showcase of summer getaways
With temperatures racing upwards every day, you sure don't need to be reminded that summer's here. The fluctuating temperatures between the hot, humid outdoors and the cool confines of AC'ed rooms have clothes sticking to you as soon as you step outside, not to mention give you severe cases of dreaded summer colds. Besides, one's precious ACs are of no use with our famed powercuts and loadshedding. The heat seems to make you more sluggish at work and all you feel is like taking a break from it all and spending some time with Mother Nature as your only company, albeit with all the basic amenities near at hand so that you don't need a vacation from the vacation you're taking! The best part about getting away during the summer is that since it's the 'off' season, the hotel prices are nearly slashed to half their peak rates and the 'holidaying crowd' is blessedly minimal. Translation? You can really enjoy a trip in true solace and silence.
Approximately only a 4 hours drive by car or bus from Dhaka, how about traveling to the lush and lovely tea gardens Sylhet is so famous for? There is the beautiful Zakaria City and Jaflong, and you might also want to include a visit to the shrine of Hajrat Shahjalal (R) and take in the mesmerising effect of the waterfall, Madhabkunda. Enjoy the Monipuri tribal maidens doing their famous dance for you and besides checking out the shopping malls there, be sure to drop by London Fried Chicken, a local franchise company in town opened by a dealer from London, said to offer some of the best fried chicken you've had for ages.
Let's by-pass the rather clichéd Cox's Bazaar shall we? Let's foray into a place a little bit more difficult to access but well worth the effort. All you romantics will surely love Kuakata, locally known as Shagor Konnya (Daughter of the Sea), the only beach in Bangladesh where you can enjoy watching both the sunrise and sunset. Kuakata means “digging a well” and there's a two hundred year old kua (well) here built by the Rakhine tribe, who settled in Kuakata from Myanmar. Keranipara is the nearest Rakhine village from the beach, where you can visit a 100 year old Buddhist temple named “Seema Mandir” with an incarnation of Buddha made of eight different metals. Parjatan Holiday Homes at Kuakata is the safest and coziest place to stay although there are a number of other hotels around the badh (dam).
In Rangamati, you can enjoy the wonderous beauty of the Khagrachori waterfall, the blue, blue water of the man-made Kaptai Lake with its hanging bridge, the colourful tribal life and culture, jeep rides through hills and dales, attractive handicrafts…yes the list is seemingly endless. Suvolong, surrounded by the waters of Kaptai Lake, is sure to make even the weariest hearts feel they're on paradise yes it's that beautiful. And oh yes…those of you with a sweet tooth should know that the sweetmeat of Suvolong is famous for its delicious taste. Also, try to spend a night with a good book and your mp3 player on the nearby island resort “Peda Ting Ting”, which in Chakma apparently means “Take food, take rest and go”. You can catch the sunset and sunrise over the lakes and mountains. The island has three cottages for rent, named “Radhamon”, “Dhonpuri” and “Tanyabi”, and a restaurant where you can enjoy indigenous specialties like chicken baked in bamboo and grilled fish fresh from the lake. Yum!
Now for all you Indiana Jones types, how about a spell at the Sundarbans or Bandarbans? I have it on good authority from my deshtrotting friends that Bengal Tours and Guide Tours have some of the best deals for these places. They offer a lot of different tour packages depending on how many days you want to stay, what kind of cabins you want in their launches, what kind of food you'd prefer and so on. But the minimum decent package would cost around BDT 5,000 to 6,000.
In Sundarbans, your main accommodation will be the launch and you can go on daily boat rides to sigh in wonder over the mangrove forests and wild deers, and gasp over large and lazy crocs sun tanning on the riverbeds. The large and lazy part is quite deceiving as I've seen these beasts disappear with lightening speed into the waters, when a boat gets too close for their comfort. And if you're really desperate to spot a Royal Bengal Tiger, although chances of that are very slim, you can even stay overnight on a macha (wooden watching tower) at Hiran Point…if you want to, given that the guides won't stay with you or take any such responsibility otherwise. They'll simply leave you there around dusk with a lantern, food and blankets. If you survive the ordeal, they'll come to fetch you next morning. Unless you have nine lives, best not indulge in such daredevil acts. For those of you not interested in roughing it and prefer soaking in art, history and culture, try visiting the shrine of Lalan Shah or the Shilaidaha Thakur Bari where you can see the daily usage materials of Rabindranath Tagore's family.
Bandarban, wilder than the other two hill districts, Khagrachari and Rangamati, boasts deep forests, high hills, innumerable springs and the simple life of the tribes. There are 11 different tribes living in Bandarban, so it's a town of mixed cultures. Besides the tribal people's holy places, there are Hindu temples, Kangs (Buddhist temples), mosques and churches. Bandarban is ideal for trekking and hiking. An exciting and popular trekking route is that to Keokradong, the highest peak in Bangladesh, and staying overnight in a tribal village is a requisite of this trip. It's also possible to cover the second highest peak, Tahjingdong in the same trekking route. And for those of you who might not find all that walking your cup of tea, you can try out the “Quantum Meditation Resort”, established in Lama for some spiritual pursuit in natural surroundings.
Also, there's a Dhaka Tourism Fair taking place from August 30th. For Tk. 10, you can pop over any time between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. to look out for some nice holiday package deals! So be sure to keep an eye out for the details of the fair in the press.
So if you're feeling as if the summer heat's making Dhaka life even more oppressive than usual, simply get away from the chaos of modern life and rejuvenate in the natural surroundings of our beautiful Motherland. Just one last word of advice. Do make Odomos your best friend during these trips and not the mosquitoes bon voyage!
By Simin Saifuddin
Photo: Towfik Elahi and Star Holiday Archives