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07 Jun 2014   09:24:24 PM   Saturday BdST A- A A+ Print this E-mail this

Treasure caves lie in neglect

Moslem Uddin Ahmed
 Treasure caves lie in neglect

Four sites Bangladesh possesses are unique in the world and hold huge potential to interest strangers. Two of them are nature’s gifts; another two based on religious faiths of an overwhelming majority of people the world. All the four have failed, as yet, to breed ideas in the people in authority for deriving dividends from these treasures of unpolished diamond, that is, huge potential for tourism.       
A couple of the rarities—the Sundarbans and Paharpur Buddhist Temple--are already recognized by UN agency UNESCO as world heritage sites. The first is world’s largest contiguous mangrove forests and the second one is the biggest Buddhist temple. The third one is the world’s longest unbroken sea beach on the Bay of Bengal in Cox’sbazar while the last is the site where Durga Puja was introduced as a festival.                            
Little of the tourist interest in the bewitching flora and fauna of the Sundarbans —panoramic vistas of rare trees, spotted deer and the world-famous Royal Bengal Tiger, aside streams fraught with fishes and crocodiles—has been harnessed.
If a small number of the Buddhists, who account for world’s around one-third population (if China is taken into account), visit their religious heritage site in Paharpur, that should yield a considerable amount of economic benefit for Bangladesh. But, it’s not to be. The world heritage lies in sheer neglect in the northern district of Naogaon, in a deplorable condition.
The other religious site, holy also to a large segment of the world population—the Hindus—also holds potential for religious tourism. Large numbers of devotees from India and Nepal, besides domestic ones, would visit Taherpur township during Durga Puja if the place where Raja Kangshanarayan introduced the festival was developed to a religious tourist spot, said Kartik Saha, a leader of the local puja body.
  Lord Ram first invoked goddess Durga when he was preparing to wage war with the king of Lanka, Ravana, who had abducted Ram’s spouse, Sita. The legend has it that Lord Ram invoked Durga, also known as the slayer of the buffalo-demon, by lighting 108 lamps and offering 108 blue lotuses before going to war.
This worship of the goddess was formalized through the introduction of Durga Puja as a grand festival by Raja Kangsha in 1480 AD or so, Kartik and other community leaders said.    
The fourth one is flourishing-- but not at the pace it deserves and well-thought-out comprehensive plans that can really lift it to the stature of one of world’s natural wonders. The sea beach along with its panoramic offshore islands, particularly St Martin’s Island amid a vast expanse of wave-studded waters, could really be transformed into a tourist haven.           
Albeit plans were conceived—long, long way back. During the times of military ruler HM Ershad, a master plan was made for turning Cox’sbazar into a tourist city with duty-free facilities of the sorts that attract foreigners of various cultures customs. A sad demise the grand plan had to embrace.
The pre-Mogul period Saat Gambuz Mosque in Bagherhat, in the vicinity of the Sundarbans, is also recognized by UNESCO as a heritage site.  
 Literally, tourism means business of providing accommodation and services for tourists; and tourist is a person traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.  By a broad definition, tourism is a hospitality industry catering for backpackers (tourists) as well as all others on tour as business-seekers, various policy-advisers, participants in meetings and functions and the like.
Bangladesh’s tourism guardians go by the broad definition to reckon the annual figure of tourist turnout—they count as a tourist even a foreign head of state or government, or a government functionary, who comes on a serious mission to do politics or diplomacy, not on a jaunt for pleasure.
 For growth of the tourism sector the target, naturally, is to attract the backpackers—holidaymakers, nature-watchers, researchers in ecological, historical and archeological splendours and so. An increase in the number of tourists in the categories of traders, investors and government functionaries would depend on increased economic activities and geopolitical importance.
There is no magic wand--the only way is to have in place world-class tourism facilities. What are those like? First come tourism products; in second place is product development up to the taste of those we want to cater to; and marketing mechanisms to take the products to the world tourism market.                                                         
In respect of product, Bangladesh is better placed than many other countries banking on an ever-increasing tourist turnout globally. Apart from the ones mentioned above, many potential pockets remained untapped. The list gets longer if you name numerous mighty rivers, vast paddies stretched up to the horizon, picturesque tea gardens and waterfalls from hills. But no way can one go without naming the heart of darkness—so fearsome, yet so bewitching--lying within unending ranges of hills and forests. The ecological marvel is the Chittagong Hill Tracks, measuring a tenth of Bangladesh. It is also counted as a potential ecotourism product on its own attraction.
There are yet a number of other major anthropological-archaeological sites that deserved to be declared by the UN as heritages of the humanity.  Kantaji Temple in Dinajpur, the ancient civilization site of high archaeological importance at Mahasthangar in Bogra, ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples at Mainamoti, pre-Mogul period Kusumba Mosque in Rajshahi, Chhoto Sona Mosque of the same period in Chapainawabganj and Lalbagh Kella in Dhaka are listed by experts.
 The Kantaji Temple in Dinajpur is the largest terracotta temple in the world.  According to a report, a former Director General of UNESCO in Bangladesh, on his visit to the temple, had given his opinion that the temple could be a world heritage.
A small landlocked country of arid hills like Nepal has 12 world heritage sites.  To attract international eco-tourists to Bangladesh in larger numbers, we have got to get UNESCO recognition for the world-class national heritage we have in our repertory.
What is needed now is develop the tourism products and ensure foolproof security in the tourist resorts. I think the exchequer has the means and funds to spend on both and the authorities, of late, have fixed the choice. However, there are some evident wavering and foot-dragging too.     
A lot of classroom work has been done, even involving international agencies, on what is to be done for exploiting the potential of the industry. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) prepared a strategic Tourism Master Plan with assistance from UNDP in 1990 for the country. Foreign direct investment for developing the sector was encouraged. Establishing Exclusive Tourism Zones in the offshore islands was envisaged, but to no avail yet.
Dr Syed Rashidul Hasan, professor of Marketing at Dhaka University, has suggested that foreign investors may be allowed to develop tourism “at par their taste, demand and standard in some exclusive islands of Bangladesh”.
In a research paper he pointed out that, as a vacation destination, the country has excellent tourist attractions that include famous archaeological sites, historic monuments, ancient temples, pagodas, mosques, enchanting sea beaches, deep forests and wildlife.
Nightlife is a big factor for attracting foreign tourists in large numbers. Bangladesh being a Muslim country naturally has got religious-moral inhibition about its connotation.  And that’s why some of the facilities have been suggested exclusively for foreigners and within our legal bounds.  There are some reservations, maybe, not fully logical.  
Malaysia has made necessary investment in developing tourist products. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, but the country is one of the tourist heavens on earth.

