Worldwide Photographic Journeys

Bangladesh: The Ship Breakers and More Tour Report 2024

23 March 2024

by Inger Vandyke

Nothing can ever prepare you for travel in Bangladesh.  As one of the world’s most over-populated countries, it’s hard to imagine a small country shared by so many people. Arriving in the country’s capital Dhaka, I felt instantly transported to the days I travelled in India when I was young.  Chaos, traffic, grime, hustle, pollution and noise.  You find that places like this tend to divide people into two camps.  You either love it or hate it.  There’s no in-between.

I hadn’t even been in Dhaka for half an hour and I was instantly in love. The same love I feel for India and the enduring love I have for Pakistan.

As the leader of the inaugural photography tour to Bangladesh for Wild Images, I found myself being transported into another world that moved me to tears of beauty and tears of emotion.  What I thought was just going to be another tour in South Asia, actually morphed into one of the most profoundly beautiful and emotional photographic journeys of my entire career.

Joining forces with our incredibly talented and connected photographer guide, Yousuf Tushar, we were the driving creative force behind this creative adventure, showing our small group of guests around a country that would move us all deeply through a series of photogenic experiences that is almost unrivalled anywhere in the region.


I met our group in Dhaka on the eve of our tour and we spent our first afternoon warming up our street photography skills by visiting a large mechanic’s market in the old quarter of the city.  As we tried not to get lost we wandered around a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and street-side workers all toiling away at engine parts, pulling machines apart, welding them back together or fashioning them into other things.  In between this mechanized chaos were tiny shops selling everything from spark plugs, nuts and bolts, to recycled plastic dashboards, suspension springs and even steering wheels!  No one in the world recycles items better than Bangladesh.  This was only our first introduction to a phenomenon we would see throughout our entire tour occasionally.

Everywhere we went, people curiously asked which countries we came from – something that was going to characterize our entire trip. The people of Bangladesh are so incredibly friendly!  Couple that with endless requests for selfies, after which I would always ask “Is this going on Facebook?” I would invariably get a sheepish “Yes”.  We all joked about it so much in the end that I nearly created a hashtag just for our group.

From the mechanics market, we then visited a busy Dhaka street in the old quarter where we scaled a bridge to photograph the seething mass of life below us. At street level, we all had fun taking photos of people, cycle rickshaw drivers and a myriad of small shops, each one a fantastic photo frame in its own right.

We were just about to leave this area to walk down to the Buriganga River when someone let off a mosquito dust bomb to kill mosquitoes in the city ahead of the monsoon.  It quickly filled the street with a cloud of dust that obscured our vision.  Only myself and one guest saw this but I said “This is GOOD!” And we both fired off a few frames of what turned out to be one of the most ethereal scenes we saw in the city.

After that, we wandered down to a series of floating barges that formed the main commute stop for Dhaka residents boarding tiny wooden boats to make their way across the river.  It was rush hour, there were people everywhere and lines of tiny boats, each with an oarsman, waiting to take people home.  The waters of the river blushed with the setting sun and I think at some point every one of us simply sat for a moment and watched the beauty of this late afternoon traffic on the river that pulses through Dhaka like a heartbeat.

That evening Yousuf and I enjoyed dinner with the group while we reviewed the tour ahead through the images Yousuf had taken over the years.  The food was delicious and Yousuf’s sublime imagery created a tantalising view of what lay ahead for us on this tour.

The following morning we returned to the river at sunrise.  This time we walked a large modern bridge photographing the various people commuting by rickshaw and on foot across the bridge.  From here we could get a birds-eye view of the boat traffic plying the black waters of the Buriganga at the start of business in Dhaka.

We eventually descended the bridge into a kitchen market selling all sorts of food including vegetables, poultry, meat and fish.  The colours, smells and bustling traders transported us all back to another time.

The market stretched from a perpendicular road to the riverfront so from there we went down to check out the boat commute traffic again from ground level before we took to a riverside street to take photos in a row of local barber shops.

