Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 20, Tuesday, November 9, 2004
















call of the rivers

STEP aboard a majestic boat and sail away into the horizon, leaving your problems behind and just indulge in the serenity of the rivers. How does that sound for a wonderful Eid? This year, we are taking you on a trip through the rivers of Bangladesh on a sailing boat.

Now close your eyes and imagine yourself drifting over the waters of the Shitalakhya, Dhaleshwary, Padma, Meghna, and Jamuna, past emerald green paddy fields in the countryside. What more can the soul desire?

This exclusive voyage is orchestrated by Contic (Confluence of Technology Ideas and Culture), a French-Bangladesh venture. One fine day, a few years ago, a famous French navigator named Yves Marre arrived in Bangladesh on a barge sailing through the immense Atlantic Ocean. This brave sailor met writer-fashion designer Runa Khan, and the encounter soon led to the exchanging of vows between the two. Yves Marre had also fallen in love with the traditional wooden country boats of Bangladesh. Together, the couple explored the waterways, witnessing our diversified folk heritage. Every little boat plying on the rivers appeared as a work of art to them. In 1997, Runa and Yves Marre established a tourism company named Contic, so that everyone could experience the magnificence of the rivers, as well as the novel feeling of being on one of the varieties of lovely boats that ply on them.

The main attraction of Contic is the "B613". In 1997, Contic transformed a country boat called Malar into a cruising boat. The Malar is commonly used in the waterways around the Pabna district for carrying crops. This cruising boat was built according to the millenary techniques of the Brahmaputra carpenters. The exterior of the Malar and a journey on it through the rivers makes you feel as if "you are transported back into the 18th century". Inside it are 6 double cabins, 4 bathrooms, 2 shower rooms and a large kitchen; all that you might need for a perfectly comfortable cruise. The cabins are covered with rooftops made out of bamboo. Watching the splendour of a sunset from the deck of this boat is an experience that you will treasure for life. "B613" is the longest wooden country boat that is to be found in Bangladesh.

Various trips are offered by Contic. One-day cruises on the B613 starts from Dhaka at 7:30 am. A brief bus ride takes you to Narayanganj to board the boat. The Malar sails southwards through the Sitalakhya. The boat sails through the Dhaleshwari river at Munshiganj and goes downstream to meet the Meghna. The boat then enters Gumti, a tributary to the river Meghna. The B613 gets back to Narayanganj just when the sun is about to go down. There, a bus stops for a trip back to Dhaka.

Overnight cruises also sail downstream to the Sitalakhya from Narayanganj. This trip follows the same route to Gumti. Later, the boat follows the river Dhonagonda and reaches Matlab before sunset. Here the night is spent on board the Malar. One can stroll around the adjacent bazaar or explore the riverbanks. The next day, the boat sails further south towards the confluence of Meghna and Padma. The boat starts sailing upstream. After a brief halt, the Malar reaches Narayanganj around 5pm.

If anyone wants to extend their stay, then the first night can be spent at the Sonargaon village. Four and five day cruises are also offered.

The most remarkable trip made by the B613 is towards the largest mangrove forest of the world. Imagine the romantic mists of the forest, glimpses of the rarest of species, and the mesmerising sight of the radiant moon at night. This could be your perfect escape from the hassles of everyday life. Sundarban trips are made in the month of December and January. Two types of cruises are offered. Three days are spent in the forest, with departure by boat. From Naryanganj, the boat sails for three days, cruising the rivers down to the Bay of Bengal, following the Chandpur, Barisal, and Mongla routes. The boat halts at Mongla port to refuel. Here, you will get a chance to meet friendly majhis well acquainted with the B613. The next three days are spent exploring the deep forest and waterways in the mangroves.

Also offered are a 4 to 7 day cruise in the Sundarbans, with a roundtrip from Jessore to Dhaka by air.

Contic's small fleet of boats also includes a Panchi boat, modified and built by the Brahmaputra carpenters. Elegant traditional features still cover the façade of this boat. About a thousand years ago, the Panchi was used for rowing races between villages. It was also used for carrying troops. The Panchi built by Contic is called the "Flleche D'or" or The Golden Arrow. The Flleche D'or is also the longest of its type in the country and perfect for lavish day cruises. It usually cruises the rivers surrounding Dhaka. Cruises on Panchi begin from Ashuliya. It leisurely moves along the river Turag towards Shadarghat, the largest river port of the country. From there, you can see the Ahsan Manzil and the bustling Shadarghat. The boat will reach Ashuliya as you watch the sun go down. You can also enjoy a half-day cruise on this boat.

Both "B613" and the "Flleche D'or" are run by diesel engines. However, one will hardly be overwhelmed by noise or any other kind of discomfort. Tours on the B613 are available before and after Eid. The Flleche D'or is open on Eid day as well. You can also take pleasure in a trip on board these boats any time of the year. If you wish to witness the grandeur of the rivers, visit Contic situated at house no 183, road no. 69, Gulshan 2.

It should be mentioned that if you wish to roam the rivers on these boats, it will cost you a very handsome amount of money. One-day cruises on the B613 will cost you about Tk4, 500. The cost increases if you wish to stay longer. A Sundarban trip on the B613 costs around Tk7,500 per day, per person. Half-day cruises on the Flleche D'or will cost around Tk2,100 and the cost for a full day would be around Tk2,600. Tour prices for all the trips include meals, soft drinks, hot beverages, mineral water, and pick-ups. A Sundarban tour cost includes pick-ups at Dhaka, airfare for the Dhaka-Jessore-Dhaka roundtrips, and again, inclusive of all meals and drinks. If you have security concerns in mind, rest assured you that there have never been any mishaps during the trip since 1997.

It is the rivers that give Bangladesh all its magnificence. Sail through and marvel at the sight of their infinite beauty. Bon voyage!

By Shahnaz Parveen, Photo courtesy: Contic













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