Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making Rainbows in a Glass – Seven-layer Tea in Bangladesh

Vicky Baker

One of Heston Blumenthal’s most famous Fat Duck concoctions is a cup of tea that stays piping hot on one side of the cup and stone cold on the other. Yet, far from green and pleasant Berkshire, in a humble roadside tea cabin in rural Bangladesh, there’s another culinary alchemist working his magic – without any of the cutting-edge food technology afforded Heston.

Romesh Ram Gour, from Srimongol in the county’s north-east Sylhet region, has become a local legend as the inventor of a multi-layer tea.

For him, it’s not about the combination of different temperatures, but different colours and flavours. He manages to get seven of them (sometimes even 10) in one glass (around £1), all lining up like a dusky rainbow. Each sip delivers a different taste, from syrupy sweet to spicy cloves.

Nilkantha Tea Cabin in Srimongol.
 Nilkantha Tea Cabin in Srimongol. Photograph: Alamy
The best thing about visiting the tearoom – which is, essentially, a very basic, open-fronted kiosk – was the buzz of excitement. The walls were lined with newspaper clippings about the “secret recipe” and people come from far and wide to meet Gour, an unassuming man who seems somewhat baffled by all the attention he and his tea attracts.

It’s rumoured that a major Bollywood star once offered to fly Gour to India and pay him handsomely if he’d create the tea for his wedding guests. Gour declined, just as he also refused to expand his business across the country or internationally. I asked him if he ever regretted this. “What for?” he shrugged. “For money? A bigger TV? I’m happy with life as it is.”

Shared from The Guardian

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Guide to Packing like a Pro for Trips

Subah Shaheen

Prepping for trips can be quite confusing; regardless of how many vacations you have had or how many times you have gone over ‘efficient packing’ tutorials, you will either end up being that person who borrows from others, or someone who ends up complaining about not using half their luggage. No worries though, for that is about to change! With the following tips, you can quite certainly pack like a pro, and be the entirely self sufficient smart traveler you’ve longed to become. Of course, your destination and your plans when you get there, are to influence your packing, so I’ll break it down accordingly.

The Very Basics
These commodities apply whether one is going for a fun weekend with friends, or for a big international adventure. The globetrotter should always carry hand sanitizer, tissue paper, a portable charger or a good old fashioned one, spare cash in different denominations, general medication, sunglasses and case, sunscreen, umbrella, headphones, electric converters or adapters, and a small bottle of emergency water. Additional toiletry items such as toothbrush and toothpaste, perfume/cologne, cream, comb, hair bands, soap, shampoo, towel, and scissors, are a must as well. Needless to say, your laptop and phone are essentials everywhere.

The Big Event Trip
Ex-roommate’s destination wedding or a family retreat to celebrate the grandparents’ anniversary, when you have a big event to celebrate, your packing needs to reflect that. Let’s first start with the clothes; count the number of events you’ll have and really, plan out your wardrobe before packing, and keep an extra set for emergencies of course. Packing a sewing kit would be a smart move. Accessories, shaving cream and razors, hair products, hair dryer, and makeup, are important to bring out the best in you on your loved one’s special day. While the event might be the highlight, there will be several bonding opportunities for you and your fellow travelers, so take with you some suitable movies and games. Also, travelling with a big group means adjustments and compromises, so take something to help you handle it; sleeping pills or chocolate, whatever helps you relax better is an important part of the luggage.

Away For Some Alone Time
As the name suggests, this trip is for those times when you need a break. A real break, to rewind and rejuvenate. Take whatever gives you inner peace; your guitar, some promising books, a typewriter, a canvass and your coloring set, a long playlist of all your favorite tracks, or maybe just an empty album you want to fill with pictures of new adventures. If you haven’t got everything planned out, make sure to take some relevant apps that will help you, such as apps for transportation, maps, hotels, sightseeing suggestions etc.

For All International Trips
Passport, tickets, other relevant IDs, travel documents, and a pen, should be in your carryon bag. Also, carry emergency contact numbers and guide books to give you a strong sense of bearing in the unfamiliar place. Lastly, keep in mind the airport luggage rules; there is nothing as cumbersome as having to get your bag checked every time, so make sure you are not packing anything in the carryon bag that sets off detectors.
The above list should ensure that you have no luggage related mishaps on your trip. The most basic thing to pack are one’s clothes, so try to iron the ones you want to take and fold them neatly in an organized manner, in order to quickly find what you want later.  It’s best to pack a little in advance so that your brain can subsequently absorb it all in, and if new ideas for the trip do spring up, you can pack up for that as well. 

