Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hidden Treasures of Bangladesh

Rainul Islam

We often hear people proclaim the richness of the natural beauty of our country but have you ever wondered why? Sure, you’ve visited the long shores of Cox’s Bazar, trekked to the heights of Keokradong and peaked through the lovely clean waters of Saint-Martin. But to limit ourselves to the mainstream is to grossly under-sell the natural beauty of our country. Today, we invite your attention to some of the lesser known and /or lesser traveled destinations of Bangladesh which deserve just as much love, admiration and acclaim as its more popular counterparts.



Often hailed as the “Niagra Falls” of Bangladesh, Nafakum Waterfall is one of the largest and most gorgeous waterfalls in the country. Despite its jaw-dropping beauty, however, Nafakum is also amongst one of the lesser ventured destinations due to the relatively extreme journey that it demands from would-be travelers.
For instance, for someone traveling from Dhaka the journey would be something like this: an 8-hour bus journey to Bandarban followed by another 3-4 hours bus journey to Thanchi where travelers would need to take permission from the BGB and enter their contact details for safety reasons. Thereafter, you would need to hire engine-boat(s) for the exploratory journey to Remarki through giant rocks dispersed in the Sangu River. At this point, travelers are well-advised to spend the night here at the hospitable local tribal houses before continuing their journey to Nafakum early next morning which will include hours of walking and trekking too.
Clearly, the journey is a major obstacle for many interested in travelling but this is also what puts Nafakum, along with Amiakhum, at the top of our list of Hidden Treasures of Bangladesh. The water is still clean and the nature still innocent of manly interventions, and quite frankly, the journey itself is worth it for the more hardcore travel-enthusiasts.

As a bonus for those who dare to take the aforementioned journey, you will be rewarded with the equally enticing scenery of Amiakhum which is also situated in Bandarban, near Myanmar border.

Notable Mentions:
·         Jadipai: also situated in Bandarban; the water is transparent and on a lucky day, you may be blessed with the awe-striking view of a rainbow forming at the bottom of the fall
·         Richang Waterfall (often pronounced “Risang”): located in Khagrachori, Chittagong; relatively easy to get to and covered in more greenery than the other waterfalls on the list.



Ratargul Swamp Forest, located in Sylhet, is the only swamp forest in Bangladesh. The forest can dive as deep as 30 feet under water during monsoon and usually sits at about 10 feet deep in other seasons.
It is the creation of a surreal marriage between a freshwater swamp and an almost poetic forest of Koroch trees “growing” out of the cool, clean water. Admittedly, the forest has become more famous in recent years but with its unparalleled capacity to provoke one’s senses, we felt it was too big a risk to leave it out in case the reader hasn’t visited this luscious forest yet.


Located in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar District, and on the banks of the Naf River, it is the only game reserve in Bangladesh and a truly bio-diverse one at that. The sanctuary comprises an area of an astounding 11,615 hectares and boasts a number of attractions, none more so than the opportunity to see wild elephants in all their magnificence and the Kudum Cave, which harbours two different species of bats and is often known as the “Bat Cave.” Additionally, the destination has a plentiful plant-life, a wide species of birds and activities including hiking trails varying in terms of length and difficulty.



Much like Nafakum Waterfall above, Boga Lake really is one of the must-visit places yet quite a challenge to get to as well. In fact, it is inaccessible by any means of transport. For those who take the trouble to take the uncomfortable steps to this destination, however, awaits glad tidings indeed. It is unquestionably one of the most beautiful destinations on the list with its heavenly view that’s soothing both to the eyes and the heart. The lake is bounded by lush greenery, hills, cliffs and rocks. It is a perfect place for nature or peace lovers to stay overnight, watch stars, read books or share ghost stories, especially in light of a famous legend about the very birth of the lake.


Also known as the China Clay Hills, its main attractions are the ceramic hills beside the water that culminate into possibly the most picturesque destination on the list. Those into water travels will also appreciate the chance to row-boat along the Someshwari River.
Unfortunately, though, all things worth having (or visiting in this case) do not come easy; this particular place is as remotely located as being near the Indian border itself.


You hear Chittagong and beach – what do you think about? Cox’s of course. While Cox’s, St. Martin and Teknaf rightfully attract more tourists we feel the naval beach (dockside) in Chittagong is also worth a quick visit. The main attractions here include three distinct parts of the beach each giving quite a different feel than the others. The abundance of hair-floating breeze that makes for great selfies and the thumb-sized local piyajus are alone enough to regularly attract a swarm of young adults every Friday.

Notable Mentions
·         Shitalakshya River, Demra: the main attraction is the short trip from the center of Dhaka. It’s easy to rent out professional tour guides who will take you on a private cruise with delicacies including fish grilled on the boat itself. It makes for a perfect get-away or celebration of something dear with a large group.
·         Floating Rice Market, Barisal: technically not a tourist spot but worth a mention nonetheless.



Reminiscent of the iconic monkey temple in Jungle Book, the famous Rajbari is one of the oldest Zamindar palaces in Mymensingh. While some may find it undesirable that a large portion of the complex is not properly maintained, it is the lack of proper maintenance that makes it a must-visit destination for anyone with a taste for unadulterated history and culture.
Sweetening the destination further, quite literally, is the renowned Gopal Pali Prosida Monda Sweet Shop – home to what are probably the best monda sweets in the entire country.


