As a nation, Bangladesh has a fairly recent history. It was only established as it stands today in 1971. Still, the land has a rich history that helps make up the culture of its people.
References to the Bengal people are found in the ancient mythology of the region. The known history begins with the Gangaridai Empire. By the time Alexander the Great entered the Indian region in 326 BC, the southern portion of what is now Bangladesh had grown into a powerful empire.
The Gangaridai Empire was fabled to have an army with 20,000 horses, 200,000 men and 4,000 elephants. The Gangaridai Empire launched a counter attack against Alexander, sending him out of their land. As a result, the Gangaridai Empire flourished for several hundred years.
The history between the period of the Gangaridai empire and the Middle Ages is relatively unknown, with few written accounts to draw from. By the 6th century AD, Eastern Bengal became known as the Vanga Kingdom, while the western portion of the area was under the control of the Gauda kings.
It was not until the Pala dynasty in 750 that the Bengal people were more unified. This was the first independent Buddhist dynasty in the country, and Pala came to power in one of the first democratic elections in all of Asia. This dynasty lasted until 1120 and brought great prosperity to the land. This time was known as the Golden Era of Bengal history.
The Palas were succeeded by the Sena dynasty, who united all Bengals under one ruler. This time brought a revival of Hinduism to Bengal as well. The Sena dynasty lost control when Islamic Turks gained a foothold in the late 13th century. Turkish rule lasted until 1548, with several ruling families during this time.
The next period of rule was a short period of Pashtun rule. From 1548 until 1576, two Pashtun dynasties ruled and promoted Islamic beliefs further. They were destroyed when the Mughals conquered the land and brought it under the control of Delhi. Mughals kept control of most of Bengal until 1717, when Murshid Quli Khan declared independence for Bangladesh, bringing Islam back once again.
Throughout these various dynasties, Europeans attempted to settle in Bengal. In 1757, the British East India Company took military measures to ensure that they would be able to control Bengal officially, defeating the existing dynasty at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The East India Company faced much resistance during their period of rule, but they succeeded in bringing social reform to Bengal.
In the late 19th century, the people of India began pushing for independence from Britain. By the early 20th century, the independence movement was in full swing. The British held on tenaciously until 1947, when the independent states of India and Pakistan were created. Bengal was split, with the eastern half becoming East Pakistan and the western half being incorporated into India as the state of West Bengal.
Pakistan could not hold control over East Pakistan, as religious and cultural differences divided the land. In March of 1971, the Bengal people declared independence, and a short battle ensued. India intervened to help the Bengals, and Pakistan had to surrender the territory. The new country of Bangladesh, or “Country of Bengal” was established.
In spite of the Buddhist and Hindu influence on the history of Bangladesh, today, 90 percent of the population is Islamic, and Islam is the official religion. Violence against other religions is not common in the country, however.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, with 158 million people living in a country about the size of Iowa.
Bangla is the official language of the country. Over 220 million people speak this language, making it the 3rd most spoken native language in the world.
With over half of the country only 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is greatly impacted by climate change. Experts estimate that a full fifth of the country could be under water by the middle of the century if sea levels continue to rise as they have been.
About 80 motion picture films are produced each year in the country.
Bangladesh has the world’s largest mangrove forests, the world’s longest unbroken beach, the world’s largest bay and the world’s largest river delta, all of which draw tourists.
Bangladesh has six seasons: summer, the rainy season, autumn, the cool season, winter and spring.
Over 50 million cell phones are currently in use in Bangladesh.
It is common for up to three generations to share a home. Elderly are greatly respected in Bangladesh culture.
Cricket is the most popular sport in Bangladesh.
Traffic rules are rarely followed in Bangladesh.
The Sundarbans – This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. Here you can visit the native habitat of the Bengal tiger, Indian python and estuarine crocodile.
Cox’s Bazar – Visit the world’s longest sandy beach here. With 78 miles of unbroken white sand, you are sure to find a spot to set up your towel and beach umbrella.
Buriganga River – A popular destination to cruise, the Buriganga River will take you through Dhaka
Dhaka – This bustling city is alive with rickshaws, and it is home to two major museums.
Madhupur National Park – This old growth forest is home to native owls and spotted deer.
Lowacherra National Park – The Khashia people call this national park home, and they share it with noisy hoolock gibbons.
Rangamati – Take a boat ride through the tribal islands of the Buddhist people.
Srimangal – Tea is paramount to life in Srimangal. Sample some of the region’s finest teas when you visit.
Bandarban – This small town sits on the Sangu River and boasts some of the most beautiful countryside in Bangladesh. It is a welcome retreat from the noise of the cities.
Paharpur – Visit the remains of an 8th century Buddhist monastery with a trip to Paharpur.
How to Get Cash
Most metropolitan areas have ATMs. The largest ATM network is the Dutch Bangla Bank, and these accept MasterCard and Visa. Most hotels also have HSBC ATMs, but these only accept the HSBC and Visa cards. ATM booths are accessible at all hours and are typically guarded.
Major banks in large cities are willing to change your money into the Bangladeshi Taka, but US dollars are the preferred currency to change. Be prepared to find that banks in small cities will not exchange your money.
Most major banks will exchange Traveler’s checks, but most small banks will not. Moneychangers will not accept Traveler’s Checks.
Major hotels and restaurants in the cities of Dhaka and Chittagong will likely accept your credit card.
Authorized moneychangers can be a good source to change US dollars into taka. Look for a shop that looks like a well-run establishment. Bangladesh doesn’t have much of a black market for money changing.
Western Union and similar money transfer shops do exist for emergency situations, but these are expensive.
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