A trip worth leaving an unhealthy habit?

Tarek Musanna

As much as people might want to wander around, explore the unknown, and experience new things, the sad reality is that not everyone gets the chance to travel, at least not as much as they would like, mostly because travelling can be quite expensive. But, if you really are as adventurous as you claim to be, there are ways you can save up for that day out or the weekend gateway you wanted. Tiger Tours BD is offering a range of affordable packages to ensure the most fulfilling travelling experience for you, chances to add some points to your life’s resume, and of course, an opportunity for you to think over some rather unwise life decisions on your part and maybe, turn them over.

For the Riverine Folks
The rainy season is here; the roads are flooding and the rain keeps drenching you at the worst of times. It might be absolutely terrible to be in Dhaka at this time, but this is also the time when the rivers of this beautiful country bloom the most! Tiger Tours is offering you a package to navigate through the amazing southern water of Barishal, a package that happens to include the amazing opportunity of night cruising with paddle steamers. During the day, there are gorgeous sites to visit - Halima Manzil, Guthia Mosque, Durga Sagor Dighi, the estate of Kirtipasa Zaminder, etc. And all the delicious fried fish that you’re going to have the chance to try, is perhaps going to be better than the high-end restaurants’ dishes you chomp on, while you’re in the capital.

For the Busy Souls 
If you’re not willing to go through the hassle of a longer trip, how about settle for a one day trip? Exploring the remains of an ancient trade center idea might seem enticing for caged travel junkies, looking for a break. This 12 hour trip would consist of visiting the Mograpara Palace, Panam City, Grand Trunk Road, and Mughal Bridge, and then you could possibly see what the Folk Arts & Crafts Museum has to offer. You’re about to conjure up a lots of photos for #ThrowbackThursday or #FlashbackFriday. Away from the city and its junk food, along with getting a folder of great pictures. Not bad of a deal, eh?

For the Nature Lovers
If you’re particularly interested in reconnecting with Mother Nature, or making up for a week worth of legwork at the gym, Tiger Tour offers both the serenity of the north eastern borders and the splendor of the southern hills. These 3-4 day trips would immerse you into scenic views that you would never be able to forget. The northern trip is an overview of Sylhet, visiting Sangram Punji, Ali Azmat Clock, Keane Birdge, Sari River, Jantia Palace, and of course, mandatory visits to tea gardens, exploring the Lawachara National Park, Lalakhal and Jaflong. On the other hand, the southern trip to Bandarban offers an intense experience of some of the tallest places of Bangladesh through Nilachal, Meghla, Ruma Bazar, Golden temple, and trekking to Boga Lake.

All the trips mentioned above can be both hard on your body and wallet. So we suggest you start building up your stamina by working out beforehand; walk instead of taking the rickshaw for a kilometer commute, or take the bus instead of CNG for a while. Skip all types of outdoor dining. Maybe try quitting smoking, and save both your money and your body that day. Being healthy and fit enough to travel, is obviously very vital, and as hard as leaving an old habit could be, the satisfaction of completely enjoying yourself during that long-awaited trip, is going to be worth it.

The 10 Most Beautiful Towns In Bangladesh

Sarine Arslanian

Bangladesh is a country with abundant nature, from beaches to forests and waterfalls, coupled with rich culture and history. While taking a trip through its beauty, don’t miss a visit to these 10 charming towns.

Cox’s Bazar | © Ziaul Hoque/Wikimedia Commons

Cox’s Bazar

Located in Chittagong Division, Cox’s Bazar, sometimes referred to as Panowa, is a beautiful seaside town with the longest unbroken sandy beach not just in the country, but in the world. The 75 miles of stunning beach is the main reason that Cox’s Bazar is one of the most famous tourist hot spots in Bangladesh. But there is more to this beautiful fishing town. Aggmeda Khyang is a magnificent Buddhist monastery that tourists can visit. Beautiful local handicrafts and homemade cigars are also a specialty to look out for here from local sellers.

Sonargaon | © Nasir Khan Saikat/WikiCommons


Located relatively close to the current capital city, about 18 miles away, Sonargaon is a former capital of Bangladesh. Different dynastic rulers have contributed to making it a fascinating city, its rich history is reflected in Sonargaon’s historical architecture and culture. Sonargaon is also home to stunning gardens, a great folk arts and crafts museum and the royal palace and is well worth an afternoon’s strolling.

