Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 28, Tuesday, January 11, 2005





away from dhaka

WINTER is the perfect time for pleasure trips. The word 'pleasure trip' brings to mind luxurious hotels, beaches and picnic spots with all the delectable food and lavish facilities handy. Rarely do we set foot for an adventurous expedition to the places unknown, trekking in the hills or a voyage in the bottomless sea to an almost deserted island. We Bangalees always tend to play safe.

In this week's issue, we are going on an expedition to unlock the mysteries of nature. If you are one of those people who have the knack for adventure and exploring the unknown, come along with us, let loose your wildest imagination. And also make the most out of your Eid-ul-Azha vacation this January.

Trekking trip to Keokradong
The first place we are taking you is to Bandarban, to Mt. Keokradong, the highest mountain peak of Bangladesh. It is about 4,500 ft high from the sea level. On the way to the top you will get to see waterfalls, serene mountain rivers, ripples of the Boga lake and many friendly Bawm and Tripura faces.

The trip starts with a bus ride to Bandarban. You can choose between The S Alam service from Fakirapool or the Dolphin from Kalabagan, and the fare is Tk 240. Taking the 11pm night coach, you reach the fresh air of the hilly district by 7 am. This is followed by a rickshaw ride to Hafezghona and then to Poukkhon chari by 'chader gaari'. This interesting vehicle will charge Tk50. You can also reserve a jeep for Tk 1300-1500. These are available near the bus stand.

From Poukkhon chari you will have to get to Ruma bazaar by trawler, and you reach there by nightfall. You can either avail one of the several boarding houses at the bazaar, or if you want a little more comfort, try and obtain permission from the authorities to stay at the Parbattya Ancholik Porishad rest house or the Thana rest house. Sleep tight, for the morrow brings a challenging adventure.

The day starts with a hike to the Boga lake. Grab a local guide to take you on the 3-hour journey through Eden Hill and Jhiri Khaal to the entrance of the Boga lake. A handful of stores owned by the indigenous people there will yield simple food like rice, egg, and bananas, to appease the hunger that's bound to appear after the long hike.

After a little rest, hiking starts again. You will have to go through Boga khal this time. After Boga khal you start climbing the slopes full of damp rocks. There are steps hewn into the slopes by the locals, with bamboo handrails. An undulating path leads you to Boga para, where you stay the night.

Beside the lake there are two rest houses both made of bamboo on high platform. The tranquil night with sparkling stars on the sky and glowing fireflies in the bushes will mesmerise you. The Boga lake itself is a wonder. It is situated about 1250 ft above the sea level on top of the hills. Indigenous people living there worship the lake believing deeply in its miraculous power of healing. They believe if you toss a coin in the water and pray, the lake will fulfil your heart's desire.

Next morning the final phase of the journey. After climbing for about two and half hours you will reach your destination. On the peak, a cascade of mystic clouds will wash away the polluted spirit of Dhaka's concrete jungle. Mountain terrain, blurred and embossed in the horizon will beckon you. They will seem so near yet so far away.

Expedition to countries largest marshland
If you are not much of a mountain climber then you might like our next trip, which is to the Tanguar haaor (marshland).

Tanguar haaor, the biggest in Bangladesh is not yet a popular place among the tourists. This rich swamp-land, home to a cornucopia of birds, fish and plant life, is gradually gaining attention. According to National Conservation Strategy, around 150 under water plants exist in the marsh. Around 208 species of birds live there. Every winter thousands of guest birds join the flock.

Tanguar haaor is situated at Sunamganj districts. It covers about 9700-hectares of area. Unlike other swamplands, Tanguar haaor is always wet, even during the dry season in the winter. Rainy season, however, is the best time to visit.

A bus ride will take you to Sunamganj via Sylhet. Buses start from Sayedabad bus terminal. One can also go by train via Sylhet. After a night stay at Sunamganj you can start in the morning. There are moderate hotels in the town. To visit the haaor you should start early in the morning. On the way you will see the beautiful Shurma and Jadukata rivers and magnificent hilly ranges.

You reach Sripur bazaarm and from there you take an engine boat locally known as tempo-trawler. Upon your arrival at the Paatnai river, you are greeted by birdsong and emerald green Hijol and Koroch trees. The Paatnai has several tributaries: you can follow any one of them. In the shallow waters you will see fishes playing around. Hundreds of white herons will fascinate you. This place is best for bird watching. This is the closest you can get to nature. To get back you must reach Sripur by 3pm and follow the same route home.

