OpenStreetMap

It wasn’t long after celebrating Diwali in India, which happened to fall on a weekend this year (around 27 October 2019 to be precise) that I was packing my bags for my next adventure. Where to? Well, to a country that is as close as it could be! I was heading to the Land of the Rickshaws: Dhaka, Bangladesh!

Ever since the moment I received an invitation to be a speaker at the State of the Map Asia 2019 Conference, I had been looking forward to it! Not only was it because, I was heading to the country that homed the Sunderbans Forest and the Cox’s Bazaar (the longest natural unbroken sea beach in the world), but also because life as a Software Engineer in India was rather taking a monotonic turn over the last 4 months, until this 4 day adventure came along to break the monotony! And once I received the notification for scholarship, there was just no two way about it!

With my Visa in order (and mind you, it was my first visa that was a stamp and not a sticker!) and my flight ticket in my hand, I was ready to fly to Dhaka from Delhi right on Halloween! (And the name of the Airport was quite powerful too: “Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport”!) Now, 31 October was all I had to tour Dhaka, so I made sure I planned it well, so as not miss any site! Luckily enough, I landed in the morning! Of course, I didn’t have time to go to Sunderbans or Cox’s Bazar (What a pity!), but I could definitely visit the cultural sites in Dhaka. And that is exactly what I did! Now, most of the cultural sites of Dhaka are located in Old Dhaka, and for all the Indians out there, to put Old Dhaka into perspective, Old Dhaka seems to be the sister of Old Delhi! So in short, it is not a place you can take an Uber too! Funnily enough, I wasn’t aware of that! And it wasn’t long before I switched my means of transportation. What to? Well, I was in the Land of the Rickshaws, and it isn’t called that for no reason!

Rickshaws in Old Dhaka

So, my first day in Dhaka pretty much went about touring around the streets of old Dhaka in a rickshaw! In some ways, travelling around Dhaka in a rickshaw, did feel like time travel or rather deja vu. It genuinely reminded me of India, say 10 years back with me still in school, and a time when Rickshaws could be seen on the streets of India too!

Luckily enough, I found a rickshaw-wala, who could speak Hindi (Thanks to Bollywood!) and he volunteered to show me all sites around Old Dhaka (of course at a price!). Lalbagh Fort, Khan Mohammed Mridha’s Mosque, Armenian Church, Star Mosque, Dhakeshwari Temple, Sadarghat River Port, Shaheed Minar, Curzon Hall, Old High Court, I saw it all! I would have loved to go inside Ahsan Manzil and the Bangladesh National Museum, but alas! it was a Thursday and that happened to be the weekly off at the museums! To my luck, there was a wonderful exhibition just outside the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban (National Parliament House) with exhibits artistically arranged inside dry freight containers, painted with art representing the culture and nationalism of Bangladesh on the outside! I couldn’t help myself from taking a few pictures!

And how can you talk about Bengalis and forget the food? Now, Bangladesh is famous for two things: Food and Clothing, and those two happened to be the souvenirs I brought back for all my friends and family! Who wouldn’t love to wear a Jamdani or Tangail Saree from Aarong or try Sondesh or Cham-Cham brought straight from the streets of Old Dhaka? Besides that, the food at the Conference was catered too, and I love Biryani. And what could have been a better place to have Kacchi Biryani and Bakarkhani than Bangladesh itself?

Kacchi Biryani

Now that was all the time I had to tour around the city, since for the 2 days that followed, I was booked for the Conference! And boy! I was amazed to see how many people around Asia and around the world shared my love for Cartography! I guess I met people from a minimum of 8 nations (USA, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and of course India and Bangladesh!). There might have been more but I have just lost count by now!

Anyhow, it was in that moment that I realized that Cartography is only limited by our imagination. The Conference brought a diverse set of Organizations and Individuals on the table! I guess it was the first time I was meeting teams from Facebook, Apple and Mozilla on the same day and rather having lunch with them! It was a different experience altogether!

There were seminars on volunteer work centered around Mapping, Making Public Transport Easy with Cartography, Civic Engagement through Mapping and of course the trademark “Lightening Talks” and Panel Discussions. However, being a Software Engineer, the ones that intrigued me the most were of course centered around Technology and the Workshop on “Mapping with Artificial Intelligence” by Facebook was the highlight for me. “Mozilla Location Service” by Mozilla came a close second!

“Mapping with Artificial Intelligence” by Facebook

In my seminar, I talked about “Chitmahals: The India-Bangladesh Enclaves”. Since my seminar was more about a historical event related to cartography, I wasn’t actually expecting a huge response. But the fact that a hundred people lined up for my session, did put a smile on my face and perhaps a tear in my eye! I guess, a lot of the cartographers were interested in the shared history of India and Bangladesh, or more so, in how peaceful negotiations between 2 countries led to simplification of one of the most complex international borders of the world.

Finally, the two eventful days came to an end and it was time to head back home! While 4 days was a short time, there was so much I experienced and besides that, made some great connections on the way! It’s been a year now since I began contributing to the Crowd2Map Tanzania Project of the Tanzania Development Trust to prevent Female Genital Mutilation in rural Tanzania. And while I hope that there comes a day when we are able to resolve all such issues completely, till then, let’s contribute actively to map this world and make our contribution in improving lives around the world. This was my first State of the Map Asia Conference, but it certainly won’t be my last!

Location: Monipuri Para, Farmgate, Dhaka, Dhaka Metropolitan, Dhaka District, Dhaka Division, 1215, Bangladesh

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