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       Volume 10 |Issue 09| March 04, 2011 |


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Cover Story

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The Novice's Guide to Chittagong


The word “vacation” etymologically means release or freedom. Strangled by the high paced urban life, exhausted by the traffic and pollution of a metropolis, anyone would love respite from the monotony of regular life and explore something exotic and out of ordinary. On the vast flat landscapes of the delta land Bangladesh, Chittagong is a hilly, luscious surprise to provide a captive soul with a gateway to the freedom of fresh air, blue skies, muddy mounts and lucid waters flowing through the valleys. The Bay of Bengal lying at its South-Western portion, and lush, green hill tracts at its Eastern section, the Chittagong district is a treat to the heart and the eyes of a nature lover. Due to time constraints, it might be impractical to take a tour of the whole district of Chittagong lying at the South-East of Bangladesh, but a short trip in and around the capital city of the district, the port city Chittagong would provide one with the complete feel of the district itself. Added to this, Chittagong city is a blend of modern city life (unlike Dhaka with fewer crowds and even less traffic) and lavish natural beauty. So brace yourselves to have an intoxicating tour to the second largest city of Bangladesh– Chittagong.

Located between the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Bay of Bengal, Chittagong can excite the brave hearts with its challenging trekking sites, marvel one's senses with the scenic beauty of the bay and regale one with the touch of history and with the comfort of modern life. Chittagong starts its entertainment right from the beginning. Either you enter the city via a plane or a bus, the welcoming hills will dazzle your eyes. Before getting into the sea-side experience and the urban life of Chittagong, let's take a venturesome walk though the hill tract around the port city.

Shitakunda is one of the most famous sites in Chittagong, not just for trekking or scenic beauty, but also as a religious pilgrimage for the Hindu community. Situated at 40 km North-West of Chittagong city, this place has two significant tourist spots– the Chandranath Hill and the Eco-Park. Trekking on the Chandranath Hill provides one with an adventurous and spiritual feeling. Hindu temples are scattered sparsely and a couple of temples are located on the very peak of the hill. One has to climb through the narrow, zigzag paths to reach the hill top. The journey itself is pretty challenging as it takes a lot of energy and mental strength to climb those steep paths having deep valleys on one side and rocky ascending surface on the other.

'Shampan', a traditional symbol of Chittagong. Photos: Zahedul I Khan
The charming Foy's Lake.,
: Zahedul I Khan

On your way you will find a waterfall pouring down cold, heavenly liquid to revive you from the tiresome trek. But if you have the attitude of an adventurer, the journey itself is an utterly enjoyable one. The greenery of the hill will sooth your eyes, the fresh air will strengthen your lungs. If you go to the Chandranath at this time of the year, you will find an amazing mix of colours all around you. There are trees with no leaves, with new green leaves, with old red and yellow leaves; the sky is a brilliant blue one during the noon and reddish-orange at dusk; this mesmerising blend of colours create a magical texture that makes the physically challenging journey merely a walk on the clouds. On your way up, stop and look back down at what you have crossed so far. The vast green land with lakes and snake-like roads, touching the horizon will work like the missing glucose in your body to energise you to ascend faster and with an all new spirit. On the way you will also find small cottage shops to provide you with water, beverages, shelter and bamboo sticks to help your way through. On an average it takes about one and a half hours to climb to the top and all the hard work seems worthwhile when you reach there. As far as your eyes can see, you will find small hills covered with verdant trees, Joom crops (a special type of crop cultivated on the hills), tribal houses and serpentine high-ways. No matter at which time of the day you reach the top, the hilltop welcomes you with chilled fresh air. The peak of the Chandranath hill is home to the Chandranath Temple- a famous pilgrimage spot for the Hindus in the subcontinent. Anyone can step in to pay respect to the Hindu god Shiva. On your way down, be a little careful otherwise you might slip and fall into the abyss in case you don't have proper footwear with good grip.

