Enjoying pleasant moments in Dhaka

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For all its colorful streetscapes, palate-tingling Bengali cuisine, vivacious neighborhoods and buzzing craft and music scenes, Dhaka’s urban pressures can often take a toll on the body and mind of travelers. It’s no surprise then, that travelers passing through this tropical city sometimes feel the need to escape its bounds on a much-needed detour into Bangladesh's serene and idyllic countryside. To guide you on your way, here are some quick and easy day trips out of Dhaka, all offering a chance to get up close and personal with the fantastic heritage, culture and people of Bangladesh, while resting your senses from the chaos and din of Dhaka.

Sleepy Sonargaon

A charming cluster of rustic villages dotted with ruins dating back several hundred years, Sonargaon was once a majestic seat of power for several of the historic dynasties ruling over eastern Bengal. Travel accounts from the 15th and 16th centuries describe Sonargaon as a city with broad streets, great mausoleums, and bazaars, where the finest textiles such as kantha (embroidered muslin) were produced and exported.

While the noble traders have long since departed, you can still get a sense of Sonargaon’s bygone splendor on a walk through Painam Nagar, a ghost village where grand mansions of merchant families stand silently in splendid decay. Take time for the 30-minute hike to Sadarbari, a magnificent rajbari (Raj-era estate mansion) which houses an imposing collection of regional artifacts and folk art. The forest-draped Goaldi Mosque, a fine example of a single-domed pre-Mughal mosque, is one of Bangladesh’s oldest religious sites, and a mere 15-minute walk away from Painam Nagar.

The Folk and Fine Art Museum in Sonargaon

Delightful Dhamrai

Home to the last of Bangladesh’s family-run bell-metal casting studios, Dhamrai is a great place to go shopping for exquisite bronze-ware made by the ancient lost-wax process of sculpting. A handful of studios in this quaint village are keeping the tradition of bell-metal artistry alive; the workshop of Sukanta Banik has the best pieces, ranging from elaborate renditions of Hindu gods such as Vishnu and Durga, ornamental horses and elephants, and decorative pieces such as lampstands, candelabras, and wall hangings.

Aside from craft shopping, Dhamrai also makes for an interesting outing during the Hindu festival of Rath Jatra (June/July). During this auspicious celebration, the village comes alive with a riotous display of rituals, focused on the giant Jagannath Chariot that is hauled by villagers along Dhamrai’s main street.

Bangladesh's 200-year-old "lost wax casting"

Dhamrai Metal Crafts Workshop

Royal Joydebpur

Immortalised in Bengali folklore as the setting for a major royal scandal in the 1920s, Joydebpur is a leafy sub-divisional settlement about 30km north of Dhaka. As the story goes, a dead prince (or a near-facsimile impostor) returned to claim his estate after 12 years, triggering a protracted legal case that went on until 1946.

The infamous Bhawal Rajbari – which was at the center of proceedings – still stands, and while its interior is given over to government offices, you can admire the graceful architecture of the mansion from the outside. About 5km north from here is Bhawal National Park, where a patch of forest fosters a tiny population of peacocks, deer, fishing cats and pythons, providing a peaceful setting for boating, angling, and hiking in the woods.

Peacocks strut the forests of Bhawai National Park

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