But the unusual living spaces have long been a lifeline for those who don’t have much left. A night in one of the floating hotels can only cost Tk 40.
Shahadat Hossain, originally from Chandpur, came to a doctor in Dhaka with a bandaged foot. He came to the Faridpur Muslim Hotel by barge immediately upon arrival.
“I rent a hut for Tk 100,” he said. “Where else could I stay cheaper? The doctor told me how long it would take for my recovery, so I came here to find cheap accommodation. “
But not only travelers benefit from the cheap accommodation when visiting the capital, some have even made their stay.
The 68-year-old Zulhas Miah has been a tenant at the Faridpur Muslim Hotel for 35 years, more than half his life. He comes from a village in Shariatpur.
“I came to Dhaka to look for work during the war,” he said. “I couldn’t find anything, so I started selling Paan and Bidi at the Sadarghat Terminal. Now I work as a fruit seller on the sidewalk. In the 1980s you could stay in one of the hotels on the Waisghat if you ate there. They introduced the fees later. “
“I’ve spent many years here – almost 30-40 years. About a year or two after the Ershad regime came to power, I started staying here regularly. Now I’m paying Tk 40 to stay here. But I can’t completely let go of the place. “
Although these hotels have been a mainstay on Buriganga for over half a century, these hotels are struggling to stay afloat due to the headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic as customers have dried up since last year.
A forced move to Waisghat only rubbed salt in the wound.
Originally positioned at the east end of Sadarghat, the convenient location of the floating boats allowed passengers disembarking from launches to board the hotels immediately.
But the Waisghat has been under construction for eight or nine months, forcing hotels to move to the pier next to Mitford Hospital west of Babubazar Bridge.
No passenger boats stop at this pier, making it difficult for hotels to attract lodgers.
The first of the floating hotels was the “Hindu Hotel”, which opened in 1968.
At that time food and board were only Tk 4. In 1975 a change of ownership led to a name change. Today it is called Faridpur Muslim Hotel.
Initially, the hotel also offered dining options, but was discontinued in 2002.
There are five other floating hotels in the area. Three of them are called Buriganga Boarding, Shariatupur Boarding, and Ujala Boarding while the other two have no names. 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.
Owners and workers of these hotels say the pandemic has dealt a massive blow to business.
The combination of pandemic and relocation was devastating, says Faridpur’s Muslim hotel owner Golam Mostafa Miah.
“We don’t get a lot of customers besides our regulars… we now have about a third of the boarders we used to have. The situation is dire. Sometimes we struggle to earn enough to pay the electricity bill. It’s hard for my employees to get through, and it’s hard for me too. “
Pinto Chandra Saha, the manager of Uma Ujala Boarding, confirms this. Pinto says the floating hotel was originally owned by Hazi Nawab Miah. Pinto worked there for 17-18 years and became manager of the hotel after Miah passed away eight years ago.
Pinto carefully calculates his income and sends a large portion of it to his family each week, but it was difficult because of the lower income.
“I run the hotel together with another employee. It’s difficult to cope with the current situation. It’s hard to pay the many bills, let alone send money to the owner’s family. “
“We don’t even get a third of the boarders we used to have. Only seven of our 42 seats are occupied. “
The outlook for the owners and employees of the other hotels is just as bleak.
A PORT FOR EVERYONE WITH LIMITED FUNDS
Golam Mostafa Miah has worked at the Faridpur Muslim Hotel for 36 years. It was originally owned by his uncle Abdus Sattar. Although Golam Mostafa started out as an employee, he has been the owner of the floating hotel for seven years.
The hotel has 46 rooms, says Golam Mostafa. Boarding school students can rent rooms by the day or by the month. Most of their customers are people coming to Dhaka on business. Some may have to spend several months in the area.
“You can check in at these hotels until midnight and check out by 11 am,” said Golam Mustafa. “A local room costs Tk 40, a single cabin Tk 80 and a double cabin Tk 100.”
Aslam, who is from Barishal, lives in a Tk 100 hut in Shariatpur Muslim Boarding.
He says that as part of his work he comes to Dhaka regularly and spends the night here.
Nayan Sikder comes from Bhola and drives a van rickshaw. He has been staying at Uma Ujala Boarding regularly for about seven or eight years.
“I’m paying Tk 40 to stay here. Five years ago I paid Tk 35 to stay here and eat elsewhere. I don’t make a lot so I live here. I like it here.”