Dhaka is one of the largest megacities in the world. Yet, if you browsed online, there are almost no videos that showcase it in a creative way. We wanted to change that and this is where the idea of "Amar Dhaka" was born.
My friend Sajeed & I started brainstorming about the project around October 2016. In another life, communicating from two different parts of the globe would have been a logistical nightmare. However, Facebook made it very easy. Who said Facebooking is a total time-waster?
The idea was to encapsulate as many elements of Dhaka as possible within a 2-minute video. We jotted down locations, shot ideas, themes, as well as transitions that may work. We ended up having a massive Trello Board (highly recommend for project management) that organized all of our random thoughts and ideas into a neat web interface.
Making it Happen
Right after the day I landed in Dhaka, we went to Buriganga river and started experimenting. Even though we had a "creative vision" on how we wanted the final project to be, just like the dark murky waters of Buringanga, it was unchartered territory for us. Fast forwarding 10 days of constant shooting from dawn to dusk (thank you jet lag), we had some interesting footage!
Editing can be a fun and frustrating process. I still remember editing my first video project in a friend's borrowed Macbook (that friend Ishtiake just got married- another crazy story!). It took me hours just to understand how the software worked and how to cut a clip. For this project, it was a different type of struggle. How do you edit something with no linearity or storyline? After sorting out the best clips from hours of footage, we started making progress and developed a pace for the edit. Just sheer persistence & experimentation, no magical technique to share with you, unfortunately!
After launching the video, we were overwhelmed by the response. It went viral on Facebook with 3000+ shares in a matter of days! People really connected with "Amar Dhaka" on a personal level and took pride in the city. For us, the most remarkable moment came when the video was Staff Picked on Vimeo. Vimeo is the go-to platform for video creatives from all over the world, and the Staff Pick category highlights the best work from thousands of uploads. From our knowledge, it was the first instance of a Vimeo Staff Pick project that was produced completely by a Bangladeshi crew. As (wannabe) filmmakers, what brought us the greatest joy is that we were able to show Dhaka city to the world! Amongst its many problems, Dhaka has a special place in our hearts and no matter where we go in life, Dhaka will always be home.
“Hi, I am Farhan! Great to meet you!”, like university orientation, the first day of work is naturally filled with lots of introductions. I love meeting new people, but the challenge is to remember everyone's names. Especially, when you meet so many people in just a matter of minutes. As I settled into my desk and filled out the admin forms, I suddenly realized that this was my first full-time job, in a foreign land far away from any comforts of the familiarity to fall back on. Canada for me has been synonymous with Metro Vancouver. Yes, I had once been to Winnipeg for a few hours where I witnessed what a few hours of modern flight can achieve. One moment I was in sunny Las Vegas, the next I was in knee deep snow! So, I was really excited to be living in a different region and experience the true Northern wilderness.
My boss Corrine had just sprained her leg while mountain biking downhill from Boer Mountain. Which I thought was pretty cool for a first impression. She actually turned out to be even cooler in the next few months and along with everyone at the Regional District, made my arduous transition process into a joyous one.
“It would be a good idea to sign you up for the Bear Aware workshop”, and just like that, I had started my training for life up North! I had seen quite a few bears in my life, like Winnie-the-Pooh, or Baloo the Bush pilot. But, they were cartoon characters and not real. For me, they had shaped the idea of bears as friendly animals that you could walk up to and cuddle with. Well maybe not cuddle, but you get the idea. My perceptions were about to be changed and a little part of my childhood was about to be killed. Now if you’re a foreigner in bear country you might want to pay attention to the next few lines as I summarize the workshop. It might save your life someday!
Bears are curious animals and will eat absolutely anything and everything. Eat and store food cautiously in airtight packages. Unlike us humans, bears don’t like surprises, so always make noises when hiking through the woods. As the number of people in a travel group increases, the chances of bear attack decrease exponentially. However, as I often found myself hiking alone, to hack it, I would often turn on a podcast on my phone to serve the illusion. I don’t know if it worked but I’m still here. Lastly, if you do encounter one - try to wave, make noises and slowly walk away, no sudden movements and absolutely no cuddling! However, for the most part, bears are gracious animals and rarely attack humans, respect them and let mother nature do its thing. Little did I know then, this training knowledge would come very handy when I actually locked eyes with a Black Bear. (to be continued...)
