It is around Comilla, east of Dhaka, that the indigenous industry of pearl culturing is most highly developed in Bangladesh.
The giant fresh water mussels which host the culturing are harvested, for the most part, by one of the most interesting peoples of the country, the Bebe, River Gypsies.
The Bebe are not unlike the Romanies of Europe, itinerants whose mobile lifestyle.. in the case of Bangladesh, by water.. rather isolates them from mainstream society, and fairly inevitable social exclusion.
Any tourist in the main residential area of Dhaka, Gulshan, is likely, sooner or later, to visit the famous Gulshan 2 market. This market, apart from a large number of ‘antique’ shops, also offers souvenirs of the huge maritime recycling industry, and many jewellery shops in which most of the product is pearls. Especially the pink pearls that are the natural colour of those cultured in Bangladesh.
There was a time when Japan’s Mikimoto were world leaders in cultured pearls. Today, China dominates the market, and no doubt many of those on sale in Gulshan originate in China. But Bangladesh, together with neighbours Myanmar and India make their own significant contribution to supply.
These pearls come in all shapes and sizes, and a wide range of prices that reflect size, shape and matching size rather than any intrinsic difference in quality.
In major internal tourism destinations, too, such as Cox’s Bazar, many shops offer the pearls, at usually far more favourable prices than those in Gulshan market. A price range from about $4 for a necklace of seed pearls, to perhaps $75 for a fine string of matched pink pearls would be about right.
Sea pearls also are still to be found in the waters of the Bay of Bengal but not really sufficient in numbers or quality to sustain an industry; and rare indeed would be sufficient in number or quality to make a string.