Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saka Haphong: Trekking Bangladesh’s highest peak

Faisal Mahmud

Summiting Saka Haphong within three and half days is a daunting venture. But our trekking club, Boarding Para Sobuj Sangha (BPSS), was more than up to the task of trekking Bangladesh’s highest peak, which stands at 3,400ft By Faisal Mahmud.

I’ve seen a trekking boom in the past four years. After Bangladeshi climber Musa Ibrahim summited Mt Everest in 2010, more and more people have been showing up on the trails in Bandarban, Bangladesh’s trekking heaven. 
Trekking in Bangladesh is a more raw experience than in established destinations like Nepal, which have bamboo lodges - rest stops with food and beds - along the way those facilities don’t exist here, yet we make our night haul with local residents, renting the karbari (home of the village head) for a nominal fee of Tk100 per person per night. They might have nothing more to offer than rice, pumpkin and chicken (for Tk300/kg), but this arrangement has its own charm. 
This was my seventh trek with BPSS. Before joining them, I didn’t know the meaning of an “organised trek.” As a professional trekking club, they put together a full tour and route plan, gather supplies, and bring tents and other equipment. Previously, my trips were the epitomy of “disorganised.” My very first trek in 2005 was a nightmare. I foolishly went to Bandarban, a tropical hilly region, during the full-blown monsoon season, when the region is full of leeches. I had brought neither trekking boots, nor gear, nor enough supplies.
Still, I couldn’t wait to go back. The natural beauty of those mountains were etched in my mind.
Day 1
Fifteen of us started the journey by bus on the night of March 13, and reached Bandarban the following morning at 8am. We had arranged over the phone for a Chandergari - four wheeler jeep, which is  locally produced in Bandarban -  and reached Thanchi Bazaar by 1pm. In Thanchi Bazaar, we spent around an hour shopping, and booked a guide during that time. At around 2pm, we started our trekking.
Our first destination was Boarding Para, a small tribal village of the Murong tribe.When we all reached Boarding Para, it was getting dark. The time showed 6:30pm. Though some of us wanted to stay in the village, others suggested that if we didn’t reach Sherkor Para that day, our next day’s trek would be really hard.The weather was very cool and calm, with the full moon due in two days. The slopes up to the next destination, Sherkor Para, is both long and steep, but we still decided to camp there for the night. We started our trekking again at 7pm. 
We finally reached our destination at around 11:30pm. We were really exhausted. Our guide cooked chicken, which we ate with red rice.
Day 2
The next morning, we started our trekking a bit later than planned. That’s the downside of a large trekking group – the job of the coordinator is a nightmare!
Anyway, we started our journey for Shimplampi, our first destination for that day, at around 10am, and reached at 12:30pm. Shimplampi is situated right beside Tajindong, one of the other highest peaks in the country. The water source of the village had dried up, so the villagers needed to bring water from a faraway source. The scarcity of resources seemed to make the villagers rather inhospitable.
From Shimplampi, we made one of the longest descents of the country. It was nearly 1500ft. The whole path was almost vertical. The dead bushes, leaves and thorny bamboos on the path made it even tougher. The middle of March isn’t the time of the year I would recommend to take a trekking trip. The Jhum season begins during this time, and the indigenous farmers burn the hills to ready them for cultivation. We had to battle against the ashes from the burnt hills and loose soil as we climbed through the trail.
There was a point when I was hanging on the branches of a tree. What lay ahead of me was anything but a trail. There was no visible path, only the root of some dead trees that covered the next 20-30ft of trail, surrounded by a vertical ravine almost 100ft deep. I panicked. The loose soil under my feet was moving and I couldn’t move further.
But that’s the upside a large trekking group – my friends were there to rescue me! I survived, and eventually we all reached the bank of Remakrijhiri, a part of the Sangu River that moves like a gyrating snake inside the hilly terrain of Bandarban. We travelled for two hours along the shore of Remakri. At 6pm, we reached Hangrai Para.
Shortly afterwards, we left the main trail and continued on a steep trail uphill to the village of Nefue Para in the dark of the night. On our way to Nefue Para, we had to cross through the Chikon Kala Jungle. We finally reached our destination at around 9:30pm.
The people of Nefue Para are very friendly, and the village head let us stay the night there.From Nefue Para, it is only a couple of hours to the top of Saka Haphong (Mowdok Mual). We were ready to leave at 7am the next morning. Finally, at around 10am, we reached the peak.
The Saka Haphong peak is in fact a border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. From there, we could see the dense Myanmar reserve forest.
Day 3-4
The journey back from the peak to the locality was almost a two days trek through the same trail, but we made it in one day. We were really exhausted after the excruciating trek, but the joy of summiting the highest peak of country made it worthwhile. 
Shared from Dhaka Tribune
- See more at: 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A place that no one knows

Faisal Mahmud

Faisal Mahmud pays homage to the Bangladeshi braves that made our country a true home for us all 

The small, dilapidated gates, and the unpretentious fading signboard claiming “Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar” (Sanatorium for Freedom Fighters) at College Gate (right across the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University), might have evaded your eyes while battling your way through traffic on the busy Mirpur Road. And yet it has been there for the past 42 years,practically since our independence in 1971, as a testament to the brave men and women who fought for their country. Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar is right there, inviting anyone to come in and witness the scars and the heroism that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
The place and the people
Ironically, the ambience inside the sanatorium almost transports you back to 1971; the furniture, colour of the wallsand the broken windows haven’t changed much in the last 42 years. About 17 permanently injured freedom fighters still live there with their families, in five old buildings, spread over some 5,760sq-ft of land. “More than 100 people are living on this small piece of land. It’s really congested in here. Also there are frequent water and electricity problems,” Motiur Rahman, a septuagenarian war veteran, said.
Motiur fought in sector 8 during the Liberation War. “I can’t move my left hand properly for the last 40 odd years. It was badly injured by a grenade splinter during the war. I have been living here since the independence. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave us – some six or seven freedom fighters – this land to live on after the war had ended. He also granted us an allowance of Tk75 per month. Then, during the Ershad regime, the allowance was increased twice and we received Tk2,000 per month. Now, from November of this year, we are getting Tk16,000 per month,” he said.
“This is a paltry amount to live on, as the prices of essentials have sky-rocketed. But the Liberation War Trust at least honours us with something,” he concluded.
Chaitonno Biswas, another war veteran, has been living here for the last 42 years. “I lost my left leg while I was fighting in sector 4. Right after independence, I started living here,” he said.
“Life is not easy. We fought for independence, but we could never become free of poverty. The subsequent governments have promised us a lot. But the promises were rarely kept,” he lamented. Recalling the heroic days of the wartime, Abdur Rahim Badshah, another war veteran who fought in sector 3, said: “That’s the best gift of our life – liberation – and we fought for it.” Badshah’s right knee was badly injured while he was fighting at Pachdona, Narsingdi, when his group killed and captured 60 “hanadars” (Pakistani army).
Badshah said after Liberation War, Bangabandhu had granted them this place to live in. “I also got a job at a chocolate factory, and later during Ershad regime, at a sugar mill. But the money that I earned by doing those jobs could never alleviate my poverty,” he said.
He said that the government has restricted 30% quota for the freedom fighters families in any government job. “But when my son passed a bank entrance exam, he was asked to give Tk300,000 for the job. We are no beneficiaries of the quota system,” he said.
The life within
Recreation for these injured freedom fighters is in disarray since the place does not have suitable entertainment facilities. The books in a so-called library are over 20 years old. One freedom fighter even complained that they also do not get to know the current situation of the country, as newspapers are not readily available. The sanitation system is also in bad shape – all bathrooms are in a sorry state, as sweepers do not clean them regularly. 
The wife of one freedom fighters said that the problem with electricity is severe. Also, only few years ago, they got a water connection from the civic body. Previously, there used to be a regular feud among the families for water.
The only solace for these brave souls,however,is the stories they have to share about the war. Every evening, the freedom fighters sit and reminisce about the golden days of the liberation war in 1971.
MdTojammelHaque, 71, has been partially paralysed for the last 41 years since being struck by bomb splinters while fighting at Sector 7, in Rajshahi. He spends all his days in a wheelchair. “What keeps us alive is our kinship with the other freedom fighters,” he said, adding, “We can only hope that since we sacrificed so much during the Liberation War, the government will do something for our families.”
New hope?
The Ministry of Liberation Affairs has taken a project to improve the condition of the lifestyle of these brave souls. For the last two and half years, a big project has been going on in the land on the right side of their home. It is known that another 20 families of injured freedom fighters used to live on that 9,000sq-ft of land. Mohammad Mainul Haq, another injured freedom fighter, used to live there. 
“The government started this project in March 2011. We were given an allowance of extra Tk25,000, on top of our usual Tk16,000 from the Liberation War Trust, as house rent to live elsewhere while the construction work has been going on,” he said.
Abu Shahid Billa, another freedom fighter who used to live here, said after the completion of the project, they will be given an apartment and a shop from the trust in this 14-storey building. “We have already received the allotment paper. We are waiting for the handover,” he added.
Moyezuddin Talukder, the project director, said it is a Tk659.3m project under the Ministry of the Liberation War Affairs. “It will tentatively end in the middle of 2014,” he said.
Talukder said the first five floors of the building will be commercial. “Those will have shops. The sixth floor will have a convention centre and the top seven floors will have residential apartments for the injured liberation war veterans,” he clarified.
The ministry official said that the project is an initiative taken by the government. “Eventually the 17 other families living on that 5,760sq-ft of land will also get an apartment and a shop in this building. On that land, another project of this type will be taken,” the official said.
He further expounded that the present government has taken several constructive plans for the freedom fighters. This project is just one such example of that.  
A place of their own
1.  The sanatorium and the adjoining blocks were originally abandoned properties during the Liberation War. In 1972, freedom fighters treated and released from Suhrawardy Hospital sought shelter there
2.  The properties were handed over to the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust later. In 1973, the sanatorium was turned into a vocational training centre for freedom fighters through the joint efforts of the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust and the International Rescue Committee
3.  After the completion of the project in 1977, the sanatorium became a place to stay for permanently disabled freedom fighters and their family members from outside of Dhaka
We fought for the liberation of this country. I find it heart-breaking when I see that Razakars get high positions in the government. We don’t want anything from the government. We just want to see that the war criminals get what they deserve
Said Abdur Rahim Badsha, an injured war veteran

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Boishabi Uthshab

Nusaira A. Hassan

Celebrating New Year is an intrinsic and distinct part of every culture. As Bangladeshis, we celebrate Pohela Boishakh or the first day of the Bengali month of the New Year. The indigenous people of Bangladesh, specifically the ones in Chittagong Hill Tracts, have their own festivities that coincide with Pohela Boishakh. However, the intriguing part is that there is no single way of celebrating the New Year. In fact, of the thirteen tribal groups located there, each has its own way of welcoming the upcoming year.

Tribal Groups and their Celebrations:
The largest tribal group in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Chakmas, along with the Marmas and Tripuras celebrate Boishabhi. As a matter of fact, the name itself, Boishabi, is derived from the names of the three major festivals celebrated by the aforementioned tribal groups: Boishu from the Tripura community, Shangrai from the Marma one and Bi from Bijhu celebrated by the Chakmas. Every year, from the 12th to the 14th of April, Boishabi is celebrated with pomp and grandeur by the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, namely the regions of Bandarban, Khagrachori and Rangamati. However, Boishabi is more than just an act of celebration for the ethnic community. It is a quest for spirituality as the tribal people bid farewell to the miseries of the previous year and usher in the New Year amidst joy and anticipation. Each indigenous group has its own distinct way of enjoying the festivities with a few overlapping rituals or traditions.

