Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 29, Tuesday, December 16, 2003







T R A V E L bangladesh

WITH the holidays coming and the kids starting a winter vacation, this is definitely the best time for a holiday. With winter bringing the most favourable weather to travel in Bangladesh, there are no shortages of places to visit in our country. Starting from the exquisite natural beauty of Bandarban and Kuakata to the wilderness of St. Martins Island, and from the ruins of Mainamati to the beach resort of Cox's Bazaar, we have selected places which may please both travel-nuts and family holiday-makers.

Kuakata is one of the best examples of untouched natural beauty in Bangladesh. The sea-beach resort is increasingly becoming famous amongst people in Bangladesh. However, if the roads were better there would definitely be a great increase in tourism in the area. The beach has a unique beauty to offer to its spectators, the rare full view of the rising and setting of the sun in the sea viewed from a single beach. The long and wide beach at Kuakata has a typical natural setting.

Accommodations are quite good, but the Parjatan at Kuakata is the safest and cosiest place. There are a number of other hotels around the badh (dam), and asking a rickshaw-van driver to take you there would be the wisest.

Kuakata is also a sanctuary for thousands of migratory birds and this adds to the beauty of the truly beautiful beach. Lazing off at the beach can definitely be a great pastime, with only the sound of the ocean to disturb you. The beach is said to be safe for visitors both at night and during the day. However, the whole sea-faring village seems to sleep at around 10 at night, so the place goes quiet pretty early.

Kuakata is the haven for the traveller who intends to spend his/her holiday in solitude. If one is with a newly-wed or partner, this can definitely be a nice place to get to know each other better. Travelling in a group is definitely a bash in Kuakata.

Getting there: There are direct buses to Kuakata, which leave from Gulistan at 5-o clock everyday. However, if you really want the journey to be a nice one, travel to Patuakhali by launch and then take a bus to Kuakata. The roads from Patuakhali to Kuakata are not at all in good shape.

Cox's Bazaar
Although Cox's Bazaar may be one of the most stereotyped places to visit for holiday-makers, the introduction of the "Notun Beach" (New beach) definitely adds to the splendour the place was famous for. With hotels mushrooming everywhere in the small town, there is no shortage of accommodation. However, solitude is a far cry, don't expect to come to Cox's Bazaar and laze on the beach without being disrupted. The new beach is an exception though, but there aren't many umbrellas or shades there either. Late walks at night in the populated parts of the beach can be nice, but it is not that safe at night at other places.

One of the best activities would definitely be to wake up early in the morning and go to the beach to view the sunrise. A walk down the beach early in the morning can definitely be quite an experience and to add to all that, the beach is scantily filled with people during early hours. Walking away from the main beach, one can see fishermen running into the sea to unravel their nets. The breeze at the beach is wonderful and so is the warmth of the winter sun. South of Cox's Bazaar are more secluded beaches where having a swim can still be a private experience rather than a public spectacle. They include Himchari Beach and Inani Beach.

Getting there: One could take a direct bus from Dhaka to Cox's Bazaar, with a stopover at Chittagong. The roads are pretty good and the journey is better by night. Alternative means are taking a flight to Cox's Bazaar, but the costs are far higher. If one is travelling to Cox's Bazaar by bus it definitely tests ones patience. At the bus stop the bus is surrounded by dalaals all haggling for some tourists to take accommodations at one of 'their' hotels. It is best to search for accommodations yourself, as being conned by these dalaals is a daily happening.

St Martin Island
This small coral island is situated about 10km south-west of Teknaf, the southern tip of Chittagong. The island is simply an amazing place to visit, with phenomenal beaches filled with coconut trees. The marine life in the island has been left intact and this adds to the beauty. If one is looking for serenity St. Martins is definitely the place. The island is a clean and peaceful place without even a mosquito to disrupt your serenity. Remarkably it is possible to walk around the entire island in a day. Taking up this hiking escapade can definitely be quite an adventure, but be sure to have convenient footwear. Most of the island's inhabitants live primarily from fishing, and between October and April fisher people from neighbouring areas bring their catch to the island's temporary wholesale market.