Our guides alerted us to the fact that the tiny commute boats of the Buriganga were moored up in the shape of flowers not too far away so we walked the busy street to reach a point where, indeed, we literally saw ‘flowers in the Buriganga’ with a series of pretty wooden boats all moored up in a symmetrical flower formation.  Close to here, we saw men building the little boat taxis and also saw a series of run-down, or ramshackle, huts which seemed to be homes of the boat drivers.

It was here that the drone flyers in our group took to the skies to photograph these beautiful boat formations while the ground photographers went up to the roof of a nearby building, also to get an above-view of their beauty.

We seemed to be in a ‘fabric packing’ district so, as we wandered about we also photographed fabric workers and carriers taking cloth and garments to and from shops.

The Ship Breakers

Further down the river was Dhaka’s shipbreaking yard.  Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest shipbreaking countries and this industry, like so many we would see in the country, is controversial due to the amount of toxic fumes, lack of safety measures and use of child labour.  Despite all of this we arrived with protective masks to discover a series of large riverboats being worked on by a variety of people, mostly men.  Welders worked to cut and repair.  Salvage workers carried whatever could be saved from the rusting hulls of large boats, including anchors, wheels and motors, into a nearby series of alleys.

Oddly, despite the dangers of seeing the ship breakers, we were allowed to wander freely around this area.  After all, the Bangladeshi people may be haphazard about their own safety but they seemed to be extremely concerned about ours.  If one of us got too close to the action, someone invariably stepped in to gently caution us to move.  It made for a fascinating walk around a world-famous industrial area sprinkled with more wonderful and friendly people.

In the narrow streets adjacent to the ship-breaking yards we found iron workers busy loading boat metal into large subterranean blast furnaces.  This furnace melts any salvageable metals which can be used to create new items including boat propellers.  This incredibly difficult and hot work was astounding to witness, especially when we witnessed a ‘pour’ with the furnace being brought out of the earth by four guys and then poured into waiting moulds for propellers!  So much steam and sweat.

It was down these narrow alleys we met workers and numerous children playing.  We also wondered how small groups of goats, sheep and chickens actually survived in such a toxic and vegetation-less place.

Towards the end of our stay, we wandered out towards our bus, stopping to photograph some of the workers, including one man with beautiful green eyes!

Touring the ship breakers (image by Inger Vandyke)

We stopped for lunch at a Pizza Hut, of all places and our final shoot of the day was on a busy Dhaka street with a traffic jam of cycle rickshaws.  Interestingly it was quite nice to be on this street as the only traffic noise was that of bicycle bells instead of the ubiquitous motorized vehicles belching smoke and blowing car horns.  We took photos from a bridge here and also at street level before we returned to the hotel for dinner and preparation for our departure from Dhaka the following day.

Fabric Dyeing

The next morning, we packed up our bus and left Dhaka.  Our first stop was a pretty rural area that was home to several fabric dyeing plants and fields used to dry freshly dyed cloth in the sun.

We walked a narrow country lane and entered this area through a beautifully constructed, colourful fabric gate.

Once inside we stopped to photograph raw fabric cutters, dyeing plants and people before we went into the large fields where reams of freshly dyed cloth were laid out in rows to dry in the sun.  It was here we photographed children laying out cloth and running between rows of drying fabric having fun.

By drone, this was also a visual feast with lines of brightly coloured pieces of cloth being worked on by children.

We stopped by several places where vats of hot water and dye were steaming with pieces of dying cloth.  We also enjoyed some lovely street photography as we wandered through the fabric-working villages.

Seeing so much beautiful fabric our interests were piqued at the opportunity of buying beautiful pieces directly from the creators so we stopped by a local shopping area to buy fabric as a reminder of our stunning morning watching these creations come to life.

Over lunch, we tried our first sweet curd yoghurt which is a Bangladeshi food staple.  Quickly addicted we ended up seeking this yoghurt out during many of the remaining meals on our tour.  Our tastes for wonderful local Bangladeshi food were growing by the day.

