Rocket Steamer PHOTO: COURTESY
A little girl was traveling with her uncle to one of her aunt’s places from Barishal, to a short distanced destination, Jhalakathi. They took a ride on a two-story ‘big launch’ and it started to float on the water. The girl sat on deck (first level) with another family and her uncle was walking here and there. Once upon a time, the uncle came and shared with his niece that this vessel is called ‘Rocket’, not launch. The word Rocket was quite known to her - the sky-goer, as she knew about Aldrin and others who landed the moon riding on it. She was astonished to know another kind of Rocket which floats on the water!
The next few days in school, it was the main topic of her chitchat with her friends that she had a ride on Rocket which flows on water rather than going to the sky! What a miracle, isn’t it?
So you can have a ride on the ‘Rocket’ right here in Bangladesh without being an astronaut! I am talking about the legendary rocket streamer service in Bangladesh. This is actually a paddle steamer, though there is no use of steam anymore. Rocket is one kind of ship primarily motorized by steam engines that drive paddle wheels to help the ships run through the water. However, in the mid-nineties, the steam engines were converted into diesel-run engines; and afterward, were replaced by electro-hydraulic engines. Rocket steamers are designed in a way that there are very rare chances of sinking, and it was the first choice of elite groups of that time.
To know the story of the rocket steamer in Bangladesh, one just needs to go back by 100 years. According to historians, the paddle steamer service was introduced in the late 18th century by the British India General Navigation Railway Company (BIGNRC). In 1972, BITWC was formed in independent Bangladesh and it took all the responsibilities of this service. At that time it was the fasted waterway transportation to travel from Dhaka to Kolkata and Khulna.
PS Ostrich, PS Lepcha, PS Tern, PS Mashud, MV Madhumati, and MV Bangali are the names of the rockets. Some of them are still bearing the legacy by starting the journey from Badamtali Ghat of Dhaka to Morelganj; stopping at Chandpur, Barishal, Jhalakathi, Mongla, and many other ports.
Compared to the faster modern mode of water transports, Rocket may take 20 hours to make a journey between Dhaka and Morelganj. Yet, a trip in Rocket will give an unforgettable experience – scenes of the river banks, daily activities of the people related to the river, lush greeneries adjacent to the rivers, crop fields, and much more. Nowadays, there are more luxurious and faster waterways transports to travel to and from Barisal, Bagerhat or Khulna but it is still the elegancy to have the ride on the rocket and discover the riverine beauty of Bangladesh.
Once upon a time, it was a symbol of the aristocracy to ride on Rocket. Unfortunately, the number of passengers is decreasing because of the growing competition with other high speedy and luxurious water vessels. Another reason is its high maintenance cost at present; the service is running on the Government's subsidy. Rockets in Bangladesh are the last fleet of paddlewheel steamers in the whole world still in the regular passenger service. Several TV channels featured on Rocket steamer including BBC, CNN, and other travel channels.
That little girl has grown up now. She got interested in her culture and legacy. She knows the value of the authenticity of the Rocket service, it becomes heritage now. We have to come forward to save this heritage and need to journey on this steamer so that the service will get its prior lively ambiance. We must preserve this historic legacy that can be a gift of antiquity for our next generations.