Cox’s Bazar is the present epicentre of the burgeoning local tourism industry in Bangladesh.
Named for Captain Hiram Cox, something of a dignitary of the administration of the East India Company, having been formal emissary of the Company to the Court of the King of Burma in Rangoon, from 1796 to 1798, of which his Journal, published in 1821, was recently republished, he was sent to the area just north of the Burmese border in 1799, where he successfully chased our refugees from the Burmese civil war who were attacking the locally settled indigenous peoples.
Overtaken by a fatal bout of malaria, he succumbed just outside the present town of Cox’s Bazaar in 1799, and is said to have been buried there, though no grave is identifiable.
As one who has known Cox’s Bazar for the past 15 years, I have watched the, almost literal, despoliation of the coastal strip south of the town, now known as the ‘hotel/motel’ belt, with growing dismay. The original deluge of small, ugly, motels have not really been improved by a growing collection of self awarded , so called, 5star hotels, amongst whom not a single real terrace is visible!
Regular readers of this blog will know I am no great fan of the place however much I adore most of the rest of the 120km beach to the south, as yet largely untouched. Perhaps the only saving grace for anyone of my generation, of the teeming beach in season, or on high days and holidays, is the enormous crowd that raises nostalgic memories of South end or Blackpool in my youth, when those beaches, too, were crowded with families, and the sea edge black with fully clothed paddlers, trouser rolled up, shirts open and handkerchiefs knotted on head, or with long skirts held above water level , and with cardigans and blouses to preserve the remnants of Victorian traditional modesty.
Or the inordinate numbers of bright, cheerful youths who want, simply, to make their day by sharing time and polite chat with a foreigner.
There are times, indeed, but for the disturbing noise of potentially lethal jet skis on the water, or the exhaust smells and irritation of the quad bikes that threaten the legs of any and everyone on the beach, are the only things to remind that these are not the old days in Britain, but the nowadays in Bangladesh.
Out of season, however, with the entire off beach attractions remaining, from ayurvedic gardens and orchards to creative craft workrooms; the Burmese markets and the tracks and forests of the nearby hills; the ancient wooden temples to the busy fishing port; the beach also has its appeal.
The weather may be more problematic, and the more turbulent seas may be great for surfing, but not good for taking a boat to lovely Sonadia Island or sea bathing safely, but the umbrellas remain to shade from the summer sun, and the young merchants of snacks and souvenirs still ply their trades. The surf is louder, and undisturbed by the noise of petrol engines of water and beach craft. Somehow, the air, too, seems fresher.
Fifteen years ago, an audience gathered to watch every sunset. The great favourite being to be photographed cupping the red ball of the setting sun in your hand for the picture. Today, the sun sets most often behind a bank of polluted air on the horizon. A pity; and in the way of the whole world, the old days of un-crowded beaches and clear sunsets seem unlikely ever to return. But, withal, there is still something about Cox’s Bazar that keeps drawing me back.
However, you have to have been there once, at least, to also understand the magnetic attraction.