From the busiest terminal to abandoned marketplace.
Aricha Ghat in Manikganj's Shivalaya upazila has long lost its place as one of the busiest ferry terminals of the country, but the memories of the prime days of the place are still alive in the public psyche.
Once it used to become news headlines regularly because of the long queues of hundreds of vehicles stranded in traffic jams waiting to cross the river for hours causing unimaginable sufferings for the passengers.
For 34 years, it was the only ferry route for millions of people of the country's South-West and Northern districts. The terminal was always filled with the noise of vehicles, transport workers, passengers and shoppers.
But, in the course of time, all these activities have been turned into mere memories as only a few launches cross the river with passengers from the terminal. The main terminal has been shifted nine kilometres away to Paturia.
The decline of Aricha Ghat began with the inauguration of the Bangabandhu Bridge over the River Jamuna. The bridge has allowed vehicles to travel to North Bengal without stopping at the terminal. Passengers to Southern districts now use the Shimulia-Kathalbari waterways.
From the beginning to the end
Aricha Ferry Terminal officially opened on March 31, 1963, with a single ferry named Karnafuli. Only one vehicle crossed the first day on that ferry. The vehicle driver had to pay only 75 paisa for the crossing.
Aricha became busy quickly. Gradually the number of ferries increased in the ghat along with the noise of thousands of people. The number of vehicles also increased. At one point, 26 ferries were added to the Karnafuli ferry. A launch terminal was also built beside the ferry terminal.
On average, about three thousand vehicles used to cross that route every day. Aricha Ghat was the only means of transportation for 45,000 to 50,000 people.
The Aricha Ghat area became a hotbed of people from 36 districts of the south and 17 districts of the west. As a result, various businesses started to be formed around this ghat. Aricha, the area adjacent to the river, became a hub for shops, hotels and restaurants which employed around 10,000 people.
Before the partition of India and Pakistan, ships and steamers from the Calcutta-Assam route also used to come to Aricha as there were large jute warehouses here. So there was a big business in Aricha centred on jute.
There were two huge truck terminals with a capacity of holding one thousand trucks in the Aricha Ghat area during the time when the terminal was at its prime. As a result, Aricha also played an important role in transporting goods across the country. About 2500 porters were busy unloading goods at the ghat 24 hours a day. A large number of hawkers were also busy selling different items to passengers.
There were over three hundred restaurants in the terminal and adjacent areas. There were also around 1500 residential boarding places.
Aricha Ghat lost its importance in 1997 with the inauguration of the Jamuna Bridge. Besides, the Dhaka-Mawa road also shared the southern vehicles. These reduced the busyness of the ghat. On 15 November 2002, the last two pontoons of Aricha were shifted to Paturia.
The current situation of the ghat
Nowadays, only a few hotels and restaurants still remain in Aricha Ghat. Once busy and famous restaurants of the ghat like Hotel Mohammadia, Islamia Hotel, Bhai-Bhai Hotel, Vagyalakshmi Hotel, Jamuna Biryani House are now struggling as passengers have become very rare here. Some restaurants have been turned into grocery shops and garages.
20 launches are operating on the Paturia-Daulatdia route and 13 launches on the Aricha-Kazirhat route
Currently, cattle dealers use the terminal as their business route. Boats carrying cattle come here from the northern and southern areas of the country. Then the animals are taken to different parts of the country including the capital.
In the golden days of Aricha Ghat, many residential boarding houses were built here. Thousands of passengers, businessmen, and transport workers spent their night in these boarding houses. But these have now shut down due to the demise of the terminal as a busy route.
The huge terminal of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), which could accommodate around 900 to 1000 trucks at a time, is empty now. It is being used to keep cattle.
Currently, there is no ferry in the terminal. Only 10-12 launches run through the ghat. There are also some speed boats which carry passengers illegally. Only a few buses including Jatrisheba and BRTC operate from this ghat.
On average, around 3000 passengers cross through the Paturia-Daulatdia route and 6-700 passengers cross through Aricha-Kazirhat route every day
Faridul Islam, assistant director of the BIWTA said 20 launches are operating on the Paturia-Daulatdia route and 13 launches on the Aricha-Kazirhat route.
"On average, around 3000 passengers cross through the Paturia-Daulatdia route and 6-700 passengers cross through Aricha-Kazirhat route every day," he added.
Faridul Islam said the actual number of speed boats operating here is not known as they run without permission.
Abdul Latif Sheikh, president of Aricha Ghat Banik Samity, said, "Some 1200 businessmen are still running their business in the ghat and surrounding areas, but there is no big business anymore."