Rice Drying Courtyards

That afternoon we visited our first two rice drying courtyards.  This ancient tradition is being quickly overtaken by mechanized rice drying, which made me wonder how long the beauty of these courtyards might exist.  Like so many industries in Bangladesh, I also wondered what might happen to the people who work in them when machines take over.  It was a source of great internal conflict for me.

These beautiful rice-drying courtyards are where rice is spread out over a large area to dry in the sun.  At the end of each day, the rice is swept up and covered by conical shelters called “topas”.

We stopped at two different rice drying courtyards to photograph children in the rice topas, women getting ready for dinner, washing, drying clothes and the tiny local homes where the rice workers lived.  The beauty, again, of these communities made it very hard for us to leave but we were faced with quite a long drive to Sylhet so we had to get on the road.

The Floating Market

The following morning, we rose before sunrise to drive to a spectacular floating market on the side of a rural river.  It didn’t look like much was happening here when we arrived but we slowly made our way down to the river where wooden boats were starting to arrive, loaded with colourful vegetables.  Once they arrived baskets of produce were offloaded onto the shoreline and then taken by carriers to a nearby wholesale market in the village.  We spent a mesmerizing few hours here photographing the sellers and carriers, trying some local food for breakfast and simply being beguiled by the amazing freshness of the vegetables and herbaceous smells of so much organic food.

We eventually wandered into the nearby village for a late breakfast of chai and freshly friend parathas cooked over a wood fire in a truly atmospheric kitchen.  Between courses, we all popped into the back to take photos of breakfast being cooked in such a wonderful place.

As we left the café I spotted a wonderful old man with a cheeky glint in his eye so I asked if we could take some photos of him and he said “Yes!”.  That’s the lovely thing about Bangladesh – not only are the people really warm and friendly but they mostly love being photographed.  Spontaneous street photo moments like these were to become some of the highlights of our trip.

The Green River

Our next stop was an extraordinarily pretty green river that was home to an alluvial sand mining operation.  We stopped here to photograph men offloading sand by hand to nearby quarries.  We also flew drones over this amazing scene, finding wooden boats stirring up the yellow sand into the green water of the river.

Stone Mine

We hadn’t even made it to lunch and we were transported next to a gigantic stone mine at the side of another river.  Our first view of this mine was from a multi-story watch tower which we walked to the top of to get an idea of the scale of the mine.  Afterwards, we retreated to the ground to eat lunch and strategize the next photography session at the stone mine.

Spending a few hours at the stone mine was also fascinating as we wandered the shoreline photographing the different activities of the mine including fetching stones from the river bed by circling boats with people throwing buckets into the water to collect them.  In other places, men were tossing rocks into waiting trucks or nearby floating boats.  Elsewhere workers were also carrying dredged sand from the river.

The drone flyers also had a treat here photographing numerous wooden boats in a vast, mineralized landscape.

The extent of these works was incredible and we could have all stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, but other destinations were beckoning so we left around mid-afternoon.

Buffalo Farming

Next we made a short stop to visit a local buffalo farmer and photograph his animals as they were being taken to a nearby lake to cool.

Duck Farming

Our last shoot of the day was a duck farmer in a remote agricultural field that we had to reach by taxi truck over a very bumpy road!  None of us were sure in the end if it would have been easier to simply walk as, at one point, the little truck we were in got bogged in the mud and the people sitting right at the back of the truck got covered in dust on the more arid stretches of the dirt road.

We spent some time with a farmer feeding his flock of ducks as the sun was going down.

While the buffalo and duck farmers were a lovely and unexpected diversion to the trip, we soon realised from the dry conditions that both of these were better seen during the monsoon rains of Bangladesh.  Still, it was lovely to see a side of farming life in the country!

What a truly photogenic and full day we had!  I think we all arrived at the restaurant for dinner that night feeling almost overwhelmed at everything we had seen that day!