Bogra | © Khan Tanvir/WikiCommons


Located in Rajshahi Division, Bogra is one of the oldest and most fascinating towns in Bangladesh. Its many popular attractions bring both foreign and domestic visitors here in ever-increasing numbers. The most interesting place to visit is the ancient archaeological site which dates back to the 3rd century, and is known under the name of Mahasthangarh. The remaining sites are mainly Buddhist, however there are some Hindu and Muslim ones too. Bogra also has a stunning temple and palace to visit too.

Dhaka | © Ellywa/WikiCommons


A visit to Bangladesh would not be complete without a visit to the cultural, economic, and academic hub of the country: Dhaka, the capital city. It is the center of almost everything going on in Bangladesh, and city’s must-visits include the national memorial, the parliament house, the Pink palace, the Lalbag fort, the Balgha gardens, the Hatir Jheel lake and the Maynamati ruins.

Mymensingh | © SuSanA Secretariat/Flickr


Mymensingh is a stunning city with 200 years of political history and culture. Located by the beautiful Brahmaputa river, Mymensingh offers a range of cultural, historical and natural sites of interest, and some great picnic spots too. Visitors can stroll around the Orchid or Strawberry gardens, head to the adventure park in Gajani, visit historic Jalchhatra oe enjoy a boat ride on the river. The city is also where the renowned handcrafted Nakshikantha, a Bengali quiet, is made.

Sylhet | © Faisal Akram/WikiCommons


Sylhet is located along the banks of the Surma River. As one of the most affluent and easily accessible places in Bangladesh, Sylhet attracts a constant flow of visitors coming to enjoy the city’s beautiful natural landscapes including hills, rivers, lakes, tea gardens, rain forest and waterfalls, that surround its pleasant urban areas.


Khulna is the third-largest city in Bangladesh, located close to Chittagong and Dhaka and providing access to the renowned Sundarbans; the biggest mangrove forest in the world; the home of the beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger. Khulna also has one of the oldest ports of the country which travelers can also visit.

Puthia Mandirs, Rajshahi Division | © Paurag/WikiCommons


Rajshahi is now more of an education and tourism hub, but back in the day, it used to be an important center for silk production, sold all around the world. Visitors still come to Rajshahi, to head to the many state bazaars to buy beautiful silk fabrics today. Rajshahi’s climate is also perfect for growing certain types of fruits, meaning that visitors can indulge in fragrant mangoes and lychees while they are traveling around the city.


Paharpur is a small village, close to the Jamalganj train station, where the remains of an important Buddhist monastery has been excavated. Dating back to the 8th century, this ancient monastery called Somapura Mahavihara spans 27 acres of land and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An on-site museum also displays a collection of objects to give visitors a better picture of what life was like in the early days.

Bandarban | © Aditya Kabir/WikiCommons


Bandarban is one of the prettiest places in the whole of Bangladesh and is easily accessible from any big city. The lake and waterfall next to it give it a real feeling of serenity. In addition to these stunning natural landscapes, there are numerous Buddhist temples around town. The most important of these is the Buddha Dhatu Jadi, where you’ll find the second biggest Buddha statue in the country.

Shared from The Culture Trip

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five Renowned Sacred Mazars in Bangladesh

Sakib Khondoker

‘Religion’ is one of the key pillars that people tend to stand on; it gives us a path, a way towards ultimate contentment. But, how much do we know about?

Let’s have a look at the five most renowned mazars in Bangladesh, and why it is of utmost importance to visit them, at least once, irrespective of our religious diversities.

Tomb of Hazrat Shah Paran
Having played a significant role in propagating Islam and establishing Muslim rule in the Sylhet region, Hazrat Shah Paran had been exceedingly well-regarded. Born in Hadramaut, he was the nephew of Hazrat Shah Jalal. It is unclear as to how and when he died, but he is buried near his khanqah. His grave is located in a high hillock and is carefully preserved in a place built with bricks and surrounded by walls. On the northern side of the grave, there is an old tree named Asha-gachh (a tree of hopes), the branches and branchlets of which are extended above the entire tomb. There is an ancient mosque by the side of the tomb, which had been modernized in the early 90s. About 1500 devout Muslims can now say their prayers there.

Place: Sylhet

Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal
This fascinating and atmospheric shrine of the revered 14th-century Sufi saint Shah Jalal, is one of Bangladesh's biggest pilgrimage sites. Housing a mosque and the main tomb, the complex is accessed through an open staircase from the East Darga gate entrance. Shah Jalal’s tomb is covered with rich brocade, and the space around it is illuminated with candles in the evenings, lending a magical feel. Non-Muslims can enter; however there are certain dress codes that are needed to be maintained, and shoes need to be removed before entering. You can also walk around the hillside graveyard behind the shrine, dotted with tombs.

