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     Volume 4 Issue 35 | February 25, 2005 |

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Oi Rangamatir Poth

Srabonti NArmeen Ali

It does not occur to most people how diverse Bangladesh is. With Dhaka being the capital and the majority of the population being Bangalis, one feels that they know Bangladesh in its entirety, or all that they need to know. Unfortunately, many people leave it at that and never bother to find out what else there is to offer. I do not know whether I fall into this particular category, or whether I should label myself as just plain lazy, but I too, confess to be one of these "ignorant people." I consider a trip outside of Dhaka to be a picnic to Gazipur, or an excursion to Fantasy Kingdom.

However, this weekend, after a lot of convincing and pleading from my friends, I took a walk on the wild side and decided to accompany them to Rangamati and Bandarban, making sure I packed the main necessities: my cell phone charger, extra toilet paper, make-up, mosquito repellant, and lots of deodorant.

Our trip started on Thursday afternoon when some of the people in our group took the afternoon Biman flight to Chittagong. There was a group that had already left Dhaka in the morning by car, one person who had taken an earlier flight and another group that would be taking a later flight into the city. The expected head count was fourteen. I was expecting half of us to not make it. There were just too many people coming at too many different times, and I wondered how we were ever going to coordinate. Nevertheless we all made it, and after resting for a few hours (and waiting for our entire group to convene) in Chittagong, we set out for Rangamati by car.

It was quite a sight, I'm sure for the locals--four jeeps choc-a-block full of people, driving through the city of Chittagong and out into the so-called wilderness. My nerves were already shot -- what if there were snakes? I hate snakes. A friend of mine expressed her fear of lizards. Both of us were not comforted when we were told very enthusiastically by our friends who had been there before that there were plenty of both in Rangamati and that we would be sure to come across them in our journey. I was not at all happy with this information so I focused on the scenery flashing by through the car window. Slowly, but surely, the concrete buildings and shops of the city faded away and were replaced with hut houses and small villages with little to no electricity. It was interesting, also, to see that the women from the various indigenous groups were out working alongside the men, and carrying loads that were just as heavy as the ones the men were carrying. A truly advanced society, in which, women are much more liberated than the Bangali women in the cities.

We reached Rangamati a little after sunset and despite being tired and knowing that we had an early morning the next day, we went to see the Hanging Bridge after dining at the Bangladesh Parjatan Hotel. Although it was dark and there was hardly any light, we found our way with torches. I went to sleep thinking that there was no way we would be able to get up the next day at 6:30am. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all fourteen of us were up by 7am, ready to have breakfast before going on a boat trip.

Our boat stopped at many different places, including a Buddhist temple, a waterfall which, unfortunately had dried out and even an old army camp on an island which the Shanti Bahini had bombed. For lunch we stopped at a quaint resort by the name of Peda Ting Ting. The restaurant was on stilts on top of the lake. We had a great view while tasting the local delicacies of the area.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to get ready to leave for the second half of our journey. We left Rangamati and began our three-hour drive up the long, windy, hilly path to Bandarban. The ride was definitely not as smooth as the one to Rangamati. Although the roads were relatively alright, our cars were constantly winding this way and that, causing most of us to feel queasy. Thankfully there were no throw-up incidents and after taking a few breaks along the way, we reached the Parjatan Hotel in Bandarban in one piece. Since we were all tired from the past two days we had an early night and got up the next morning ready to go sightseeing in Bandarban. Our first stop was Chimbuk, the highest accessible area in Bangladesh. Again the roads were extremely windy and slightly broken, but once we saw the view from the top, we figured it was worth it after all. Our guide for the day then told us that he was going to take us to a Chakma village. We were all very excited but what he failed to mention was that the village itself was at the bottom of a hill, and we would have to climb down about 200 metres to get to the village. After much maneuvering and stepping this way and that (some of the really smart girls -- me included -- had decided to wear sandals instead of sneakers) we found our way into the village, which seemed abandoned at first.

Most of its inhabitants had seen us coming and had gone into their houses, but a few children came out and very happily posed for our cameras. We city-slickers were very impressed when we found a solar panel on top of one of the houses, until we were told by our slightly amused guide that many villages have houses with solar panels.

By then we realised that half of us had to start their long car ride back to Dhaka, while the other half had to get back to Chittagong to catch a plane. We set out for Chittagong a little after three and thankfully reached in time to catch our flight. At the airport I heaved a sigh of relief because I had not had any encounters with snakes or anything of the kind.

It is amazing that in just three days, a city gal like me can actually want to see more of Bangladesh (minus the snakes, of course). I am the comfort loving type -- the type that needs a proper, clean bathroom (preferably Western style), hot water, a fan if not A.C., and clean bedsheets and toilet paper. The tourist areas of Bangladesh, as beautiful as they are, are not known to have the cleanest and most hygienic facilities, but all that aside, it's still worth the trip and worth roughing it when you are with good people whose company you enjoy. And although my interactions with the indigenous communities were limited, the trip itself was enough to remind me of how integral these remote communities are to Bangladesh, how much we can learn from them and how much they contribute to the diversity of our nation.




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