The Waste Pickers

By far the most confronting and emotional shoot of our tour came the following morning at sunrise when we went to visit a community of waste pickers at a local garbage dump.

Each day, groups of people at Bangladesh’s garbage dumps, work to sort the garbage by hand in one of the most confronting and difficult industries we would see on tour.

We started the day by covering our legs and shoes in plastic bags and donning masks before we entered the dump.  Upon our arrival, massive flocks of Black Kites and House Crows took to the skies, almost heralding our arrival.

When we walked in we started to see workers, most of them women, toiling with rakes to sort incoming loads of garbage taken there from Sylhet.  We were instantly taken aback, firstly at the beautiful way in which these women were dressed, their general happiness and also the extremely grim conditions where they worked.

Amongst them was a little boy who we saw helping out the women and then also an elderly man who seemed to be the husband of the two oldest waste-picking people at this location.

We spent some time wandering around, photographing it all until a giant mechanical digger swung into action, basically turning the rubbish over so it could be further sorted by the pickers.

So many emotions swept over us during this visit.  At one point I was moved to tears by a waste-picking woman who had found some gold shoes in the rubbish and was looking to see if they fit her.  I just wanted to scoop her up, take her to get a shower and buy her some new shoes!  At another point, the oldest woman there showed us a used hypodermic needle she found as she was picking through the rubbish!  It was all just very confronting, yet compelling at once.

One of the most confronting photography mornings of our tour – with the waste pickers in northern Bangladesh (image by Inger Vandyke)

We eventually went back to our hotel in Sylhet where we had a late breakfast and packed up our bags ready to leave for Dhaka.

An Elephant Mahout

As we drove the long road back to Dhaka, I suddenly saw a mahout riding an elephant on the side of the road and I yelled out “Elephant!!!”  We quickly stopped the bus and the mahout brought his beautiful female elephant over to show us.  She instantly held her trunk out to sense us and feel her way to us which was completely adorable!  She also showed off a little by lying down for us and again, allowing us to stroke her and get a few trunk snuffles in.

For some of us, it was the first time they had ever stroked, or been close to an elephant, and what a great introduction this girl was.  She was truly a wonderful creature!

Our final Rice Drying Courtyard

We had a little time up our sleeve and since we all found the rice drying courtyards a profoundly beautiful photographic experience we stopped at them again on our way back to Dhaka.  This time we arrived in time to see the last of the rice being swept into piles and covered with topas so we scaled the roof of a nearby building to photograph them, some more children and rice-working families until time forced us to brave the traffic back to Dhaka.

The Brick Works

The next day we went out to a gargantuan brick manufacturing area on the outskirts of Dhaka.

The brickworks was to be our major and only shoot of the day so we spent most of the morning here walking between three or four large brick-making fields where we photographed people working in hot brick loading yards directly next to huge firing kilns.  Elsewhere people were carrying dried bricks to the kilns, others were covering lines of drying bricks with plastic to protect them from potential rain and then there were workers toiling in brick dust that was used to cover newly fired bricks until they could be sold.

Again, this was all quite confronting as we watched huge groups of people working to carry bricks from place to place including men (who carried 12 bricks on their heads), women (10) and finally children (6).

We were there at a time when the many workers combined had reached their carrying quota so their supervisor had thrown a large party for all of them, installing gigantic ‘doof doof’ DJs and music speakers in each yard.

This impromptu music had us all joining groups of workers for spontaneous outbreaks of laughing and dancing and at one point the workers also covered us in pink paint and dye to help us get into the mood for the celebrations.

Covered in pink! Our group after celebrating with the brick workers of Dhaka (image by Inger Vandyke)

It amazed all of us that these people, despite the repetitious and heavy work they were all engaged in, seemed to always be so smiling and happy – even with their workplace being filled with dust, heat and some of the worst air pollution (mostly coming from smoke belching from large chimney stacks that rose out of the brick kilns like giant, poison needles) we’d see on this tour!

