Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saka Haphong: Trekking Bangladesh’s highest peak

Faisal Mahmud

Summiting Saka Haphong within three and half days is a daunting venture. But our trekking club, Boarding Para Sobuj Sangha (BPSS), was more than up to the task of trekking Bangladesh’s highest peak, which stands at 3,400ft By Faisal Mahmud.

I’ve seen a trekking boom in the past four years. After Bangladeshi climber Musa Ibrahim summited Mt Everest in 2010, more and more people have been showing up on the trails in Bandarban, Bangladesh’s trekking heaven. 
Trekking in Bangladesh is a more raw experience than in established destinations like Nepal, which have bamboo lodges - rest stops with food and beds - along the way those facilities don’t exist here, yet we make our night haul with local residents, renting the karbari (home of the village head) for a nominal fee of Tk100 per person per night. They might have nothing more to offer than rice, pumpkin and chicken (for Tk300/kg), but this arrangement has its own charm. 
This was my seventh trek with BPSS. Before joining them, I didn’t know the meaning of an “organised trek.” As a professional trekking club, they put together a full tour and route plan, gather supplies, and bring tents and other equipment. Previously, my trips were the epitomy of “disorganised.” My very first trek in 2005 was a nightmare. I foolishly went to Bandarban, a tropical hilly region, during the full-blown monsoon season, when the region is full of leeches. I had brought neither trekking boots, nor gear, nor enough supplies.
Still, I couldn’t wait to go back. The natural beauty of those mountains were etched in my mind.
Day 1
Fifteen of us started the journey by bus on the night of March 13, and reached Bandarban the following morning at 8am. We had arranged over the phone for a Chandergari - four wheeler jeep, which is  locally produced in Bandarban -  and reached Thanchi Bazaar by 1pm. In Thanchi Bazaar, we spent around an hour shopping, and booked a guide during that time. At around 2pm, we started our trekking.
Our first destination was Boarding Para, a small tribal village of the Murong tribe.When we all reached Boarding Para, it was getting dark. The time showed 6:30pm. Though some of us wanted to stay in the village, others suggested that if we didn’t reach Sherkor Para that day, our next day’s trek would be really hard.The weather was very cool and calm, with the full moon due in two days. The slopes up to the next destination, Sherkor Para, is both long and steep, but we still decided to camp there for the night. We started our trekking again at 7pm. 
We finally reached our destination at around 11:30pm. We were really exhausted. Our guide cooked chicken, which we ate with red rice.
Day 2
The next morning, we started our trekking a bit later than planned. That’s the downside of a large trekking group – the job of the coordinator is a nightmare!
Anyway, we started our journey for Shimplampi, our first destination for that day, at around 10am, and reached at 12:30pm. Shimplampi is situated right beside Tajindong, one of the other highest peaks in the country. The water source of the village had dried up, so the villagers needed to bring water from a faraway source. The scarcity of resources seemed to make the villagers rather inhospitable.
From Shimplampi, we made one of the longest descents of the country. It was nearly 1500ft. The whole path was almost vertical. The dead bushes, leaves and thorny bamboos on the path made it even tougher. The middle of March isn’t the time of the year I would recommend to take a trekking trip. The Jhum season begins during this time, and the indigenous farmers burn the hills to ready them for cultivation. We had to battle against the ashes from the burnt hills and loose soil as we climbed through the trail.
There was a point when I was hanging on the branches of a tree. What lay ahead of me was anything but a trail. There was no visible path, only the root of some dead trees that covered the next 20-30ft of trail, surrounded by a vertical ravine almost 100ft deep. I panicked. The loose soil under my feet was moving and I couldn’t move further.
But that’s the upside a large trekking group – my friends were there to rescue me! I survived, and eventually we all reached the bank of Remakrijhiri, a part of the Sangu River that moves like a gyrating snake inside the hilly terrain of Bandarban. We travelled for two hours along the shore of Remakri. At 6pm, we reached Hangrai Para.
Shortly afterwards, we left the main trail and continued on a steep trail uphill to the village of Nefue Para in the dark of the night. On our way to Nefue Para, we had to cross through the Chikon Kala Jungle. We finally reached our destination at around 9:30pm.
The people of Nefue Para are very friendly, and the village head let us stay the night there.From Nefue Para, it is only a couple of hours to the top of Saka Haphong (Mowdok Mual). We were ready to leave at 7am the next morning. Finally, at around 10am, we reached the peak.
The Saka Haphong peak is in fact a border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. From there, we could see the dense Myanmar reserve forest.
Day 3-4
The journey back from the peak to the locality was almost a two days trek through the same trail, but we made it in one day. We were really exhausted after the excruciating trek, but the joy of summiting the highest peak of country made it worthwhile. 
Shared from Dhaka Tribune
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