A proposal had been submitted by the Bangladesh Parjyatan (tourism) Corporation to the interim government for building requisite infrastructure for the entertainment industry. The tourism corporation had suggested the government to declare Cox’sbazar as “duty-free city” in the model of Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand just across the Bay.
All the hotels, motels and restaurants of the corporation in different tourist sites were to be refurbished for comfortable stay of the tourists under the plan.
“Tourism development will accelerate the economic development of the country,” said a BPC executive, echoing the recommendation laid down in a feasibility study report many moons ago.

Nepal thrives on tourism cashing in on the world’s tallest mount summit, Mount Everest, and ranges of mountains situated in the Himalayan kingdom. Not too far—a small Muslim island-state, the Maldives, survives on incomes from services to the tourists flocking on the archipelago’s 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is also not far away.
And with the longest beach of the world lying in the southeastern district, Cox’sbazar also stands out as a unique spot for a retreat. Looking over the vast expanse of Bay waters, it has a picturesque backdrop dotted with unending ranges of hills. On the high seas are there a number of islets that present eye-catching scenes.

Furthermore, hours’ voyage by trawlers can take an excursionist to Southeast Asian lands across the Bay while land and air trips to other South Asian countries.  Apart from sightseers and holidaymakers, there is immense potential for attracting business tourists here as Bangladesh’s main seaport of Chittagong is nearby and is the gateway to South and Southeast of Asia.
 Sundarbans, the largest contagious mangrove forest in the world, lies along the coast of the Bay in the southwestern corner, with the country’s second seaport situated close by. The vast panorama of flora and fauna is home for a specious population of wildlife—the world-famous Royal Bengal Tiger and spotted dear leading a long list of species.
No other country is blessed with such a natural wealth. Malaysia, a byword for development in present times, has got a big mangrove forest. But the Mastang forest is second to the Sundarbans, only in respect of area, not on the count of huge biodiversity. 
Malaysia is cashing in on it to the full, adding up value to the gift of nature as well as other kinds of tourism products through the use of modern know-how.  Tourism is an important part of life in developed countries where people have enough and to spare. But how many of them have ever seen this captivating tourist haunt like the Sundarbans?
 The list gets longer if you name numerous mighty rivers, vast paddies stretched up to the horizon, picturesque tea gardens and waterfalls from hills. But no way can one go without naming the heart of darkness—so fearsome, yet so bewitching--lying within unending ranges of hills and forests. The ecological marvel is the Chittagong Hill Tracks, measuring a tenth of Bangladesh. It is also counted as a potential ecotourism product on its own attraction.
The Sundarbans is a nature-based world heritage designated by the UN agency UNESCO. The country also has got two other UNESCO-recognized world heritage sites, both of historical and anthropological importance.  One is the 14th-century pre-Mogul period Saat Gambuz Mosque in Bagherhat, in the vicinity of the Sundarbans. The other is the 8th century Paharpur Buddhist Monastery in the northern district of Naogaon.

Tourism is considered world’s largest industry in terms of gross output estimated at $ 4.4 trillion by 1998 conservative count.  In 2003, the total number of tourists visiting different countries was 691 million. But Bangladesh’s share in it is a peanut. 
Bangladesh is a tolerant Muslim country with liberal culture and tradition.  Most in the upper echelons of society, businesspeople in particular, fly out and enjoy modern times’ offers in foreign lands.  Though nightlife is a term officially foreign here, there are five-star hotels, clubs, several bars and rest houses in the capital Dhaka where the aristocrats can have some of it, at least a drink, and occasionally arranged musical concerts.        
With foreign investors starting to invest in the country’s newfound natural gas sector and exclusive export-processing zones, there has been thinking about making their stay here comfortable as much as possible.
One official of the BPC had said under the plan, things like casino could be established on the offshore islands.  
Once, things were moving fast towards building attractive tourist resorts on the offshore islands. A high-level meeting on January 16, 2005 declared St. Martin’s Island on the bosom of the Bay as a restricted zone. 

The plan provided for building tourist resorts by interconnecting islands and islets from Inani Beach to St Martin’s Island with improved communications network, strict security arrangement and modern recreation facilities at affordable costs.   
Tourism is one of the vital economic sectors. It generates incomes and employments, gets you foreign currency. Developing the sector can help, to a great extent, check an umpteen number of women being trafficked out of the country on false promises of jobs and then being abused in foreign lands.
It can also prevent children being traded out for drudgery.  Job creation, this way, can also save unemployed youths from falling prey to manpower agents and landing in foreign jails, after spending the last penny for a job abroad.             






























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