Place: Sylhet

Tomb of Hazrat Golap Shah
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Gulistan, one of the busiest intersections of the city, a small, beautifully decorated shrine known as the Golap Shah Mazar, catches the eyes of pedestrians and commuters passing the area.

For thousands of followers of Golap Shah, the century-old shrine with all its serenity and spiritual ambience, is a place for praying and paying respect to the spiritual leader. But very few people know the actual history of the shrine.

Situated in Gulistan, Dhaka, this is one of the most visited mazars and anyone not having visited it, well, should.

Place: Dhaka

Tomb of Konya Shah
Adjacent to the main tomb complex of Shah Paran, found in the East of Sylhet, is another tomb visited by worshipers, which is of Konya Shah. Legend has it, that this follower of the great saints was neither man nor woman. There is a permanent exhibition of the life of this saint; contemporary paintings and pictures featured at the exhibition depict a person most likely to be a eunuch. Though the original conquerors earned a prominent role in Islamic history, main stream Islam shuns the idea of worshiping saints. A road bridge over the Surma River, a passenger ferry, and a hall of residence at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, have all been named after Shah Paran.

Place: Sylhet

Shrine of Bayazid Bostami

Residing in Chittagong, the shrine area, as a complex, consists of a tomb surrounded by a brick structure, along with an old mosque and a large pond. The whole complex is located on a hillock of Nasirabad, considered to be a holy place and attracts a large number of visitors and pilgrims daily. The tomb and the sarcophagus it houses, were originally discovered in 1831. This shrine is much different from all the aforementioned shrines; numerous myths and mysteries circulate around it.

Place: Chittagong

Relive the history for yourselves, of the five most sacred mazars in Bangladesh; hop on Tiger Travels Limited and make it a tour worth remembering. 

8 different Iftars, 1 Bangladesh

Sumaiya Tasnim

Ramadan, for Muslims around the world, is considered to be a month of forgiveness, love, and patience. As Ramadan is getting closer by the day, there seems to be an increasing anticipation of what this year’s Iftar feastings will bring forth. In Bangladesh, after a day of fasting, we do tend to go a tad bit overboard with all that food, with eight different divisions exhibiting their own unique styles of preparing Iftar.

Barisal: The diary of Sujabad
Zerin Ahmed, a sophomore in a private university, has always spent the last weeks of Ramadan at her grandparents’, an ongoing tradition that requires the entire family to come together and bond. For Iftar, following the usual khejurs, piyaju, and daal puri, they tend to eat a bowl or two of some chira and curd mixed together; it is thought to help the body with proper digestion.
Hotel Grand Park arranges Iftar with a variety of dishes, which have gained a lot of popularity over the years. Just remember to stop yourself from binging too much.

From Chittagong, with Love
Best known for their seafood delicacies, Chittagong has its own style of making Iftar. Shammi Kebab, Beef Shaslik, Chana Bhuna, Piaju, Jilapi, and the likes, are considered to be the crowd favourite, but prawn fries dipped in a spicy batter, seems to always win the race.
Chittagong Gooners, Handi, Peninsula Hotel, and several other places, organize their Iftars with delicious dishes.

Dhaka: The Heart of Bangladesh
Dhaka, the capital of our country, seems to be full of innovative ideas in preparation for Ramadan. During that period of time, people tend to look out for the different offers and discounts, which a lot of restaurants tend to give out. Places like Old Dhaka and Chawkbazar seem to start a food rage, as early as three in the afternoon during Ramadan. Many kinds of khejurs, along with numerous recipes of Haleem, are willing to create a party for your taste buds. If invited to a family gathering, jilapis, different flavours of yogurt, or even fruit juices could pose to be the perfect gift.

Delicious Khulna
Street food seems to create all the hype in Khulna, starting from the vendors who sell fried dishes like piyaju, to the ones who sell juices and fruits.
Shawarma House, Café Mariot, CityLight Café and Restaurant, are also very popular spots for Iftar feasts.

Mymensingh and You
Mymensingh, popular for the hill tracts and tourists’ spots, brings about a different side when it comes to Iftar items. Along with the other kebabs, the Gurda kebab and jaali kebab, are two of the most popular Iftar dishes.