Beginning on the last day of the Bengali month of Chaitra, Bijhu is a holy festival of the Chakmas, and is celebrated over the span of three days.
On the first day, young girls clean out their houses, and collect flowers, leaves and roots of different plants from the forest as part of a ritual known as “FulBijhu”.  The second day is known as “MulBijhu”, when the domesticated animals are released from captivity and fed. The Chakmas then gather around a temple and chant the name of Buddha, before entering the holy place (known as Kyangs) to hand over their offerings and light candles. Finally on the third day of the festival, “Goijja-Poijja”, fowls and pigs are slaughtered for a massive feast, where the whole family takes part. Soon afterwards, the Chakmas observe a period of rest, after days of taking part in meticulous celebrations.
Bijhu has its own form of entertainment, where dance and musical performances regale the audience, and instruments like Hengrong and Dhudhuk (varieties of flute) are played.
The festival also has its own special dish, Pazon, which is prepared using thirty different vegetables, and offered to the guests. The significance of this food item is that it is believed to ward off diseases in the upcoming year.

The Tripuras wake up from slumber at the crack of dawn to decorate their houses with floral arrangements. The animals, including livestock like cows and goats, are adorned with flowers as well. Rice grains are scattered all over the ground as food to the birds. On the first day of the New Year, known as “Harboishu”, the Tripuras carry out ceremonies to pay respects to flora and fauna, as well as animals including insects and birds to appease their deity, “Goriaya”.
In the next ceremony, the elderly people are bathed and gifted with clothes. This ritual is believed to bring luck for the next year. The youngsters on the other hand rejoice by holding traditional dance performances and travel from village to village, entrancing people with their perfectly synchronized moves.

The Marmas begin their celebrations with prayers by offering “Jolpuja”, which roughly translates into “worship of water” as water is considered to be a holy symbol synonymous with respect, future prosperity and blessings from the deity. This is followed by the popular water game, “Shangraine”, where young girls and boys splash each other with water. This is performed to wash away the miseries of the past year, and cleanse oneself in anticipation of the New Year. Apart from that, this ceremony is also used as a platform for young boys and girls to express their love interest.
In the culinary aspect, Marmas spare no expenses as they prepare a feast fit for royalty, in a menu ranging from savory to sweet dishes, including cookies.

The different ethnic groups also arrange for wrestling matches, known as Bolikhela, which is a form of martial art traditionally played in Chittagong. “Boli” is a Bengali word that refers to a powerful person and “khela” simply translates to game. Apart from that, other types of games known as “GhilaKhela” are also organized by different communities, where people from all age groups and communities take part.
The tribal groups also look forward to the alcoholic drinks on offer this time of the year, which includes beverages such as “dochoani”, “jogorah” and “kanji” specially made for the Boishabi festival.
Certain communities also bring out processions before the ceremonies begin, where people of all ages and from all walks of life take part.

Though each community has its own distinct rituals, the shared joy is evident everywhere. The Boishabi festival is highly inclusive and encourages people from every creed, race and social standing to join in the celebrations, and take part in the enjoyment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Choitro Shonkranti

Subah Shaheen

Since the Mughal period, us Bengalis have our very own calendar which begins on the first day of Boishakh or Pohela boishakh and ends on the last day of Choitro, popularly referred to as Choitro Shonkranti. Choitro Shonkranti is the last day of the Bengali calendar and a time of great celebration for the Bengali community worldwide. On this day, people bid goodbye to the old year and enthusiastically wait to welcome the new one. Choitro Shonkranti celebrations are popularly referred to as, ‘‘Borsho Boron,’’ celebrations because they are aimed at welcoming the new year with all its associated new beginnings.  

Choitro Shonkranti falls on the 13th of April each year and is an age old festival of rural Bengal. Bangladesh is a multi-religious country and though festivals bring together people from all walks of life, due to the religious significance of the day for certain groups, the way people celebrate the day differs. However, on the whole, Choitro Shonkranti is a day when celebrations are widespread throughout the nation and the energy exhaled is palpable.
Historical Importance
Emperor Akbar made the Bengali calendar to make tax collection easier. Previously, a lunar calendar was followed which did not complement the harvest system causing the farmers to face severe difficulty in paying taxes. The new calendar introduced was a solar one and made life a lot easier for the taxpaying citizens as it corresponded with the agricultural cycle. Akbar ordered all dues to be settled by the last day of Choitro and the businessmen would lock away their ‘’halkhatas’’ or financial records book on that day. Choitro Shonkranti would thus signify an end to the taxpaying year by the people of Bengal and North India; the landlords would distribute sweets to their tenants and an air of festivity would spread throughout. Fairs and events would be organized by the villagers and the hardworking peasants would finally have the freedom to enjoy themselves. The day was also celebrated as a harvest festival in rural areas as rabi crops were ready for reaping. Though the calendar currently followed in Bangladesh has been slightly altered by ex president H M. Ershad, the day continues to be as monumental to the Bengali culture as it had been in the time of the Mughals.

Religious Significance

The sun enters Pisces sign on Choitro Shonkranti and is considered a very auspicious day for Hindus and a significant one for Buddhists. In Bangladesh, Buddhists get an optional holiday on this occasion as it corresponds with their religious calendar while Hindus consider the day favorable for religious activities such as deity worship, fasting, meditation, pilgrimage, holy bath etc. Prayers for wisdom, peace and good luck for the upcoming year are organized with the hope that all misfortune and ill luck will end with the current one. Charity is thought to be most highly rewarded on the day and so is done wholeheartedly by the religious community. Food, apparel and money are donated to the less fortunate who find their lives made brighter due to the special occasion.

Celebration in the cities
On this joyous occasion, men and women adorn themselves in bright traditional outfits and the fairer sex often put on color coordinated jewelry as well. Radio stations play songs based on this theme and several articles and television shows are produced as a tribute to this glorious part of Bengali culture.  The history and heritage of Bangladesh is celebrated with grandeur and excitement on the occasion of Choitro Shonkranti.  ‘’Rabindrasangeet,’’ fills the air of Dhanmondi’s ‘’Rabindra Sarobar,’’ and other cultural centers. Under the guidance of eminent Tagore singer Rezwana Chowdhury Banya, a special cultural program is organized on Choitro Shonkranti as well as Pohela Baishakh almost every year. The occasion of these back to back celebrations allows artisans the opportunity to display their talent as well. Streets, buildings and public places are decorated, especially using the traditional ‘’alpona.’’ Dhaka University’s Charukola becomes a place of interest as the art students create colorful masterpieces every year on this special occasion. Kite flying festivals and other cultural competitions are organized as well to mark the significant day.