Sandy looking pretty happy, surrounded by the children of the brick works (image by Inger Vandyke)

After we finally left, we started on the road to Chattogram, stopping for some lunch and shopping on the way.  The lunch point gave us a chance to start washing the pink paint off our skins, out of our hair and vainly trying to wash it from our clothes.

At the lunch restaurant, nobody said anything when they saw us walk in but a few smiled at the fact we had spent the morning getting paint-bombed at the brickworks!!!

That evening we dined at a local sensational Indian food restaurant in the city.

Chattogram Fish Market

We had finally made it to the coast and our exploration into Bangladesh’s fishing industry was about to begin.

We started by visiting the large fish market in Chattogram and as soon as we got off the bus we found ourselves in a bustling fish market adjacent to a line of moored, traditional wooden Bangladeshi fishing trawlers.  From these, men were offloading catches of fish in bright blue/green fishing baskets, down wooden gangplanks to the market.  Wandering the waterfront, we photographed people in the fish basket storage area, sleeping on the wooden carts, men filleting fish and the usual groups of children who excitedly followed around our group of foreign photographers wondering what we were going to take pictures of next.

It was quite extraordinary to see the variety of fish being caught in the Bay of Bengal and being sold at this market!

We finally boarded our bus and drove on to our next stop, Cox’s Bazaar, where we arrived just in time for lunch at a locally famous restaurant, which served wonderful Bangladeshi food and puddings!

Fish Drying

Our afternoon shoots began with a visit to a huge fish-drying area on the outskirts of Chittagong.  We spent some time here wandering around on foot photographing children in the fish drying racks and workers who were tasked with drying, sorting and tying bundles of fish to sell.

I’ve always loved fish drying areas because lines of drying fish make for wonderful leading lines in photos but there is something raw and real about the smell of these places also.

The Trawler Beach

After we photographed fish drying activities we wandered down to the beach, stopping to photograph one of the large Bangladeshi wooden trawlers under construction.

For the rest of the day, we walked the beach and shallows of the sea photographing numerous trawlers getting ready to go to sea.

When we got there we all felt like we’d been plunged into a ‘Bay of Pirates’ with these charismatic old boats and their hand-carved wooden panels, anchored up at the edge of the beach using large stands of bamboo to hold their anchors.  We photographed men preparing the boats for sea, hauling nets down on wheeled wooden trailers to load onto boats, men mending and children playing in nets until the sun went down.  It was a wonderful few hours spent with an extremely friendly community of people whose lives were intertwined with the ocean.

That night we checked in at our stunning hotel and enjoyed a meal of freshly barbecued fish and meat at a local beachside grill restaurant.

Bangladesh’s beautiful Moon boats

The following day we spent an entire day on the beaches of Cox’s Bazaar photographing the spectacular and colourful Moon boats of Bangladesh.

We started by driving an unbelievably pretty road that spanned from the main city of Cox’s to the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.  It was a beautiful road lined by the longest sand beach in the world on one side and some small, yet dramatic hills on the other.  As we drove along it was hard to imagine that, just over those hills, a huge refugee camp that is home to over a million Rohingya people fleeing the violence in nearby Myanmar, existed.

When we started to see our first Moon boats our excitement started to build.  It was hard not to simply jump out and look at our first ones!  We drove a little further and stopped when one of our guides spotted a line of men bringing in a net full of fish to the beach.  What was initially going to be just a ‘brief stop to photograph the nets being brought in’ morphed into a couple of hours of photographing this, some of the Moon boats and their crews on the beach, rope carriers, people having breakfast on the beach and also some drone flying over the incoming nets!

Unlike other fishing in Bangladesh, Moon boats carry red coloured nets so these were incredibly beautiful for photographs and they also complimented the red kelp and the colourful catch we saw being sorted on the beach.

It was our first taste of the fishing industry with Moon boats and we were all hooked!

We eventually forced ourselves to leave as we drove further east towards the Myanmar border and lunch.