Mangolicious Rajshahi
Rajshahi is famous for the varieties of mangos available in the region, and using them, people make mango yogurt, mango smoothies, aam makha, and the list goes on, all of which are served during Iftar time.

Rangpur and Potatoes
Potatoes always steal the show in Rangpur, when it comes to Iftar. It could be incorporated into the menu as simple fries, or as a sidekick to other dishes, but as far as potatoes are concerned, let’s just say Robin sometimes outshines Batman.

Sylhet: Not Just About Tea
Sylhet’s Iftar delicacies are almost as refined as their tea. Modina Bazaar, Ambar Khana, and other such places, provide saucy chicken lollipops, jhal aloor chop, and boot bhajha as delicious Iftar items, and of course, tea is offered as a part of post-Iftar adda!

If you happen to be a foodie who also likes to travel, then “Tiger Tours Limited” is something that you could consider; they are a small group of people from all across the world, committed to the development of sustainable tourism in Bangladesh, in order to strengthen homegrown programs for social and economic development of this young country.

On that note, here’s hoping this Ramadan will be an amazing one! Let us love and learn to empathise!

Fruit Talk

Marzan Jamia

Contrary to the ruthless summer heat, the cool and delicious bursts of flavors from seasonal fruits is what makes Bangladesh feel like it’s nothing short of being a paradise. Being a subtropical country favorable to agriculture, farmers grow all kinds of fruits, starting from Jackfruits, our national fruit, to mangoes, pineapples, litchis, watermelons, bananas, grapes, papayas, and many, many others. Now, homegrown strawberries and blueberries seem to always end up in our shopping carts when we’re out for a fruit run, as well.

The sweet and thirst quenching coconut water, mainly harvested in the floodplain of the rural landscape of the Meghna river, tends to save lives, protecting people from heat strokes, and the likes of dehydration. Geographically being riverine, Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Titas, and all other rivers together, make Bangladesh the ultimate fruit haven, under the scorching sun of summer.

From children to grown-ups, there are very few people who might resist chomping on fruits, despite their very temping aroma. Fruits are indulged also in the form of smoothies and fancy dishes, for example, in the form of the famous mango sticky rice, originally a part of the Thai cuisine.  Speaking of mangoes, the fruit is not just enjoyed during summer but consumed all year round, and even imported to our neighboring countries.
The rainbow adornment of the fruit market is also due to local fruits such as litchi, jackfruit, and of course, watermelons, a big source of which is the Badamtoli Ghat. If the place is visited, people can see boats full of watermelons ready to make the journey to the other side of the river; it is a sight worthy of being captured and documented, as a memoir, in their travel journals.

Farming in Bangladesh is no longer limited to rural men in their loincloths, toiling for a decent meal. It’s a profession that people have grown to respect, understanding the sheer importance of it. Strawberries, which used to be only available for people who could afford to travel to a place where they were grown, are now cultivated in places like Tangail; all because much research and thought has been put into the expansion of agriculture in our country. Home grown strawberries are being imported abroad, while people in the country drool over the delicious strawberry bhortas.

These fruits are coming to us from all over the country, but unfortunately, by the time they reach us, these beautiful tales of nurturing and hard work, gets coated by a thick layer of chemicals like formalin. So, here’s an idea, why don’t you take a trip down to these scenic places and grab the fruits yourself? Before any sort of adulteration has managed to steal away its nutrients?

Through Tiger Tours Limited, unlock the beauty of Bangladesh with trips that not only promise safety, but guarantee tons of fun, and memories to be cherished for a lifetime; they promise you a perfect summer if you’re willing to find it. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ramadan and a Trip

Shunanda Sharmin Niloy

Travelling in the scorching heat of Bangladesh’s summer, that too while some of you are fasting, may not seem like an appealing idea to the bunch of you, but with the right destination, and extremely convenient transportation services provided by Tiger Tours Limited, the trip could turn out to be amazing.  Here is a list of places worth giving a shot:

Panam Nagar

The Nagar, with a mix of Eastern and European architectural influences, will bewitch you with its antique outlook. It’s a place replete with monuments, where numerous ancient buildings stand, radiating their historical aura. A visitor would be able to easily find spots on site, to rest for a few minutes without getting burned by the direct sunlight, so that’s a plus. Besides, this place is close to other great places like Sonargaon, so two birds, one stone folks.


