Before getting things in line for those who don't know about it, let me get one thing straight: Bangladesh has an Astronomical Association! Don't believe me? Well, Bangladesh also an Atomic Energy Commission… although I really don't know much about it or what it actually does. Anyways, Bangladesh Astronomical Association was established in 1988 by Mr. Milon as an initiative to buy a telescope. The association (bought its telescope and) gradually expanded and now they have a not-so-regular publication titled “Mohakash Barta,” the only magazine about Astronomy in Bengali, and they also organize several events to encourage Astronomy among people. They are the ones, in association with Dolchut Adventure Club, Channel I, and Prothom Alo who organized this grand adventure the Shurjo Utshob.
The trend of Shurjo Utshob began in the year 2000 with the objective to encourage people to step out of their houses and enjoy the various beauties and adventures this country has to offer, rather than wasting the time disco-ing and around in the New Year Day. Every year, the event takes place in a different location and this year the location was Birishiri, Netrokono. For those idiots who don't know where Netrokona is, take a look in the Bangladesh Map.
30th December, 2005 - Day 1: We started off from the Kolabagan Kriya Chakro Field when the mist was still… well, misty and the first bird had not yet flapped its wings. Okay, okay… I am exaggerating but we started off really early. An approximately four hour drive from Dhaka, the base camp was settled in Birishiri in a campus called YMCA (Youth Men's Christian Association) where we set up several tents which was not a very easy task; dormitories were also available for the less adventurous ones, nonetheless, that was the first indication that the journey was going to be a very unique and different one and soon enough we had dip at the nearby icy cold Shoumeshor river.
Soon after that we had a “Netrokona culture and the discussion in a round table” serious type thingy where the culture of Birishiri, Netrokona was discussed.
Major issues discussed in the meeting were about the commutation problems in the Netrokona area (the road to Dhaka is a disaster piece where you feel like stuck in a stormy sea), about how to hold on to and enhance the local culture and how the week long Jatras in that area had suddenly disappeared. Shah Alamgir, Chief Editor of Channel I, attended the conference as chief guest.
A cultural program followed the conference where the local people displayed their culture. The Birishiri highland area is occupied with Upozatis, majority of which are Hajong and Garo. Their culture, tradition, lifestyle, language, everything is different they have a remorseful history however. Apparently, the Hajongs owned much of the land in Netrokona but after liberation the Bangladesh government had stripped them off their land.
None of the governments liked the tribal people as they can be described as communists and were continually exploited. Anyhow, many of the Hajongs commented that their economic and social position is slowly improving now.
The cultural program consisted of several dances and a short play about Radha and Krishno. The props used were well… weird and the dances were kind of fun to see. One of the dances was like the Indian dances with sticks and another about the liberation war where wooden guns were uses. Instruments used were khol, harmonium, a humongous dhol, flute and a huge pipe which made bagpipe type noises. Their make-up was also very… tribal-ish with white and red paint in their faces and leaves acting as crowns. I even managed to catch some lyrics of one of the songs: “Ooooo poppy, Ooooo lipy, Aiyooore, Taratari…” In case you are thinking what it means, I have no idea. After the program and a long while of chatting, we went inside our sleeping bags and we slept (like duh!).
31st December, 2005 - Day 2: Shivering yet again at 6:30 in the morning, after a yummy breakfast of khichuri, we set off for a 24 km long trekking! That's like from Mohakhali to Uttara three times the whole group together and no complaining… compulsory for every living soul in the trip. It was absolutely great, although many could not last the trip and ended up using rickshaws.
En route to our destination we sang loads of songs and let me take this opportunity to sing one of them for you… “Bhalobasho kin a basho bondhu, basho kin a basho bondhu, tery koro amare, koto bhalobashi tomare, bandor jemon bhalobashe, bandor jemon bhalobashe, norom kolar cholkare, temni bhalobashi tomare…” Ehhmmm! Anyways, our destination was Bijoypur the land of the famous Shada Mati White Mud. The place was hilly with many cliffs and we could even see the Indian hills from there. Mountain climbing suddenly seemed inevitable for the adventurous types and we also had a competition about who can collect how many different colored rocks. Trust me there were many, ranging from red, magenta, blue to black. A young lady named Sharmin Haque won the contest. Before coming back we also visited a Roman Catholic Church, however the people there did not let us enter the place claiming it to be sacred.
In the evening we set off for a local Mela walking through the river Shoumeshor bed (yes, part of the river was dry in the winter season) where we saw the stars through the telescope. It was simply amazing!!! Even without the telescope you can see millions of stars in the night sky unlike in pollution filled Dhaka city where you can barely even see the Northern Star (to locate North). Anyways, we got introduced to the many constellations and how to locate them and how to measure the latitude and longitude of your current position… isn't it awesome!!!
After we came back from the fair, preparation started for the midnight. And at 11:30 we went to the riverside and planted candles along the river bed covering them using different colored poster paper so that they looked like lanterns; we set up a bonfire in the cold and when the clock struck 12:00 the place looked astounding! It's hard to describe it… a touch of chilly breeze, covered by blanket of darkness, lines of lanterns lighting along the river bed, a blazing bonfire, and the cold sand all together created an atmosphere that you can never forget.
We then danced by the bonfire like a bunch of monkeys and set a fanush up up into the sky. Fanush is basically a gas-balloon like thingy that flies using the hot air set off from the fire. Finally, each of us took a prodip and sent it floating across the river… as we made our New Year revolutions and wishes. The scenery was heart throbbing… KHUSHI NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!
1st January, 2006 Day 3:
I never though I would be starting the first day of 2006 in a foresty area coming out from a sleeping bag at 5:30 in the morning with aching legs. Anyways, taking loads of balloons and paper boats we set off for the river side again. There we experienced the first sunrise of the year, set the balloons and paper boats into the river which eventually got lost in the crowed mist, as we took the fresh air into our lungs for the fresh year. With balloons floating down we flew kites into the sky and then headed back. Many events followed next paper aeroplane building contest, voting for the favorite person of the trip (which was a girl named Annonna Orchi), setting birds free and breaking the cage next (symbolizing we do not want birds to be locked up), planting trees, a magazine program and finally a raffle draw before we set back or Dhaka. .
The whole trip made strong bonds between the many people. The adventure was exhausting but exhilarating as you can imagine and I give three cheers to Bangladesh Astronomical Association for arranging such a trip. Shurjo Utshob takes place every year from 30th December to the 1st of January the following year. If you have the stamina, a few strong bones and are ready to waste a few comfortable nights for an adventure, please do come along. You are bound to love it!
Bangladesh Astronomical Association is arranging a recent program at BUET field on Albert Einstein from Jan 26th to Jan 29th celebrating 100 years of his establishment of Special Relativity. Tag along if you have the time. For now, take care and a Happy New Year!