Celebration in the villages
With that being said, the true extent of the grandeur of Choitro Shonkranti is actually felt in the rural areas of Bangladesh. In the cities, Pohela Boishakh still towers over Choitro Shonkranti in terms of importance but in the villages, both these aspects of our culture are celebrated with equal vigor. That is perhaps because Choitro Shonkranti is primarily a harvesting festival and the joy of a fresh harvest is most strongly felt in the villages by the people who have toiled day and night for the crops to grow properly. This day symbolizes success and safety to the rural population and everyone goes all out to celebrate. Fairs are arranged where people create special handicrafts to be sold and various forms of entertainment ranging from snake charmers to ‘’jatra,’’ or theater performances fill the day with happiness and excitement. Special food items are made on the occasion such as fish cooked in banana leaf, pumpkin tarts etc, and the whole family feasts together amid cheerful conversations and a relaxing sense of serenity. The excitement of celebration infuses temporarily into the simplicity of rural life and Choitro Shonkranti continues to be a source of great festivity to the villagers, holding true to its centuries-old position.

The conclusion of any matter is a time for personal reflection and philosophical musing. Choitro Shonkranti, being the end of the year, unites us Bengalis by a unanimous feeling and blankets over us the need to reflect on the past and create resolutions for the future. In Bangladesh, a committee has been formed to supervise the activities that take place on this special day. The celebrations and the festivities all symbolize the importance of the occasion of Choitro Shonkranti, when we bid adieu to the previous year and hope that we will have even more experiences to be grateful for by the time this special day returns to us the following year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Suchitra Sen Museum in Pabna Still a Dream

Md Imroz Khandakar

Pabna’s district administration is yet to carry out a 2014 court order directing it to set up a museum dedicated to the memory of Bengali film legend Suchitra Sen at her ancestral home, freed from the clutches of Jamaat-e-Islami nearly two years ago.
The one-storied house at Hemsagar Lane in the town’s Gopalpur neighbourhood has apparently remained neglected since the district administration took over in 2014 after years of bitter legal tussle. Illegally set up shops in front of the house still stand.
After Suchitra’s father Karunamoy Dasgupta moved to India in 1947 with his family, the government took custody of the 0.21-acre house as vested property. The silver screen goddess, born as Rama Dasgupta in 1931, spent her childhood in this house.
Four decades later, the Pabna district administration leased the house to Imam Gazzali Trust, set up by Jamaat, which operated a private girls school and college there. They erected several tin huts on the open space inside the house, blocked the main gate and set up shops by the road.
Following strident demands by people from all walks of life in Pabna to throw out the Jamaat-backed institute and set up a museum there, the district administration in 2009 refused to renew the lease further. The trust, established by Jamaat leader Abdus Subhan in 1983, moved the High Court against the decision.
In July 2011, Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed a writ petition arguing a museum should be set up to preserve the grand legacy of the iconic actress.
In August, the court ordered the trust to vacate the house in two months and directed the government to take over and protect the memory of the legendary actress of yesteryear who died on January 17, 2014.
The trust moved the Supreme Court challenging the High Court verdict but the top court on May 4, 2014 threw out the appeal and upheld the High Court verdict.
Finally, the district administration took possession of the house on July 16, 2014 on a court order to establish the “Suchitra Sen Smrity Sangrohashala”, a museum to archive her memories.
However, no visible progress has been made so far. When contacted, Additional Deputy Commissioner Munsi Md Muniruzzaman said they were working to take steps as directed by the High Court.
But, he said, they did not write to the concerned ministry seeking official proposal or directives.
Suchitra Sen Chalachitra Sangsad convenor Jakir Hossain said they had to wage tough demonstrations and prolonged legal battles to free the house.
“But bureaucratic complexities are obstructing implementation of the court’s order,” he said. “We demand setting up a museum in that house to preserve Suchitra Sen’s memories as the court ordered.” 
- See more at:

Shared from Dhaka Tribune Link:

Friday, April 1, 2016

Barisal Boasts of Asia’s Second Largest Church

Subah Shaheen

The mosques of Bangladesh have, for years, fascinated both its beholders and the people who have heard about its splendor and structural brilliance. Some of the most famous mosques of the world are located in Bangladesh but the small South Asian nation is home to other awe-inspiring centers of worship as well. One of which is the Oxford Mission Church or Epiphany Church.

The Oxford Mission Church is one of the largest Christian congregational sites in the world. In fact, it is the second largest by size in Asia. Located in the south-most district of the tropical nation, this grand architectural structure can be found in Bogura road of Barisal town, Barisal. Barisal is a land of scenic beauty and thus, forms the perfect backdrop for this majestic structure. It is said that it was in fact, the beauty of that fertile region along with the simplicity of the inhabitants there that had eventually attracted the missionaries of Oxford Church, who had settled in Kolkata primarily, to travel eastward and establish another base. It was this need for a new stronghold that led to the creation of this monumental church.

The missionaries played another vital role in the establishment of Oxford Mission Epiphany church. The main design of the building was provided by them as well. Sister Edith sketched the outline of the church which was improved upon by Father Strong. The chief engineer of this majestic structure was Frederick Douglas, an Englishman who had completed his studies from Oxford’s Christ Church institution. He has been credited with the creation of this artistic structure. The church was mostly completed by 1903 and opened its doors to devotees on 26th January of that year, though secondary work on the project still continued till 1907 after substantial donations had been collected from benefactors. The church played a great role in elevating the lives of the local residents. It had a substantial impact in reducing poverty, educating locals and empowering females. Therefore, this church holds great historical significance as well and therefore, holds the status of a local heritage site.