Sonargaon has an eloquently rich share of historical monuments, in Dhaka, within its territory. One can find Boro Shordarbari, Chhoto Shordarbari, Grand Mosque, Takshal, Lokshilpo Museusm, and many more places to visit in Sonargaon. The Lokshilpo Museum has a magnificent collection of Bengali Jamdani Sarees, beautiful and traditional.

Am ample number of restaurants available in the surrounding area of the place is a cherry on top for travelers. Tiger Tours Limited also provides tour guides, well trained and helpful, in order to lead them with the lantern of a proper plan; all the more to gain.

Tara Mosque 

Stamped on the Bangladeshi 100 Taka bill, the image of Tara Mosque is something your subconscious mind notices almost every day. Built in the 19th century, the mosque has the incorporation of Chini Tikri, a Chinese broken tile pattern with blue star mosaic designs, found on the floors and walls of the mosque, giving it the name it has now. 

Make sure to be hydrated so that the heat fails to get the best of you, and also, take breaks once in a while, which shouldn’t be a problem, because with a tour guide, getting around these places becomes almost too easy. 

Escape the hustle bustle of the city, and visit these sites. With Tiger Tours Limited, the trip is hardly going to be anything but refreshing. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sweet enough?

Tim Steel

Sugar and Bangladesh have a long history

Sweet enough?

Histories of sugar, published by both historians and commercial interests, usually seem to commence with a fascinating leap of imagination.

“It is not known where sugar originated, but it is thought to have first been used in the Polynesian Islands of the Pacific Ocean over 5,000 years ago,” goes the first line of many such commentaries.
A subsequent line, phrased one way or another, however, describes that leap: “Sugar was then taken to the coastal areas of India. In 510 BCE Darius, the Persian Emperor, arrived to conquer the Indian sub-continent and found that the people used a substance from a plant to sweeten food.”

It appears from such commentary that, sometime between about 3000BCE and 500BCE, sugar was transformed into a commercial interest, sufficient to compensate, at least in part, Darius for his invasion; an early form of reparation, perhaps?

So, commentary on the history of this invaluable and still highly profitable commercial product, in passing, would appear to lend credence to those who suspect very ancient, prehistoric, connections between, especially, the east coast of the subcontinent, and international seafaring.

A connection supported by the DNA studies of “indigenous” inhabitants of northern Australia, that suggest linkages, millennia old, to the sub-continent; and that the closest relation to Australia’s famous dingo dog being the Indian dog.

The tales in the second millennium BCE, Mahabharata, of the voyages from, evidently, the lands around the Ganges delta, the lands of today’s Bangladesh, in ocean-going vessels capable of carrying hundreds, appears to further endorse possibilities of such ancient connections, and ocean-going potential.

However, there is no great, or real, evidence in archaeology of any pre-historic human habitation of Polynesia, and certainly nothing to compare with either such evidence of human habitation or domestic agricultural activity, for example, in the very fertile Ganges basin and deltaic lands, of which there is evidence of over tens of thousands of years. Nor is there any evidence of great fertile lands within the islands for the domestication of what was, presumably, originally an indigenous plant.

Which might, in itself raise other questions about the true origins of the cultivation of sugar, from some more prolific, naturally occurring, source.

Certainly, whilst extravagant claims are made for such origins, including South America, all documentary, archaeological, and empirical evidence, in fact, points to the Indian sub-continent. And given the continuing success of such cultivation in the extraordinarily fertile lands of the Ganges delta, and the agricultural cultivation that can be traced back as far as, for example, domesticated rice over 12 millennia ago, as with so many other staple crop plants, fruits, and flowers — the lands of Bangladesh would certainly have a strong claim to possible, even probable, origin.

Whilst there is evidence of sugar eventually becoming a valuable, commercial commodity in Europe, the route by which it reached that developing market is said to have been Arab incursions into the sub-continent as early as the seventh century BCE by the Achaemenid Empire.

However, since we are familiar with the interesting trades possible in the sub-continent, bringing traders from across the known world to the Ganges delta from at least the middle of that last millennium BCE, it appears far more likely that it was merchants, rather than soldiers, who spread such sweetness across a wider world, replacing honey for culinary purposes.

Following, it is said, close to a thousand years later, the seventh century CE/AD invasion of Persia by Muslim forces that created the Umayyad Caliphate, both military might and trade, widened the availability. In the ensuing century, the Caliphate spread itself across much of the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Europe; bearing, no doubt, the gift of sugar.

