Friday, March 21, 2008

February 19, 2008

Banderban is a town in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Hill Tracts are located in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is basically a giant delta, so it is generally flat as a pancake except for the southeast (hill tract) corner and the northeast (tea estates) corner. I had not been to this part of Bangladesh before, so I was really looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, there was not a direct bus from Cox's Bazar to Banderban, so I first had to take an AC bus to Keranihat and then transfer to a local bus to Banderban. After arriving in Banderban, I had to take a tempo up the hill to the Hill Resort. The road to the resort is very steep and not well paved. I was afraid at points that the tempo would not make it to the top as it stalled out quite a few times.

I finally arrived, however, and checked in to the resort. The resort is built on about 8 acres of land on top of one of the hills. The restaurant has a deck that overlooks the river below. The rooms are very basic and clean, but not very well maintained (my walls were repaired with tape in several places.) The staff and guides were very friendly, however, and I met several nice people during my stay there.

The first evening I happened to run into a friend of mine from Dhaka. She was there with a group of her friends. I ended up hanging out with them that evening, playing games and drinking smuggled-in wine. (Bangladesh is a teetotaler country.)

The next day they let me tag along on the river trip that they had booked. I found out the night before that two of the guests - Mikey and Belinda - are here in Bangladesh to write a new guide. I was very excited to hear that as the only existing guide that I know of is the Lonely Planet Guide and its coverage of Bangladesh is quite sparse. Mikey actually organized the group to go to Banderban and I believe runs a few other tours to other areas of Bangladesh. He was interested in my eco resort project and I am hopeful that I will be far enough along by the time he publishes next year that Panigram Resort will be included! Mikey already has a lot of great travel information on Bangladesh on his website: I highly recommend checking it out.

The river trip was beautiful. The scenery was just beautiful and it was quite peaceful to be on the river.

The next morning Mikey's group left. Just when I thought I would be alone for the day, I met a very nice Danish family. The two parents had actually done development work in Bangladesh fifteen years ago. Their son (who was traveling with them with his wife) was born in Bangladesh and they came back to visit.

I convinced them that they should take a boat ride, since I had such a good time the day before. After a bit of finagling to arrange the trip (there have been a few kidnappings in the area, so all guests need to take guards with them when they leave the resort), we finally arranged a guide. We took a man-powered boat the opposite direction that I went the day before. It was even more peaceful than the ride on the motorboat the day before. We went quite far and then stopped at a tea stall before turning around to come back.

The third day I hired a guide on my own (I figured the Danish family would like some time alone together) and went around to some of the tribal villages in the area. The tribes are matriarchal and are known for their textiles; we saw several women weaving. I really liked their bamboo homes as well. I was fortunate to see one being erected. It seemed to go up pretty fast, so I think this might be a good option for temporary housing for my workers at the resort site...

Finally, it was time to move on to Khagrachari where my friend Borhan was waiting with his tour group. Unfortunately the Hill Resort does not provide transportation down the hill. I guess most groups have their own cars or transportation, because there is no way to get a tempo at the top of the hill. I could have waited several hours for them to arrange a car for me, but I wasn't too keen to wait twiddling my thumbs, so I put my backpack on and started hiking down the hill. It was quite steep and my pack was heavy because I bought a lot of textiles. About halfway down I found a guy with a rickshaw. While you can't take a rickshaw up the hill (it is too steep) I did convince the guy to take me down. After a rather scary roller coaster ride down the hill I finally made it to the bus station.

I had to take a bus back to Chittagong to catch the bus to Khagrachari. Apparently there is a local bus that goes through Rangamati from Banderban to Khagrachari, but I didn't have permission to go that route. (You have to have permission from the government to enter these areas because they are not very politically stable. The hill tribes are in conflict with the "Bangladeshis".) There are apparently two bus stations in Chittagong. The one I arrived at was not the one the Khagrachari bus left from, so I had to find my way to the other station. Then I got on a local bus. The local bus was so packed with people that some people were riding on top and others were riding out of the windows. After an excruciatingly long ride over bumpy roads I finally arrived at my next destination...

On the River
The river was really beautiful with the green fields beside the water. It has been a long time since I have seen hills too!

House Boat

This is a typical Bangladeshi fishing boat. The fisherman might spend a couple of days on the boat, so inside the covered area is a small bed and other necessities.

One of the boatmen.

Banana Boat
No, not the sunscreen! This is the real deal!

Me on the Boat
This is me with the young Danish couple. You can see our two guards as well.

These are blankets woven by tribal women.

This is the loom they use to weave the blankets.

Fish Stand
Dried fish is favorite dish in this region. Personally I can't stand the stuff, but the fish stands are interesting.

Tea Stall
This is the tea stall we stopped at on our river tour. I love the little Bangladeshi tea stalls. You find them everywhere and they are always small and charming. I am building a more upscale version of the Bangladeshi tea house at my resort.

At the tea stall several men were standing around playing this game. I can't remember what the name of it is, but I see it being played all over Bangladesh. It is kind of like pool on a smaller scale.

Tribal Village
This is a typical tribal village home.

Bamboo House
I think these bamboo houses are just charming.

Building a House
These men are building a new bamboo house. The walls and floor are made from woven bamboo mats adhered to larger bamboo frames.

This is a store in one of the villages. The large seed-like things are apparently used for house decoration.

Fruit Vendor
This woman was selling boroi and tamarind next to the textile market.

Tribal Woman
I thought this woman looked gorgeous in her tribal outfit.

Woman Gathering Water
This woman was collecting water from a spigot next to this stream to carry back to her house.

And of course, what would one of my photo essays be without a giant, unusual bug picture?! This guy came into the resort restaurant. He is longer than a spoon and shockingly green!


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