A pandemic ravages floating hotels in Buriganga, a haven for those with limited means



But quirky living spaces have long been a lifeline for those with little to spare. A night in one of the floating hotels can cost as little as 40 Tk.

The bandaged foot, Shahadat Hossain, from Chandpur, came to see a doctor in Dhaka. He came to the Faridpur Muslim Hotel immediately after his speedboat arrival.

“I rent a cabin for 100 Tk,” he said. “Where can I find cheaper accommodation than this? The doctor told me how long it would take for my recovery, so I came here for cheap accommodation.

But it’s not just travelers who take advantage of cheap accommodation when visiting the capital – some have even made their stay permanent.

Zulhas Miah, 68, has lived in the Faridpur Muslim Hotel for 35 years, more than half of his life. He is from a village in Shariatpur.

“I came to Dhaka during the war to look for work,” he said. “I couldn’t find anything, so I started selling paan and bidi at the Sadarghat terminal. Now I work as a sidewalk fruit seller. In the 80s, you could stay overnight in one of the hotels in Waisghat if you ate there. They introduced the fees later.

“I have spent many years here – almost 30 to 40 years. I started staying here regularly about a year or two after the Ershad regime came to power. Now I pay 40 Tk to stay here. But I can’t quite let the place go.

Despite being a mainstay of Buriganga for more than half a century, headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic have left these hotels struggling to stay afloat as guests have dried up since last year.

A forced relocation to Waisghat only rubbed salt into the wound.

Originally positioned at the eastern end of Sadarghat, the ideal location for floating boats meant that passengers disembarking from speedboats could immediately embark at hotels.

But construction work has been going on on the Waisghat for eight or nine months, forcing hotels to move to the pier next to Mitford Hospital west of the Babubazar Bridge.

No passenger speedboats stop at this pier, making it difficult for hotels to attract tenants.

The first of the floating hotels was the “Hindu Hotel”, which was launched in 1968.

Food and board was only Tk 4 at the time. In 1975, a change of owner led to a name change. It is now called the Faridpur Muslim Hotel.

Initially, the hotel also offered catering services, but eventually shut down in 2002.

Five other floating hotels can be found in the area. Three of them are called Buriganga Boarding, Shariatupur Boarding and Ujala Boarding, while the other two have no name. All opened after 1976.

Each of the hotels has 25 to 30 cabins. Each cabin has electricity, lights, fans and night beds, although the standards are not very high.

The owners and workers of these hotels say the pandemic has hit the business hard.

The combination of the pandemic and the relocation has been devastating, said Faridpur Muslim Hotel owner Golam Mostafa Miah.

“We don’t have a lot of customers apart from our regulars… we now have about a third of the guests we had before. The situation is grim. Sometimes we have a hard time earning enough to pay the electricity bill. It’s hard for my employees to get by and it’s hard for me too.

Pinto Chandra Saha, director of Uma Ujala Boarding, echoes this sentiment. Pinto says the floating hotel was originally owned by Hazi Nawab Miah. Pinto worked there for 17-18 years, becoming hotel manager after Miah’s death eight years ago.

Pinto carefully calculates his income and sends a large part of it to his family every week, but it has been difficult due to the decrease in income.

“I run the hotel alongside another employee. Difficult to manage the current situation. It is difficult to pay the many bills, let alone send money to the owner’s family.

“We don’t even have a third of the boarders we used to have. Only seven of our 42 seats are occupied.

The outlook is just as bleak for owners and employees of other hotels.

A HAVRE FOR THOSE WITH LIMITED MEANS

Golam Mostafa Miah has worked at Faridpur Muslim Hotel for 36 years. It originally belonged to his uncle Abdus Sattar. Although Golam Mostafa started out as an employee, he has been the owner of the floating hotel for seven years now.

The hotel has 46 rooms, says Golam Mostafa. Residents can rent rooms by the day or by the month. Most of their clients are people who come to Dhaka on business. Some may need to spend several months in the area.

“You can check in at these hotels until midnight and leave before 11 am,” Golam Mustafa said. “A local room is Tk 40, a single cabin is Tk 80 and a double cabin is Tk 100.”

Aslam, originally from Barishal, is staying in a Tk 100 cabin at Shariatpur Muslim Boarding.

He says he comes to Dhaka regularly as part of his job and it is there that he spends the night.

Nayan Sikder is from Bhola and drives a rickshaw. He has been spending the night at Uma Ujala Boarding regularly for about seven or eight years.

“I pay 40 Tk to stay here. Five years ago I would pay 35 Tk to stay here and eat elsewhere. I don’t earn much, so this is where I live. I like being here. “


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