It may be of more than passing interest that there is substantial, and increasing evidence, from such sites in Bangladesh as Wari Bateshwar, Mahasthanghar, Egarosindhur, and even sixth century CE/AD Bhitaghar, of centres of international trade dating from that earlier period, not least silver punch mark coins, which represent clear evidence of trade, more sophisticated than that of earlier barter trade.
Much of the commentary of ancient history, these days, tends to focus on military incursion and conquest. In the light of what we increasingly know about unquestionably the earliest of the famous “Silk Road” international trade routes, especially the earliest of all, the Southern Silk Road between China and the lands of Bangladesh, we might reasonably wonder if such international trade was not carried out more in a  friendly trading fashion, along the ancient highways of seas and rivers, than through violence?

Through the Arab linkages, sugar cane and the use of sugar in the diet spread across the developing world, being taken to much of the middle East and the lands around the Mediterranean, but it may have taken a little longer to reach into countries of northern Europe.

In Britain, for example, it is believed that sugar was first introduced by crusaders returning from the “First Crusade,” at the end of the 11th century, though we may well wonder whether the Romans, who were certainly aware of its pleasing quality, or even the Vikings — famous not only for the colonisation of much of Britain from the later part of the first millennium CE/AD, but also for their trading connections as far as the Black Sea — may well, also, have enjoyed its use as an expensive substitute for honey.

The household of King Henry lll of England, we know, from court records of 1264, used sugar, and it was certainly in more general use in Britain by the early 14th century.

It was expensive, the more so because, of course, it was rapidly recognised as a source of revenue, from taxation.

Columbus is credited with carrying the crop to the Americas, having collected plants from the Balearic Islands, during a stopover in his famous voyage, for, it is thought, a flirtation with the islands’ first female governor.

There can be little doubt that the East India Company also became one of those responsible for the greater, worldwide development of the crop; transporting it across the Atlantic for faster and safer availability,  because of the increasing globalisation of, especially, seaborne conflict. As a result, its importance in their trades with the east diminished.

Today, overuse of sugar has acquired much criticism from health professionals, and there is little doubt that such criticism is, in fact, justified. The “home nations” as we might describe those, such as Bangladesh, who were not only the probable origin, but also, still, major producers and per capita consumers of cane sugar, are also sadly at the leading edge of the diabetic and other consequences of over consumption.

Those ill effects, however, were noted in other ways long ago. By 1750, production of sugar had become, for Britain, the world’s greatest trading nation, the “go-to” route to wealth for English merchants and gentry.

There were already, at that time, 120 British refining factories in the West Indies, producing 30,000 tons of refined sugar, which was heavily taxed, producing, by 1815, about £3 million in revenue, much needed for continuing to prosecute its global colonisations and maritime warfare. But its economic benefits, just as today, stretched a long way through society, including practitioners of dentistry.

In 1785, when Thomas Berdmore, formerly dentist to King George lll and author of one of Britain’s earliest works on the subject, “A treatise on the disorders and deformities of teeth and gums,” died, he instructed that his monument should note that his fortune was made by tooth drawing. His family, with a little more discretion, noted on the monument, “Who acquired a liberal and ample fortune by the profession of dentist.”

There is no doubt at all that the absence of tooth care, and the ever increasing indulgence in sugar, especially after the 1874 abolition of sugar tax by Gladstone, had, from the Middle Ages, been a major contributor to the painful condition of tooth decay for which there is evidence reaching back, now, for at least a thousand years.

And, even today, around the world, politicians wrestle, even more ineffectively than their dealing with the health effects of tobacco, to reduce a continuing consequence to health, economy, and even life, of over indulgence with such a naturally produced treat for the taste buds.

Fascinating to consider just how much the social and economic history of sugar, with its entirely possible origins in the Ganges basin, and deltaic lands have affected both today’s nation and people of Bangladesh, and like so many other naturally produced treasures of the land, including rice, cotton, jute, and even saltpetre, even its history and heritage.

There can be little doubt that sugar was amongst the traded goods from this, one of the world’s earliest centres of international trade. Not least, we either know, or suspect, because of the worldwide development of demand and the readiness throughout thousands of years of commercial organisations to exploit the benefits of such trade, to these lands, its peoples, and its rulers.

Regardless of the price to be paid by so many, from labourers in field, factories, refining plants, and shops, amongst others.

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My big fat Bangladeshi wedding

Faisal Mahmud

Bangladeshi marriages are anything but simple.

As a predominantly Muslim country, marriages in Bangladesh should have been simpler as Islamic rituals require that the burden on bride’s family be easy. But Bangladeshi marriages are anything but simple. Marriages here are known for their extravagance. A lot of money and effort are put through to organise food, decorate the venues, and sometimes, a celebrity presence to show off the affluence of the families.