A voyage to Nijhum dweep
Long way from Dhaka, surrounded by the blue waters of Bay of Bengal rests the mysterious Nijhum dweep (island). It is originally a cluster of islands, mainly Ballar Char, Kamlar Char, Char Osman and Char Muri, with a total landmass of about 14050 acres. The island first emerged in the early 1950s in the south of Noakhali. A group of fisherman first discovered the island or rather sandbanks. They named it Baular Char, literally meaning 'the alluvium of sand'. More such sandbanks were discovered afterwards. The name gradually changed in to current Ballar Char.

The island is very lightly populated. Migration started during the 1970s. In 2001, it was around 10,670. Fishing is the main occupation of these people. Some are involved in agriculture and livestock farming. Although life in the island is still full of calamities more people are gradually migrating there.

This place is yet isolated from the mainland. It has only six bazaars with mainly grocery shops, small restaurants and drug stores. These bazaars are the only places in the island to have electricity supplied by generators.

You will get to see mangrove forest and various species of deer in the island. The forest department created mangrove forests in Nijhum Dweep. The island is being used as a breeding ground for deer. A herd of about 5000 spotted deer reigns the island. Explore in and around and you will discover Keora trees with monkeys swinging in their branches. Keora is found in the Sundarbans and it has fast growing roots. These roots were planted to prevent the sandy land from erosion. During winter, thousands of migratory birds visit the islands enhancing the splendour even further. If you visit the central coasts you will be lucky enough to witness the habitat of various birds like waders, gulls, terns, egrets, ducks and geese. These are the most common species living there. Some rare species from all around the world pay visit during October and return in April. Spotted Green Shank, Spotted Red Shank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Indian Skimmer, Sandpiper, Wagtail, and Brown-headed Gull are a few of them.

The best time to visit the island is winter. Going to the island will probably be the most difficult trip you have ever made. You can go to this island either from Dhaka or from Chittagong. From Dhaka, you can go to Tomzuddin of Hatia dweep by launch plying from Sadarghat. From there you can go to Nijhum island by local motorboat. Or you can take a bus or train ride to Chittagong. From Chittagong you can go to Hatia island by motor boat or ship known as 'sea truck' and from there you can go to Nijhum island by local motor boat. Either way you will have to stay overnight at Hatia. There are some boarding hotels, among them, the best is Monir Chairman's Boarding. In Hatia, you will have to go to Jahazmara bazaar by tempo or jeep. From there you can go to Amtali ghat or Katakhali ghat by rickshaw. Engine boats are available there to take you to Nijhum dweep. These boats ply depending on the wave and tide of sea.

If you wish to stay in the island then you will have to endure very poor accommodation, which is also very limited. There are some boarding houses you can stay in. Forest Department has a rest house in the island. If you can arrange prior permission you can stay there.

There is also a District Parishod Guest house also requires permission from the office of the TNO, situated at Hatia. Both these places provide food.

If you are travelling in a group, and living in one of the boarding houses arrange for a cook and prepare the food. You can also eat at local restaurants but at your own risk of course.

Nijhum dweep was declared a National Park in 2001. For the adventure seekers a trip to this island could be the experience of a lifetime.

Let tour operators handle the odds
You can either take all the hassle to arrange the trip yourself or hire a tour operator to do to odds. Most tour operators do not have regular adventure trips to these places, as these are not popular among tourists. The only operator who will do the job regularly is Tour Zone, situated at 81/A, Kakrail. Their phone no is 9355781. For a six-day trip to Keokaradong they charge tk4500 per person. They have their own guide Laram Bawm for the trip. Laram Bawm lives in Boga lake para and knows every curve and slope perfectly. A three-day trip to Tanguar haaor would cost tk2300, and a six-day trip to Nijhum dweep cost tk3200. This charge includes all transport, all meals, accommodations, guide service and first aid. They also have video camera service. If you don't have one of your own, for a tk500 charge they will lend in theirs. Three to seven days after the tour they will hand over a CD full of fresh memories.

Among others operators, Guide Tours occasionally arrange Keokaradong trip on request only. Their address is Darpan Complex, plot no 2, Gulshan 2. Phone no 9886983.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Photo: Safayat Hossain Nahid

(If we have missed the names of any other tour operators offering these trips please e-mail us the details so that we can update the readers.)


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