WHAT RIVERINE BANGLADESH IS YET TO EXPLORE

WHAT RIVERINE BANGLADESH IS YET TO EXPLORE

August 16, 2018

Written by Mehtaj Reza

Photographs by Arif Zaman

Bangladesh, known for being the lush riverine country of Southeast Asia has some of the most fertile deltas. The delta plain of the Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Karnaphuli occupy 79 percent of the country with their tributaries. Since ancient times in the land of Bengal, river has been a crucial source of livelihood as it would provide water, food, irrigation, trade, commerce for day to day living. For a country so lush with rivers, are we even doing justice to these versatile natural gems of ours?

Encroachment of rivers has been a decade old practice in Bangladesh. For years, intruders have encroached rivers by building unauthorized building on the river banks. Aside that, there also lies the crucial issue of dumping unfiltered waste in the river water. A World Bank study conducted on the four major rivers around Dhaka city — the Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Turag and Balu states that these rivers approximately receive 1.5 million cubic meters of waste materials every day from only the 7,000 industrial units and another additional 0.5 million cubic meters from other sources located in the areas surrounding the rivers. According to the study, the untreated waste that is being dumped on the water on a regular basis 61 percent is industrial and 39 percent domestic. Industrial survey conducted by Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS) in 2009, shows some of the other staggering statistics, which are:

  • Treatment Plant (SWP) situated in Pagla of Narayanganj can treat only 10 percent of the industrial waste and only about 40% industries have Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP).
  • In 10% industries, ETPs are under construction and about 50% industries have no ETP establishment.
  • More than 50% of waste generated by the industries eventually goes in the rivers untreated.
  • The other top polluters of the rivers are the dozens of tanneries on the banks of Buriganga.

However, what we haven’t considered yet is that river isn’t only beneficial for daily livelihood and booming industrialization, river can also be the key source of tourism like it is being done in many countries around the globe. Our neighboring countries like India, Cambodia, China, and Vietnam having similar river geography as ours are doing a far better job at maintaining their rivers and promoting river tourism while also facing some of the industrialization issues like we are facing.

River tourism is a travel experience that wasn’t well known even a decade ago. River cruising gives tourists the unique opportunities to explore the great waterways while experiencing the life around them. For example, if a tourist goes on a river cruise down the Danube in Europe, apart from the therapeutic experience being in the water they’ll also get to explore the musical heritage Vienna and Salzburg, the history and historical heritage residing in the banks of the Nile and the exotic and fascinating Mekong.

River cruising gives tourists the unique opportunity to learn and experience the contribution of rivers in shaping the countries’ histories with different dynamics. River tells the stories of the wars that have been fought over them, tales of the cities that have been built alongside them while dominating and profiting from them. River cruising as a whole allows travelers to explore a country from a distinct angle by accessing its landscapes, culture and architecture at the same time. For example, if you take a river cruise down the river Nile in Egypt you’ll get to see how the banks of the Nile has evolved with time with the idea of utilizing the limited fertile land to its maximum. Some of the popular Asian Rivers of Asia that has the history of hosting river cruises are:

CAMBODIA: CRUISING THE MEKONG RIVER

Cruising down the magnificent Mekong River situated in the heart of South East Asia is a broad tale of exploring a fascinating water-borne world. From floating villages to colorful markets, as the stunning countryside unfolds, a cruise down this river is like a walk back in time. In this cruise, travelers can expect to see the raw Cambodian life with farmers wearing conical hats while working in fields and water buffalo ploughing the paddies until the sun sets in a blood-red explosion of color.

INDIA: EXPLORING INDIA DOWN THE SACRED GANGES

This is the Ganges, a name suggestive of Indian exoticism and spirituality. Ganges is the river that is known to all but very few have actually discovered until now. The cruise takes you down the river as it blends beautifully into the timeless mystic landscape.

MYANMAR: EXPLOITING THE MYSTICISM THROUGH IRRAWADDY

The cruise on the Irrawaddy River is like being on a voyage to discover the amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences on Myanmar. The cruise also allows travelers to stay in Mandalay and Yangon while being on the cruise. The Irrawaddy River has this irreplaceable beauty that blends in to the heritage of temples that is steeped in color and spirituality. Through the cruise down this river, travelers can truly experience the lively and colorful life of rural Burmese people and the history that lies inside the old colonial buildings.

CHINA: HISTORICAL AND MODERN CHINA EXPLORED THROUGH THE YANGTZE RIVER

The Yangtza River cruise is a true change of pace from the regular Chinese city life. This cruise allows travelers not only to sail along the Yangtze River it also includes sailing through the dramatic Xiling Gorge where early risers can take part in a traditional Tai Chi session on deck. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles, but travelers can take a thrilling walk along a small section at Badaling area as it meets the sea. The cruise stretches its wings across multiple ancient cities across modern China.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BANGLADESH

All the nations mentioned above are developing nations like Bangladesh. In terms of infrastructure, if countries like Cambodia can work of river tourism nothing should stop us from exploring the potential of this tourism segment. With more than two highly equipped Shipyards to support the building of river voyages, today Bangladesh only lacks the vision.

