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     Volume 5 Issue 116 | October 13, 2006 |

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Cover Story

Eid Vacationing
Getting Away From It All

Nader Rahman and Elita Karim
Photos: syed zakir hossain

Crystal clear lakes, lush green hills and unbelievable tranquillity characterise Rangamati.

A holiday is not a holiday if all it does is build up stress and if endless planning goes into what should essentially be free time. The holiday is now just a name we give to stress that is not work related.
This year Eid like most other holidays will be a hectic time, cooking, cleaning and shopping. It is guaranteed to empty the pocket and drain one on an emotional level, but that does not have to be the case. Most of us think of Eid as a time to meet and greet our extended family and a long lost of friends and associates. But Eid is, after all, a holiday and should be a time to relax and let down one's guard. An alternative to the endless ritual of visiting and being visited, is to just get away from it all by taking a short trip out of our cocoons.

Most people will claim that travelling is too expensive and that it is just a big hassle as spending that time at home, but nothing could be further from the truth. With innumerable package tours available, these days there are a host of places that one can go to, even on a small budget. If one really wants to travel there are a few decisions that one must take even before planning the trip; first and foremost the budget and secondly whether to travel internationally or within the country.

While the budget is the most important decision that needs to be made, the choice of whether to travel within the country or internationally is one that we take far too easily. These days the sense of not leaving the country for the holidays is not really a holiday is simply not true. Bangladesh may be a small country but it has innumerable tourist destinations, most of which we choose not to find out about. It is ingrained in our brain that any holiday destination within our country is bound to be dirty, boring and unsafe. Times have changed and so should our stereotypes; the country has a lot to offer and this Eid is the perfect time to uncover a part of Bangladesh we never knew before. Whether you are on a large budget or not, this Eid end your stress with a little vacation, and treat the holiday season like it should be, by relaxing rather than stressing.

For those wishing to travel within Bangladesh there are a number of places to visit, some of the most common locations are Cox's Bazar, St Martins, Rangamati, the Sunderbans, Bandarban and Kuakata. Aside from the regular tourist spots there are a number of other destinations to visit and for those who want just a day away there are many interesting spots to see in and around Dhaka.

Day Long Excursions
The Guide Tours Ltd. is the oldest private tour operator in Bangladesh and has been in business since 1978. They offer some fantastic daylong tours which could be arranged in and around Eid. They offer a full day river cruise, where one will be picked up and driven to Demra Ghat about 15 Km east of Dhaka. There one boards their boat the S. B. Ruposhi, and the cruise begins on the serene Shitalakha River. Light refreshments will be served. About an hour and a half after the boat sets sail, it will reach Murapara. The guests will disembark and will be given a tour of an old Zamindar house; there is also a jute mill of interest there. The cruise will continue northward and will turn back early afternoon; at this point the boat can be stopped for a swim in the river. Then lunch will be served, on the journey back there will be a stop at the Noapara village to see the famous Jamdani weaving. It ends back where it started at Demra. From there they will arrange for a drive back to Dhaka. This trip costs roughly Tk 1800 per person and usually needs about six people. Perfect for a day away from the Eid madness. They also offer an evening river cruise, with dinner, which is essentially the same as the daylong river cruise just that it starts later and offers dinner aboard the ship. It is a perfect retreat for those who just want a quiet evening away from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. There are refreshments as the cruise starts and dinner is served on top of the deck roof. There is also a customary stop at Noapara village, maybe one will be enticed to buy some of their famous Jamdani saris. This trip costs about Tk 2300.

White sands and blue waters make idyllic scenes in St. Martin's

There are other full day excursions available; the one to Moinamati sounds quite fun. It starts at 8:00 in the morning, people will be picked up from the appropriate pick up points and will be driven to Moinamati in Comilla. After arriving a light snack will be served before a guide takes you on a tour of an archaeological Buddhist site. The centuries-old memories of a thriving Buddhist civilisation makes for terrific sight seeing. There are also local museums to visit. After lunch there will be another trip to a Hindu temple in the south of the city. Another interesting stop awaits on the drive back to Dhaka, this time at Sonargaon which was the old capital of Bengal. Arrival back in Dhaka is in the late afternoon. The advantage of this trip is it only requires a minimum of 2 people and for a whole day it only costs Tk 4000.

