Sylhet is the third major city that Bangladesh has to offer, and as a result it is just starting to show the signs of overcrowding and congestion that the other big two cities offer in heaping doses.
Outside of the city is a different story. The Sylhet region is one of the most beautiful that Bangladesh has to offer, an extremely pleasant destination at all times of the year. Most of the region directly bordering India is composed of lowland depressions. During the winter, these depressions become incredible reserves of wildlife, mostly migratory birds.
Finally, significant mention must be made of Bangladesh’s tea growing districts, of which the Sylhet region has literally dozens of tea estates spread around its lowland hills. The beauty of these gardens is best enjoyed at Srimongol, Bangladesh’s ‘little Darjeeling.’
Sylhet has a few major districts that you’ll likely cross on a visit. The area south of the Surma River is where the major transport hubs are found. The Dhaka bus stand has dozens of companies making the journey. Sylhet’s train station is also here just south of the Kean Bridge, the city’s second most prominent landmark, after the Hazrat Shah Jalal mausoleum. The tomb of this Muslim warrior-saint represents the religious centre of Sylhet and is the destination for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who make the voyage to Sylhet each year.
Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal (Dargah Gate): This large complex is an active mosque, a mazar (tomb) and a family destination all at once. If you come during prayer times, especially on Friday, you’ll find yourself awash in a sea of pilgrims, many of whom have made the trip up on the weekend to visit the shrine (and book up most of the hotel rooms in Sylhet as well). Interestingly, there is a separate prayer room just for women here too.
General Osmani Museum: (Apr–Sep [open] 10.30–17.30 Sat–Wed, 15.00–18.00 Fri; Oct–Mar 09.30–16.30 Sat–Wed, 15.00–18.00 Fri) During the Liberation War, General Osmani (1922–84) and his brimming moustache led the freedom fighters to victory with the assistance of the Indian military. As is evident from the possessions of his old house, he lived a soldier’s life and was not prone to extravagance and is now buried at the Shah Jalal Mazar like a fellow warrior saint. A few war slogans also decorate the humble museum.
Woondaal: East Zinda Bazaar; mob: 01717 020505. Superbly clean & well decorated, with a substantial Indian menu. Recommended.
Alpine Restaurant: Chowhatta; mob: 01715 195550. Reasonably clean, with a couple of floors & kebabs on offer in the evenings.
Bandar Bazaar The city’s central shopping bazaar, stocked with all sorts of goods, even those smuggled from India. Located in the heart of the city, south of Zinda Bazaar.
Aarong Nayasharak; tel: 815988, 713150; [open] 10.00–20.00. The Sylhet branch of this Bangladeshi chain outlet offers goods that make excellent gifts for friends or additions to a comfortable home.
ECDO Bangladesh 2nd Fl, 17 Urmi, Near to Forhadkha Pool, West Shibgonj. The Ethnic Community Development Organisation is one of the few development groups representing the ethnic minorities of the Sylhet division.
Nishorgo Eco-Guides. Nishorgo was a USAID-funded programme that helped to develop the nature-guiding skills of several locals in the Srimongol area, some of whom come from the indigenous communities around the forest. If you check the Nishorgo website you will find a list of their guides at the various Nishorgo protected sites around the country, as well as information on the protected areas & Nishorgo’s work. They also have a collection of simple community run eco-lodges, of which the Nishorgo Nirob Eco-Cottage in Srimongol is highly recommended.
By air: Sylheti Bangladeshis seem to be leading the airline industry with recent capital investments in the form of two new domestic airlines that opened for business in 2007 with some support from non-resident Bangladeshis (NRB). In addition to GMG Airlines, Royal Bengal Airlines and United Airways (not to be confused with United Airlines in America), began domestic coverage and are in stiff competition with one another for dominance in the skies.
By train: Using the train to Sylhet is more comfortable but not necessarily faster given the fact the road is pretty good between Dhaka and Sylhet. Tickets for air-conditioned/non air-conditioned berths are Tk610/Tk425 (there’s a ‘+1’ class on the night train which means a cabin with only two bunks in it; couples should enquire). Otherwise, air-conditioned/non-air-conditioned seats are Tk400/270 and other unreserved classes as cheap as Tk95.
By bus: Shohagh, Green Line and Silk Line all service Dhaka from Sylhet’s main bus terminal, referred to as the ‘Dhaka terminal’. Depending on the level of comfort you desire, the fare will be between Tk200 and Tk400, perhaps more if you take a high-end luxury bus with three seats to a row. Buses depart all day, almost every hour, from 06.00 until 23.30. From Dhaka, take a bus from the city’s Sayedabad bus terminal, in the southeast.
By rickshaw: This is the most common way of getting around Sylhet’s central area. The normal Tk1 per minute charge applies here.
By CNG: Northeast Bangladesh also features the country’s most available gas deposits. Hence CNG baby taxis, which don’t pollute as much, are widely available here.