Shaped like a man-made underground passage, Alutila is the longest natural cave in Bangladesh stretching about a 100 meters in length. It is enclosed by deep green forests all-round and is rocky, slippery and blindingly dark inside.
Perhaps not for the feint hearted but makes a great choice for the brave and adventurous looking for a different experience.

What’s your favourite hidden destination of Bangladesh? Is it something that falls outside the list above? If so, please write to us in the comments section and let your fellow travelers know too.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

1000-year-old Hindu temple excavated in Dinajpur


A group of archaeologists has recently unearthed a rare Vishnu temple with a unique ‘nava-ratha’ architecture at Madhabgaon village in Kaharol upazila of the northern district of Dianajpur.

Archaeologists from Jahangirnagar University’s department of archaeology in Savar, Dhaka, including its director Prof. Swadhin Sen, Prof. Syed Mohammed Kamrul Ahsan, Prof. Seema Hoque and Sabekunnaher Sithi started an excavation at the site in April this year. They received financial assistance from the cultural affairs ministry and the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) of the University Grants Commission (UGC). They also received the support of the department of archaeology.

The 52-member excavation team included four teachers, 13 students and 13 experienced workers from Mahasthan.

They found a seven-metre-high brick-built structure and a 144-sq-metre solidly built platform, with a 4.48-metre square cell at the centre. The cell represents the ‘garbhagriha’ (sanctum) where the idol was worshipped. The external surface of the platform has ‘ratha’ or vertical offset projections at the west, north and south. There are nine ‘rathas’. That is why the temple is known as a ‘nava-ratha’ temple, according to ‘Early Temple Architecture’.

“The temple is about 1,000 years old. It was constructed in the 10th to 11th centuries. No temple of the ‘nava-ratha’ type has been discovered in Bangladesh till now,” said Prof. Swadhin Sen.
He also said radiocarbon dating of the collected samples would shed light on the precise date of the temple.

“The superstructure of the sanctum is characterised by a ‘shikhara’ or ‘rekha deul’ (curvilinear tower). Among the very few existing brick-built standing temples with ‘shikhara’ in undivided Bengal, the Siddheshwar Temple at Bahulara of Bankura in West Bengal has the closest resemblance,” said Prof. Dipak Ranjan Das, a former professor of the University of Calcutta and an expert on early eastern Indian temple architecture.

The same team had discovered a Hindu temple with ‘pancha-ratha’ variety in Nawabganj upazila of Dinajpur in 2007. The four-pillared ‘mandapa’ was possibly capped with a ‘shikhara’ and is known as a ‘pida deul’ (tiered roof) variety.

The team found more artefacts, including a decorated stone image, a good number of broken fragments of stone sculptures, along with pottery, decorated bricks and stone pieces during the ongoing archaeological excavations at the site. The sculptural fragments represent various iconographic attributes of Vishnu, the Hindu deity.

Prof. Syed Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan said this temple was a very good addition to their research in the northern part of Bangladesh over the past 15 years. He added that their team has already excavated nine sites in this region and documented more than 1,000 archaeological sites in the Dinajpur-Joypurhat region. More than 800 among them could be dated to the early medieval period.
The history of river systems and landscapes was crucial for the development of settlements, which had religious edifices at the core. The excavation accompanied by archaeological studies will continue for the next couple of months.

Shared from The Independent

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Art and Adda Hotel

Farhana Urmee

Through both peace and turmoil, this century-old building in the middle of old Dhaka has been a proud sanctuary for many of our most famous minds.

The name Beauty Boarding may sound like your convenient neighbourhood hair salon, but to many cultural figures, this place has a much deeper significance. If you read Bangla literature, you may have heard of it, as it has made an appearance in various works.
Beauty Boarding was the historical hub of the intellectual adda of Bangali littérateurs, politicians, cultural activists and poets. It has been commemorated in their art and biographies.
The hotel and restaurant is a distinctive two-storied old building, standing proudly in the middle of old Dhaka. A witness of bygone times, Beauty Boarding is far from losing its charm. It still has the power of inspiration for creative minds, and a perfect place for adda over the simple and hearty Bangali food it serves.

Age before Beauty
The property belonged to a zamindar named Shudheer Das. The spread of the grounds is in the style of a typical zamindar house. It has an open central courtyard flanked by a long veranda attached to the bedroom and living apartments, with a separate section for the dining and drawing rooms.
Before Partition in 1947, the building was used as the office of the daily newspaper Shonar Bangla. By 1951, due to political turmoil, the newspaper owner moved his office to Kolkata and abandoned the property.
Soon after the newspaper left, the property was rented by local neighbour Nalini Mohon Saha, who thought of starting a restaurant and hotel business.

Due to its location in a busy neighbourhood of Banglabazar, which has long been the centre of book publishing, printing and stationery wholesaling, Nalini’s initiative got a great response from the very beginning.
It attracted book traders from all over the country who made regular trips to Banglabazar, and often had to stay overnight.
Nalini named the boarding house after his eldest daughter, Beauty.