Getting there: Firstly one has to travel to Cox's Bazaar. From Cox's Bazaar catch a bus to Teknaf. Teknaf itself is quite a place to visit, with the endless ocean ahead and the beautiful beach. From Teknaf, ferries run daily to St. Martin Island and it takes about 3 hours to get to the island. The total distance from Dhaka to the island is about 510km.

Mainamati Ruins
Famous as an important centre of Buddhist culture from the 7th to 12th centuries, the buildings excavated here were made wholly of baked bricks. The Mainamati ruins are definitely a place worth visiting, or even spending the weekend here with the family is not a bad idea. Accommodations are available at BARD, at very reasonable costs. There are more than 50 scattered Buddhist sites here, but the three most important are Salban Vihara, Kotila Mura and Charpatra Mura.

Salban Vihara was a large monastery facing a temple. Nearby is a museum housing the finds excavated here, which include terracotta plaques, bronze statues, coins, jewellery and votive stupas embossed with Buddhist inscriptions. The museum is equipped with interesting excerpts from history and may be very educational for the young ones. Kotila Mura comprises three large stupas representing Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the 'Three Jewels of Buddhism'. Some of the major ruins are within a military cantonment and cannot be visited without permission from military officers. Safety is therefore not an issue.

Getting there: The ruins are about 70km south-east of Dhaka, and getting there is fairly easy. However, taking the car for the weekend seems the best choice.

Somapuri Vihara
Although Paharpur may be hard to reach, the Somapuri Vihara is definitely worth the visit. The 8th-century Somapuri Vihara at Paharpur was formerly the biggest Buddhist monastery south of the Himalaya. It is said to be the most impressive archaeological site in Bangladesh, and covers some 11 27 acres. Although the site is not in a very good shape due to decay, what remains of it is amazing. The temple's walls are decorated with well-preserved terracotta work. A small museum near the site contains a representative display of the domestic and religious objects found during excavations. Accommodation is hard to find, but the whole atmosphere at Paharpur is definitely wonderful. The people are friendly and even a gossip at the tea-stall can be a discovering experience.

Getting there: To get to the archaeological site from Dhaka, take a bus or train to Bogra, and another bus to Jaipurhat. From Jaipurhat take a rickshaw to the crossroads, and then a tempo to Paharpur village.

Puthia has the largest number of historically important Hindu structures in Bangladesh. The most amazing of the village's monuments is the Govinda Temple, which was erected between 1823 and 1895 by one of the maharanis of the Puthia estate.

The temple is simply stunning even now after all these years.
It is covered by incredibly intricate designs in terracotta depicting scenes from Hindu epics, which gives the structure a different look.

The Siva Temple is a lasting example of stunning temple architecture, coming from the influence of north India. The temple is decorated with stone carvings and sculptural works, which unfortunately were disfigured during the War of Liberation.

Getting there: Puthia is 23km east of Rajshahi and 16km west of Natore. Catch a bus from either town. Puthia is 1km south of the highway.

Bandarban is definitely one of the more beautiful places to visit in Bangladesh. The best time to visit the area is during the winter, and it is definitely the season now. Bandarban is a mountainous area and the hills are quite steep. Bandarban town is a small place, but does have its own accommodation as well as shops. The resort at Bandarban is simply wonderfully maintained and is really affordable. The resort is situated on a hilltop and has a spectacular view. For the more adventurous traveller, leaving the resort for Ruma Bazaar by a Chaader Gari (Moon car) may be a better idea. From Ruma Bazaar taking a boat ride along the Sangu River can be an amazing experience. One can end up at the small tribal village of Ruma, where there is only one boarding made up of thatch. Getting to the picturesque Boga Lake from there is fairly easy, but it is also a 3-hour hike. The views from all the hilltops and plateau's are simply stunning and definitely worth visiting.

Getting there: Take a bus to Chittagong from Dhaka. From Chittagong there are direct buses to Bandarban. The journey from Chittagong to Bandarban is quite an adventurous one and the roads are really twisted.

We really urge you to take a break, discover your country and truly fall in love with it.

By Mishel Ali Khan
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain



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