Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 4?, Tuesday, March 16, 2004













rangamati, the lake city

Jhimit jhimit juni jole
Mura debar debat toley
Yian amar dech
Yian toma dech
Yian beg dech

The meaning of this Chakma song by Devjyoti Chakma and Ronjit Dewan is, 'Under the sky, in the land of the hills, the fireflies are sparkling. This is my land, your land, this is our beloved land.'

The song portrays it all. The land of vibrant culture Rangamati is situated on the hills where the stars shine brighter in the sky, where the trees shimmer with innumerable fireflies during the night. Surrounded by the serenity of the hills, ripples of the lake, this terrain has an aroma in the air usually absent in our city life. Emerald green valleys covered with thick forests, bush and creeper jungles blend with the lake immaculately creating a surreal dreamland of sorts. Often the hills are interspersed with small streams. Beyond the visible landscape, hills meander everywhere, engraving heavy dark shadows in the distance.

Rangamati, 77km away from the Chittagong City, is situated beside the Kaptai Lake. This hill district is the abode of 12 ethnic groups, the majority of which are the Chakma who prefer to call themselves 'Changma'. The Marma community is the second largest. Apart from these, some other small communities live in the region, namely Tripura, Kyiang, Tonchonghya, Riang, Bawm, Lushai, Pankhua and some others. It is simply a matter of wonder that a mere 5, 093sq. miles of land houses so many communities each having their own diversified culture. The indigenous people of Rangamati are mostly Buddhist, except for the Tripuras, who practice Hinduism. These people belong to the Mongoloid race, having the physical features of Southeast Asian people. During the last few decades, millions of Bangalees migrated into the region almost outnumbering the indigenous people.

As you enter the vicinity through the zigzag road circling the hill you will feel the spirits within. The first feature that will attract your senses is the sight of the mesmerising green ridges, which extended for miles. A few Chander gari's will appear on the road. The Chander gari is the most popular form of transport amongst the residents of the area. Fantastic thing about this vehicle is that it is usually filled up to the drivers lap. Even the front side is full. It will make you wonder whether the driver is able the see the road at all. The people very easily cling to it as if they are glued and it works out perfectly for them.

Somewhere in the heavy dark shadow lies a 'jum' land. Jum cultivation is a century old practice among the people of the hill. Jum communities are called the 'Jumia'. They live on the hill in thatched roof houses built on a high platform. Jum was once their only means of livelihood. Jumia people select a good hill during January or February. Then they cut off all plants leaving only the large trees. Just before monsoon rain they burn the bushes leaving the ashes on the ground. While they wait for the rain, ashes enrich the soil. With the arrival of rain they start sowing. It is a community event for the Jumias. They grow almost everything they need.

Jum is not the only skill these people possess. Traditionally the people of the hill are great weavers. Their outfit is made in 'bain', which is a type of handloom. Mostly womenfolk take care of the job. From spinning the thread with 'shimul toola' to colouring the fabric, everything is prepared manually. Women's traditional outfit is 'pinon' which is a type of a lungi. To cover their top they wear 'khadi'. Men wear dhuti or gamcha and 'koboi' on top. They cover their head with 'khobong', which is a type of turban. However, with the influence of modernity, more and more these people are switching on to mechanized materials. A large segment of educated women wear shalwar-kameez these days and men wear trousers and shirts. This of course, did not make their traditional expertise of weaving extinct. Pinon-khadi made of rayon and cotton with vivid colours still flourish in their hills and forests.

The food habits of the hill people are quite distinctive from the plainsman. Their staple is rice. Vegetables are cooked with almost no oil or spice. However they love green chilly. Chilly grown in the hill are very small in size but so hot in taste that town folks like us will definitely choke after trying one of their traditional dishes. Baash korrol (bamboo shoots) and shutki maach (dried fish) is the most popular food and cooked in many form. Most of the dishes take little time to cook. Sabarang, foojhi, baagor, these are of fragrant plants commonly used in cooking. Hill people also have traditions of home-made liquors, prepared from rice and called do choani'. This homemade brew is very popular and largely consumed during festivals.

Speaking of festivals, in the hill the most celebrated festival is the 'Baishabi'. The name and the gala itself is a combination of three prominent festivals. The first part of the name came from the Tripura festival 'Baisu'; the next few letters are from the Marma festival 'Shangrai' and the later part of the name appeared from Chakma festival 'Biju'. Baishabi is a three-day long celebration that spans from the last two days of the Bengali month Chaitra to the first day of the month Baishakh. During the period the hill people go to the 'kang' (Buddhist temple), and to the rivers where they pray to lord Buddha for peace and prosperity. They decorate houses, light candles and adorn the heads of their livestock with flowers in the afternoon for heavenly blessings. Food is always associated with festivals. Apart from sweets and pithas, a special dish called 'Paachon' is cooked during the festival. 'Paachon' is made with more than 20 types of vegetables. It is a tradition among the hill people, to entertain their guests with do choani' on these days. Jalkeli (water festival) is another popular way of celebration among the Marma people. Chakmas everywhere celebrate Rajpunna; it is a tradition where the Chakma king accepts tax (in token form now) from his descendants. During these festivals traditional dresses prevail. Women wear silver and ivory ornaments. They pretty up their hair with flowers. Young boys and girls take part in traditional dances and choose their life partners.

Like every society choosing a partner and getting married is another appealing event of their ethos. Marriage ceremonies in the hill are highly traditional. Inter race marriages are not socially approved. Among the Chakma community parents with the help of a matchmaker called Sabala' arrange the ceremony. It is a custom where groom's father meets the bride's at least three times with offerings, before the actual courtship. First ritual of a Chakma marriage is, on the day of the wedding, when the sun peeps at the corner of the hill, six young married women will go to the river and bring back some water. One of them will float some paan-shupari in the river placed on two pieces of banana leaves. If the two pieces float together it is believed that the match is blessed. Many other rituals follow the wedding ceremony. Some other rituals are now a matter of the past, yet traditional values play a significant role in the lives of these people.