Boarding a flight with Air Canada in a Dash-8, I had just landed in Smithers from Vancouver. There would be no public transport to my new home for the next 4 months -Burns Lake. However, my new would-be colleague generously offered to pick me up in a few hours time. As I waited in the airport with all my material life neatly packed in 2 suitcases, I decided to pass the time by logging in to the airport wifi to get my daily dosage of the “internet”.
“There are no more flights today, so we will be closing down the airport”, said a friendly airport staff. I always think of airports as ephemeral places, not bounded by time or space, it's a fascinating place where many life journeys intersect. Knowing I had to wait at least a couple of hours before my colleague Diondi showed up, I had planned to set camp like Tom Hanks in The Terminal (a must-watch if you haven’t already). As passengers reunited with their loved ones, and some continued their journey, I was the only one left at the entire airport - no staff, crew, passenger or a even a security …… just me! Given the post-apocalyptic security protocols at airports these days, I must say it felt quite exhilarating to be in an airport all by myself. Having always lived in big cities, it was the first sign that I’m in a relatively different world now. Glancing at my watch, it was just shy of 11 a.m., I slowly made my way outside the airport and found myself a nice sunny bench overlooking the beautiful Hudson Bay Mountain, and that was the first time in my life an airport closed on me.
As a couple of hours went by, Diondi finally came to pick me in his black Dodge Ram like a knight in his shining armor. As we introduced each other and got talking, I was happy to know that he himself was a UBC alumnus. Strange thing human psychology, we innately feel a sense of connection and security when we meet people with shared experiences. In a day full of new experiences, Diondi asked me if I would volunteer to drive from Smithers to Burns Lake since he had badly hurt his foot playing soccer. Out to make a positive first impression, I willingly obliged knowing very well that I had rarely driven in Canada, and here I was driving a brand new 3-ton truck, bigger and meaner than everything I had ever driven before. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Diondi oriented me with the customs of driving on two-lane highways with cars and lorries zooming past you over 100km/h. That experience was a great orientation as over the next 4 months as I ended up driving more than 4000 kilometers!
As someone who usually drove in the gridlock traffic of Dhaka, the 150 kilometers drive from Smithers to Burns Lake was a pure bliss. Wide open fields surrounded by mountains, the sun beaming at its peak, and with a great companion/colleague/driving instructor by my side, it was a great start to my first Canadian summer. (to be continued...)
The first time I learned about Bhutan was back in 2010. I was visiting Delhi for a SAARC cultural exchange program and met a couple of fantastic fun-loving Bhutanese students. That planted the seed to the idea of traveling to Bhutan. Finally, in 2015 the stars aligned and I skyped my Bhutanese friend Namgay to plan a trip to this wonderful country. Although she was studying outside Bhutan at that time, she still gave me wonderful suggestions with a complete must-do list! There are not many online resources about traveling to Bhutan, so I thought it may be helpful to others to share my Bhutan travel experiences with all of you.
There are several flights per week from Kathmandu via Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines from Delhi, Singapore, and Bangkok, either direct, or via Dhaka or Kolkata. We flew with Druk Air from Dhaka directly to Paro.
Paro International Airport is considered one of the most challenging airports in the world for pilots. So much so that only a handful are certified to land at the airport. The runway is in a deep valley with surrounding peaks as high as 18,000 ft. The flight itself is quite an exhilarating experience with brilliant sights. When approaching to land, it feels like you can almost touch the nearby hills. I recommend watching this video to get a virtual feel of the land
Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan, and is also the largest, with a population of around 92,000. After landing in Paro, we got a taxi and began our journey to Thimphu. The road is very scenic, passing vast hills, and overlooking lush vistas. There is almost no traffic on the road, which makes the journey even more enjoyable. It took us around 2 hours to reach our hotel in Thimphu, and we spent most of that time chatting with our amazingly friendly driver.
We stayed at Hotel Norbuling, which was conveniently located and decently priced. The staff was also very courteous and friendly and welcomed us with a complimentary cup of tea. Throughout our stay for 3 nights in Paro, it was a great experience, and I definitely recommend Hotel Norbuling for future visitors.
Places to Visit
According to the website of the National Tourism Organization of Bhutan: “This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters [169 feet], making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8-inch-tall and 25,000 12-inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.”
During our trip, the complex was under construction. However, since it is located high above the city, the panoramic views of the Thimphu valley alone make it a must visit!
