Dhaka was originally established in about the fourth century, but it was not until the seventeenth century during the Mughal period that Dhaka gained any particular importance. The Mughals built mosques, bazaars and gardens and this development began to attract European traders who were already established in southern India.
By the eighteenth century, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, Armenian and French traders and merchants were having an influence in the town and the British East India Company had established a trading post. The East India Company eventually completely took control of Dhaka in 1765 and in 1824, Dhaka and all of what is now Bangladesh came under the control of the British Government. In 1887, Dhaka became a district capital of the Bangladesh region. It was at this time that Dhaka regained some status as an administrative centre and some substantial buildings were constructed.
Today Old Dhaka is just one part of a rapidly expanding city but for many visitors it is the most interesting and possibly the most frustrating. The maze of narrow streets crowded with people and vehicles, the fascias of old buildings covered in moss and grim, the street traders, the river traffic, the sheer chaos of it all make this area quite fascinating. Yet, for many it can become overwhelming and there seems no respite from the noise, heat and crowds. This is where a few places like Ahsan Manzil become a haven.
Ahsan Manzil was built in around 1872 by Dhaka’s wealthiest landowner as a residence. The interior is interesting and some of the furnishings are from the era in which it was constructed, but the exterior is the real highlight. The building occupies an imposing position overlooking the busy Buriganga River. The building faces the river and the gardens allow a vista of vegetation and water. Nothing else in Dhaka is quite like it. Go see it for a minimal admission charge from 10:30am-4:30pm Saturday to Wednesday and 4-7pm on Friday.
Not far away in the Shankharia bazaar area is Hindu Street where you can find Hindu artisans working in interesting old houses almost as they must have done a century ago. Some make shell jewelry, other carve stone headstones, some make kites and decorations. It is worth your while to walk this area without any particular destination in mind. Just make sure you know your directions because it is very easy to get lost. You just might stumble across old buildings, such as Bara Katra, which dates from the seventeenth century and was once a grand structure. Today it is decaying, but the part of the building that remains is still occupied. The only direction I can give is that it is a short distance towards the river from the Chowk Bazar Shahid Mosque.