The first thought that we had when we reached this deserted area just outside Dhaka is a typical Bollywood movie starting. Black and white opening of a ruined place with melodramatic music and a coarse voice-over of “how a prosperous place with happy family images has been brought to dust and by whom”.
Panam Nagar, couple of hours drive from Gulshan, Dhaka referred to widely as “ the Lost city”, “Deserted city”, “Ghost city” has all the ingredients of a typical Bollywood flick. It has this immediate effect on you, and you ask “what happened and who did it in”. This impact will almost always lead you to google and find out more about this place. Architecture photography which was our main visit purpose had transformed itself to weaving an imaginary story of this historic place.
Before I get to the past glory of Panam Nagar there is a lot to talk about its photo art settings. A narrow road is all that is there to Panam Nagar, with rows of houses (sorry you can’t call them houses because they are mansions) in dilapidated condition. The mansions have been skinned down to the bricks literally, robbed of all its flesh. Since we are wildlife photographers, a good metaphor of this opportunity is of making images of Vultures pecking on the last bit of bones left off the kill. Most of these mansions are locked, even if it were not locked, one would be scared to get into them, not for some “Stephen King” kind of stuff but the buildings could cave in any time.
The narrow road does lead to somewhere and we were told it leads to a school. We did see quite a few kids in their uniform walking on the road cheerfully to learn. Will they learn the glorious past of the road they walked on, maybe not? We are sure in its prime the lane must have ended with providing opportunity for nature photography with best scenic photos. Currently, the mansions on both sides of the road have nothing much to offer unless you are interested to shoot some closed doors in multiple colours. Step behind these row of houses and the “beauty of destruction” is inviting. Most homes down to bricks, moth filled, showing little semblance of past glory.
One of these homes which is converted to some kind of office did let us in to explore, we finally felt there is some chance at architecture photography. Like any one of our early day homes it had a small door, opening into the expanse of a courtyard with rooms lined up in the sides. This brought to mind a view that when this place was inhabited it must have been where all the kids should have been running around with the ladies of the home keeping watch on them from the side rooms leading to happy family images. One of the side doors lead us to a staircase, thanks to those calf muscle wrenching staircases just a few steps felt like a huge hike. Why would they need to make even staircases an exercise machine in those days?
The occupants of these mansions must have lived a royal life in a self-contained township. Music, dance floors, beautifully decorated ornamental homes providing for the right settings for photo art. The typical Bollywood havelis, we have seen countless number of times is what you get to picture. Carved pillars, colourful well decorated ceilings, etched glasses with sun seeping through making the dancing floors come alive. With so much of Bollywood in our blood enacting the actual scene when you lay foot in any such place isn’t tough. Go up another level into the terrace and what was on display was a neighbour’s home which probably looked even more grand than this one giving us an opportunity to make the best scenic photo from this trip.
Two hours walking around Panam Nagar gave us a real feel of nostalgia, and led us to discover some beautiful stories. For wildlife photographers who always like stories, it was not a bad day at work, since one was able to piece together a story with little strain.
With the present out of the way, I am to take you back to the actual scene in colour of Panam Nagar’s glorious past. Sorry I am going to disappoint you here. Google and you can find enough of that.
When in Dhaka do take time off to go here, it’s worth half a day of your time.