Out in the open breathing free
WHEN it comes to vacationing, it is tempting, for those who can afford it, to look toward foreign shores to spend their much-earned rest from work, school, etc. While that is a good option, it overlooks the fact that our country, especially recently, has a lot to offer vacationers.
Bangladesh is a country blessed with many forms of natural splendour. Down South we have the enchanting coastline of Cox's Bazaar, a bit further West the mangroves of Sundarban and in the northern regions of the country we find man-made milestones of our country's long and rich past in the archaeological remains of Mahastangarh in Bogra.
People looking to get away from their normal lives can be divided into three broad categories: the adventure-minded, the leisure-seekers, and those who want to broaden their historical perspective.
Fortunately, our country has the treasures to satisfy all three. Another positive development has been the advent of Tour Agencies that offer packages for tourists wanting to visit the exotic spots of Bangladesh.
Possibly the most numerous of the different types of vacationers, this group of people want nothing more than to get away somewhere to relax and take in the sights. Needless to say, Cox's Bazar will feature top of the list as a choice of vacation for leisure seekers.
Over the past decade Cox's bazaar has developed in leaps and bounds as a tourist hotspot. There are now numerous attractions to keep tourists charmed, giving them a chance to unwind from their otherwise busy lives.
There are many options when choosing a place to stay while on vacation there. Not only have high quality hotels sprung up, visitors can also indulge their adventurous side by choosing resorts like the Mermaid Eco Resort. This resort is completely organic, with everything made from natural sources, and promotes a back-to-basics feel with features such as an open-air bathroom.
Although not located at Cox's Bazar per se, it is a treat for the nature-oriented, and is situated at Inani Beach, a thirty minute jaunt over Marine Drive from Cox's Bazar.
Whether you are staying there or not, the drive through Marine Drive is a must. With the sea at your right and mountains on the left, this drive is sure to bring out the romantic in you.
Another very popular spot is a restaurant called “Angel Drop” which offers tourists the opportunity to dine with the sea literally at the doorstep. Located at what was formerly the main beach, the restaurant rests on a platform elevated by wooden poles. At high tide, patrons can have their food on the veranda with the sea flowing underneath.
Just over an hour's boat ride away from Cox's Bazar is Saint Martin's Island. The boat ride allows you to see one of nature's splendours. About halfway through the ride you can actually see the river flowing into the ocean, the water from the two distinct water bodies distinguished by differing shades of blue and divergent tides. On the island itself, there are now quality hotels where you can enjoy the sights.
If you want to go to a place which has all your holiday needs in one place, look no further than Jamuna Resort at Tangail. The resort has a swimming pool, a game room, a first-rate restaurant, a tennis court, a large field for sports, and a plush cottage to go back to at the end of the day. The cottage lends a very cosy feel, and you actually feel that that is your home.
Also, you can go for boat rides on the Jamuna River. The reflection of the setting sun in the pools of water that form on the banks is indeed a brilliant sight and well worth the fare for the boat ride. Then you have the Bangabandhu Bridge, which is a feat of engineering yet unparalleled in Bangladesh, and among the top echelon of Asia's bridges.
If you are looking for adventure, the Chittagong Hill Tracts will oblige. Unless you have local knowledge and an experienced trekker, it is best to go through one of the tour agencies. Saidur Rahman Khan, the owner of Discovery Bangladesh, an agency that specialises in organising and delivering such excursions, said when asked about the advantages of going through a tour agency: “A tour agency that specialises in such trips will take care of organising the transport, boarding, food and activities of the trip.”
One of the main attractions there is the Keokradong peak in Bandarban. “Visitors have to stay with the villagers, who will also prepare the food for an agreed fee. Alternately you can take a tent. It is also important that tourists are fit and willing to take some physical stress, as the trek to the top of the peak is hard work,” explained Khan.
You can also take a river cruise through the hills and then trek up to the naturally formed lotus filled Boga Lake near the top of Keokradong.
Rangamati is another favourite vacation spot along the Hill Tracts. Located on the western bank of Kaptai Lake, a water body that formed as a consequence of Kaptai Dam, it is also affectionately known as “The Lake City”. The Lake itself is an attraction, with boat rides enabling visitors to see enchanting waterfalls, especially in the monsoon. Other attractions include the hanging footbridge.
The best thing about vacationing in the Hill Tracts is sampling the tribal culture, and getting to know a different kind of life. It is a refreshing change, and will surely replenish your spirits.
A slice of history
Bangladesh has a long past that encompasses reigns -- Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim --spanning over two millennia. It was first a land of the Hindus, then a Buddhist kingdom took its seat in this land of rivers, followed by the reign of the Mughals. For those who have a penchant for history and ancient ruins north is the direction to travel.
Located just north of Bogra, Mahastangarh is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Bangladesh. The ruins of an ancient city, it is now an imposing landmark on the banks of the river Karatoa, and is confined in an oblong shaped enclosure.
Beyond the enclosure, other ancient remains dot the landscape in a semicircle of about 8km radius. These include the Govinda Bhita Temple, Khodai Pathar Mound, Mankalir Kunda, Parsuramer Bedi, Jiyat Kunda etc. Visitors can stay at hotels in Bogra, which is just 18km away.
Near Rajshahi is another historical landmark, Paharpur Vihar, an ancient seat of Buddhist learning, which in its prime attracted students from all over the region. This 8th century A.D. archaeological find covers approximately an area of 27 acres of land.
The architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is influenced by those of south-east Asia, particularly in Myanmar and Java. There is a site museum that displays the representative collection of objects recovered from the area. Visit the Varendra Research Museum in Rajshahi to see the excavated findings from this site of ancient learning.
It's not only in the North where our history and heritage lie; make your way South and you will find some treasures. Even before leaving Dhaka, visitors can see magnificent samples of Mughal architecture, like the Lalbagh Fort. Further south tourists can visit the Sitakunda hill range, about 37km from Chittagong. One of the oldest temples of the subcontinent sits atop the range of hills, the Chandranath Hindu temple.
Nearby, one can also find a Buddhist temple said to contain the footprint of Lord Buddha. The hilltops are regarded as sacred ground by Hindus and Buddhists.
These sites, and many others unnamed give one a historical perspective, and imbue a new respect for Bangladesh and her past.
Our country has so many locations of beauty and historical consequence; the tourism industry is only now just waking up to their possibilities. Cast your eyes inward, and whatever type of vacationer you are, be sure that Bangladesh has the wares to oblige.
Photo courtesy: Star Holiday Archive