The compound stands over 35 acres of land making it unquestionably the second largest by size in Asia. The very large Oxford Missionary Church is structured using red bricks, which gives it its predominant color of red. The building has been designed following Greek architecture and this unique masterpiece of such timeless style continues to captivate every eye which beholds its magnificence. Though the building consists of a single floor it is by height the equivalent of a five storied complex. Due to this fact, the present authorities believe it to be the largest church by height in Asia. As per the Greek norm, the building has countless, expansive corridors and archways. The number of archways is unanimously considered to be forty though no written numerical limit has been attached to the corridors. The inside has been carved with wood which provides a comfortable ambience to the devotees who regularly kneel before their lord there by walking over the smooth marble tiled floor. The chapel is very spacious and the pews accommodate a fairly large group of devotees. Though the inside of the church is serene and sophisticated many religious Christians, as well as tourists have voted the giant cross situated atop the principle altar to be the real spiritual attraction. From that high position Jesus Christ is believed to bless all those under him.

Another unique feature of the Oxford Mission church is the giant bell it houses. No other church in Asia has one of such colossal size. This artifact is quite the favorite of tourists and is rung seven whole times in a single day. The beauty of the compound is not limited to the church building. The surrounding open area is quite efficient in winning hearts as well. Inside the compound are rows of palm trees guarding the spectacular structure. A total of thirteen ponds of various sizes are scattered throughout the premises which simply add to its allure. This appeal of nature is further strengthened by the numerous plantations, especially medicinal and floral, which are grown throughout the well maintained surrounding land.

The compound has other structures as well. The church has opened schools- a primary institution, a secondary institution and one exclusively for girls, - a hospital, a library, students’ dormitories and homes for the clergymen. Hence, it is a center of great importance to non-Christians along with Christians themselves. It has become an influential part of local society and in fact, the regional swimming competition is held at one of its ponds. The primary objective behind establishing the church was to alleviate the lives of the impoverished and backward Christian community which resided there and it can be clearly seen that the church has been quite successful in realizing that dream. For over a hundred years now, the church and its members have served the local community and provided the local Christian population with spiritual guidance. To others, the Oxford Mission Church has provided a chance to behold and become mesmerized by one of the finest creations of human labor. The beauty of the church is inspirational and when one adds in the years of history behind the structure; the infinite stories that must have unfolded during its hundred plus years of existence, then one naturally becomes overwhelmed.

Keeping in mind the historical appeal tourists feel there, many antiquities have been brought into the compounds for the visitors to observe. The list includes war weapons, mementos of historical heroes, tokens of monarchs, ancient statues and coins, maps of the old civilizations, manuscripts of distinguished personalities etc. Though the church and its compounds are sufficient to fascinate visitors, due to the increasing number of tourists who visit the wondrous site, all these antiques have been collected to give the visitors, especially those from foreign countries, a treat of Bangladesh’s rich history and culture. The compounds are open to visitors and so are certain regions of the church but a permission has to be taken in advance by the authorities for a whole tour. That is to be expected as the main task of the church is praying and thus, tour times have to be scheduled to suit the praying routine. Although once governed by British authorities, the power positions are now held by Bangladeshis and currently Father Francis Pandya is responsible for Asia’s second largest church.

With all being said, a trip to this little paradise in Barisal is highly recommended to those who love art or are interested in history. Even to those who don’t fall into that category, this would be a great chance to explore a marvelous creation and see beauty at its best. So, why not try it out? Pay tribute to one of Asia’s finest architectural designs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tinmukh: A Pillar with a View

Faisal Mahmud

A trekking expedition that takes us deep into the heart of Bandarban

“Is that the sound of a snake?” Tapu shouted from somewhere down below. I couldn’t see him. It was hard to look ahead due to the dense bamboo forest which blocked most of our view.
I too had been hearing the intermittent hissing for the last half an hour or so. But when you are struggling hard to keep your balance on a hill trail at a 70 degree angle, covered with pesky dead bamboo leaves and loose pebbles, the ‘probable’ snake sound hits the bottom of your list of priorities.
“It is winter. Snakes are hibernating,” shouted Faruq bhai from somewhere down the trail.
“Are you sure that all snakes are sleeping? What happens if one decides not to?” Tapu shouted back with a hint of genuine concern.
Our other companion, Aftab, had probably climbed too far up ahead. I didn’t hear anything from him for the last one hour. Had he reached the peak, had he seen the pillar, I wondered. The five of us with two guides had been climbing the hill for more than two hours. Mingma, one of our guides had told me earlier that it is a two hour climb from the Dhpanichara Para (a hill village). Why was it is taking so long?
A historical landmark
It is not that often you will come across a lone stone pillar at the peak of a 3,070 feet hill demarcating the boundaries of three countries.
Sixty six years ago in 1947, when Sir Cyril Redcliffe declared his famous borderline between India and Pakistan, a major of East Bengal regiment named Leonard Stabber went on a week long perilous trek inside the hilly terrain of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) to install the pillar at that height in order to precisely pinpoint the borderline of three countries: India, Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Myanmar.
We didn’t need to go through a week-long trek to reach that “peak with the pillar”, however, thanks to the engineering corps of the Bangladesh Army, who constructed a 62 kilometre road connecting Bandarban Sadar with the remote Boga Lake. But the two-day trek from Boga Lake to that peak was no less tough and it surely tested the limits of our courage, even though we were a group of seasoned trekkers.
At the beginning, the trail was easy and well-known. Almost all the members of BPSS (our trekking group) had trekked up to Keukradong (the second highest peak of the country) at least five times. So we chilled out amidst the beauty of Boga Lake for a while after we reached there by “Chand er gari” (rickety old four wheelers which were Bandarban’s own production) in the morning and started the trek at noon. We reached Keukradong by nightfall and stayed there at one of the newly built cottages situated right at the foot the mountain.
Early in the next morning, we made a 1,400 feet descent through a narrow trail and trekked for two hours to reach a beautiful Para of the Bom tribe named Rumana Para. We rested there for a while and then started the trek again. This time our destination was a small Para of the Tripura tribe named Dhupanichara Para.
Dhupanichara Para is in a very remote location. For the next four hours straight, we crossing numerous small ‘jiri’ (hilly water stream), walking trails at substantially dangerous angles and made our way through the dense bamboo and cane forest to reach the village. We arrived at the Para at around 1pm, took an hour long break, and cooked and ate a soup meal for lunch. At 2pm, we started our climb up thousand feet hill which had the famous pillar at its peak.
At the summit
As we neared the summit, suddenly the bamboo forest thinned out somewhat. I sat down and took in my surroundings. The watch showed 4:25 pm but the ambience of the forest gave me the impression that it was about to be dark. Gradually Tapu joined me, then Roman and lastly Shubol, our other guide.
“How far is the peak?” I asked Shubol. “Ten minutes from here,” he replied. We resumed the tiresome routine of trudging our body up.
After another 15 minutes, we suddenly came upon a clearing in the middle of which a semi-broken stone pillars stood, with Aftab sitting next to it resting his back on it. We also found Mingma was standing nearby drinking water out of a bottle.
“Welcome to Tinmukh pillar,” Aftab greeted us.
On closer inspection, we realised the pillar was in the shape of a narrow pyramid. On one side, the words 'EP Bengal regiment' was inscribed, on another side, it said Asam Rifles and on the third side Burmese Border Guard.
The view from the area was incredible. While three sides of the peak made gradual slopes covered with bamboo trees, the side that faced Myanmar made a straight vertical drop of about two thousand feet. In that direction, we could see the huge expanse of the Arakan state in the haze of the late winter afternoon. Standing there, I briefly felt like it was the end of the world.
The feeling didn’t last long as the chilling cool breeze coming from that side made me shiver. The wind was getting cooler and the sun was fading quicker than we anticipated.
“The sun will set soon, let's start heading back,” Mingma warned. We took some snaps at the peak and started the trek back at around 5pm, feeling content having successfully completed yet another trekking adventure.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Welcome to the Zoo