First adda
Shahid Qadri, eminent poet and writer of post-1947 modern Bangla poetry, visited Beauty Boarding and asked one of his friends to come over for a chat during his stay there.
That was Beauty Boarding’s first illustrious adda. Gradually the word spread, and more and more names from the cultural arena started to gravitate towards the place. After that there was no looking back.
The availability of tea and snacks at modest rates, accompanied by the calm greenery of the surrounding gardens, attracted people who sought a homey environment for thinking and writing in serenity.
During his stays there, poet and writer Syed Shamsul Huq wrote his novels Ek Mahilar Chhobi (Portrait of a Woman, 1959), Anupam Din (Best Days, 1962), Simana Chhariye (Beyond the Bounds, 1964). The script for the very first Bangla talkie film, Mukh O Mukhosh, was also written by director Abdul Jabbar Khan in the yards of Beauty Boarding.
Legendary poet Nirmalendu Goon made it his home for almost five years, and his autobiography includes a special mention of this place.
Painter Debdas Chakrabartee, and the poets Shamsur Rahman, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Rafiq Azad and Al Mahmud were among the many who had their evening tea here.
Even the beloved magician Jewel Aich lived in Beauty Boarding when he first came to Dhaka.

All in the family
Nalini initially ran his business with the help of his younger brother Prohladh Chandra Saha. During the Pakistan period, Nalini decided to move to Kolkata with his family, leaving Prohladh with the authority for the business.
In 1971, Prohladh and 17 others – including guests, staff, and some of Prohladh’s friends – were abducted by the occupying Pakistani army and killed.
He was survived by his two sons and wife, who left the country during the Liberation War. They returned after the war, and the business was restarted by Prohladh’s widow. It was then handed over to Tarak Saha, Prohladh’s eldest son, who has been running the business since 1978.

The beauty of Bangali food
Whenever someone mentions the food of old town, the first thing that typically comes to mind is Mughlai delicasies. The cuisine served at Beauty Boarding, however, is of a more home-grown variety. Everyday its restaurant cooks up delicious, authentic-flavoured classics such as shorshey ilish (hilsa fish cooked in mustard sauce), gulsha fish gravy, chicken, spicy lentil soup, vegetable curry and steamed rice – all served in stainless steel plates and glasses.
Two people can feast on a lunch of fish, chicken, lentil, vegetable, and dessert, all for only Tk400.
The restaurant serves lunch to around 120-150 people daily. Book traders still come here for business. Other regulars include neighbours and visitors from new Dhaka, who also frequent Beauty Boarding for its healthy and authentic “Bangali Bhoj” (feast).
For those who fancy an overnight stay, there is a total of 25 rooms in the hotel: 12 single-bed rooms at Tk200 and 13 double-bed rooms at Tk300.

Board of Beautians
The current owner Tarak Saha was a little boy when his mother captained the business. He grew up hearing stories about the addas of the famous personalities who frequented the hotel over the years.
The lost tales from his uncle were somewhat revived when Tarak took the initiative to reunite those writers and poets, who had spent a good amount of quality time here in Beauty Boarding.  In 1994, the reunion of those old “Beautians” inspired them to form a community of Beauty Boarders, who get together here to share fond old memories.
In 1995, they formed an official association under the banner of Beauty Boarding Shudhee Shongho. It also has a 60-member trustee board that has been honouring former “Beautians,” as they call themselves, since 2000.

Reviving a tradition
Although this old Dhaka hotel is is no longer a hotspot, it has not lost its touch. A group of young poets from Dhaka regularly meet at the Beauty Boarding premises. It has also been used as a venue for several exhibitions.
Tarak Saha dreams to recreate the vibrant intellectual adda scene that took place during the Pakistan period and after independence.
While flipping through an autograph book signed by at least 300 renowned personalities who had been guests at the hotel, Tarak says: “I hope to create a platform for young people who can come here and sit for hours and have a productive time.”
He plans to start construction of a library in the hopes of attracting more readers and thinkers.
Tarak admits: “The adda that used to take place here may not be possible in the same manner, as writers no longer need to come to Banglabazar for the printing of scripts. Technology has brought so much change.”
Today, the building and its establishment stands unchanged by time, proud of its legacy.  The banner bearing the names of its writers and poets is one of the first things one sees upon entering the office room.
Tarak also plans to build a monument honouring the 17 martyrs who were killed by the Pakistani army, and install a plaque with all the names of the famous guests Beauty Boarding has hosted over the years.
For a trip down the memory lane of some of our nation’s greatest minds, Beauty Boarding – its corridors, hallways and restaurant – is definitely worth visiting.
Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Depleting Destinations in Bangladesh

Subah Shaheen

Bangladesh is a beautiful tropical nation housing several booming tourist attractions. The beaches, hill stations, waterfalls and islands of this small South Asian wonderland offer tourists a memorable experience at an affordable rate. However, after centuries of taking mother earth for granted, nature has finally begun to retaliate. Climate change is here and its effects will be getting more prominent in due time. The areas best known for their natural allure will thus, in a few years, start to display signs of global warming, resource depletion and worst of all contamination. Bangladesh will be no exception to that rule, in fact, according to National Geographic- Bangladesh is most vulnerable to climate change. This is because the country is located at the bottom of three ferocious rivers and watered by fifty seven trans-boundary ones. Already some areas of the country are at risk of losing their enviable pristine beauty in a few years time. The clock is ticking to explore the unique magic of these endangered destinations.
This is the largest island of the country and has been awarded the honorary title ‘‘Queen Island of Bangladesh,’’ due to its immaculate, subtle beauty. The beauty of Bhola lies in its simplicity and the serene calmness it provides to onlookers. The long palm trees swaying gently against the afternoon breeze, and the mighty sun making the water shimmer as a particularly feisty silver fish jumps out to get some fresh sunshine for himself are mesmerizing scenes in the most soothing sense. Bhola is easy on the eyes and allows respite to troubled souls as the calmness of the surroundings balances out the turmoil raging inside one’s mind. Being an island nation, the seafood of the place is exquisite and a particular desert item- the buffalo curd- has enchanted the taste buds of all those who have tried it. Bhola is, therefore, an exquisite destination
for a few quiet days to oneself but alas, due to the low altitude of this gentle island, it is soon to be in grave danger of floods and tsunamis. The government has already started preparing in advance but one can naturally conclude that Bhola might not be the same in a couple of years.

