If you have a short layover in Dhaka or are sick and tired of the city life, it’s good to know that there’s a spot you can visit for some old-school wandering, pun intended. The historical city of Panam Nagar, Sonargaon lies a mere 1.5 hours away from Dhaka and is relatively easy to get to.
You can take a bus from Gulistan, but I would advise you to form a group (the more, the merrier!) and rent a car for the day. Try to leave Dhaka as early as possible, that is, by 7am on weekdays and by 8am on weekends, in order to beat the traffic. Once you get out of the city limits, you will find yourself heading towards Narayanganj (the area where Panam Nagar is located). Ask roadside stalls and shops at regular intervals and they will be able to tell you about the route. It’s actually quite fun – give it a shot. We did it ourselves and had a blast.
Panam Nagar is also commonly referred to as the “Old Capital”. Wikipedia states: “As the capital of the fifteenth-century Bengal ruler Isa Khan, and once an important trading and political centre, Sonargaon boasts architecture of the Sultanate, Mughal, and colonial periods.” It is rumoured to have been quite something back in the day, as mentioned by one of the guards we met inside the complex. Apparently Sonargaon was the end of a 2,500 kilometre long trading route for merchants making the journey down from India, which gave the city a lucrative aura and made it an attractive place to settle in.
During my 2014 visit, no tickets were needed. However, when I revisited the place in 2017, there were security guards and a ticket system had been introduced – Tk20 for locals and Tk100 for foreigners.
A city in ruins. Literally. I have been there twice – once in December 2014 and again in December 2017. My experience during both of these times were drastically different from each other.
In the old capital itself, expect to find a narrow road with dilapidated buildings on each side. There are roughly 50 or so buildings covering the entire area, all of them in varying stages of decay. When I visited back in 2014, the building doors were boarded up but we managed to find one partially unboarded and sneaked in playfully, to explore and cherish the quietness. Once inside, the house was ghostly and eerily quiet. The floors were dusty and the walls had hand prints on them. We make our way to the top floor and loved it. The sun streamed in through the pillars still standing, covered with climbers. We happily posed away for photos.
2017 was an entirely different story. None of the doors were open at all – they were all boarded up, completely. A representative asked us if we wished to check out one of the houses inside, and since my other friends hadn’t visited before, we said yes. He then went off to get a key. We waited for a while, got bored of waiting and then decided to just continue exploring on our own.
This is situated just 10 minutes away from Panam city and is easily accessible by rickshaws (Tk10 to Tk20) on site. Our visit to the museum in 2014 was pretty disappointing, to be honest. The objects on display appeared unimpressive and were organized in a haphazard manner. We were asked to refrain from taking any photographs inside and we complied with their request.
In 2014 we were not required to pay any extra charges to enter the Museum. We did not bother revisiting in 2017 because the earlier visit had left us unmoved.
Museum Grounds: This is a wide expanse of land, adjacent to the museum and very green, nature oriented and well maintained. In 2014, we came across a cute bamboo bridge, a small man-made hand operated Ferris wheel, a balloon firing rack (also there in 2017, YAY!) and several fuchka shops.
Sardar Bari and Lake: This is situated on the grounds of the Sonargaon museum and was boarded up when we last visited, but is open now I believe. There is a small lake right in front of the Sardar Bari and visitors have the option of riding small paddle-wheel boats on the lake for a small fee of Tk20.
There are no fancy restaurants in the vicinity, but tiny cafés where you can stop to have lunch. Remember to ask locals for their restaurant recommendations. We did that and were directed both times to pretty hygienic places. The food is alright – just order whatever you are comfortable with.
It’s best to start for Dhaka at around 3pm from Panam Nagar. This way, you will (hopefully!) be able to avoid the rush hour traffic that plagues Dhaka during the evenings. And, if you’re tired, you can always get some sleep on the drive back.
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