Faisal Mahmud

Faisal Mahmud writes about the proposed plan to modernise Dhaka National Zoo

The display of exotic animals has been a sign of wealth and power for a long time. Even the ancient courts of Egypt and China had zoos, and those were represented as the far-reaching arms of the empires.

Dhaka National Zoo in Mirpur, with its astonishing area of 186 acres, is surely a place of pride for our countrymen. There’s also the fact that, area wise, this is the fourth largest zoo in the world.

However, with a collection of only 2,161 different animals and birds belonging to 165 species, its rating is nowhere near the world’s elite zoos. For those still unable to grasp the sorry state of affairs at the country’s premier zoo, here’s a trivia: London Zoo, spread over 36 acres, houses more than 16,000 animals and birds of over 700 species!
Dhaka Zoo has witnessed premature deaths of animals over the years. Many scandalous reports have been carried by the media regarding corruption and abysmal incompetence of the zoo authorities.

The animals have to suffer due to painful and almost oppressive condition in the zoo, which in no way resembles their original habitats. They are kept in small cages and are deprived of food and other necessities. It has been reported time and again that callous and corrupt zoo employees are responsible for such negligence.

“The problem with such animals is that zoo authorities do not know what to do with them. Obviously, hostile conditions and poor supply of food make it almost impossible for the animals to survive,” Professor Anwarul Islam, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust of the government, said.

Professor Islam told Weekend Tribune that the animals are brought in the Dhaka Zoo from abroad at a huge cost, only to be pushed to death through utter neglect. “The overall situation prevailing here is an insult to the concept of a modern zoo,” he added.

“It seems the zoo authorities are blissfully oblivious of the fact that a zoo is not a prison designed to punish animals. Recreating the animals’ natural habitat to the possible extent is a task performed with great care in any zoo worth the name. It is not possible to keep the animals alive in an artificial setting for long, particularly when they are deprived of the basic necessities,” he said.

He also said that unless the zoo authority is moved from under the supervision of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, no real improvement is possible. “No other country in the world has its zoos under the livestock ministry. Dhaka Zoo doesn’t have any expert zoologists as its staff. How do you expect it to become a world class zoo, under the prevailing circumstances?” the renowned zoologist said.

Luckily, this appalling scenario of our national zoo is likely to change, as the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock is taking a keen interest in revamping the whole outlook of the zoo.
“If the comprehensive plan that has been chalked out for the zoo is implemented, it is certainly going to secure its position as one of the top zoos in the world,” said Dr ABM Shahidullah, the curator of Dhaka Zoo.

He said that the ministry had contemplated a revamped look for the zoo after observing the trend of decreasing number of visitors and increasing number of animal deaths. “Studies have shown that captive animals will live longer and be more active in an environment close to their native surroundings,” said the curator.

Dr Shahidullah said that many prominent zoos now actively construct exhibits that allow animals freedom of movement, a variety of habitats and toys, and native foliage. “Some zoos have even begun housing species together that normally interact in the wild, such as certain types of monkeys,” he said.

Dhaka Zoo has enough space to allow modern and suitable facilities for the animals. “The beautiful natural locations of the zoo area can also be made as great recreational facilities for the visitors,” Dr Shahidullah said, adding that with that intention, the livestock ministry has teamed up relevant people to chalk out a detailed plan for re-shaping the zoo.

The curator informed Weekend Tribune that a team of experts from BUET had already submitted a 300-page comprehensive report, including a digital survey and feasibility study on modernising the Dhaka Zoo.

“The zoo authority, after reviewing that report, has given BUET the contract for preparing the master plan involving the cost analysis of complete structural design of the zoo,” he added.
He said that the zoo authority would seek funding from the government to bear the expenses of the modernization project. “We may also approach private investors for the project,” he said.

In mid-2011, a consortium of the Malaysia-based Kopeda Group and the local Maisha Group had submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock for setting up a park similar to Fantasy Kingdom and Nandan Park on 53 acres of land in Dhaka Zoo in exchange of bearing the expense that the zoo’s modernisation would incur. 
That proposal, however, had not been approved by the government, Dr Shahidullah said. “The zoo staff had protested against that proposal, as it would lose its identity if an amusement park was established on one-third of its area.”

