14th June 2019
Bangladesh has never been the hot tourist destination its neighbour India can claim to be, but here at Wild Frontiers we love nothing more than exploring off-the-beaten-track countries before they do inevitably succumb to the curiosity of the masses. There are plenty of reasons to visit Bangladesh but we've summed up the very best of this naturally beautiful land - home to tigers, tea plantations and the friendliest people in the world.
Not for the faint of heart, Dhaka is teeming. Undulating throngs of people and traffic might be the part that stands out the most but look beyond this and you’ll find a city bustling with friendly, intrigued people who would go out of their way to help. Really all it takes is a moment of acceptance and a decision to go with the flow and you’ll see. There’s always character to be found in buzzing cities like this and if you head to Old Dhaka, you’ll find plenty there.
Indeed, the best thing about Dhaka is just seeing life flow by – maybe on the back of a colourful rickshaw, or aboard a boat floating on the Buriganga river - just keep in mind that if you choose a small wooden boat, there is always a bigger boat close by, sometimes too close for comfort. But if you like being dwarfed, the industrial shipyards are a sight to behold!
Navigate the back streets of Dhaka for some great photo opportunities (where possible, always be polite and ask first), browse diverse historical buildings, shop for clothes (this is where a lot of clothes are made and shipped out for European brands so you may just find something you’d buy back home for a fraction of the price!) and of course, eat voraciously and drink lashings of tea. Biryanis and curries and plenty of fish…just eat to your heart’s content.
Honestly, does anyone need much more than that for a satisfactory introduction to a new country?
The largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considering ‘sundarban’ translates to ‘beautiful forest,’ it’s not hard to understand why. Perfect for bird watching, the Sundarbans are home to an array of wildlife such as monkeys, reptiles, crocodiles, wild boar and deer…but none maybe quite as impressive as the fearsome Bengal tiger. This is the only mangrove jungle in the world that these big cats call home.
However, you shouldn’t visit the Sundarbans’ for the wildlife alone, as you’d have to be very lucky to catch a glimpse of a deer, let alone a tiger. You can’t wander through the park on foot, only via boat through the extensive waterways and most of the wildlife is rather shy and will certainly steer clear of loud tourists. Instead of pinning your hopes on striking gold - or should we say, orange and black - you’re better off appreciating the tranquil serenity of nature and getting to know the hospitable locals, many of whom may have a tale or two to share about the interactions they’ve had with the local tigers. It’ll probably make you feel a lot better about not having your own story to tell!
Srimangal has a little something for everyone, but of course, as the tea capital of Bangladesh, this is naturally its biggest draw. You’ll be greeted by a beautiful vista of rolling tea covered hills dotted with tea-pickers hard at work amongst the verdant sea. Those peaceful scenes and laidback vibes are a far cry from frenetic Dhaka. And the best part is, you won’t come across many other tourists at all!
If tea isn’t quite your cup of…well, tea…. then check out romantic pineapple gardens and lemon orchards. Lowacherra National Park offers gorgeous forest walks that may reveal, if you’re lucky, some of the parks endangered hoolock gibbon, or even a macaque, slow-loris or capped langur. With a few rural villages dotted around, look out for some local friendly faces who might offer for you to join them for a cuppa! Bangladesh is renowned for its incredibly friendly people, so even if they don’t speak English, they’ll make you feel so very welcome.
If you’d like to check out a teahouse, why not try Nilkantha Tea Cabin. If you can’t decide which tea you’d like to try, opt for the famous seven layered option. Seven different colours and distinctly, seven different flavours sit atop one another, breaking the Starbucks mould one layer at a time.
Bordering both India and Myanmar, this region differs from the rest of predominantly Islamic Bangladesh in that 65% of its Buddhist population is concentrated here. So, naturally, there’s no better place for the biggest Theravada Buddhist temple in the country, the Buddha Datu Jadi, rising towards the sky in all its golden glory. What you’ll also find here is a distinct variety of people and landscapes, which really highlight its proximity to Myanmar.
This stunning region is a nature lover’s paradise. From the ethereal beauty of the hilly Sajek Valley - likened to heaven thanks to woolly white clouds blanketing the valleys below, which glowing red sunrises dramatically emerge from, and tuck themselves into every night - to the ‘Niagara Falls of Bangladesh’ Nafa-Khum - one of the largest waterfalls in the country situated deep in the forest. With eleven different indigenous tribal groups, the Chittagong Hill Tracts is also rich in culture and offers a chance to witness a completely different side to Bangladesh that many foreign tourists don’t really get to see.
Unlike India, Bangladesh doesn’t have a huge amount of UNESCO Heritage Sites. In fact, there are just three, the Sundarbans being one, and the ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur being another. At 1300 years old, the imposing red-brick stupa was the epicentre of this monastery complex. The site, covering 27 acres, consists of about 177 monastic cells, areas that were once living quarters and meditation rooms for monks. Around the base of the stupa, you’ll see well-preserved clay tiles carved in the shape of people and creatures posing.
What’s unusual about this site, though, is that its architecture is nothing like the temples found in neighbouring India, but is actually far more reminiscent of the kind of Buddhist temples you would find in Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia, with the most similar site plan and structure being that of Prambanan in Java. So, potentially, this singular example of architectural style in India influenced temple architecture across southeast Asia. Experts just don’t know why. If you like to visit places that have a lot of historical significance, this is worth a day trip.