May 20, 2022, 09:00

Last modification: May 20, 2022, 09:01

Sailors wanted boats to have echo sounders and radars.

Mahsud has 10 second-class cabins, as there are 32 toilets and bathrooms on the first and second floors for passengers and crew on board. There are two separate chefs who cook for the crew members. Third class on the paddle steamer means deck.

After leaving Dhaka, ships stop at Chandpur, Barishal, Jhalokati, Kaukhali, Hularhat, Charkhali, Bara Machua and Morrelganj terminals of Mathbaria. Apart from the Dhaka Buriganga, the route includes Dhaleshwari, Meghna, Padma, Dakatia, Kirtankhola, Banshkhali, Sandhya, Kaliganga, Katcha, Baleshwar and the Panguchi River.

Morrelganj is 161 kilometers from Dhaka; the first class steamer fare is Tk 1,615 per person. First class travel from Dhaka to Chandpur costs 400 Tk and 1000 Tk on the Dhaka-Barishal route. Mahsud has only one engine, with a capacity of 1,200 horsepower. Its average cruising speed is 10 nautical miles, or about 19 kilometers per hour.

The ships have round fans trapped in iron cages. There are around 150 lamps in Mahsud, including tubes and incandescent bulbs.

Photo: Mumit M

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Photo: Mumit M

Photo: Mumit M

The crew said the submerged riverbeds after passing through Chandpur bothered the ships the most by slowing the journey. Sailors must then navigate carefully on the shoals.

The entry of the liners is through the hull, while it is through the deck for launching. Launches and steamers also differ in their sizes. Launches usually do not exceed 125 feet while paddle steamers can measure up to 300 feet.

According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), the country can be proud of the steamers as the service is currently only available in Bangladesh and nowhere else in the world.

But what I regret is that the ships do not circulate regularly. Previously, they made the trip every day. Then it dropped to six days a week and gradually to once in a while. The boats were in regular operations even in 2019.

BIWTC public relations officer Mohammad Nazrul Islam Misha, however, claimed that the paddle steamers now operate once a week.

Photo: Mumit M

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Photo: Mumit M

Photo: Mumit M

The BIWTC now has three paddle steamers – Mahsud, Lepcha and Turn. The fourth called “Ostrich” was chartered, because the ship could be transformed into a tourist carrier or a floating restaurant.

Misha gave some interesting information about steamboats.

The first is that during British rule prison sentences given to anti-British activists would be commuted if they agreed to work on the steamships.

He added that there was a coal depot for steamships at Nitaiganj in Narayanganj. In the past, ships were powered by steam engines by burning coal. The gigantic paddles on either side of the boat were once made of wood. Iron paddles then replaced wooden ones.

Sailors have said that if the paddles were made of stainless steel instead of cast iron, cruising speed would have increased as passengers complain that the steamer journey is tedious.

But according to crew members, steamboat trips are inexpensive, comfortable and certainly regal.

“People have money now but no hobbies. Everyone is running for time,” said one of the sailors during the conversation.

“Is it possible to put several engines in the steamer,” I asked. The sailor replied in the negative.

Photo: Mumit M

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Photo: Mumit M

Photo: Mumit M

Memoirs of politician Badruddin Umar suddenly crossed my mind. He first boarded an ocean liner in December 1945 at the age of just 14.

“Travel was very exciting at that age. Because we people of West Bengal didn’t have to take a boat or a steamer often enough. My first steamer trip was very good,” said writes Umar.

One of the sailors said: “During the Ershad regime, world leaders traveled on paddle steamers many times. The Saarc 1985 [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] Summit was held in Dhaka. Many South Asian leaders who attended the summit then took a steamboat ride. Food was brought to them from the InterContinental Dhaka, while they drank water from bottles imported from England.

“Once, more than 40 MPs from different countries toured Bangladesh. A cultural program was also held at the Mahsud Bridge in their honor.

“Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also came. A thick red carpet was laid down for him, even in his bathroom. During Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang’s steamship trip, the whole ship was decorated colored lamps.”

BIWTC official Misha said Yugoslav President Marshal Tito also traveled on a paddle steamer with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1974. Other personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose also sailed on the paddle steamer.

Researcher Hossain Mohammad Zaki wrote: “Hariprobha Takeda, also known as Hariprobha Basu Mallik who married a Japanese national, traveled from Narayanganj to Kolkata via Goalanda in 1912 with her husband. Then she traveled to Japan from Kolkata by boat.”

Railway service from Kushtia to Goalanda was introduced on January 1, 1871. The plot of the famous novel “Padma Nadir Majhi” incorporates the life of Goalanda, railways and steamships at that time.

The Bengali poet Jibanananda Das was from Barishal and was very familiar with steamboat travel. He married Labonya Gupta of Khulna in 1930. They were married in Dhaka and then traveled to Barishal by steamer from Sadarghat Terminal in Dhaka.

Jibanananda’s diary also mentions steamboat trips several times. The poet was traveling in a third class deck.

The ocean liners once had cabins reserved for the postal service. It was like a mobile post office. Postal staff sorted the letters 24 hours a day and deposited the letter bags in the terminals.

Photo: Mumit M

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Photo: Mumit M

Photo: Mumit M