Dochula Pass is a range of 108 stupas built in memory of martyred Bhutanese soldiers. Located at an elevation of 10,200 ft, the panoramic view of Himalayas can be seen from the top of the pass on a clear day. The weather at the pass is generally quite foggy, which adds another layer of mysticism to the place.
There is quite a lot to see in Downtown Thimphu, ranging from local cafes and restaurants to various retailers and souvenir shops. If you want to shop in Bhutan, this is the place! Thimphu is the only capital city in the world that does not have any traffic lights. Instead, elaborately dressed traffic police guide vehicles with hand motions. While it may not be a big deal for many of us who have lived in developing countries, many westerners find it very amusing. Just in the center of downtown, there is a beautifully decorated junction where you can witness this in action.
Paro is a much smaller and cozier town compared to Thimphu and is home to over 155 temples and monasteries. We didn't really get the chance to explore Paro as we only spent one full day there, but I'm sure there are lots to see and explore. After traveling from Thimpu to Paro, we spent the night at the Khangkhu Resort. The Khangkhu Resort is a cottage style resort just above the hills by the airport. The rooms were massive, and since we went off-season, we got a fantastic deal as well.
Ever since I had planned the trip, Bhutan’s most iconic landmark Taktsang Monastery/Tiger’s Nest had been on my bucket-list. So the next morning we rented a taxi and headed down to the base of the Tiger's Nest trail. At an elevation of over 10,000ft, the temple lies at the edge of a precipitous cliff 3,000ft up from the start of the trail. For those of us living at sea-levels, it is well advised that we start the trek slowly to get adjusted to the much thinner air at this altitude. The trail is marked and well maintained and starts off with a gradual climb. You can also take horses to the halfway point, but we decided to travel on foot. Halfway into the trail, there is a cafeteria which serves some delicious buffet. Throughout the trail, there are some jaw-dropping views, so we made frequent stops to take it all in.
So why is it called the Tiger’s Nest? Legend has it that in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche, one of the holiest figures in Mahayana Buddhism, flew to this exact spot from Tibet on the back of a tigress. He came to tame a demon and took residence in a cave where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days. It is said that he then started Buddhism in Bhutan. The Monastery was built in 1692 on the site where the guru meditated and has since become the cultural icon of Bhutan.
Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest was by far my most memorable experience of Bhutan and is an absolute no-brainer if you are visiting the country (so much so that when Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Bhutan, they also made the trek up to the temple!).
Bhutan has some delicious food, especially if you love spices. The national dish of Bhutan, the Ema Datshi, made up of local chilies and cheese is a culinary delight! Moreover, there is a wide variety of curried meat and vegetable dishes that go wonderfully with the red rice. In every street corner, you can also find freshly steamed Tibetan style dumplings, or momos, which quickly became our go-to snack. The food is generally very affordable and full of flavor. If you are a foodie, putting everything else aside, just the culinary adventures in Bhutan will surely make your trip worth it!
Unlike most of the world, the Bhutanese love their rulers. The current King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema can easily make the cover photo of Vogue or any other fashion magazine. Our driver even had their photo as his wallpaper on his phone. The entire governance is based on public happiness, and it is the only country in the world to use Gross National Happiness (GNH) as its performance indicator. The four pillars of GNH philosophy are sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance.
In the short time I spent in Bhutan, this was evident in my wonderful interactions with the locals. People seemed very happy and welcoming to visitors, even going out of their way to help me put on a gho, the traditional Bhutanese dress for men. The traditional dresses are rich in colors and textures, and I couldn't resist myself from buying one.
Before my trip, I had read a book called "A Baby in a Backpack to Bhutan: An Australian Family in the Land of the Thunder Dragon". It was a wonderful first-person account of filming, traveling, and living in Bhutan from an outsider's perspective, and I highly recommend it if you are planning to visit. You can also watch the movie Travellers and Magicians, which is the first feature film shot entirely in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Bhutan is also the first and only country that is officially carbon negative. This captivating TED talk by Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay is a must watch about this topic!
Less than 45 years ago, Bhutan opened its doors for the first time to the outside world, and since then it has been considered by many as the Shangri-La of the modern world. It is perhaps one of the few places in the world where you can truly feel the essence of being a traveler rather than being a “tourist”. The Bhutanese people are warm, welcoming, and friendly and have held onto their distinct culture in the midst of today’s age of globalization. The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is definitely one of my favorite places that I have had the privilege of visiting, and I can’t wait to go back there again!