Getting around the city’s waterways
Shihab Sarkar |
April 18, 2022 9:32:32 p.m.
The new look of the famous Hatirjheel Lake in Dhaka is spectacular. Over the past few years, he continues to change his overall appearance relentlessly. The efforts of the authorities to transform the lake from a foul-smelling body of water into a tempting place to pass the time deserves spontaneous applause. The inhabitants of the capital no longer avoid walking along its banks. Instead, once there, they seem to spend as much time as possible at the “jheel” or by the lake. There are dozens of novelties, by today’s Dhaka standard, scattered across the sprawling site. From mobile snack vans, several mid-sized restaurants to open-air watch boxes or gossip nooks surrounded by railings, some jutting into the water, the attractions make it a place of recreation similar to those that the found in developed cities. After a series of broken promises made by operators, Hatirjheel could finally turn into a great place to pass the time.
The total renovation of the lake comes with several features. From the time of its new beginning, the lake had provision for short-distance cruises on its waters by motorboats. As the lake is considerably long, the short boat trips quickly became a popular time-out segment. Lately, these boat trips have started to become a favored way of commuting between places. Boats offering this service are aptly called water taxis. Lately, hundreds of people are using this service while traveling between their home and their place of work. These people reside in places quite far from each other. With this ease of transportation, city dwellers can get to the main ferry point at Hatirjheel spending much less time than road transportation by bus. By reaching Hatirjheel point near Karwan Bazar, these commuters can manage travel to other remote areas by public transport. They support somehow the traffic jams that await them on the roads. The comfort, perhaps, is that they could comfortably travel by boat from areas like Gulshan or Rampura. After extensive digging, the lake passes through many populated areas. Like people engaged in downtime, these commuters now view the rejuvenated lake as a great blessing. The lake route clearly shortened their travel time. Other than that, the trip spared them the ordeal of getting stuck in traffic jams or long traffic jams during rush hours.
Traveling along the Hatirjheel roads reminds many of a frequently postponed plan to introduce a circular waterway around Dhaka. Its layouts were supposed to follow the four rivers surrounding the capital. The water transport chosen for the circular route was motor launches. Much to the dismay of commuters wishing to travel between Sadarghat and Ashulia in the first phase, the plan was abandoned. After a gap of 4/5 years, it recovered to be abandoned again. The relaunch-postpone-relaunch continued for almost a decade and a half. Finally, unnecessary exercise was almost abandoned. The reason why the big project could not start would be the “exorbitant” launch price set by the authorities. Furthermore, the drop in the water level of the rivers, making the navigability of the waterways hazardous, had also been cited as the reason for the collapse of the waterway project. With the exception of Sadarghat and Ashulia stations, the midway commuter stops lacked terminal facilities. This deficiency would have deterred elderly passengers and women from taking advantage of this relatively slow but comfortable service.
Once permanently in place, the said waterway would have greatly relieved Dhaka commuters of the difficulties they faced on bus routes from Sadarghat to Mohammadpur and then to Ashulia. The waterway was primarily intended to alleviate the business problems of old Dhaka. Transporting their bulky goods by speedboat from North Dhaka to wholesale outlets on the Buriganga side would have been easier for them. Travel time and transport costs are also said to have been remarkably reduced. The four rivers reserved for the Dhaka circular waterway included the Buriganga, the Turag, the Balu and a segment of the Shitalakkhya. This meant that Dhaka could connect with Narayanganj and Munshisanj in an emergency using the circular waterway. The failure to implement the project has blatantly deprived the residents of Greater Dhaka of a plug-and-play mode of connectivity. The city of Dhaka is blessed with four rivers running through it and on its outskirts. Few cities in Asia can boast of such a gift of nature.
There are controversies over the origin of Lake Hatirjheel. Part of Dhaka historians claim that the natural lake was once part of a large wetland. The sprawling area also included a dying river linked to the Balu. The low lying lake may have branched out from the flow of the now extinct river. A segment of Dhaka scholars believe that the lake’s past dates back to when it was part of the remnants of another river. The river stretched to Karwan Bazar. However, the pleasant truth is that after the vast renovation of the wetland, the past glory of the lake and the outlook began to appear.
If the lake had not been dug deep and extended, the single waterway that crossed it would have remained a pipe dream for visionary urban planners. It is a lack of initiative on the part of the authorities that has led to repeated postponements of the operation of the service. Given the timid stance of the authorities, private water transport operators could be handed the responsibility of managing Dhaka’s undervalued circular waterway.