The majestic Chandranath Hill. Photo: Sharzil Samad

After your descent, you might want to have a nice meal to regain some energy and it wouldn't be a tough job as there are good, hygienic and pretty cheap hotels within 10-minute distance from the hill. The second most popular spot to visit in Shitakunda is the eco-park which happens to be the first-ever eco-park in Bangladesh. The park is enriched with almost 400 acres of lavish green fields, exotic biodiversity, plantations, and a stunning collection of flora and fauna. A walk through the park is a cherry on the top after the striking treat of the Chandranath.

Moving from the North-West of Chittagong to the East, let's go to the power house of Bangladesh-- Kaptai Lake, the dam that supplies the maximum hydroelectric power to the country. Away from the city, the journey to Kaptai itself is a pleasure; never-ending paddy fields, a roller-coaster ride along the oblique paths of the hills, rivers flowing between the hills and finally the majestic Kaptai Lake. If you have permission or any official affiliation, you can take a tour inside the power plant. On your way, you will find several picnic spots offering boat rides on the lake, bird-eye view of the whole area, foods and beverages and other amusements. From the hilltop of this picnic area you can enjoy an amazing view of the Karnaphuli River. Mysterious, cloudy hills on both sides of the river, the crystalline green water flowing in it produces a heavenly environment. In the afternoon, the setting sun behind the hills would woo your senses. But it is advisable to leave the place before sunset as the zigzag hilly roads are not very safe for journey at night.

The World War II cemetery.
: Zahedul I Khan

Descending from the highs, one can savour the beach-paradise of Chittagong. The Karnaphuli River meets the Bay of Bengal at the South of Chittagong. And the Southern part of Chittagong provides you the famous Patenga sea beach. Covered with corals and sand, the sea beach is a romantic place to have a walk with your dear ones, to sit and absorb the grace of the blue waves, to enjoy the fresh, tasty sea-food at the restaurants by the sea beach or to shop for ornaments made of oyster shells and fascinating stones or clothes designed in native fashion. You can also take a ride on a speed boat to enjoy the thrilling waves and the chilling wind of the sea. If you find Patenga sea beach crowded, take a walk beside the Navy Academy, on the Patenga Road. The best time for this walk is perhaps right after the evening, when the sun has set, the area has calmed down and the ships and the boats on the Bay of Bengal have started illuminating the dark sea-floor like thousands of fireflies. You must not miss the local delicacies provided by the small cottage-stores- Piyaju (a kind of fried snack made of lentils and onion) and fried crab with spicy sauce. If you are an astronomy lover, this place is a good one for star-gazing as it gives you access to a vast and clear night sky with minimum distraction from surface lights.

As mentioned before, the Chittagong experience is a blend of nature and urbanity. The city itself is a novelty to the people from flat-lands. Buildings peeping out from the hill-tops, streets and highways rising up and falling down along with the hilly surface give you an exotic feeling right away. Being the second most important city of the country, Chittagong is home to several historic spots, namely the 250 year old court building which gives you a birds-eye view of the city from its roof-top, the War Cemetery where soldiers both from the Great Britain and the subcontinent killed during the Second World War rest, the Kalurghat Radio Station that broadcasted the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, and numerous age old mazars (shrines). One of the most famous shrines is the shrine of Bayazid Bostami. It's not only an ancient site but also is an interesting place where you will find scarce species of huge turtles and have an opportunity to feed them. Another historic and spiritual site is the Chandapura Mosque- a multi domed mosque that's worth a visit for its architectural marvel.

Patenga: The beach by the city. Photos: Zahedul I Khan

If you love adventure, buy a city map from the New Market at the city and make your own itinerary. There are lot places to visit within the city; the Batali Hill near the Tiger Pass gives you an awesome view of the city having hills on one side and the Karnaphuli River on the other. The DC hill is called the “Theatre Para” (Theatre Colony) of Chittagong where you can enjoy stage performances along with adda (chat) sitting in the beautiful premises of the area. If you want to have fun, go to the Foy's Lake, a man-made lake named after railway engineer Foy and dug in 1924, where you can have the pleasure of nature and the excitement of daunting fun-rides. If you are intrigued by tribal cultures, take a visit to the Ethnological Museum of Chittagong that gives you a graphic introduction to the indigenous heritage of Bangladesh.

You can also take a leap and visit the Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CHUET), in the suburbs of Chittagong. The greenery and the vastness of the campus spreading through several hills might make you envy the students who are studying in such an astonishing environment.