Bangladesh is renowned worldwide as the home of the Sundarbans- the largest mangrove forest in the world- and the treasure trove of wildlife present there. It is a
UNESCO world heritage site and a must see for all adventure lovers. The islands of Sundarban buzz with activity and there is excitement in the very air. One can hear several varieties of birds and monkeys even while on a ship cruising on the waters surrounding it. One always has to be on the lookout as animals are abundant in the forest and some of them aren’t too shy. They will peek from trees and bushes to get a glimpse of their latest guests. Of course, the Sundarbans are home to the Royal Bengal Tigers and these big cats don’t react well to uninvited visitors but if people familiarize themselves with the mindset of the tigers beforehand, there does exist the chance of one simply walking by in front of you. The mighty mammal with its lush orange fur and dramatic black stripes would prove to be the most awe aspiring view in its natural
habitat where it would walk with the delicacy of a cat and the dignity of a lion. Though many have spotted the king of the jungle on their excursions, a more common and welcome sight to many have been deers, alligators, various birds, monkeys and other fauna. The Sundarbans are amazing but sadly they are depleting as well. Rising sea levels, deforestation, urbanization and hotter, drier summers have started to take its toll on this island of exquisite flora and fauna. The Rampal powerplant shall probably catalyse these changes making our Sundarbans- literally meaning, ‘‘Beautiful Forests,’’ an entirely different area 10 years from now.

Sonargaon,Lalbagh Fort and Ahsan Manjil
Bangladesh has hundreds of years of history as part of the Indian Subcontinent and many archaeological and architectural sites exist today as proof of that glorious heritage. While the country has several constructions to satiate the thirst of every history or fine art enthusiast, some of these places have become extrem
ely popular with tourists and in that group- the sites of Sonargaon, Lalbagh Fort and Ahsan Manjil are noteworthy. The rich history of these places and the spell binding raw beauty they hold have earned them the right to win admirers from all over the world but unfortunately, beauty cannot freeze time. The latter makes the former wither away until only the legends of its supremacy remain, nothing more. Though these structures have withstood the test of time and stand tall today, the withering has continued. They are not as magnificent as they were 10 years back and their state will continue to depreciate. Various preservation and renovation efforts are routinely performed but these are weak defenses against the test of time which now has air pollution to aid its task and the protection policies of the government fail to fully tackle the situation at hand.

The above featured only a few of the fast depleting destinations of Bangladesh. With the onset of climate change, the whole world is unaware of the full extent of the changes that will befall us and this applies to Bangladesh as well. Being a low lying developing country, Bangladesh is both at risk of facing terrible consequences and having the inability to protect itself fully from the consequences. However, the most must be made of the country’s resources till then and its tourist destinations shall continue to be a promising sector for the country over the next few years- offering wonderful holidays for tourists to come and cherish for a lifetime.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Big Cat of the Mangrove

Faisal Mahmud

On account of International Tiger Day, July 29, 2015, Dhaka Tribune took a look at the current situation concerning habitat, population and overall well-being of our majestic national animal.