“Besides, that proposed amusement park would have acquired the 18-acre North Lake, which attracts thousands of migratory birds every year,” he added.
About the current expenses, Shahidullah informed Weekend Tribune that the money earned from daily ticket sales and other activities directly go to the ministry, and it allocates a fixed lump-sum amount yearly for the zoo. Last year, the ministry allocated Tk 107 crore.

“The ministry, however, is planning to make the zoo self-sustained with its own earning and make the provision so that the money earned from its activities after the modernisation stays in the zoo,” said the curator.

While talking with Weekend Tribune, Dr Khondokar Shabbir Ahmed, a professor at the Department of Architecture in BUET and leader of the group that prepared the 300-page report on modernising Dhaka Zoo, said that they have prepared the report emphasizing on three core areas – education, research and amusement.

Professor Ahmed also told the WT that they are now working on preparing the masterplan comprising of structural plans and cost analysis. He said that it will be completed by June this year.

“A zoo doesn’t need to have an amusement park, it offers better amusement by itself if it is constructed and maintained in a proper way,” said Dr Ahmed. “The ministry has asked us, the architecture department of BUET, to conduct a survey over the land of Dhaka Zoo to identify its potential for possible modernisation, and we did that.”

He said that, in the proposed plan, the zoo will have an attractive digital gate so that visitors can see locations of animals before entering the zoo.

“The perimeter of Dhaka Zoo is too large for a visitor to walk. Also, in the tropical weather of Bangladesh, it is exhausting to walk all over the 185 acres to see different animals. So, in our report, we have suggested a ‘circular land train ride’ along the cages. Dubai Zoo has it and it is loved by the visitors,” he said.

“We also proposed a boat ride in the South Lake. Different animals will be kept in different cages along the banks of the lake and visitors can watch them from the boat,” he said. Dr Ahmed, however, said that their study report has suggested changing the existing system of caging the animals that gives a wrong impression to the visitors, especially children.

“The present cage system in the zoo is miserable. People are getting the wrong idea about the lifestyle of the animals by seeing their depressing living conditions,” he said, adding that their report suggests a large modern caging system for the zoo animals.

“We have also ensured preservation of sufficient greenery inside the zoo to give it a natural look. Facilities such as eco-friendly washrooms, restaurants and resting nests have been proposed in our report,” he said.

“In the study, we have also asked for launching ‘behavioural enrichment programme’ for the animals. We have observed that Dhaka Zoo has only veterinary physicians for the animals, but no veterinary psychologist. Modern zoos have psychologists because without their assistance animal behaviour cannot be comprehended or taken care of,” he said.

“We haven’t made any recommendation on the varieties of animals that the zoo should have, as it was not a part of our contract. Besides, such suggestions should come from the concerned experts,” he said.

When asked whether this massive project would be financially viable, Dr Ahmed said that if the zoo is modernised, then people wouldn’t care if they were paying a Tk 50 entry fee instead of Tk 10.

“Currently, about 10,000 visitors visit the zoo every day. If the proposed modernisation is implemented and advertised, then it would fetch at least five times more visitors,” he said.
“Bangladesh has been described in the Lonely Planet’s (world’s most renowned travel magazine) 2011 issue as the number one tourist destination. If its capital has a world-class zoo, it surely would attract a lot of foreign visitors,” he said.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Historical Places of Bangladesh

Sadia Alam

Ahsan Manzil:
Known as the Pink Palace, Ahsan Manzil is situated in the midst of old town, just beside the bank of Buriganga River. The magnificent architecture was the first thing that attracted me to the palace; its rich history is what kept me intrigued. It reflects the lavish lifestyle of the Nawab dynasty, and portrays the economic circumstances it experienced in its earlier life as a trading house for the French. Later on, it became the residence of Khwaja Abdullah after the English-French war in the 18th century. New additions to the old building and renovations has made this beautiful monument into ever popular pink palace it is today.
A huge green lawn welcomed us as we entered the premises and the smell of the old, creaking house enthralled us as to how something so ancient could remain so alive. Everything from the utensils to armours to sofas and beds were put on display Reading through the small notes under each item, I thought to myself: at which point did I begin to appreciate history? Apparently, right then.
The balcony looks out into the river and we could see small boats perched to take on passengers for a ride. I couldn’t help but wonder how it worked for the Nawabs.
Panam City:
Next stop on my list was the ancient capital of Sonargaon, Panam City. It thrived as the major inland port and center of commerce in the pre-Islam period. Governed by the Danujamadava Dasharathadeva, the Hindu ruler shifted his capital from Bikrampur during the 13th century. Most of the existing remains of the city represented residential buildings made by Hindu merchants; European-inspired colonial design demanding admiration. Even after the Muslim invasion, the city was said to have been developed into a commercial metropolis. After the capital was moved to Jahangirnagar in Dhaka to avoid the city’s location becoming too exposed, the fame for the legendary muslin fabric remained undiminished till foreign competition ruined their trade and left the city to oblivion.
As we strolled through the old ruins, I couldn’t help but feel the energy sustained from the busy bazaar of a bygone era. Medieval monuments under the sunny weather made it a superb occasion to take some snaps, which would be suggested as the place looks like it’s falling apart.
Standing on the arched bridge and taking in the fresh air seemed to make a lot of difference to a city dweller like myself. We live in a place where serenity needs to be paid for. In a nerdy sense, it’s a treat for the eyes and the mind.
The rich ethnicity and culture Bangladesh has can only be truly understood if you’ve been to this Bandarban. If thrill and magic of the hill tracts are your idea of a blissful getaway, there is no better place than this small town.
The presence of numerous tribes and flamboyant cultures make the spot even more of a learning occasion, and you can even hike to those villages. For people like myself, the lively lifestyle was an uncharted experience.
One of the tallest peaks and arguably the most beautiful spot is Nilgiri, which is situated at Thanci Thana. To begin with, scenic locations are infinite. The Buddha Dhatu Jadi in Balghata town attracts Theravada Buddhism followers and pilgrims from all over the world. The Boga Lake area shall redefine your understanding of serenity, while the Jadipai Waterfall was the cherry on top.
The cool and transparent droplets bequeathed such tranquility that the difficulties we faced on the way didn’t matter as much. All you need to do is hire a guide and you are good to go.
Home to one of the most important Buddhist archaeological sites in Bangladesh, Mainamati dates back to the 12th century and is named after the Chandra queen Mainamati. Shalban Vihara, found in the middle of the Mainamati Lalmai hill range, consists of 115 cells with a cruciform temple in the middle of the structure, resembling the Paharpur Monastery.
A little north of Shalban Vihara, we landed our eyes on the picturesque Buddhist establishment of Kutila Mura. There were three remarkable monuments representing the Buddhist Trinity - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The last one we visited was the Charpatra Mura, which an isolated quadrilateral shrine located in the north-west region of the Kutila Mura monuments.
The educational and religious establishment of the Viharas were definitely the largest among the Mainamati monuments. Unfortunately, military establishments near that area damaged the central shrine, which is a pity given the fact that it could have been an emergent tourist spot. The serenity this place has to offer is beyond comparable.
The tourist spots within our country are just as fascinating as the ones we always hear of in other countries, if not better. If you wish to have Bangladesh unlocked, these areas are a must to visit. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bangladesh: An attractive destination for business

