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DHAKA: Many residents of Dhaka have never heard of the city’s boat hotels, but for traders and visitors to the Bangladeshi capital from other districts, the floating accommodation has been a cheap place to stay for decades.

The boat hotels on the banks of the Buriganga River began to emerge under British colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century, providing accommodation to poor traders from disadvantaged rural areas who came to Dhaka in search of work.

Moored on the riverfront on the southwestern outskirts of town, the two-story boats are the most affordable option for visitors, with prices starting at 50 cents a night.

Mohammed Mostofa Mia, owner of Faridpur Hotel, one of the four remaining floating facilities, told Arab News that the business came about when road connections in the country were limited and the river was the main route to Dhaka.

“These floating hotels started offering services to the merchants who traveled to Dhaka from different parts of the country,” he said.

“We work like other normal hotels. Guests must present a copy of their ID upon check-in.”

But other rules were different.

“Guests must bring their own sheets, pillows and blankets. We’re just providing space here,” Mia added.

Each floating hotel can accommodate around 60 people with only two shared washrooms. The cheapest option is a 15-bed hostel-like room at 50 cents, while a more private room — a four-square-foot twin bed cabin — is nearly $2 a night.

There are no amenities other than a bed, and guests hang their belongings on the top of the walls. Ceiling fans provide some comfort in hot weather.

Mohammed Lalon, 35, who sells dates in Dhaka’s old town and its Sadarghat port terminal, checked into one of the boat hotels almost two months ago.

“If I lived in a shared room somewhere in Dhaka, I would have to spend twice as much. So this floating hotel is a good solution for me,” he said. “I don’t have to spend money on promotion every day.”

For 62-year-old Abdul Hakim, the river rooms have been his home for decades. The fruit seller came to Dhaka around 40 years ago and lived most of the time in a 15-bed dorm.

He comes from a village in the district of Pabna, 160 kilometers from the capital, and was able to finance his five children’s schooling by saving on his housing.

“I only have to pay half a dollar for one night here,” he said. “My oldest daughter graduated from a college in Pabna. If I was to spend more on housing, I wouldn’t be able to raise money for the children’s education.”

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