For Bangladeshis, the Royal Bengal tiger is not just a mere beast. It’s a little more than that.
Aside from being the national animal of the country, this big cat has been playing an important role in enriching our literature and remains a central character in many folk tales like Gazir GanBonbibir Kotha. The tiger is also a symbol for many of our national agencies.
The emblem of the East Bengal Regiment, which fought for the country's liberation, the logo of the national cricket team and the hologram in our national currency are some of the examples of using the tiger symbol taking pride of place.
Even it’s presence in our political culture is also evident. The great politician AK Fuzlul Huq is called the 'Tiger of Bengal' for his outstanding contribution in favour of humanity.
Things however are not looking bright for our tigers in the Sundarbans. While unsustainable forest use and climate change threaten to reduce the area in which tigers can live, poaching of prey reduces the capacity of the forest to support tigers.
All these make the life of the king of the jungle very difficult indeed.
The shrinking tiger population
The world has been trying to save tigers since the 1970s, when it was discovered that populations had shrunk precipitously, and in some places vanished, throughout Asia, home to all the wild tigers left on earth. But conservation has largely failed.
Drastic loss of habitat, half-hearted efforts by the governments of many of the 13 tiger-range countries, uncoordinated objectives of competing NGOs, and, above all, an unstaunchable and illegal market for tiger parts in China have reduced the number of the world's wild tigers to a meagre 3,200, at a high estimate.
The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest of the world has long been a safe sanctuary for tigers but it’s not anymore. Data analysis of the recent tiger census in the Sundarbans suggested that the number of Bengal Tigers in the forest's Bangladesh part might have come down to half of what it was 10 years ago.
The 2004 Bangladesh-India joint tiger pugmark survey in the Sundarbans put the number at 419. The recently finished census said that the number is less than 200 in the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans.
A new report of the Global Tigers Initiatives (GTI) shows Bangladesh is lagging far behind other neighbouring tiger range countries, including India, Nepal and Bhutan in conversation activities.
The report released during the Global Tiger Stocktaking Conference in Dhaka in last year was prepared based on nine activities regarding tiger conservation. Among the 13 tiger range countries, Bangladesh has not been able to fulfil any of the targets.
Reasons behind tiger losses
Both anthropogenic and natural causes are responsible for tiger loss in Bangladesh. The most significant cause of tiger loss is direct poaching to supply the increasing demand for tiger products, experts said.
Moreover, Tiger-Human Conflict (THC) is very high in Bangladesh, which is evident from high rate of human killing, livestock depredation and ultimately the killing in retribution of tigers by affected local communities. In addition, prey poaching, unsustainable forest management and climate change induced natural calamities also affect tiger population.
Several million people directly depend on the Sundarbans for their subsistence. They collect wood, honey, gol-pata and other forest products from the Sundarbans. There is a common perception among policy makers that those forest dependent people are responsible for the Sundarbans' degradation.
Researches however explore that commercial extraction by outside people through corrupted forest officials is mainly responsible for the Sundarban's degradation.
The outsider commercial extractors collect forest resources beyond sustainable limit by violating resource collection rules. Hence, the balance of the forest ecosystem has been dwindling. In contrast, the forest dependent communities are living in the Sundarbans area for centuries by collecting forest resources more or less sustainably using their traditional knowledge.
Thus, the most evident threat to tiger habitat is unsustainable commercial extraction of forest resources that degrades the habitat quality.
Effects of climate change
Experts said that a major reason for frequent straying by tigers may be a growing prey crisis due to greater frequency of cyclones and tidal surges triggered by climate change.
The critically endangered tigers have been seen to leave their jungle habitat most frequently at two forest ranges in Bangladesh – Burhigoalini range in Satkhira and Sharankhola range in Bagerhat.
Renowned environmentalist Dr Ainun Nishat said that large populations of the Sundarbans deer might have perished in recurrent cyclones. “The population cycle of the Sundarbans deer will be adversely affected as their habitats become prone to cyclones and more saline because of climate change.”
“The tigers are coming out of the jungle for food and cyclones may very well have caused the food crisis there,” said Nishat.
“After natural disasters pass, the affected regions are naturally hit by a prey crisis. Deer often die in large numbers, which is likely to affect the tigers though they themselves are not particularly vulnerable to such natural disasters.”
He said tigers were seen leaving forests more frequently than usual after cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Aila in May this year.
Tiger poaching in the Sundarbans
Even though the government has taken various measures to protect Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans, its poaching is on the rise with 49 being killed in last the 14 years (2001-2014), according to forest department data.
Among the 49 tigers, 17 were killed in the Sundarbans east zone of the forest department while 15 were killed in the Sundarbans west zone. According to the data, the forest department recovered 17 tiger skins from different parts of the country between 2001-2014 while being smuggled out of the country.
Although official data shows that some 49 tigers were killed in the last 14 years, the locals of the Sundarbans claim that the actual number of poached tigers is much higher.
They said wildlife poaching continues rampantly in the Sundarbans while poachers frequently hunt tigers, deer and other wildlife using traps and guns. There are a number of wildlife poachers' groups in the nearby villages of the Sundarbans and they are poaching wildlife in both the Sundarbans east and west zones. The groups are linked with international wildlife smugglers, according to local sources.
The local poachers bring their hunted wildlife to the nearby villages and process the hides, bones and other limbs of the animals. Later, they sell those to the international smugglers, they added.
The residents of Banglabazar, Uttar Rajapur, Sonatola, Bagi and Khuriakhali villages near the Sundarbans also said there are a number of active wildlife poachers' groups in their neighbourhoods and the villagers can hardly raise their voice in fear of reprisal.
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Sundarbans East Zone Amir Hossain Chowdhury said many plans are being implemented to protect Bengal Tigers while the Forest Department's Wildlife Circle has been strengthened, officials of the department have been trained and coordination among the forest department, Coast Guard, Rab and police has been strengthened to check wildlife poaching.
He said officials of the forest department are conducting drives across the country to arrest poachers and they are often detaining members of wildlife smugglers and also recovering hides of tigers and deer.

