Bandarban is a small city located on the Sangu River about 75 miles east of Chittagong. It too is a port city with several boats hauling people and produce to and from its sandy beach. Many of these boats travel up the river to the homes and villages of the tribal people groups who live in the surrounding hills.
It takes about 3 hours to make the road trip from Chittagong to Bandarban. … Along the way there is much to be observed about the people, their lifestyle, their work, and their culture in this part of Bangladesh.
Just outside of Chittagong we cross one of several small rivers flowing down from the hills. This river is used to ship bamboo. The bamboo is an essential part in a variety of ways in building construction. Many of the bamboo poles are cut into long strips to be woven into mats for floors and walls. The poles are used as support for the walls, floor, and roofs of many homes. Children and adults are friendly, curious, and often times just want to stare at Western visitors.
A short distance up the road we cross the Karnaphuli River. This bridge serves not only as a river crossing but it restricts the vehicle width to slightly less than 8 feet. The steel and concrete width control barriers are very effective. Here, … like the rest of Bangladesh, … human labor, rather than machines, does most of the work. Bangladesh has very few rocks. These rocks and gravel have been shipped into the country for road and other construction work.
Rice is part of the culture of Bangladesh and is grown almost everywhere. This area was once the home of many of the tribal people but the Bengalis living in the lowlands needed more land for farming. Through intimidation, government decrees, and outright stealing, the tribals were forced to leave their land and move to the less productive hills. Farming, however, is still done by hand using ox drawn ploughs.
The high clay content of the silt washed down from the hills makes excellent brick. Here, trucks are loaded that will take the material to a large brick kiln near Chittagong.
The Bengali who took over this area have firmly established their Islamic religion. Mosques, Qu’ranic schools, and their religious rituals such as dressing up this cow to be sacrificed are common throughout the area.
Refrigerators and other home appliances, fruits, vegetables, meats, and a few packaged goods can be purchased in the small towns located along the way. These places are usually crowded, dusty, and dirty.
The well-maintained road winds its way into the hills and traffic or convoys of the Bangladesh army on maneuvers occasionally break the tranquil setting.
This sign, about half of the way to Bandarban welcomes us to the Hill Tracts. Here, a few of the tribals remain. However, the housing is for the Muslim children attending Qu’ranic schools.
The repression of the tribals by the Bengalis resulted in serious conflicts in the past. It was necessary to close these areas to foreign visitors. The area is now open to outside visitors. Permission for the visit, however, must be obtained ahead of time. At arrival, the armed guards carefully check documents. These guards are friendly and speak a little English.
Nearing Bandarban, the hills are more like small mountains and are a welcome change from the flat lowlands. Nevertheless, in Bandarban, things look the same as in many other cities … crowded rickshaw traffic, people hard at work doing heavy manual labor, places to purchase construction materials, furniture factories, restaurants, and a few cows.
This is one of the few areas in Bangladesh where Buddhist followers can be found. This large Buddhist temple and the nearby cemetery indicate that the followers of Buddha have been here for a long time. Their traditional dress and religious practices are much the same as that of the past.
A Hindu temple is also located in the city. The temple is small and, Kali, the goddess of destruction, is the prominent feature. Food offerings and burning candles indicate that many Hindus live here.
The continual road construction, dusty streets, and small homes and shops offer few accommodations for Western visitors; however, on a hill overlooking the Sangu River is a very comfortable hotel and restaurant. The grounds are somewhat rustic but well kept. One has an option for traditional bamboo and thatch rooms or, … for a few dollars more, … there are rooms available in all concrete buildings. There is no air conditioning, no television, and no phone in the room. Meals in the restaurant provide a good variety of traditional foods. Spoons and forks are provided for those choosing not to eat with their hands.
In Bandarban, the people work hard, the adults and the kids are friendly and eager to have their picture taken, and some can speak a little English. But here, … like the boys trying to fly a kite, … the winds of uncertainty are all around. Will this future generation follow their forefathers and just survive or will they soar to new heights seldom known by a people that have endured much hardship and oppression?
Will you come for a visit and share part of your life with those living in and around Bandarban?
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