Interestingly, marriages in Semitic religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism are basically holy bonds tightened under some holistic rituals. In these religions, marriage is probably the only ceremony where different religious functions are held at the center stage and are primary. The rest – feeding guests, cultural programmes and all other things are secondary.

From time immemorial, marriage has been considered a ‘celebration', not only for the bride and groom but also for near and dear ones. And its celebratory face, marked by rich cultural rituals and joyous programmes, somehow manage to supersede the religious spirit at times.

A typical Bangladeshi wedding is a testament to that – at least in two areas…

Bride’s price or groom’s dowry?

For long, Bangladeshi weddings have been associated with dowry, especially in the rural region. In urban areas, dowry still plays a major part only in guise of sophisticated negotiations between the two parties. Unfortunately, here the dowry is needed to be paid by the bride’s side and this custom of giving dowry is not part of Islam.

In fact, it is a practice which has never been sanctioned by Islam and is not prevalent amongst Muslims of other cultures, except for in the sub continent. It seems to be in imitation of ancient Hindu culture (as almost all sub continental Muslims are basically converted Hindus) in which daughters were not given any share in the family property, but were given payments, part of which might be in the form of household goods, as a measure of compensation. Islam however granted daughters some share in their family property and inheritance.

A 'bride-price' is either an amount of money, goods or possessions given to the bride by the bride's family at the time of her marriage, in order to attract a good husband for her. It would, in effect, become the property of the husband or his family upon his marrying her. This is a totally un-Islamic practice. In Islam, women are not 'owned' by their families and should not be 'traded with' in this manner.

Meanwhile, ‘dowry’ is not the appropriate translation of the word ‘Mahr', and this particular word has been a thing of misconception in Bangladesh. Islamic law commands a groom to give the bride a gift called a ‘Mahr’ prior to the consummation of the marriage. A Mahr differs from the standard meaning of bride price in that it is not to the family of the bride, but to the wife to keep for herself. Islamic law considers it haram for a husband, the groom's family or the bride's family to take the ‘Mahr’ of the bride without her willful decision.

Unfortunately, most of the Muslim families in Bangladesh somehow take it lightly or don’t try to understand the essence of it. In some cases, just to show affluence, a big ‘Mahr’ is fixed which is not being paid by the groom or groom’s family to the bride before the wedding.

Who’s paying for what?

Another area where a typical Bangladeshi Muslim wedding deters from an ‘Islamic wedding’, is the arrangement of programmes. In the first era of Islam, marriage was a simple affair, without pomp or ceremony. Any expenditure incurred in its performance was quite minimal, and not a burden on either family.

Nowadays, much difficulty and hardship can be caused by the enormous wedding feasts and celebrations which bring a most unreasonable financial burden on the families concerned. Financially crippling celebrations are totally in opposition to the spirit of Islam, and are not necessary.

Islamic laws and rituals said that a bride’s family doesn’t need to spend any big amount or need to arrange any stupendous programmes. As marriage is basically a sad occasion for the bride’s family, since they are giving away a family member forever, the bride’s family is exempt from financial losses.

On the other hand, groom’s family is getting a new member and they need to announce the arrival of this new member through arranging a programme and feeding their near and dear ones. That programme is called ‘Walima’, bearing the financial burden for arranging that lies onto the family of groom.

In Bangladesh however, a bride’s family usually needs to go through a series of financial burden. First, they need to spend a good amount of money when the groom’s family members first come to see the bride officially for the first time (be it an arranged marriage or a love marriage). Then the bride’s family needs to spend another big amount on the occasion of ‘engagement’ if that didn’t happen during the first visit.

Nowadays, ‘Akdt’ (the actual marriage) and the marriage ceremony (Nikah) take place in two separate programmes. Nonetheless, the ‘Akdt’ itself is another big programme and the bride’s family usually bears the financial cost of it. Then come two other programmes, ‘Gaye Holud’ and the marriage ceremony. Again, it’s the bride’s family who pays for those. Lastly, there is another programme called ‘Firani’ where the groom (after walima, groom stays at bride’s house for some days) and brides are officially taken back from the bride's house for a day or two.

The groom’s family usually arranges two programmes: one is ‘Gaye Holud’ (for the groom) and the ‘Walima'. So in a Bangladeshi Muslim wedding, the bride’s family needs to pay for six programmes, whereas the groom’s one needs to pay for two.

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