Fact Box
New projects on hand
To save tiger population and its prey, a new project titled Bagh Activity, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was launched recently. The five-year project is designed to reduce wildlife trafficking and minimise human-tiger conflicts in the Sundarbans.
WildTeam, a Bangladesh-based organisation of tiger conservation activists, will implement the project with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution of the US and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies. It will also collaborate with national and international law enforcement agencies in keeping wildlife out of harm's way.
Interview of Dr Monirul H Khan
Dr Monirul H Khan has a PhD from the University of Cambridge on tigers of the Sundarbans. Currently he is working as a professor of Zoology in Jahangirnagar University. He is known as the foremost authority about Royal Bengal Tigers in Sundarban.
Are tigers numbers decreasing in the Sundarbans?
Yes, they are decreasing at an alarming rate. The problem is that large carnivore species like tigers naturally occur at low densities, which make them particularly susceptible to extirpation and extinction. At present, the only stable population of tigers is found in the Sundarbans, and they are isolated from the nearest human populations by about 300km of agricultural and urban land.
How many tigers are left in the Sundarbans?
First of all, we have to understand that tiger ranges vary in accordance with prey densities. There is no long-term work on the range size of the tigers in Bangladesh.
Some studies indicate that tigers are fairly evenly distributed throughout the Sundarbans at a density of about 1 per 10sqkm, but subsequent studies have suggested that there may be a density gradient, with numbers being highest in the south and lowest in the north. Based on camera-trap surveys, together with track counts, and in the light of prey densities, the tiger population is estimated to be lower, at around 220-230 tigers in the Bangladeshi part and another 65-70 in the Indian part.
What can we do to protect the Sundarbans?
Since the breeding peak of tigers is probably in winter, the season should remain uninterrupted. Unfortunately, winter is also the main harvest and tourist season when human disturbance is intense. I also suggest that some zones should be demarcated, and tourists should be allowed in only those areas. Controlled ecotourism should be developed so that both the government and the local people benefit financially.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kuakata: A Goldmine of Beauty

KM Ahasanul Huque

Patuakhali is a district under Barisal division in the South-western part of Bangladesh. The southern district is bounded by Barisal on the north, Bay of Bengal on the south, Bhola on the east and Barguna on the west.  The main tourist attraction in Patuakhali is the historical Kuakata sea beach. Called “the daughter of the sea”, this beach is the second largest tourist centre of the country and allows both a view of the sun rise and the sunset. The top places worthy of a visit are the Buddhist Temple, and the Mog and Chakma tribal villages.
Spotlight on Kuakata
Kuakata provides tourists with picturesque views and the promise of time well spent. Expect to find an abundance of natural beauty, a white sandy beach, blue skies and huge expanses of bay water. From the seashore, tourists can get a rare panoramic view of the sunrise and sunset. The beach has immense tourist potential as truth be told, the hidden beauty of Kuakata is still left unexplored.
With the majestic view of the Bay of Bengal on one side and the well-set columns of coconut groves and forests on the other, Kuakata is really an earthly paradise for tourists. Think endless lines of coconut trees that lightly dance in the breeze on one side, and scores of fishing trawlers anchored on another. The inexpressible beauty of the place is difficult to put into words.
Virgin beach
Kuakata can truly be called a virgin beach - a sanctuary for migratory winter birds, wild animals, betel nut and coconut trees and dry sandy beaches. Tourists can explore the traditional customs and costumes of "Rakhine" tribal families who are hardworking and active around the area.
Tourists can also visit the Buddhist Temple that is about a hundred years old. The temple tells tales of our ancient inheritance and multi-cultural heritage, which really is an object of both wonder and pleasure. Interestingly, Kuakata is the ultimate spot for religious pilgrimages for both Hindus and the Buddhists. Innumerable devotees arrive from far and near to visit during the traditional festival of Rush Purnima and Maghi Purnima. During these festivals they take holy baths and attend colourful traditional fairs that are held simultaneously to mark the occasions.
Getting to Kuakata
There is a partially smooth road between Dhaka and Patuakhali district headquarters, albeit marked with uneven pot holes. You can go via air or water to Barisal city. Afterwards you can travel to Kuakata or Patuakhali by air or water. If you're travelling from Dhaka you can reach Patuakhali by bus and from there you may take a microbus to Kuakata. It is, however, advisable to travel up to Patuakhali direct by launch, which is a pleasant, overnight journey, given that you take a luxury cabin. Instead of Patuakhali you can also go to Khepupara by launch, which is an overnight journey as well and from there you can go to Kuakata by microbus. A direct BRTC bus service is also available from Dhaka to Kuakata that leaves from Sayedabad bus terminal at night. It takes 12 hours to reach Kuakata if it's a nonstop trip. However, it might be a hectic bus journey as it involves two ferries.
The best season to travel to Kuakata is during winter. It's recommended that tourists meet the Rakhine tribal people to learn about their way of life. Various handicrafts made by them are also sold here for those interested in indulging in a light shopping session. The closest Rakhine villages are Misripara and Keranipara. Travellers may visit the 100 year old Buddhist temple at Keranipara called Seema Mandir, which is made of eight different metals.
Tourists can visit the Buddhist Temple about 4km off from Kuakata, where the statue of Goutom Buddha (the biggest in South Asia) and two 200 year old wells exist. The regional name of the well is "Kua" and "Kata," which is the local way of referring to the act of digging wells. This is how the name "Kuakata" came to be.
If you are adventurous you may also go fishing near the fishermen's village, where the fresh catch includes hilsa and other sea fishes. Nearby, there are a few local restaurants that serve fresh fish one must try on their visit.
From Kuakata there is scope to visit a fragment of the great Sundarban mangrove forest, called the Gangamoti Reserve Forest. It is a one hour speedboat ride away. Kuakata was once part of the Sundarban forest when the Rakhine community settled in that area in 1784, after being thrown out of Arakan in Myanmar by the Mughals. Basically, the Gangamati Reserve Forest is the additional part of the Sundarban forest in Bangladesh, and it also protects the coast of Kuakata against tidal surges. There are many types of trees and plants in this forest such as the keora, gewa, baen, kankra, goran, hetal, golpata and numbers of wild animals such as wild boars, deer, monkeys and different species of birds.
Gangamoti Lake and Fatrar Char are two other enchanting tourist places near Kuakata that must be visited to really enjoy the beauty and bounty of the place.

