Did you know that Chawk Bazaar was previously called Badshahi Bazaar? And did you know that even in Mughal times the area was a busy business hub of Dhaka? And that it was a bustling social centre, too? From glorious histories to neglected legacies to being a significant commercial centre to boasting an interesting food scene, what actually makes Chawk Bazaar, Chawk Bazaar?
How does one define the Chawk? What is Chawk Bazaar in a nutshell? To find out, one ought to explore its streets!
The roads are excruciatingly chaotic - labourers carrying loads of various goods over their head, rickshaws caught in the traffic, a 'bhel-puri wala' on the side of the road, a very tall minaret watching over the 'mohollah'.
And on both sides of the roads are shops; markets selling all kinds of goods: chocolates and showpieces and toys and perfumes and cosmetics and sports items. The Chawk is a wholesale market, and it supplies this wide array of products to many places in the whole city. If you are planning on buying in bulk, this is where you can get some lucrative deals.
Chawk Bazaar was once a social hub as well. It was, according to SM Taifoor's Glimpses of Old Dhaka (published in the mid-twentieth century), "... the meeting ground of great ulema who gave their lectures...", and it was also where people "... discussed possible and impossible stories of the courts and harems..."
Chawk Bazaar is home to Nurani Cold Drink, which has been in business for more than half a century, tirelessly serving lassi and lemonade from morning till midnight. They break and chop ice with a large hammer. They toss lassi, during its preparation, from one cup to another with an almost mathematical precision that has been perfected over decades. And locals drop by every now and then - a short break for a much-needed rejuvenation which Nurani's lassi and lemonade always bring.
The area is also famous for hosting the age-old iftar bazaar during Ramadan, along with many other street food and bakeries.
Walking on one of the roads will take you to a very old and grand structure. It is among the remaining vestiges of the Boro Katra, which was once a caravanserai, an inn for travellers. Built by Bengal's Subahdar Prince Shah Shuja (son of Emperor Shah Jahan) in 1644, the building is a very important Mughal monument of Dhaka. Go inside the Boro Katra to explore it further: thick walls and a labyrinth of narrow corridors and high steps in the staircases. Boro Katra is soaked with antiquity.
So, what really defines Chawk Bazaar? What is Chawk Bazaar all about? It is about its age-old stories and edifices, its status as a commercial hub, its food scene. But I reckon it is about the crowd, the people, the endless conversations, and the whirlwind of chaos and confusion which run in its streets. Isn't it what Chawk Bazaar - and the streets of Dhaka at large – is all about?
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