Our own version of the Bangladesh Motorcycle Diaries. Some of us walked the beach at Cox’s! Sandy was lucky enough to get a lift! (image by Inger Vandyke)

Fish Drying at Cox’s Bazaar

Although we had planned to drive directly to lunch, we couldn’t help but make stops and one of our brief pauses was to photograph some fish drying racks and workers on the side of the road.

Moon boat being Landed

We then made another short stop when we saw some men assisting one of the Moon boats ashore so we went to photograph it just as a lovely, rusty old Landcruiser was driven into the sea to help tow the Moon boat out of the water.

Lunch on the Beach

By the time lunch was upon us the sun was high in the sky, the heat was at its most intense and we had almost reached the border of Myanmar.  Our team chose a lovely restaurant on the beach directly next to a colourful Moon boat fleet so we quickly placed our order for lunch and wandered across the road to photograph more boats.  The harsh light and warmth eventually drove us back to the shade of the restaurant where we were welcomed with a drink of fresh coconut water and a fantastic meal of fish curry and fried fish while we sat in the shade with a cool sea breeze and a wonderful view.

Colourful Moon boat Fleet

From lunch, we visited a large fleet of Moon boats so we could photograph lines of their brightly coloured hulls in the sun before making our way, slowly and with lots of photography stops, back to Cox’s Bazaar.

Coastal Salt Mines

On the way out to the beach we had spotted some salt mines on the side of the road so we stopped briefly to photograph workers at these and also fly drones over the pans, which almost looked like paint palettes from the sky.

Moon boats on a Snake River

We also made a brief stop to photograph some lovely old Moon boats on the sand at the end of a snaking coastal river.

Moon boot being Constructed

As we made our way along the road we saw a family of people building a Moon boat in the shade of a large She-Oak forest so we stopped to photograph their beautiful wooden boat being made by hand and the family making it.

Moon boats at Sunset

By far our longest shoot for the afternoon was on a beach filled with Moon boats and men preparing them to go to sea at sunset.  As the light got lower the photography just got more and more beautiful so we stayed until the sun red in the sky.  What a mesmerizingly beautiful fishing style with these whimsical crescent-shaped boats and everything being done by hand to look after them and work with them.

“Do you need help with carrying your camera?” I’m sure Apu was wondering if should have asked that question! (image by Inger Vandyke)

Salt Pans at Sunset

Our final stop for the day was at a salt pan which was being beautifully lit by the setting sun.  We raced out to grab some photos before the light descended into night and then we went back to Cox’s Bazaar for the evening.

The following morning we spent a few hours photographing the last of our sea fishing activities of the tour, at the main fish market at Cox’s Bazaar.

We were meant to fly back to Dhaka that afternoon but our flight got delayed so we decided to go off and spend lunch at a wonderful restaurant eating some wonderful Bangladeshi food before going to the airport for our later flight to Dhaka.

The next day we headed out to the northwest of the country and got caught in the most horrendous traffic we would experience on our entire tour.  Sadly, we had chosen a day to travel that was the same day as local people took to the streets on ‘picnic buses’ to enjoy a day off in the countryside.

Dotala Houses

We had originally planned to arrive in the country a lot earlier but the traffic was out of our control so, when we found a builder of pretty Dotala houses on the side of the road we made a brief stop to look at them.  Dotala houses are temporary houses that can be erected and taken down quickly if they need to be moved during the monsoon floods.  Unique to Bangladesh these pretty brown and white houses dot the countryside and they are made of white corrugated iron with wooden floors and hand-carved wooden windows, doors and architraves.

From here we drove deeper into the countryside stopping to take photos of Dotala houses in the fields and more modern buildings.

The Pottery Village

We finally arrived at a stunningly pretty village of pottery workers on the side of a river choked with water hyacinth plants.

Over the next couple of hours, we wandered the tiny dirt tracks and alleyways that connected numerous courtyards of families engaged in pottery.  Older Dotala houses were here and they were being used as housing for groups of colourfully dressed Hindu people all making pottery from clay by hand, drying pots and kiln firing sheds.

