Bangladesh - Off the beaten track
Chittagong Hill Tracts
Decidedly untypical of Bangladesh in topography and culture, the Chittagong Hill Tracts have steep jungle hills, Buddhist tribal peoples and relatively low density population. The tracts are about 60km (37mi) east of Chittagong, and if it weren't for the troubles in the region they would be an idyllic place to visit. The region comprises a mass of hills, ravines and cliffs covered with dense jungle, bamboo, creepers and shrubs, and has four main valleys formed by the Karnapuli, Feni, Shangu and Matamuhur rivers. Unfortunately, the region is not entirely safe because of military operations to subdue the tribes' Shanti Bahini (Peace Army). The troubles stem from the cultural clash between the tribal peoples, who are the original inhabitants of the area, and the plains people, who have begun to develop it. Sick of being displaced, and having their land stolen and encroached upon, the tribal people took to guerrilla warfare in the 1980s to preserve their culture. Getting a government permit to visit the area takes 10 to 14 days in Dhaka.
Rangamati, a lush and verdant rural area belonging to the Chakma tribe, is open to visitors, as is Kaptai Lake. The lake, ringed by thick tropical and semi-evergreen forests, looks like nothing else in Bangladesh. While the lake itself is beautiful, the thatched fishing villages located on the lakeshore are what make a visit really special. Boats that visit the villages leave from Rangamati. Bring your swimming gear because you can take a plunge anywhere.
To get to Rangamati, in the middle of the Hill Tracts, take a train, bus, or plane from Dhaka to Chittagong, and then a bus from Chittagong to Rangmati. It's about 314km (195mi) from Dhaka to Rangmati.
Puthia has the largest number of historically important Hindu structures in Bangladesh. The most amazing of the village's monuments is the Govinda Temple, which was erected between 1823 and 1895 by one of the maharanis of the Puthia estate. It's a large square structure crowned by a set of miniature ornamental towers. It's covered by incredibly intricate designs in terracotta depicting scenes from Hindu epics, which give it the appearance of having been draped by a huge red oriental carpet.
The ornate Siva Temple is an imposing and excellent example of the five-spire Hindu style of temple architecture common in northern India. The ornate temple has three tapering tiers topped by four spires. It's decorated with stone carvings and sculptural works which unfortunately were disfigured during the War of Liberation. The village's 16-century Jagannath Temple is one of the finest examples of a hut-shaped temple: measuring only 5m (16ft) on each side; it features a single tapering tower which rises to a height of 10m (33ft). Its western facade is adorned with terracotta panels of geometric design.
Puthia is 23km (14mi) east of Rajshahi and 16km (10mi) west of Natore. Catch a bus from either town. Puthia is 1km (6mi) south of the highway.
St Martin Island
This small coral island about 10km (6mi) south-west of the southern tip of the mainland is a tropical cliché, with beaches fringed with coconut palms and bountiful marine life. There's nothing more strenuous to do here than soak up the rays, but it's a clean and peaceful place without even a mosquito to disrupt your serenity. It's possible to walk around the island in a day because it measures only 8 sq km (3 sq mi), shrinking to about 5 sq km (2 sq mi) during high tide. Most of island's 5500 inhabitants live primarily from fishing, and between October and April fisher people from neighbouring areas bring their catch to the island's temporary wholesale market. A ferry leaves Teknaf for St Martin every day and takes around 3 hours.
Getting to St. Martin's is a three-step program. First you'll need to fly or bus it down to Cox's Bazar, and then catch a bus to Teknaf, which is right on the very tip of Bangladesh, sandwiched up against Myanmar. From Teknar, ferries run daily to St. Martin Island. The total distance from Dhaka to the island is 510km (316mi).