The first recorded tourist arrived in Bangladesh in the 3rd Century. Fa Xiang was a Chinese Buddhist monk whose comprehensive account of his travels has provided us with some insight into the history of the region, and particularly to the enormous part played there in the development and spread of Buddhism.
In the 7th Century another Chinese Buddhist Monk followed much the same route as Fa Xiang, and it seems that a few hundred years had done nothing to diminish the great monuments that the Emperor Ashoka erected in the 3rd Century BCE to mark the progress of The Buddha.
|On the Jamuna River|
The greatest travel writer of them all, Ptolemy, in the 2nd Century CE shows that his informants were very familiar with the lands of Bangladesh, listing cities that are, only now, being identified. Not the least of them, the possibility that his Ramu is the same Ramu that still exists close to the great tourist destination of modern times, Cox’s Bazar.
|Ptolemy's Map of the Ganges Delta|
The first recorded outbound tourist was probably another Buddhist, Atish Dipankar, known within the religion as the ‘Second Buddha’, the man who restored the religion in Tibet. He is recorded, as a young man, taking his own ‘Gap Year’, and travelling with a group of Gem Merchants to Java and Sumatra in the 11th Century.
|Pagoda built to commemorate Atish Dipankar|
These days, Bangladesh is widely neglected by tourists and writers alike. Despite its rich and colourful history, and one of the finest natural environments in the world, contemporary travellers seem less savvy than those of ancient times, regarding Bangladesh, apparently, as an almost invisible adjunct to India.
One travel company in Bangladesh has developed the rather aggressive proposition, ‘More History than India, More Beaches than Malaysia, and More Buddhism than Nepal’. All of which, of course, is true. And it is ironic that it was probably the Silk Road, and traffic to and through it, that accounts for much of the tangible history that India can show today, to entice the writers and the travellers, the same Silk Road which, of course, ran through present day Bangladesh.