As we wandered from village to village we walked through fields dotted with Hindu Shrines and in a couple of places we were invited to see some extremely elaborate and brightly coloured Hindu temples.

The final place we stopped was a spot where large clay pots were being made by hand to store salt-cured fish!

A Surprise Hindu Wedding

Then, just as we were leaving the villages we heard some loud music down one of the dirt tracks.  Following our ears we chanced upon a Hindu wedding in preparation so we were actually invited in and we spent some time photographing the bride and her family which was a wonderful surprise.

Sadly we had to turn down their kind invitations to lunch as we had run late that day and we still had quite a long drive ahead of us to reach our hotel that night, on the edges of the Chitra River.

On the way we drove over the large modern bridge that had been built over the Padma River, one of the newest and best examples of modern Bangladesh infrastructure.

The Otter Fishermen of Bangladesh

After a rough night of sleep at a rustic local lodge we got up before sunrise the following day and drove to a river that is home to some of the world’s last Otter Fishers.  We parked our bus and walked down to the riverside where local people were already arriving at the village on wooden boats, along with their bicycles and motorcycles from villages across the river.  We were photographing some of the local commuters when our boat arrived to take us to visit the Otter Fishermen.

This centuries-old tradition has been handed down through generations of men and is still in practice in Bangladesh.  Although Otter fishing is disappearing we spent a few hours lying on our bellies while we watched a local Hindu family release Dolu, Kushi and Khali, three tame ‘pet’ otters into the river to catch fish for them.

Although lying on our bellies on the hard, wooden planks of a boat to take photos was hard, it was wonderful to watch these three playful Asian Short-toed Otters perform tricks for snacks of fish before they tried to herd fish into the nets for their owners.

When the fishing was finished we joined the fishing family for a wander through a nearby market where we did some street photography and enjoyed a delicious, late breakfast of fresh fried potato pakhoras and warm masala chai which was delicious.

We then returned to Dhaka along an expressway so we made it back to the city in time for lunch!  We only made one brief stop when we saw a trailer full of young men with musical instruments heading off to a ceremony to perform.

Over lunch, we shared the restaurant with a group of women from Aarong Fashions who had decided to do a ‘ladies who lunch’ event to celebrate International Women’s Day so we went and joined them for numerous selfies and since they were all wearing beautiful pink and orange Sarees we decided to enquire about where we could buy some.

Mojgan enjoying a photo shoot with a group of women celebrating International Women’s Day (image by Inger Vandyke)

Kamalapur Central Railway Station, Dhaka

After lunch our final shoot of the day was at Kamalapur, the central railway station of Dhaka.  Arriving at Kamalapur we were instantly beguiled by its dramatic architects with the station roof being designed to enhance the flow of water running off it during the monsoon.

When we entered the station our priority was to find the older trains so we spent a few hours here wandering the platforms photographing people on them and in train windows.

It was an interesting street photography session which had us all witnessing the daily life that unfolded at Dhaka’s largest train station.  Sadly, there were quite a number of homeless children and beggars at the station so a few of us opted to buy food for some of them, in between wandering the platforms and taking photos.

The Coal Carriers

The next morning, at the start of our last journey into the Bangladesh countryside on our tour, we began our day by visiting a river in Dhaka where hundreds of workers were tasked with offloading coal and sand by baskets onto the shore.  While there was some activity on one side of the river we quickly noticed that much more was going on over the other side so, deciding it was going to be faster to get over there by boat instead of bus, we took a small boat across the river where we spent some time photographing the workers carrying loads off boats, dropping sand into quarries. We were even allowed to board one vessel to watch the baskets being loaded before they were picked up by carriers and taken ashore.

When we finally left this industrial area, we stopped for a break and bathroom stop at a place that had the most wonderful parathas and eggs so we all decided to enjoy a late snack of this delicious food by the roadside.

The Yoghurt Makers

That afternoon we visited several villages of people engaged in making the traditional Bangladeshi yoghurt we’d all been enjoying throughout our tour.