A bird's eye view of the Karnaphuli. Photo: Sharzil Samad

Chittagong has a Revolving Restaurant at Kalurghat, which will give you a stunning aerial view of the city. During this World Cup season, the city is decorated with variegated lights and bright sculptures. So if you have dinner in this restaurant you can treat yourself to a mesmerising view of the city at night. Besides the Revolving Restaurant, Chittagong has KFC and Pizza Hut, posh hotels like Tava and Ambrosia, medium-expense food corners like Handi and Royal Hut or Hotel Zaman. You can have local, Chinese, Indian or continental delicacies in most of these places.

Staying at Chittagong and not having a short trip to the Cox's Bazar is synonymous to going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. It takes around two and a half hours to go to Cox's Bazar from Chittagong. On your way you can make stops at the Dulahazra Safari park at Chakaria, where you can enjoy viewing elephants- wild and domesticated, birds from numerous species, monkeys of different kinds, Royal Bengal Tigers, crocodiles and a lot other kinds of animals. Your second stop can be at Himchhari, where you can enjoy the tranquil company of the Bay of Bengal. Being away from the city, it is always less crowded. It is also decorated with waterfalls and the famous “broken hills” to satiate the soul of the nature lover.

Tiger Pass near the Batali Hill.
: Zahedul I Khan

Stepping into the Cox's Bazar, a fishing port formerly referred as Palongkee and later named after Captain Cox during the British regime, itself is a thrilling feeling because it takes you to one of the natural wonders- the longest sea beach in the world. The ocean-experience is always amazing and Cox's Bazar gives you the longest one. Golden sands reflecting the silver sun light, wavy waters rushing onto the shores take you to a different world of awe and beauty. The beach is a hub of several water sports like surfing and banana-boat rides. You can have a quiet, soothing tea at the Kolatoli sea beach where wooden two-storied restaurants by the sea are ready to embrace you. The best thing to do in Cox's Bazar is perhaps enjoy the sun setting into the depths of the Bay of Bengal. The scarlet ambience paired by the glittering sandy beach and the shushing sound of the sea takes one away from the world of cruel reality and shows the picture-perfect side of Mother Nature.

Cox's Bazar is also home to one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in Bangladesh- Aggameda Khyang. Equally elaborate in plan, elevation and decoration the Aggameda Khyang near the entrance to the Cox's Bazar town is located at the foot of a hill under heavy cover of large trees. The main sanctuary- cum-monastery is situated on a series of round timber columns, which apart from accommodating the prayer chamber and an assembly hall, also is the repository of small bronze Buddha images-mostly of Burmese origin and some old manuscripts. Beyond the main khyang, there is an elevated wooden pavilion and a smaller brick temple with a timber and corrugated metal roof. Apart from bearing an inscription in Burmese over its entrance the temple contains some large stucco and bronze Buddha statues.

You can also take a trip to Ramu- a typical Buddhist village famous for its handicrafts and artworks. There are monasteries, khyangs and pagodas containing images of Buddha in gold, bronze and other metals inlaid with precious stones.

Moving 32 km south from Cox's Bazar you will find the famous Inani beach-- a nature's gift and a popular tourist spot. Shopping at the Burmese Market is a treat to the travelers. You will find mouth-watering pickles, tribal clothes, Burmese sandals, purse and ornaments here.

The illuminated Chittagong, especially decorated for the Cricket World Cup. Photos: Zahedul I Khan

Maheshkhali is one of the famous islands to the tourists and is only half an hour away on speed boat ride. This hilly island contains a few Buddhist monasteries and amicable natural beauty. This island is also a good source of fresh fishes and crabs and you can buy them at a very cheap rate, provided that you are a good bargainer.

Site seeing, trekking, boat rides, shopping, surfing, lazy afternoons, relaxing walks by the sea, exotic foods– what else one can expect from a vacation. Chittagong and Cox's Bazar provide you all of it. These two places are perfect travel destinations for all types of tourists- families, friends, couples, back-packers or adventurers. So if you are bored, if you in need to vacate your misery- pack your bags, grab a map and free your soul into the beauty of Chittagong.

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