Bangladesh has continued to be an attractive destination for Japanese companies to do business due to its lower production cost and labor wage compared to those of 19 countries in Asia and Oceania.In comparison to Japan, the cost of production in Bangladesh is less than half, (49.5 percent), while it is 81.9 percent in China, 73 percent in Vietnam and 80.6 percent in India, according to the latest survey of Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO).

“Like before, Bangladesh is foun

d to be the most economical in terms of worker's wage both in manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors which are less than one-fourth of China and half of India respectively,” said the survey.

The survey on business conditions of Japanese companies in Asia and Oceania for fiscal year 2014-15 was based on inputs from chief executive officers of 9,590 Japanese companies in 20 countries in the region and was conducted in October and November last year.

The survey questions were focused on operating profit forecasts, business confidence of CEO's, expansion plan, cost of local production, management concerns, procurement sources and export destination, expectation for economic integration and wages.

Bangladesh is far ahead of Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Pakistan on the cost indicator and is in a better position than Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, the Philippines, and China on the labor wage indicator.

However, 69 percent of the CEOs identified the trend of rising wage as the highest concern of management. The survey said although the Japanese firms in Bangladesh are struggling with operating profits, the good news is business confidence of the Japanese CEOs ranks the highest at 63.3 points, meaning their business performance in Bangladesh will improve in 2016.

It is only 20.7 points and 21.8 points in China and Thailand respectively, indicating that the expectancy of business performance of Japanese firms in the two countries is poor and might not pick up, it added.
Bangladesh was ranked fifth when the Japanese CEOs were asked whether they would expand their operations in the country in future.

More than 67 percent respondents said they would like to expand their footprint in Bangladesh in the next one or two years, thanks to high growth potentials, reduction of cost, reviewing production and distribution network and an easy-to-secure labor force.

Japanese firms, however, showed modest downward trend in the last four to five years in Bangladesh and other countries such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam, India and Thailand.

“Especially since 2013, the downward trend of Bangladesh and China is much severe whereas expectancy for expansion is getting higher in Myanmar,” said the survey.
About the opportunities to export to Japan, the survey said the sky is the limit.
The Japanese-affiliated firms in Bangladesh export 67 percent of their products back to Japan.

“However, the achievement could be many-fold if Bangladesh can connect itself with Asia through free trade agreements,” said the survey.

An official of the JETRO Dhaka said Bangladesh should take steps to sign trade deals with ASEAN, where Japanese companies based in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam or Cambodia export significantly.

If there is preferential trade deals, more Japanese companies will come to Bangladesh and export intermediary goods to their plants in the ASEAN countries for producing finished products, he said.
“Time has come for Bangladesh to take the regional connectivity issue seriously,” said the official.
In 2014-15, Bangladesh received $915.22 million for its exports to Japan, according to the commerce ministry.

Exports to Japan have been on the rise due to the relaxation of rules of origin for products from the least-developed countries.

“Considering export destination of Japanese-affiliated firms in Asia and Oceania region, export from Bangladesh to ASEAN countries is simply 'insignificant', whereas export rate to Japan shows the highest export ratio (71%),” said the survey.

It said compared to the average, Bangladesh is found in a volatile position because of the problems related to quality of employees, competitors, local procurement, and quality control.

More than 57 percent CEOs think quality of employees are not up to the mark in Bangladesh; 50 percent CEOs would like to think more on quality control.

Moreover, 56.3 percent CEOs flagged customs clearance as complicated and 70.6 percent consider local procurement as a big problem.

The survey revealed that 70.6 percent CEOs say in establishing business local procurement is a big matter. Only 22.5 percent Japanese firms operating in Bangladesh procure raw materials and parts locally.

“Huge import dependency on China and less on ASEAN countries have become a matter of concern for CEOs, indicating non-development of supporting industries and an absence of connectivity with ASEAN nations.”

Like the previous year, Bangladesh, compared to other neighbouring countries, is in a stressed situation when it comes to making profits. The country was ranked one of the lowest profit makers, and it lagged behind Pakistan, China, and the Philippines.

The recommendations of the JETRO survey include reducing cost related to start-ups, as Japanese companies are comparatively fresh and young.

It also called for creating environment to help companies cut down operational cost, introducing more investor-friendly policy analysing those of the competitors, and undertaking pro-active initiatives to address and eliminate impediments to doing business.

It said environment should be created to develop supporting industries in order to increase local procurement.

There are 230 Japanese companies doing business in Bangladesh.

JETRO is the official investment and trade promotion organisation of the government of Japan, and has been conducting the survey since 1987.

courtesy : The Daily Star