Consisting of mostly Hindu people this incredibly hidden part of the country was a photographically beautiful experience as we walked pretty streets, visiting several buildings where yoghurt was being made.

At the village heart was an earthy Hindu temple that lay at the base of a large Banyan tree which shrouded it with tendrils of aerial roots.

These yoghurt buildings were at once, both difficult and beautiful to photograph.  In the main building, the heat of cooking fires was so intense that most of us had to shield our eyes from the smoke and only go in at short bursts due to the heat.  For those of us who braved longer periods in it, we were rewarded with incredible dark room photography where shafts of light came through holes in the ceiling to illuminate yoghurt workers pouring large spoonfuls of yoghurts into steaming vats to aerate it.  In other parts we watched workers making the charcoal for the pits, washing curds in large swathes of muslin and also pouring yoghurt into small ceramic pots for it to be set and sold.  These circles of yoghurt pots were then covered by large conical covers until they had set.

In between the yoghurt buildings we just enjoyed wandering the streets taking photos of people and being invited into their homes, again for photos.

It was becoming hard, at this point in the trip, to think that the photography couldn’t get any better and voila!  Each shoot just got better and better.

Bangladesh Chilli and Rice Harvesting

The next morning, we spent our first few hours photographing the spectacular chilli harvest of Bangladesh.  The chilli fields in this part of the country are so gigantic that they can be seen from space!  Fields and fields of red chillies drying in the sun beside more fields of rice and rice drying areas made for some truly beautiful photography as we stopped to photograph the workers of both industries on foot and by drone.

At times it also got a bit intense with the air filled with chilli pepper smell and that forced some of us to step back and take a break.  How the local people continued to work, despite the smell, amazed us!

We wandered through several villages of chilli courtyards taking photos of the harvest and also the rice drying fields before we took the bus to a man-made peninsula on the river which was filled with more chilli drying areas.

A nearby village to this peninsula provided some great chances for street photos while the peninsula itself featured eye-level chilli fields, workers and boat traffic on the river.

Four-Boat Fishing

We arranged for some local fishermen to show us how they ‘four boat fish’ here which we photographed on land and by drone.

Finally, we asked if they could take their boats over to a nearby floodplain so we could photograph them in this incredible river sand formation.

The Jute Workers

When the shoot on the river concluded we stopped for some street photographs at a local jute workshop near the village.  Jute is yet another product that is made by hand in Bangladesh so it was fascinating to see these men sorting and winding huge bundles of it for sale.

The long road to Dhaka was finally calling so we turned and headed back to the city, stopping to buy some yoghurt from one of Bangladesh’s most famous shops.

The Poultry Market

On our final morning of the tour, we went for a pre-breakfast shoot at the largest poultry market in Dhaka.  Each day, thousands of ducks, chickens, geese and even pigeons are traded in this market for meat.

Although it was confronting to visit this market and photograph the birds, the traders, the butchers, the basket makers and the general traffic of buying and selling, the interesting thing about it was the fact that many of the birds were held in hand made baskets or conical nets as they are sold.

Again, this was another amazing street photography session and it was quite an ending to one of the most visually spectacular and emotionally moving photography tours I’ve led in my career!

That afternoon we all enjoyed a day stay at our hotel in Dhaka before leaving for our night flights and our incredible tour coming to an end.

Special thanks to our wonderful group – Graham, Ann, Stu, Mojgan, Doris and Sandy and an incredible word of thanks to our local team – Yousuf, Apo, Riyan and Sohel for making sure everything went to plan and showing us some truly remarkable sides of life in Bangladesh!


My field notes from Bangladesh with thanks to Yousuf for the photo! (image by Inger Vandyke)

Inger Vandyke

Australian professional wildlife photojournalist and expedition leader Inger Vandyke now lives in the Forest of Bowland in northern England with her partner and fellow Wild Images photographer Mark Beaman. Inger has a long-established photographic career publishing images and stories in over 30 publications worldwide.