Sunday, February 28, 2010


‘Up that hill’, the farmer said, seated amongst his smiling sons, ‘is the King of England’s Hole’. He nodded to where the tree growth thickened towards the forested ridge of the hill line above us.

Well, what kind of traveler can ignore such a gem of local information? We scrambled across rice fields, an unsurfaced roadway, and up the steep slope, guided by laughing, happy boys, and even the farmer himself taking a proprietorial interest in our concern. Near the ‘hole’ we found another man and his family, making chairs. He, it was, who took charge of our expedition, and led the way down a small slope to the edge of a greatly overgrown pit.

‘It goes right through the hill’, he said, earnestly, ‘and all the way to Myanmar’. That it could run the 20 or so km to the Myanmar border, including going beneath the great ,wide expanse of the Naf River, seemed impossible. But the farmer’s nod of agreement made it clear it was what the local people believe, and who is going down to disprove it any time soon? The wildlife and deadly snakes with an affection for such caves would deter all but the bravest!

That it should be known as the King of England’s Hole clearly suggests that, whether it is a natural cave, or sink hole in the shale/limestone rock, it was almost certainly used as an ammunition store by the Allied forces on this frontier in World War 2.

Further along the beach, beyond the evocative Elephant Point, above which the Hole lies, there is, it turns out, another echo from that desperate war.

Jahajpura. ‘Burning Ship’. Just another of those coastal village communities eking a living from sea, shore and sandy rice fields, with a colourful cluster of fishing boats drawn up above the tide.

To the student of history, the name may arouse visions of a broadside battered galleon, victim of the conflict of European countries over the lands of India, its wreckage burning on this remote beach.

The linguist, however, quickly puts paid to that vision of historical romance. The prosaic truth is that a Japanese warplane was shot down, probably by a Spitfire based at Cox’s Bazar where tourists now arrive by United or GMG, its wreckage burning on the beach. Does the family of the pilot know his pye is immortalized in the village name?

Immortality, it seems, rests more securely on Captain Hiram Cox of the ‘Honourable East India Company’. He died of fever only months after being sent by “The Company’ to settle Arakanese refugees in this ,then, sparsely populated area of Bengal. (Plus ca change! Some things never change!) His colleagues thought to memorialize him by naming a market after him. Long after names like Curzon , Mountbatten or even Clive, have faded the name of this humble officer remains!

Of the natural wonders with which Bangladesh is so lavishly endowed-the world’s largest river delta system; the world’s largest Mangrove forest, and the world’s longest natural continuous sea beach- it is the latter that is most immediately indentifiable as a formidable and unique attraction.

Simply, unquestionably, to anyone with the experience of having traveled its length many times, and of visiting other great beaches of Asia, the greatest jewel in the crown of Bangladesh. The crown may sparkle with many gems, mostly uncut, but this is the Kohinoor Diamond!

120km of wide, flat, silver sand, with a backdrop of Himalayan ripples topped by jungle.

From compelling Cox’s Bazar… some might say compellingly awful!.. with its Buddhist temples, islands and monuments, to colourful Teknaf, the beach is an unending feast for all the senses.

Surfing is the new attraction at Cox’s Bazar, highly rated by the international surfing fraternity, and making reputed sportsmen out of local boys, whilst Teknaf’s attractions are more traditional.

The market is one of the great frontier trading posts, colourful, and irresistible. The same could be said for the tea shops with mouth watering treats that are not matched by the local hotels (why would the poorly run Pajathan Hotel be leased to management who are skillfully making it even less attractive?)

But the story of the Ma Tine Lover’s Well adds true romance to any visit. A Madame Butterfly style story of impossible love, an unexpected pleasure to find before heading to the vast and unspoilt (so far!) expanse of beach.

It would be nice to be able to say that Elephant Point could suggest that Elephants can be seen at evening bathing in the sea. Maybe, if the Wildlife Park works, that day will come again. Sadly, of course, experience elsewhere suggests that these noble animals do not easily co exist with human habitation. But the comparative solitude of the great length of the beach may yet offer a return to such days.

Today, the beach is accessible its whole length on foot or by mountain bike. The roadway that the Army is slowly, but surely, resurrecting the entire length will not be finished until 2015. Until then, perhaps a chartered boat maybe the least adventurous means of being amongst the first to appreciate this Jewel in the crown, of which Cox’s bazaar is but a rather mediocre glimpse.

1 comment:

  1. I found this unique plant at the ayurvedic garden in cox's bazaar that is used to make a sweetener that has no sid effects and is 10 times sweeter than sugar! imagine that!