I’ve always been told that crossing a ferry with a car is a difficult task. The people who help you park on the ferry are extremely impatient. Because they want to squeeze as many vehicles as possible within as little time as possible, they will always be rushing you to park your car the way they want.
I’m not exactly a new driver, but I’m a noob when it comes to parking on the ferry. After all, I’d never done it before!
But on that rainy morning, I had to make a split-second decision whether to get on a ferry or not. We weren’t sure what we would do once we reached the Mawa ferry terminal. As luck would have it, we found no queue and had a straight pass onto the ferry.
They rushed me to park the car faster, just as I had heard that they would. But really, it wasn’t too bad.
This is the story of a weekend drive out of the Dhaka when I crossed the mighty Padma river with my trusty Toyota Allion. It would be the first time I ever got on a ferry with a car I drove.
Road to Mawa
I woke up that Sunday not knowing where I would go for a drive. I knew that I would drive somewhere farther out of the city and come back. But the destination was undecided.
After meeting with a friend at Bashundhara R/A early in the morning, we decided that heading for Mawa would be the best. After all, it’s the best road out of Dhaka to exist at this time.
The Mawa expressway was opened just as the coronavirus entered the country. I drove the road in complete awe the day after it was officially opened to the public. Finally, I had found a highway where I didn’t have to stop for traffic. Of course, there were still annoyances and risks in the newly opened expressway: Some bridges had no dedicated toll booths, so vehicles kept piling up in the middle of the road; some vehicles kept driving on the wrong side.
Still, I loved the drive. After being stuck at home due to the lockdown, the Mawa expressway gives some relief for people like me who loves long drives. At 34.7 km length from Jatrabari to Mawa (first part of the expressway), it isn’t that long, but it’s long enough to forget some of the stress and anxiety the pandemic is causing.
Once the Padma bridge opens to the public, we will be able to drive the whole 54.7 km four-lane highway in all of its glory.
To cross or not to cross
As we reached the ferry terminal at Mawa, my friend and I were still undecided about whether we should cross the river. Once we realized that the clouds weren’t done with the outbursts, we began worrying. The sun was still rising, but the light of day looked as if the sunset was moments away.
Since we only had the day, the problem was that if we crossed the river and the ferry services were suspended due to rough weather, we’d be pretty doomed. Both of us had work to do, and we had to come back on the same day to ensure we could get to work, albeit at home, the next morning.
Perhaps it was written somewhere that we were in for a treat that day. We didn’t have long to decide. Before we could understand what was going on, we were on the ferry!
I was driving beside the queue of loaded lorries when I ended up right in front of the ferry ready to depart. Before we could realize, the ferry people rushed us to get on, and we did.
As the ramp was closing, I let out a sigh and thought to myself, this better not be a mistake!
The wonders of ferries
Never mind the wonder that such a behemoth (although nothing compared to the cargo ships that roam the high seas) of a vessel was carrying so many vehicles over the river, I was blown away by the fact that the ferry housed a restaurant! I mean, floating food vendors are plentiful pretty much all over the country, but I did not expect to see a full-blown restaurant, albeit not very healthy even by pre-Covid19 standards.
I have been on ferries before, but I was either on a rented vehicle or a bus and I never quite got off to explore. This time, though, I did. It looked as if you could pretty much live for weeks on this ferry. You had cabins to sleep in, food to eat, and toilets to answer nature’s calls. I joked about going to the ferry to do our Work From Home after noticing we were getting a stable 4G connection in the middle of the Padma river.
If someone asked where I work, “I work at a ferry” would be a pretty funny response!
Perhaps disappointingly missing from all the chaos on the ferry was one thing that was needed the most: masks. You would never guess a strain of virus was ravaging the world, and everyone had to wear a mask and keep a safe distance from each other to stay safe if you looked at the crowd at the ferry. My friend and I tried to stay as much away from the crowd as possible, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t let loose on following health advisories.
Under the ambitious Padma Bridge
Even if you have been living under a rock in Bangladesh for the past few years, chances are, that rock has told you every time a span on the Padma Bridge was installed. The media can’t get enough of the Padma Bridge. Its construction is pretty much a celebrity at this point!
I don’t blame the media, though. It is, indeed, the most ambitious project that’s currently being undertaken in the country. I’ve looked at the Padma Bridge from the Mawa terminal, but this was the first time seeing the Padma bridge up close as the ferry went directly underneath it.
With 41 spans, each of them with a length of 150 meters, the Padma bridge will have a total length of 6.15 km. That’s the longest bridge ever to be built in Bangladesh. It will have a four-lane highway on the upper level and a single train track on the lower level. I genuinely can’t wait to drive across the bridge, although I’m not too keen on hearing what the toll would be for it.
The Bhanga Highway
Bhanga in Bangla means broken. I’m not sure why the name is Bhanga for that place, but damn, the highway to Bhanga after you cross the Padma from the Mawa ferry terminal is buttery smooth!
That’s the second part of the expressway — both of which will be joined once the Padma bridge opens. I’m not sure which part is better, but due to the lack of traffic, the latter wins without any questions!
I guess I’ll be the first to cross the Padma bridge frequently to drive the whole stretch of the expressway once the bridge opens up, hopefully, sometime in the late next year.
The point of return
As we kept driving, the rain never really stopped. On the ferry, it kept drizzling. As we arrived at Bhanga and continued driving onwards, the drizzle turned into a full-blown rainstorm. I didn’t have any destination in mind, but I wanted to find a restaurant to stop, rest, and start the return journey.
However, there was none. Unlike the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, known as the country’s lifeblood, there wasn’t any resting place or restaurants on that road. I guess part of that is because there are no floods of tourists that way! However, as we crossed the gate that marked the Gopalganj district’s beginning, the road became even smoother with even more beautiful views.
So I kept on driving. When we found a reasonably good-looking local restaurant, it was raining so much that we decided we weren’t really that hungry! And then, we just decided to take a U-turn and start our return journey.
We didn’t catch any rain on our way back. It looked like the clouds were done for the day. And so the weather started warming up. As I sped back on the Bhanga highway, I realized I had been following the Padma bridge signpost thinking it would lead to the ferry terminal.
I was wrong. We instead arrived at the toll plaza. I’ve seen the toll plaza on this side, but you can’t get on that road as it’s closed. But on that side of the river, you can drive up to the toll plaza. And we very nearly did! I had no choice but to take another U-turn and drive on the wrong side of the empty road for a bit until I found the right exit.
The return ferry was significantly smaller. We missed one, but the wait for another was short. Fortunately, parking on that ferry was much easier than I thought. Nobody rushed me. But that could also be because I was the third vehicle to get on, so they had plenty of time.
After another hour and ten minutes, we were back on Mawa. And I felt like home as I knew the road from there. We drove for another 40 minutes on the buttery smooth Mawa expressway and got back within the city limits way before sunset.
Day trips on a car like this are my favorites. There aren’t that many places near Dhaka’s outskirts where you could go for a day trip. However, since I went more for a drive than anything, all I really needed was an empty road with pretty views. And I got what I asked for!
- Location: Dhaka to Gopalganj District
- When: August 23, 2020
- Car: Toyota Allion 2008
- Total Distance Covered: Roughly 270 KM.
- Passengers including me: 2.
- Highlights: Mawa Ferry Terminal, Padma Bridge (under-construction), Bhanga highway (Mawa-Bhanga Expressway).