Striking features
No other place in Bangladesh can boast of such rare panoramic views of the sunset and the sunrise as Kuakata does.
Jhaubon is another very beautiful place at Kuakata and is close to the sea beach. It has been planted by the forest department for beautification as well as to protect against soil erosion. Jhaubon is surrounded by both Jhau and coconut trees. This place is also ideal if you want better views of the Kuakata sunrise. They also have an eco park that is an excellent spot for picnics. There are many types of trees and plants here as it's a safe haven of birds with over 42,000 plants. It also has two watch towers, five picnic sheds, a wooden bridge, culverts and internal walkways.
Shutki polli is another place tourists can visit. It is located 4km west from Kuakata beach. On the way to Lebur bon/Lebur chor one can visit shutki polli to explore the interesting ways in which shutki (dry fish) is made.
Narikel Bagan or the coconut garden, located east of the beach is also another spot tourists may be interested in. According to locals, the garden is on the verge of being destroyed and demands protective measures to help restore the natural state of the place.
The Kakra Beach or lobster beach is very clean and beautiful, with large litters of lobsters found running all over the beach.

There are several high end hotels, rest houses and holiday homes that you can stay at. The place also offers low priced accommodations from Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation. The corporation has constructed luxury holiday homes as well as other housing for tourists.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Monsters of Bangladesh

SteamPug Writers: Nusaira Amreen Hassan

Bangladesh has an assortment of monsters with fascinating back-stories. From the wetlands of Chalan Beel to the beaches of Bay of Bengal, the country is filled with tales of the supernatural.

Begho Bhoots of Sundarbans

Walking among the trees of the largest mangrove forest in the world, one would assume that the scariest entity one could encounter is the Royal Bengal Tiger. However, Sundarbans is not only home to one of the fiercest mammals to ever walk on the earth, it is also inhabited by the wretched souls of the people who were killed by these tigers. These vengeful spirits, known locally as “Begho Bhoots” are said to lead human beings to the same fate they themselves suffered by taking them to their deaths at the paws of the tigers.

According to the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, the “Begho Bhoots” lure unsuspecting people, who venture into the forest in search of honey or wood, by mimicking the roar or growls of the tigers, and then ensure that the people end up in the claws of the tiger. One of the most famous Begho Bhoots is rumored to be a Lady in White, who photobombs the pictures of tourists. While the story in itself could be a fabrication due to the advent and easily accessible photo-shop, the mangrove forests hold more than just a diverse collection of species of plants and animals. Given the dwindling number of Royal Bengal Tigers, the roars heard in the mangrove forests by visitors could very well be the Lady in White and her entourage of Begho Bhoots.

The Incomplete Lalbagh Fort

Over three-hundred years old, the rhapsodic building stands as the oldest establishment in an area already filled with ancient buildings. Although the visiting hours for Lalbagh Fort ends at dusk, the heritage site only comes alive at night, when the fidgety and talented spirit of Pari Bibi takes advantage of the dark to take the center stage and sing and dance. However, according to local legend, this female ghost has also made appearances during the day time in recent years. The nocturnal spirit, also known as Iran Dukht, was the daughter of the Subahdar, Shaista Khan.

Originally known as Aurangabad Fort, Lalbagh Fort was being built under the supervision of Subahdar Mohammad Azam Shah, when he was called back to Delhi by the king. His brother and Pari Bibi’s father, Shaista Khan succeeded him but could not manage to complete the building either. And while the building itself is a testament to the grandeur of Mughal architecture, Lalbag Fort was considered to be cursed as Pari Bibi died there, which led to her father abandoning the plans of its completion. And now, 332 years later (Pari Bibi died in 1684), the former Aurangabad Fort, which includes a mosque and the tombs of Pari Bibi and Diwan-i-Aam, is a major tourist attraction. And if the stars align, then Pari Bibi’s spirit may regale a lucky visitor or two with her singing and dancing performance.

The Cursed Boat of Kuakata Beach, Barisal

The sandy beach of Kuakata in Barisal lies between the pristine water of the Bay of Bengal and the dense forest of Gangamati, which holds deep, dark secrets, including a buried boat with hidden treasure. However, it is said that the ghosts of a man and his son jealously guard the boat and its contents.
Legend has it that years ago, the man and his son ventured into the forest in search of wood to be used as fuel. After rigorous toil, they were overcome with thirst and as is the custom, they decided to dig into the sand to look for a source of water. However, instead of being able to quench their thirst, the father-son duo discovered pieces of hard metal, which they deduced to be gold. Seized with the greed of gaining immense fortune, they dug deeper till they found a boat, laden with distorted gold coins. But unfortunately, their dreams of attaining great wealth remained unfulfilled as the corpses of the unfortunate man and his son were found in the next morning by the inhabitants of the surrounding village. Their deaths remain unexplained but it is believed that they were punished for trying to rob the doomed boat of its contents.
The accursed boat is still said to contain gold coins, but no one dares to go near it lest they should face come face to face with the thirsty pair of father and son.