Another interesting trip is a visit to a pottery village. It begins nice and early at 8:00 in the morning and one is driven straight to Savar to visit the magnificent National Martyrs Monument. After that there will be a guide who takes you to Dhamrai. Dhamrai is famous for its brass work, and the guide will take you to the various places where artisans create intricate brass work. Next, lunch will be arranged and followed by a visit to the village of Kakran. The village is well known as a pottery village and to get there one needs to take a 30-minute boat journey, which will be arranged by the guide. After some time there, the tour ends and you will be driven back to Dhaka, arriving in the late evening. This daylong trip is great value for money because it only costs Tk 2700 and requires a minimum of two people. The perfect way to leave the chaos of Dhaka for a day.

Sunset in Kuakata

Daylong trips seem to be the most convenient way to relax a bit this Eid, but for people who want to leave it all behind for a few days there are many places to choose from. No doubt the first destination of choice is the world's longest unbroken sea beach at Cox's Bazar. Vacationing in Cox's Bazar has taken off in a big way only recently; before that the place was rather bare and desolate. Even though it has been built up recently it still lacks proper tourist infrastructure. In and around Cox's Bazar there are a number of places that one should visit. Firstly there is Teknaf, the southernmost tip of mainland Bangladesh. From there one can see the Naaf river mingle with the ocean - truly a sight to see. There are other deltaic islands such as Sonadia and Moeshkhali which are must sees. Himchhari, Inani, and Ramu are also some of the places of interest that one may visit if one goes down for a trip. Last but not least, there is the pristine white-sanded beach of St Martin's and the pretty coral island of Shera Dwip, which must simply be seen to be believed. Now that one knows what to see when to get there, its time to arrange a package that is affordable, comfortable and takes place at the right time.

River and Green Tours offers special Eid Packages to Cox's Bazar and St Martins all starting from October 26th. This way one can enjoy Eid with the family in Dhaka and still get a little vacation away from it all. Their 3 day 2 night package to Cox's Bazar starts from Tk 2900 and can be adjusted to suit individuals personally. Their four-day three-night tour to St Martin starts from Tk 4500. Their Chief Executive Mohinuddin Helal is very friendly and works on to adjust each package for individual requirements. Aside from that they publish a monthly travel journal called Parjatan Bichitra edited by Helal and is very useful and informative.

The Guide Tours Ltd. also offers a number of Eid packages for Cox's Bazar, St Martin's and the surrounding areas. They have two main packages to Cox's Bazar for Eid, one by road and the other by air. Both the packages essentially follow the same schedule, just that the one by road starts on the October 21 and the one by air starts on October 22. If you are travelling by road then you need to leave Dhaka on the 21st morning and arrive that evening in Cox's Bazar. Guests are put up in Hotel Sea Crown, which is known as the hotel nearest to the beach. They spend the 21st and the 22nd in Cox's Bazar before leaving on the 23rd morning to Teknaf from where they will embark on a two-hour journey by boat to St Martin's. In St Martin's they will be put up in Blue Marine Resort, that day and the following day are spent on the island. There are many activities and interesting places to explore. In the afternoon of the 25th they will leave for Teknaf by boat again. From Teknaf they will be transported by private car back to Cox's Bazar where they will spend the night. The following day they will leave for Dhaka by a/c bus, they should arrive back in Dhaka by the evening. Now the two tours by road and air follow the same schedule, only that by air one leaves on the 22nd to arrive in Cox's Bazar and on the 26th, one has to take the afternoon flight back. Depending on the size of your group this inexpensive 6 days 5 nights trip could cost from Tk 7000 to 8500 per head, that is if one goes by road. By air, depending on the size of the group this tour costs Tk 17,500 to 18,500 per person.

The next major tourist destination is the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest spread out over 7500 sq kilometres. What is of special interest for people who travel there by boat are the four species of dolphins that can be spotted quite often; they are utterly mesmerising. The best season to travel there is during the months of October and February, thereby making it an ideal destination this Eid. River and Green Tours offers a 4-day 3-night tour to the Sundarbans starting from Tk 6000. The Guide Tours Ltd offers a number of tours to the Sundarbans, they have three boats to choose from, the M.V. Aboshar, M.V. Chhuti, and the M.L. Bonbibi. The four-day journey that starts from Khulna aboard the Aboshar costs about Tk 10,000. This includes full day activities in the mangrove forest, walks on the beach and so on. For a large group of people this is perfect.

A herd of deer at Nijhum Dwip

The next tour they offer is to the Sundarbans by the M.V. Chhuti. This is a 5-day journey and the price varies if one travels to Khulna by air or by road. If one takes the package by air then it costs approximately Tk 18,000 per person and by road it costs Tk 10,500. The schedule for all the cruises is about the same just that aboard the Chhuti the tour is a day longer. This is available to groups of at least 10 people. The most expensive package offered by them is to the Sundarbans is aboard the Bonbibi. The five day journey is similar to their other tours but because it is limited to 8 people there is a far more personal feel to the journey. By air it costs about Tk 21, 500 per person and by road it is Tk 13,500 per person

The Bandarbans is another exciting place to visit and a lot less expensive a trip too. Bordering Myanmar the lush green forests are ideal to forget the gim and stress of city life. It is a both culturally and ecologically diverse. The Guide Tours Ltd. has special packages that put people up at their resort there. A 4-day journey with guided sightseeing and a full day excursion to the tribal villages will cost about Tk 3,750 per person. Shaibal Saha, the Executive officer, Operations and Marketing of Guide Tours says “We have our own resort at Bandarban,” he says. “The tourists have the freedom to eat or order from our restaurants whenever they want to. We observe hygiene and maintain strict discipline while dealing with our customers. In the other locations, we have contracts with resorts in those particular areas and try to offer the same facilities to the guests.” A small price to pay for such a unique experience. Unique Tours and Travels offers a 4-day 3-night trip to tranquil Bandarbans and panoramic Rangamati. This also includes a stop over at Sonargoan. It is available for groups of at least 6 people for Tk 7000. River and Green Tours offers a three day 2 night trip to surrounding Rangamati starting from Tk 2,900 per person.

A visit to a tea graden in Srimongol takes you to a place where time has stood still for decades

Aside from the usual places of interest, there are many other holiday locations that are seemingly forgotten. They include Kuakata, Rangamati, Srimingol, and Nijhum Dwip. Guide Tours Ltd offers two unique trips to Srimongol. The first is by train and one will be put up at a picturesque tea garden where time seems to stand still to preserve the loveliness of the greenery and innocence of local people. The 3-day 2-night trip costs about Tk 5500 per head. The same trip by road costs exactly the same, so it's all essentially a matter of which form of transportation one prefers. Unique Tours and Travels also offers a tropical rain forest and tea garden package. Their 3-day 2-night trip to Srimongol costs about Tk 4800 per head, but there must be a minimum of 6 people. On the trip one will be put up at an exclusive hillside bungalow, and there will be guide tours of the surrounding villages and wildlife areas. To Kuakata Guide Tours Ltd offers a 4-day 3-night trip by road that will put one back Tk 6000. Their other Eid packages to Nijhum Dwip and Rangamati cost Tk 5000 and 15000 appropriately. The trip to Rangamati is particularly expensive because it includes airfare to Chittagong and back. Parjatan is also offering trips to Kuakata and Rangamati this year. A two-night trip has been planned at Kuakata from October 27 to October 29 and three-day tour to Rangamati and Bandarban from October 26 to October 28. According to Jalaluddin Mohd. Akbar, the Manager of Tours in Parjatan, the tourists will be set up at the Parjatan hotels in the destinations accordingly and will be provided with regular meals along with professional guide programmes to the various spots. “The price depends on the number of people signing up for the trip and also the mode of transport to be used,” says Jalaluddin. “It will roughly come to Tk 4,500 to Tk 5,000 per person for the trips.”

Jubok Tourism Limited also offers package trips to tourist spots Bandarbans, Sundarbans, Saint Martin's at reasonable prices. According to Eam Md. Nasrul, Marketing Consultant of the agency, these trips will begin the day after Eid. Tourists will be taken to a four-day trip to the Tiger Land, i.e the Sundarbans starting from Tk 5,500 per person. A three-day trip has been organised for Cox's Bazaar and Saint Martin's for Tk 3,700 per person. The tours further run to a two-day trip to Bandarban at Tk 2,700 per person and a two-day trip to Rangamati for Tk 2,700 per person. “Prices charged also depends on the groups who visit the locations,” says Nasrul. “For instance, a group of six people would be charged less. The bigger the group, the more negotiable the prices would become.”

Nothing is quite as exciting as the wild beauty of the Sundarbans

Each trip has been designed with enough time allotted accordingly, keeping meals and tourist spots in mind. “Our itinerary has everything marked accordingly, starting from when to wake up in the morning, have breakfast to places to see and the kinds of clothes to wear and gear to carry," says Nasrul.

This year should be the year of the offbeat trip, stray from the tried and tested path and you will probably uncover a part of Bangladesh that you never even knew existed.

Traditionally, Eid has been the day when old friends and family members, who otherwise hardly ever meet each other, come together and celebrate this auspicious occasion. Some even plan to eat at expensive hotels or prepare rich food items at home to observe this once in a year reunion. However, many, nowadays, decide to reserve the day for themselves and celebrate it in unconventional ways like trekking at Bandarban, rowing on the river in the Sundarbans or simply relaxing at Saint Martin's. The beauty of Bangladesh just gets everyone to move away from their cocoons and explore the intriguing spots outside the city.

Twentynine-year-old Sabbir Hossain works at a multinational company in Dhaka. Eid turns out to be a busy event for him every year. Not only does he participate in the last minute family shopping, he also helps organise the reunion of his family members at their house in Mohammedpur. “Since my family is huge, I have to take the responsibility of at least the logistics on Eid,” he says. He drives around his mother, sister and cousins to do their last minute shopping and also runs errands for several of his aunts who are too busy preparing for the upcoming festivities. “You get used to this when you grow up in a large family,” Sabbir explains. “You just know that events like Eid would be very busy and it's simply not wise to ignore your duties.”

This Eid, however, is going to be a little different for Sabbir. He and a few of his friends and colleagues have decided to take a two-day trip to Cox's Bazaar and Saint Martin's. “For the rest of my friends it was a decision taken in the flicker of a second,” he says. “But I had to do a bit of thinking on my part, whether I could take this two-day trip or not. I knew that talking about it with the rest of my family would be of no use, since they would be shocked at my trying to break the tradition. So I just let my mother know about my plans, to which surprisingly enough, she agreed.”

Going away for the Eid holidays is a normal trend in Dr. Shamsunnisa's household. With a of two boys and two girls, both Shamsunnisa and her husband are practicing doctors. This year the family is going on a trip to the tea gardens of Sylhet. “Since we are working most of the time,” she explains. “We hardly ever get the chance to spend any quality time together as a family. Since Eid is a time when the kids and us have a few days off, we decide to spend them together. We spend around two to three days in one of our desired vacation spots, preferably the day before Eid and Eid itself. We return to Dhaka and join the rest of the extended family in the festivities. Eid celebrations, in any sense, runs for at least a week with visits, flaunting new clothes and eating sweets,” she quips.

Sometimes, reunions and trips can be continued! It is a trend in 41-year-old Ariful Hussain Rana's family to celebrate Eid together. “All our cousins and our kids meet and spend the day just once a year,” he says. “Though I was planning to take my family to a day-long corporate cruise in Ashulia this year on Eid, I didn't have the heart to beak up the party even before it began. Instead, it has been decided that everyone from our extended family will book passes for the cruise as well. So basically, we are going to have a family reunion like every year, but this year it's going to be on water and not land!”

Eid needn't be a chore that has to be repeated year after year. This year throw all your worries away and just leave. Bangladesh is a small country and you are never too far away from anything. Even then in a country as picturesque as ours it is easy to find a place of one's own. Whether it's Cox's Bazar or Kuakata, whether it's 7 days or an evening cruise, take time out to relax this Eid. There is more to see and do in this country than meets the eye, let this holiday be a real Bangladeshi vacation. Bon Voyage!

Jubok Tourism Limited: 01711372935, 01713453070, 8922046, 8931571.
The Guide Tours Ltd.: 9886983, 9862205, theguide@bangla.net, www.guidetours.com
River and Green: 8826759, 0152337435, 0189224593
Unique tours Bangladesh: 9885116, utt@bangla.net, unique@dominox.com
Parjatan: 8117855-9

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