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     Volume 7 Issue 29 | July 18, 2008 |

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Charmed by Chittagong
Shara Azad

The Chittagong skyline.
Photo: www.galenfrysinger.com

For those still in pursuit of the perfect summer sojourn, besides Sylhet to the north, there is Bangladesh's second largest city, Chittagong, to the south. Though most tourists usually hop down to Cox's Bazar to see the world's longest beach, the city of Chittagong itself is an exciting place to be, rich with culture and history.

I travelled to Chittagong for a weekend trip under rather uncommon circumstances. It had been a year since my uncle's death, so per tradition, there was to be a milad or mejban, as they say in the Chittagong dialect. And to arrive for the mejban within a reasonable amount of time, as the trip from Dhaka to Chittagong takes about six hours, I began my journey at the ungodly hour of six a.m. Apparently traffic exists even then, however, because after getting stuck in the fish market, it took another hour to escape the boundaries of the city.

I missed most of the drive through Comilla, choosing to nap in the rather uncomfortable front seat, but woke up in time for a stop at Hotel Noorzahan, which was quite pleasant with its lush garden toward the back. Following a quick snack of paratha and gosh, it was time to hit the road once again, when we zoomed, or zoomed as well as one can in the Bangladeshi system of driving where rules are more of a guideline than law, through the rain and farmlands of Nohakhali into the district of Chittagong.

As soon as we crossed the border of Chittagong, it began to rain, which really should have been my indication of what weather was to come, since it rained and rained all weekend. I had these high hopes of learning to ride a rickshaw on the wide, clean streets of Chittagong, but those hopes were quickly dashed because of the rain. Perhaps I also should have known better, however, as we are rapidly approaching monsoon season, and rain is to become a nationwide reality, no matter where one goes.

The amusement park at Foy's Lake.

On the other hand, the rain did not put a damper on my perceptions. I found Chittagong to be much like Dhaka, with the same sorts of shops and Pizza Hut and whatnot, but at the same time, Chittagong seemed a great deal cleaner and less crowded. There was limited litter on the streets, and additionally, people actually listened to and respected the policemen conducting traffic in circles and other busy areas of the city, something that hardly ever happens in Dhaka.

The people of Chittagong that I met were also quite nice and friendly, though they definitely had their quirks. At the mejban, I sat near an old woman who was more than eager to serve me rice with her hands, spoon completely thrown aside and forgotten. Her enthusiasm in helping me was genuine, which I think expresses the warmth in character of the Chittagonians as a whole, but of course, I could not help but wonder (immaturely, I suppose) if that kind old woman had washed her hands before touching the rice.

Chittagong is also seemingly a very religiously tolerant city. There were several Hindu temples and churches and even one Buddhist pagoda in the central area of the city, in addition to the many mosques. The sites of worship were also considerably welcoming to visitors, as gauche as they may be. I, for example, forgot to take off my shoes when reentering a temple, but the gentleman who reminded me did not seem too offended by my tactlessness at all. And because of such hospitality, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about all four different religions, which perhaps was the source of such tolerance knowledge.

After a morning spent visiting mosques and pagodas, I went to Foy's Lake. Now, no one had explained to me what Foy's Lake was exactly, so I was under the assumption that we would be going into the forest to look at some trees and that there would be spring or something, an entirely incorrect belief. Foy's Lake was a bit like Fantasy Kingdom in Dhaka, an amusement park with rides and other such attractions. I certainly enjoyed my time spent there though, whizzing down the water slide and screaming my head off on the pirate ship pendulum ride, which I had again incorrectly assumed would be for small children and not scary at all.

Finishing my weekend off at Pizza Hut with some truly authentic Chittagong cuisine, I actually felt at peace and at home. Dhaka is so busy, so chaotic, and so rushed that a lazy weekend in Chittagong felt like a welcome change. Besides, I was so charmed by the people and the general culture of the city that I think another trip is definitely in order. And perhaps next time I will be joined by an influx of tourists!


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