The thing that makes cruising so popular is the fact that it stops somewhere new nearly every day. It also incorporates other activities like snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, cycling on the shore etc. Bangladesh has so many water ways that we can practically chose any region and it’ll be suitable for river voyage. The south west side of Bangladesh has Barisal, which is the largest river port of Bangladesh. Near Barisal, there are islands like Bhola that can only be accessed using the river. The largest mangrove Sundarbans also stands in that area. The river belt in these areas can easily be used to make this region a river tourism hub.  For example, through the river voyage travelers can be shown the different sides of our beautiful nation like the Venice-like canals of Barisal – the hometown to our great leader Sherebangla; the scars of the liberation war and the water ways refugees used to flee away to India while cruising through the majestic Sundarbans; the agricultural and rural life along the banks of the river.

There are many companies’ operating in Bangladesh who are trying to explore the scope of river cruising in a small scale. Some of the popular tour companies are Contic, Tiger Tours and Dhaka Dinner Cruise.

Contic operates in a traditional wooden boat with a large deck, so that people can sit and enjoy the scenic beauty. Their boat ‘the Fleche d’Or’ was constructed by Brahmaputra carpenters using the same traditional technology and ancestral technologies that was used to make our traditional boats called Panchi. The Fleche d’Or (Golden arrow) is the longest Panchi in the country, measuring at 72 feet in length and is equipped for daylong or half-day cruises around Dhaka, and the surrounding countryside. The boat needs to be reserved beforehand and can be boarded from Savar Karnapara. Through cruising in the boat, tourists can experience the river life alongside the Dhaleshwari and Bangshi. Their other popular voyage is the B613 which is a traditional Malar boat, measuring 93 feet in length and 23 feet in width. In 1997 it was converted from one of the largest wooden hulls of the country using likewise techniques of the Brahmaputra carpenters. The original rigging has been rebuilt with a high mast and two magnificent hand woven red-ochre trapezoidal sails that measure a total surface of 250 square meters, making the B613 the largest sailing boat of Bengal.

MV Tanguar Haor is another luxury river vessel operated by Tiger Tours.  Named after a Ramsar site in Bangladesh, it is also the country’s first floating luxury hotel. The boat harbors in the Tarabo river port on Shitalakshya River. The Shitalakshya River is known for its busy riverside industries, bird life and tranquil fishing activities. Apart from letting tourists experience the scenic beauty of the river, the boat also stops at different locations to let tourists experience the myriad localities along the way. If lucky, one might even catch sight of the Gangetic Dolphins and the bird-lovers might even catch a sight of kingfishers, herons, river seagulls, fishing eagles, whistling teals and many other birds along the way.

The other fairly new river cruising facility is being provided by the Dhaka Dinner Cruise. They operate around Dhaka city, mostly catering to big corporate events and social gathering. However, if tourists want to explore a daylong cruise it can be a great option for them.

These are only some of the river cruising facilities that can be availed by tourists. The river cruising business hasn’t yet picked up as a popular getaway option, thus the opportunity in this sector is very high and so much more can still be done about it.

Chittagong, the south east side of Bangladesh is the largest Sea port of Bangladesh, right next to which stands Cox Bazar – the aqua breeding center and the longest natural sea beach in the world. On the corner of Cox Bazar stands another magnificent beauty, the coral island Saint Martins. A river voyage can easily be set forth across this region incorporating the sunset in Karnaphuli, a halt at the shore for visiting the aqua breeding grounds of cox bazar, getting sun burnt in the shore of Cox Bazar and exploring the Island life of Saint Martins.

Bangladesh has plenty of resources and opportunity to explore the root of river tourism. However, the nation definitely requires a lot of structured planning and zero barrier to entry in order to encourage companies to start investing in this area. We can learn from our neighboring countries and take in to account the success stories around us to promote our tourism industry. For example, the Malaysian Government has made their popular tourist destination Langkawi a Tax-free zone to encourage more tourist to spend their summer in their shores. If we look in to our neighboring countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, we can see that tourism makes a huge contribution to their countries’ economy. There is no doubt that Bangladesh has the potential to grow as a popular destination for river tourism. Encroachment of riverbanks like Buriganga has already taken away our history from us. The old town of Dhaka filled with Mughal history inside the walls of historical monuments like the Lalbag fort, once was built on the river Buriganga, has now been beaten up by industrialization. So, if we don’t open our eyes now before we’ll know it a major part of our history will be lost.

In terms of resources, Bangladesh has plenty of riverine resources with its 700 river and water ways and largest delta. All we require is a vision, dedication to execute a plan and positivity to make Bangladesh a safe tourist friendly destination.

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