Touring in Bangladesh

By | Category: Travel destinations
Sundarban

Sundarban

“I’ll be quite honest,” said Motiur Rahman of Bengal Tours, “when people think of my country they only think of floods and natural disasters.”  “You want me to write that?” I said, aware that usually destinations only want attractive and appealing things written.  “Why not? That’s the first thing we must persuade visitors. Not that it isn’t true. It’s unfair,” he continued, “when we have so much beauty in our country.”

Bangladesh sits on the deltas of a number of rivers such as the important Ganges. Flooding is a regular and important part of life but for the tourist it probably means that you plan your visit between October and February  or even March when it will be pleasant 22-25 degrees  during the day. Rahman says that holidaymakers from France have already discovered Bangladesh in quite a big way as have the Italians but it is still Japan that provides the largest number of visitors. We Brits and Irish have yet to consider Bangladesh as a holiday destination.

So why do the French, Italian, Japanese and other visitors go there?

One reason is that it isn’t India. By that I mean that India is a vast country requiring many weeks or multiple visits. Bangladesh is smaller so tailored three week tours cover a great deal of this much smaller country. Even then it it is over 800 kilometres from the north to the southern city of Chittagong

Paharpur

Paharpur

For the first few days, he says that visitors stay in Dhaka, the capital where they can explore the river boat house communities and the traditions of the capital. Like most Asian capitals, it is big, bustling and you sometimes wonder how it can function as confusion seems to reign on every street corner. But something indefinable succeeds in making it work. And it’s colourful. Buses and rickshaws are painted by their owners and drivers to reflect their personalities. The people’s that is, not the buses! You’ll likely see the Pink Palace, one the home of the governors of Bengal known locally as Ahsan Manzil and the Lalbagh Fort built nearly 350 years ago.

From here one of the tours would normally take them to the north of the country. Visitors seem to appreciate the village way of life so home stays are often included in itineraries. I am assured that when stay in someone else’s home, you live as they do. Nothing is spruced up for the tourist; this is how people really live. Here is the ancient Buddhist temple of Paharpur, the biggest south of the Himalayas and Mahasthan, an old fortress city that dates 2,300 years which Buddha himself is said to have visited. At Putia, you will find the terracotta temples built comparatively recently in 1823 and the most ornate one of all – Kanthajee.

harvesting tea

harvesting tea

After perhaps four days in the north most tours will head south-west to where the country meets India. In this area you can visit Sundarbans with its 600 square kilometres of mangroves  (the largest in the world) and which, today, is a World Heritage Centre. Here locals still hunt fish using trained otters, they collect wild honey and rely heavily on the canals to travel around. This is Rahman’s favourite part of Bangladesh and might explain why his tours spend slightly longer here than other tour operators do. This is Bengal tiger country although there are probably only about 400 left in the wild given poaching and the increasing jostling for land with humans. It is only at night that you might be lucky enough to see one but guides know which watering holes are frequented by these magisterial animals. Bordering the Sundarbans is the ancient city of Bagerhut with its sixty domed mosques and which is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. To this day, the canal and water reservoir systems are still used.

If, instead of the west, you went to the east of the country you will probably go to the biggest tea garden outside of the Indian state of Assam.  There are 160 of them mostly clustered around Scrimangal providing endless swathes of green because this is also rainforest country.

If you headed south then you might have been searching for a relaxed beach holiday for here you’ll find a 200 kilometre beach, Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest unbroken beach. There are no bars, there are no casinos and little western night life. This is for those who want to get away from it all and concentrate hard on doing next to nothing.

Cox Bzar

Cox’s Bazar

As in Dhaka, home stays are available as many tour operators have gained government approval for foreigners to stay. This is particularly useful if you want to experience indigenous life for in what is known as the hills tracts district, there are 14 different indigenous people and disturbing their lifestyle is something that is carefully and strictly monitored. Not anyone can just turn up at their villages. What is a little surprising given how relatively close they live to each other is how different each of the cultures is.

Wherever you go in Bangladesh you will find similar souvenirs. Tea is the most obvious one given that this is one of the main tea producing countries in the world.  Textiles are big business in the country so for once, if you buy a local tee-shirt, it will have been made in the country you are holidaying in.  Go upmarket and silks, coloured with natural dyes are widely available. And if you really fancy splashing out then natural pearls are available. In the coastal areas, these will be better value than in the cities.

life in Bandarban

life in Bandarban

But for Rahman, he’ll be quite happy where ever you o as long as you return home and dispel the bad news about his country.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines provide a direct service to Bangladesh and British Airways has flights via Indian gateways where you change onto Jet Airways for the connecting flight.  Many Middle Eastern airlines provide links via their hubs.

For more about Bangladesh, click here.

Images © Visit Bangladesh

0saves
If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , ,