry town on the other side. Traffic volume and etiquette takes some getting used to. Two lane roads mean three, as a game of chicken plays out as cars try to pass one another while dodging the oncoming traffic. Honking is like barking for dogs; the same noise has the potential to carry vastly different meanings. “I’m coming up behind you.” “How are you doing?” “You shall not pass.” The roads carry anything with legs or wheels, and bicycles, motorized rickshaws (CNGs), cars trucks buses, a few pedestrians here and there all share the road with varying degrees of peaceful coexistence. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
Highways in Bangladesh are corridors of activity which cut across flood plains and rice paddies. The highways stand about 20 feet above low lying areas on either side, resembling a levee built up with sand, gravel, soil and tarmac. Cars dive in and out of the middle of the road, straddling the dashed yellow line. They pass slower traffic, which in turn passes the rural rickshaws which dart out to pass all the vehicles loading and unloading their wares along the shoulder. Along either side are Bangladesh strip malls, series of one room tin shacks built up on bamboo posts and extending out along both embankments over the edge of the flood plains and rice paddies. So much of the land is low lying that almost all buildings are build on podiums of 15′ to 20′ of sand fill. Roads intersecting with the highways follow a similarly elevated form. Agricultural fields are divided by two foot tall embankments which separate crops and serve as irrigation canals. Beyond the linear network of raised roads, islands of houses are connected by bamboo bridges, often a single bamboo rail with a bamboo handrail on either side, all supported every five or six feed with diagonal beams lashed together to form Xs. The countryside is a network of highland roads and settlements gridded out over fields and drainage creeks and rivers.
The ferry port is a trading post and settlement, with trucks and intercity buses lining up to take one of several ferries shuttling back and forth. The river itself is immense, and difficult to fully appreciate even while floating in it. Perhaps a mile wide, the current is slow and the water cloudy enough to obscure its depth. The ferryboats come in a few sizes, and we hopped on the largest variant. Four rows of cars fit about 3 bus lengths, 4 truck lengths or 9 car lengths from bow to stern. Above them housed three floors of cafe, private quarters and a covered roof deck.
The docks themselves are mobile, with hydraulics used to lift the large ramps which connect it to dry land. As the dock is used the river bank slowly erodes into the water. The third to last photo above shows a replacement docking area ready for action once the current location is deemed too eroded. I can only speculate that the shops which line the road leading to the dock must also pack up and shift over the few dozen yards to follow the flow of traffic.