The Djinns of Cholon Beel

Cholon Beel, spread across four different districts of Bangladesh, is not only famous for being the largest wetland in Bangladesh, it is also known for being haunted by entities known as djinns. The djinn is believed to be an entity belonging to a different realm that can easily take the physical form of any object or living thing, including a human being. According to beliefs, any kind of sweet smell or the odor of rotten flesh from an unknown source is the indication of the presence of Djinn.

The Foy’s Lake: The Shadowy Woman In Black

Foy’s lake, the largest man-made lake in the country, is surrounded by the hills of Chittagong. On one of the sides, towards the curve of the old hill, the area remains mostly void of any visitors, who dare not cross the path of the Woman In Black. The shadowy mysterious woman, dressed in all black, is a malevolent spirit who restlessly roams the grounds of Foy’s Lake, looking for people to attack. It is widely rumored that she drowned in the lake and came back from the dead to punish everyone who visits Foy’s Lake.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What Bangladesh can offer tourists

Tanveer Ahmed

If Robert Frost, the man who wrote "Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled by," was looking for a modern holiday destination, he may have considered a trip to Bangladesh.
There is a sense of status when travelling in Bangladesh, of a high place in the pecking order of intrepid travellers. In a world of cheap airfares and a plethora of resorts, those who dare to travel around Bangladesh are communicating that they shun the world of mass market packaged tourism. They are the rebels of the tourist trail.

The data analysis group Priceonomics, engaged by the World Bank, has studied statistics about numbers of tourists per head of population and found Bangladesh as the "least touristy" destination in the world. By this term, the group says Bangladesh and other countries in the top ten, such as Moldova, Sierra Leone or Papua New Guinea, are destinations where you are least likely to encounter tourists from other country.

It was this long realised trend that sparked a recent slogan for Bangladesh's tourism industry: "Visit Bangladesh, before the tourists come." The originator of that slogan, Geeteara Chowdhury, an entrepreneur who also owns a tea plantation in Sylhet, told The Guardian that the line came to her as she lazily walked the serene surrounds of Cox's Bazaar, the longest beach in the world, to find that there were very few people there. But she also lamented that, unfortunately, tourists are yet to visit the place.

An obvious market to tap is the Bangladeshi diaspora and it is exactly this group being targeted by Yasmin Chowdhury, a British woman of Bangladeshi origin. Having barely taken an interest in the birthplace of her parents, the death of her father a decade ago aroused a wish to reconnect with her heritage, which she did through her organisation, Love-Desh. It aims to help diaspora Bangladeshis travel to their ancestral home.

Interestingly, one of the biggest barriers she faces is the perception of people; but it's not the perceived notion or natural disaster, poverty or Islamist violence that she's talking about. The perceptions she has to fight are the childhood experiences of travelling in Bangladesh that her target market have, that of endless visits to relatives, being force fed mountains of food and sweets they didn't like and encountering unwanted marriage proposals. This has left an association of stifling boredom that detracts them from viewing the country as a tourist destination.

This is a shame, because the behaviour is at odds with a growing interest among the diaspora in reconnecting with their roots. They are more likely to channel this interest through sponsoring a child through an aid organisation or attending a protest about exploited labour in garment factories. They want to feel good about themselves via doing good.

In a world of hollowed out identities, particularly in the post-religious societies of the Western world, a key place for people to identify a sense of authenticity is their feelings. If there is one thing Bangladesh has, it is authenticity - of a rawness of human emotion and experience. I remember my own wife's evolving reaction when she visited my ancestral village in Jessore from recognising that the stares of locals towards her tall, Caucasian features was not in fact rude, but an expressions of their own curiosity, vulnerability and ultimately, affection.

While many Bangladeshis are embarrassed and tired of images of poverty and despair that is so often associated with the nation, an element of this - if channelled towards the urge of many Westerners to do good as part of them acquiring greater meaning in their lives - has the potential to attract travellers.

Mikey Leung, the author of a travel guide for Bangladesh who did aid work in Dhaka with his Australian wife, says target markets of expatriate foreigners living in Dhaka and latter generations of Bangladeshis living in the West are untapped markets. They may travel to Bangladesh in the same way they might consume other products - with a view to communicate their identity to the outside world.

Those who see themselves as rebels shunning modern materialism or wanting to exhibit their sense of moral stature by helping the downtrodden will naturally be attracted to Bangladesh as part of communicating their self-image.

During a government funded trip for international journalists in 2011, my colleagues and I were taken to the tea gardens in Sylhet, and the Cox's Bazaar beach by public sector officials. The foreign journalists were impressed by the natural beauty of the country, but also frustrated by the poor infrastructure, political turmoil-there was a day of hartal during our four day trip - and a lath of understanding of Western needs and comforts. These barriers are likely to improve only with greater numbers of tourists engaging and changing the operators.

 Tourism has the potential to modify some of Bangladesh's greatest challenges - an economy heavily dependent on remittances and garments, poor international perceptions and a greater people to people engagement with a large, wealthy diaspora. But the challenges remain profound.

The writer is a psychiatrist and author based in Australia, and founder of the website

Content shared from The Daily Star. 

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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
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