Sun, sand & sea-a trip to Cox’s Bazar
I was planning for a beach holidayin December to get a brief respite from the winter cold. Andaman was the first choice but almost all the package tours were booked. When I was looking for other options, I met Mr. Abu MokeramKhondakar and his charming wife Mrs. Rokhsana Akhter who together run a travel agency namedITIS Limited in Bangladesh. They came to our hospital for a discussion on medical tourism and told us that they have recently set up an office at Agartala and offering tour packages to Bangladesh. When I asked them about beach destinations in Bangladesh they suggested a 3/4 night tour to Cox’s bazar and Saint Martin. I had been to Cox’s bazar before but only for a night’s stay. My wife has been very keen on a tour to Bangladesh so I thought why not take this opportunity enjoy beach holiday in Bangladesh. ATIS arranged for our visas and we started our journey from Agartala check post. This was our first visit to the new check post and we were pleasantly surprised to see the beautiful interiors and the amenities for travellers. We were the only people in the early hours of the morning so the formalities were completed quickly. But when we stepped into the check post on Bangladesh side we were shocked to find a dilapidated building which housed the immigration counter.We cleared immigration and customs and left for Akhaura railway station accompanied by a porter who escorted us to the station. The train from DhakaMahanagar Express was late by about an hour. The station building was of the same vintage as the check post building. The train eventually arrived and we boarded an AC coach with the help of our guide Mamunwho came from Dhaka. The train stopped in 3 stations – Comilla, Laksam and Feni before touching Chittagong station. In Chittagong we were received by one staff member from ATIS’s office in Chittagang. He took us to hotel Agrabad which is located in the commercial hub of the city. After leaving our luggage at the hotel room we went out to see the Chittagong city.
Chittagong is the commercial capital of Bangladesh as also the largest international sea port. Like capital city Dhaka, traffic is a nightmare here because of proliferation of vehicles particularly rickshaws and 3 wheelers.
We visited the port area includingPatanga beach and then went to Foy’s lake, a beautiful manmade lake with boating facilities and attached amusement park. Unfortunately, thanks to the heavy traffic on the roads in peak hours it was evening by the time we reached the lake. However we took a round and then headed back to the hotel.
Next morning we left for Cox’s bazar. It was early hours but still there was a lot of traffic on road. While crossing the bridge over Karnaphuliriverclose to the port area we saw hundreds of ships, barges and boats on the river below. The journey to Cox’s bazar was smooth except for a few places mainly market areas where the vehicle got stuck in traffic jam. It took about 4 hours to reach Cox’s bazar. We put up in a hotel called Ocean Paradise located about 100 meters from the beach. As we entered our hotel room the tranquil sea came into our view through the balcony. There were hotels all around- in fact the area itself is called hotel-motel zone.
Cox’s Bazar is named after Captain Cox, an officer of the British East India Company who played a key role in rehabilitation of Arakan refugees in that area. It is located along the Bay of Bengal and is famous for its unbroken sandy beach which at 120 kilometers is the longest beach in the world. One can travel the entire length of the beach at one go. For obvious reasons, it is the most popular tourist destination in Bangladesh.
After taking a quick lunch, we went out in an hired electric rickshaw called Tomtom. We were taken to Himchouri beach about 9 Km away from Cox’s bazar. The road which ran along the sea is called marine drive. It’s a narrow road with pot holes but the view of the sea on one side and broken hills on the other was excellent. There are vantage points on the hill top from where people can watch the sunset. We did not dare go up because of the steep climb and spent some time on the beach. Then we came back to the Sugandha beach in Cox’s bazar. It was crowded with tourists. There was a long line of deck chairs with red mattresses and red umbrellas on top. We hired two chairs and sat there to watch the activities on the beach. The beach was very clean despite the crowd . But the only disturbingthing was presence of beggars mostlykids. In Bangladesh poverty is very conspicuous.You find beggars almost everywhere, in trains, railway stations, streets. On our way to Cox’s bazar the driver was complaining about corruptions, disparity in income and blamed the present government for this situation.
We watched the sunset on the horizon and then came back to the hotel. Our guide informed us that the schedule for our trip next day to Teknaf on Bangladesh Mayanmar border has got changed. We would have to leave hotel very early in the morning. The road journey to Teknaf takes about two hours and from there journey by ship to Saint Martin Island takes another two hours so it would be 8 hours up and down journey. We decided to call it off and spend time in and around Cox’s bazar.
Next morning we took another tomtom ride to go to Innani beach about 18 Kms from Cox’s bazar. It is the same road which goes to Teknaf skirting the sea. On the way we saw big hatcheries on both sides of the road- shrimps are bred in these hatcheries for export. The Inani beach is a secluded one and one can see hundreds of red crabs crawling on the beach. There were large number of fishing boats some on the sea some stranded on the beach waiting for the tide.
In the afternoon we again went to the Sugandha beach in Cox’s bazar. We stayed there till the sunset and then went to a place called Bajarghat in the old city. The roads were narrow and dimly lit - in stark contrast to the glittering new city which at night looked like Pattaya in Thailand. We had our dinner in the rooftop restaurant overlooking the sea on one side and the city on the other. Incidentally, the food we had in the hotel was exceptionally good.
We left Cox’s bazar earlynext morning and reached Chittagong in time for lunch. In the afternoon we went out for sightseeing. The driver showed us the prominent buildingsand landmarks in the city. We also visited Kaibalyadham situated on the top of a hill which is a place of pilgrimage for the visitors from India.
Next morning we left hotel for our return journey to Agartala. This time we travelled by car along a four lane highway connecting Chittagong to Dhaka. This road was earlier called Biswa road and parts of this road run along border with Tripura. We reached Feni in about two and half hours. From Feni we took a narrow road to reach the check post at Parasuram near Belonia border. At the immigration check post, the customs officials asked for payment of travel tax. We wanted to pay in cash but they asked for payment in the shape of bank drafts to be collected from a bank in Feni. That would mean a delay of 2/3 hours. Considering our predicament, the Customs officer agreedto our request to accept payment in cash as a special dispensation. But when we went to the immigration counter the officials refused to agree to that arrangement. We happened to be the victims of turf war between the agencies. However, after a lot of persuasion, good sense prevailed and they allowed us to cross the border. We bade farewell to our guide Mamunand driverAbulHosseinwho have been with us for last few days and became almost like family. We heaved a sigh of relief when we crossed the border and reachedthe Indian check post where it took less than ten minutes to complete the formalities. Except for this small hiccup, the entire journey was very pleasant and rewarding thanks to the arrangements made by ATIS.