Last updated on November 3rd, 2018.
History and heritage sites are the open windows to the past of any country. Bangladesh, one of the most offbeat destinations in South Asia, has preserved both Muslim and Hindu heritage sites. Sonargaon, a city just one hour away from Dhaka, gives you a peek into the history of this medieval capital and how different cultures co-existed together. To help you plan a trip to this city by yourself, here are the questions I will focus on:
- How much time do you need to explore Sonargaon?
- Sonargaon Museum complex
- Panam City
- How to reach Sonargaon from Dhaka?
- Where to eat in Sonargaon?
How much time do you need to explore Sonargaon?
Overall there are two major sites in Sonargaon – museum and Panam Nagar. If you have some extra time, there are a few mosques to explore. It took me about 6 hours for this trip together with the road. Overall, Sonargaon is a one day getaway from Dhaka. I wouldn’t plan something extra the same day not to make it too hectic.
Sonargaon Museum Complex
The complex includes a museum of Arts and Crafts, a park with a lake and a few buildings with a colonial architecture. You can see different elements of ancient and medieval daily-life in the museum: utensils, agriculture instruments, pottery. At the same time, there are also musical instruments, paintings, fabrics, handicraft items.
Though it is interesting to know more about the culture of the nation through its arts & crafts, I wish there was more information on what I’m looking at. Out of all museums I’ve visited, I found the State Museum in Dhaka the most valuable on the level of information about Bangladesh.
The park has been transformed into the picnic spot for families and despite peaceful atmosphere, it is unfortunately dirty. If you decide to make a lunch-meet-up in the territory of the complex, please use the dustbins in the area to clean the garbage. Overall the area is very relaxing and green. You can do boating at the lake or take a few fun rides at the attractions.
Visiting hours of Sonargaon Complex: Friday to Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance to the complex costs 20 Tk for Bangladeshi people and 100 Tk for foreigners. The Complex remains closed on public holidays.
Panam city or Panam Nagar is another big attraction in Sonargaon and, to be honest, I found it the most interesting place to explore. Panam Nagar is a ghost city that was abandoned by Hindu merchants a century back. In the 19th century, it used to be a popular trading center of fabrics.
Nevertheless, after British left the subcontinent, there were riots and all the territories were divided based on the religious factor. Sonargaon fell into the Muslim majority part, hence it became part of East Pakistan that time. Many Hindu families migrated leaving their homes and businesses behind.
According to Mr. Bhuiyan, the archeology manager of the site, whom I accidentally stumbled upon, most of the buildings have been closed to protect their state. There are visitors who draw on the walls or litter (Don’t be like them!).
Nevertheless, he was very kind to open a few spaces to peep with one eye into the past. In Panam City, you can see both residential and entertainment buildings. For instance, there are four ballrooms that were used for gatherings and parties.
The Government regained the control over Panam Nagar only a few years back. Today Panam City is a protected site by the Department of Archaeology in Bangladesh. Before, there were homeless people, who used to stay in some of the buildings. Now they plan to restore the town little by little to transform it into a properly protected heritage site. Nowadays, Panam Nagar also serves as a place for movie and other creative shoots due to its unique ambiance.Panam Nagar is just 10 min walking distance from the Museum Complex. You can also take an e-rickshaw for 20 INR if you don’t feel like walking.
Visiting hours of Panam Nagar: The Complex works from Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It remains closed on Sundays and public holidays. The ticket price is 20 Tk for Bangladeshi citizens and 100 Tk for foreigners.
How to reach Sonargaon from Dhaka?
You need to take a bus from Gulistan bus stop (23.723132, 90.412102). The road takes about one hour (depending on traffic in Dhaka) and costs 40 Tk one way by bus. From the station in Sonargaon, you can hire an e-rickshaw till museum for 20 Tk.
Advice: Ask the bus driver (several times! to ensure he understood) that whether the bus goes till Sonargaon. Also, ask the passengers on the bus if there is anyone going to Sonargaon or further. In my case, the driver stopped halfway in the mid-city and all passengers left the bus except me. Eventually, the driver told me to take another bus from there.
Of course, the bus will not leave you in the middle of nowhere. You will be at the station and there will be people to help you take the right bus. Just this is an extra hassle.
Note: If you are a woman, dress more conservatively. There is a lot of catcalling in Gulistan as it’s a cheap area. Nevertheless, for one unmannered guy, you get 10 people who will scold him should you give any sign.
You can take a bus from Sonargaon main road here (23.637052, 90.594123) back to Dhaka. Usually, there are several buses lined in the queue and they leave regularly every hour.
Where to eat in Sonargaon?
Though there are lanes with both local cafes and restaurants near the station, I would recommend heading straight to the museum area. It is a touristic spot and there are several vendors there – from snacks to proper meals. As mentioned above, many families come to that park as a picnic spot. If you see women and kids eating in a place, you can be sure it’s good.
Moreover, the area close to the bus station doesn’t impress with its looks, so I wouldn’t recommend buying food from the street stalls unless you are with a local person.
I hope you found this introduction and review of Sonargaon trip useful. What about you? Would you like to visit it?