Lives of these simple folks are synchronised with the lake that surrounds them, with the hills and forests they live in. Their dances are choreographed as symbolising the movements of a Jumia at work. Their songs are mostly a worship of flora and fauna, of Mother Nature. This story is merely a brief description of this vibrant culture that exists in the hill.

By Shahnaz Parveen

Acknowledgment: Some information used in the write-up, has been taken from the book, Bangladesher Upojati by Shugoto Chakma and from the article, Jum and Jumia by Philip Gain. The Chakma song Jhimit jhimit juni jole is from the book Paharer Ruddhokontho a publication of the Hill Women's Federation.

while you are there

BEING a beautiful lake city Rangamati is very popular among tourists both foreign and deshi. With the brief description that we have just given you, here is a little more if you decide to visit the place.

How to get there is the first issue. From Dhaka one can go directly by bus. Several bus services ply in the route namely Dolphin, S. Alam, Saudia and Challenger. You can also have a break journey. First a ride to Chittagong city and then take another bus to the lake city. If you have big bucks in your wallet and want to save yourself from the long journey then a plane ride to Chittagong, then a bus ride to Rangamati is your option. You can also rent a vehicle from Dhaka.

While you are there you will need a place to stay. There are now many hotels suitable for tourists. Among them Hotel Sufia, Green Castle and Parjatan are the best. Among the cheap hotels you can also go to Hotel Al-Moba, Hotel Dignity, Shaikat, and Hotel Anika. In Sufia, Green Castle and Parjatan single rooms will charge Tk350, double room Tk550, family will cost Tk700 and the most luxurious one called deluxe will cost you Tk1200. In comparatively cheaper hotels single rooms will be Tk70, double Tk150 and family rooms will charge Tk200.

The next thing that will come in to your mind after you are all set in your hotel room is where you can satisfy the tummy. Finest restaurants in the area will be Sabarang beside the Shilpokola academy. Their food will be clean and well-cooked. Hotel Sufia and Green Castle has their own restaurant. You can also dine there. If you want to save money then you can go to Hotel green, Karpash mohol and Aronnyok. The only restaurant in the town that serves indigenous food is Montola. Montola is situated under the ground. According to the local people the name also means under the hill. For a special banquet you can go to Peda ting ting famous for their local dishes. It is a beautiful island resort kind of place located in the middle of the lake surrounded by trees and hills. It will be an hour and a half boat ride from the town, which will cost Tk350. It can serve a dual purpose. Watching the scenic beauty while you are having a not so long boat journey and later dining in a very lovely spot.

With lakes and hills all around, as we have written earlier, the city itself is a wonder. There are lots of places where you can visit. What you must not miss is a boat ride on the Kaptai Lake. Afternoon will be the best time to go, when the sun is tilted towards the west and not blazing overhead. Your heart will not be content even after hours of ride. Sunset presents a mind-boggling view.

Those who do not want to go that far, the best place would be the hanging bridge. This hanging bridge attaches two hills over the Kaptail Lake. It is right beside the Parjatan. This place is now at the mercy of the tourists who are mercilessly spoiling its natural beauty. Grass on the hilltop has been almost completely replaced by packets of potato crackers and biscuits. However some people are content with a brief visit to this place.

If your heart desires more then you should have a visit to Shuvolong. It is a 500ft high hill island and a camp of the security force almost 12km away from Rangamati town. Water transport is the only means of getting there and it takes almost 3 hours. You will have an amazing experience en route, as you proceed through a narrow channel right between the hills. There is a guesthouse run by army personnel. A night at the guesthouse could be the best part of your trip. The fireflies and the bright stars in the sky will be your only companions during the night.

You can also visit the Museum. This small museum has displays of dresses worn by kings, weapons used by them and coins of deferent era. You can have a look at the musical instruments played by the indigenous people, traditional silver and ivory ornaments worn by them. It is open Sunday to Thursday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Rajbon Vihar is another place you do not want to miss. There are several Buddhist Vihars in and around the town. The biggest is the Rajbon Vihar monastery located on a cliff at the northern end of the town.

As we all know kings once ruled this place. The monarchy system does not exist anymore but the monarchs still do. Chakma people still respect their king (currently Debashish Roy). The Chakma king has his palace (Rajbari) near Rajbon Vihar. It is not open for visitors but one can enter the compound to see the pictures of the past kings and know their history.

These are the places where everyone goes. If your heart still not content, if you want to have a closer look at the people's lives there, then a visit to the villages situated on the hills is a must. Many villages are scattered around the town. Some of them are accessible only by the lake. Prepare yourself to climb at least 2000ft from the water level and hike in many places. Most suitable and visited by many is the Master para village.

A visit to Rangamati does not end without a little souvenir shopping. Tobolchorri market is the main market place of Rangamati town. There is a weekly haat held twice a week. Every Wednesday and Saturday people from remote areas come to the market for buying and selling. They display fruit, vegetable, handicraft items and other things, most of which are prepared by women. There are some stores at Tabalchari, among them the most renowned is the Bain textile, where you can get some handmade outfits. Newmarket and Kathaltoli bazaar is another place where you can go for souvenirs.

It is off-season in Rangamati now. People in Bangladesh mostly visit places during the winter. However, the best time to visit the lake city is in the rainy season when the lake is full and the trees are all washed up, even greener than usual. The portrayal of the splendour of the lake city is infinite. One can only feel the spirits from within.

By Shahnaz Parveen



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