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     Volume 5 Issue 113 | September 22, 2006 |

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A Magical Day in Cox's Bazar


The Bangladesh Motsho Unnayan Corp. is a popular place where locals sell and trade their daily catch

For most people, the lure of Cox Bazar is its stunning stretch of beach and endless miles of sand. To others, it acts as a link to the Saint Martin's Island. We were in search for another allure and so, with the aid of some university friends, we set off from our hotel on a daylong excursion, away from the beach, away from the sand and into the heart of the city, the heart of Cox Bazar.

The easiest way to move in the city is by a rickshaw, be it for close proximity or for long rides. It is interesting to note that the rickshaw pullers are usually the locals and tend to know a lot of the locality. One hint that you are not interested to go to the beach would sprout the rickshaw puller's attention. After all, the beach is one place where he cannot ply. Our rickshaw puller was quickly interrogating us about our likes and pretty soon, we were on our way. In order to avoid inconveniences and embarrassments in the end, don't forget to fix the price before you go. The best solution to do, if you don't want to calculate each destination individually, is to hire the rickshaw for an hour. A reasonable price would be Tk 50 per hour but Tk 60 per hour is also a good bargain. Then again, if you plan to go shopping then it's useless to keep the rickshaws waiting and so it's better to go on a fixed fair.

Our first stop was The Buddhist Rakhain Temple of Tekpara. Our rickshaw pullers were nice enough to keep our sandals, as we had to walk bare-feet inside the temples. Inside, we had heard, was a collection of Buddha statues and ancient pagodas. The temples were old, their wooden walls somewhat tarnished with age. But the structures itself was solid and intact, managing to retain the grandeur it was once built with. There were statues of Buddha everywhere, along with a lot of ancient items such as wall clocks, ornaments and old scrolls, all carefully preserved for visitors of the temple. We also got a glimpse of Aung Chan Sa Nine Planet Pagoda, built in 2002, a golden temple structure to pay homage to the Buddhist way to life. It was beautiful and we all stopped to admire the structure. There was a finely crafted stone Buddha sitting in front of the structure that only flaunted the fine details of the piece. Next, we saw statues of the enlightened Buddha. These statues had bright lights behind them, showing their enlightened state. It was beautiful but it should be mentioned that the monks do not allow people to take pictures of Buddha, unless one can preserve it in a place of prayer. We then ventured further into Tekpara.

The most interesting thing about Tekpara is the glimpses of the houses through the trees. They are all small, usually one-storied cottages made of wood, some of them more than fifty years old. It is always a rare treat to see wooden houses because they seem so hard to maintain in this tropical weather. These houses belonged to the people of the Rakhain tribes. These are not Burmese people but rather Bangladeshi by birth and they seem quite offended if they are told otherwise.

Curiosity got the better of us and we ventured into one of these tiny houses. The people welcomed us unhesitatingly. The ground floor of most of the houses was the foundation of the houses: open, dark with only the black wooden pillars standing to support the structure. This space is used for cooking, washing, chatting and other such activities. These tribal people who are into crafts also use this space to practice their trade. The Rakhains spend a lot of their time in this space, while the upper part of the houses is used only for sleeping. Upon entering the first floor, we were greeted by a common room with a standard sofa set and sometimes a television. Interestingly, the windows of the houses were all at our waist level. We asked the occupants why the windows were so low and they informed us that they use the floor as seats and hence, all the windows were in that height. It seemed so much more practical. This was the main furniture set in the house while a few other houses had a closet. There was no other furniture, not even beds. This Spartan lifestyle has its own charm the tiny toms are neat, clean and spacious.

Usa Mair (left) working busily on her rakain while her youngest daughter Khin Khin sports one of her mother's handmade shawls.

During one such visit we met Usa Mair, a weaver. She has a unique weaving style that makes use of both her hands and legs. She weaves shawls and bags. Though it's impossible to tell her age, she has been weaving for 40 years now. Her use of the rakain (loom) is similar to jamdani weaving but with a wider variety of coloured threads. She is a mother of two sons, who are gold craftsmen, and three daughters. Fortunately she has passed on her skills to her daughters, who are quite skilled in weaving. Usa obtains her raw materials from Chittagong in the form of woolen sweaters. She then carefully goes through the tedious task of separating the wool from the sweaters to use as raw material for her own trade. She completes about one bag or two shawls each day, and then sells them to the local markets. Though she earns just Tk 2000 a month, she gets by rather well. We all bought some shawls from her and started off on our journey.

Next, we headed to Tri Dhara Dock Yard. From there, we got a majestic view of the Majhirghat over bridge.

Lucky for us, there were some boats being repaired here, while a handful of people were putting turpentine on the skeleton of some large trolleys. For boat lovers and adventurers alike this place is a must visit, just about an hours rickshaw ride away from the main beach. We also happened upon a variety of other boats that ply the Bay of Bengal, carrying fish, ice and salt.

The Tri Dhara Dock Yard is a spectacular place to spot a wide range of ocean liners

Now the sights of all the boats got us into the momentum of the ocean and we went to the nearby Bangladesh Motsho Unnayan Corporation, on the Airport Road. It's here that the local fishermen gather to sell off their daily catch. Never in our lives had we seen such a variety of ocean fish and at such low prices. There was kail, a three-feet long, golden and silver fish that cost only Tk 80 per kg and an ugly, stout ritha that cost about Tk 150 to Tk 200 per kg. Other fish that were on display were the chanda maach (pomphret) and shrimps, which we hoped we could take a crate back with us, as they are so expensive in Dhaka. There were some unusual catches also in the form of some kolaor fish (hammerhead shark) and aaor (stingray) which the local Bangladeshi didn't eat but were consumed by some tribal people or are exported.

By now we were starving and went to Jhawbon, a local restaurant on Kolatoli Road. Amongst all the food we tried, one delicacy that we instantly fell in love with the loita fish fry. This delight can be found in most of the local restaurants and is quite a delicacy. The fish is cooked first and once the inside is well cooked and soft, it's instantly deep-fried. This leaves the outer layer crunchy, while the inside is nice and soft. Just one mouthful is enough to intoxicate you to try some more. At Tk 40 per plate, this dish is ridiculously cheap and is available both for lunch and dinner. For breakfast, we strongly recommend a chicken soup dish and paratha.

No travel to Cox Bazar can be complete without a sojourn to the beach.

After lunch, we again decided to refrain ourselves from the beach and headed east, up the mountain to the 'New Circuit House' as the locals call it. It's amazing to have such a clear view of the vast ocean ahead of you but also the view of the clutter of hotels. The sight is, in one word, breathtaking. From this vantage point, we could see the hotels that had the best views, the hotels that had the best rooftop pools, hotels that had flocks of people as well as hotels that were in dire need of a paint job. The feel of the endless ocean from left to right was simply extraordinary

By now, it was late in the afternoon and we would soon be heading back to our hotel. We decided to take a walk on the beach and bid farewell to the ocean. Even though we did not spend the whole day at the beach or in the ocean, our day had proved to be quite adventurous. Nevertheless, it was the frolicking about in the unknown streets of Cox's Bazar and looking at the other aspects that made this visit such a magical one.



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