Jamuna Day Tour if Bangladesh was a human being, its rivers would be its arteries, the passages that supported all life in the waterborne country. In historical times, Bangladesh’s rivers were its roadways—all trade, transport and commerce would have commenced on veins of the country’s massive river network. During the monsoon, these channels dominate the landscape of Bangladesh, causing constant floods and inundating more than half the country at the peak of the wet season. The strength and power of these rivers cannot be denied. Their meandering pathways constantly foil the meagre attempts of human beings to bring these rivers under control via embankments or circumvent them with bridges—the rivers simply change course every few hundred years. The flooding causes constant havoc to thousands of unfortunate souls, but they also bringing life giving sediment from the Himalayas where ever they go.
The people of Bengal have long been adapting to their shifting landscape. In order to move agricultural goods around the country and capture a rich bounty of fish from the rivers, they have created an extraordinary diversity of wooden boats. Just 10 or 15 years ago, these boats were either tugged up and down rivers by men on the shore or equipped with simple sails in there was a breeze.
When Frenchman Yves Marre first set sight on these boats he was amazed at their diversity. He was so impressed that he decided to start Contic Tours in the late 1990s. He purchased a series of wooden boats and significantly upgraded their interiors in order to make them ready for tourist trips on the various rivers of Bangladesh, including the channels surrounding Dhaka. There are now three vessels in his little fleet, with the most common tour taken is a day cruise in the nearby countryside.
Restoration and maintenance of these boats requires constant attention and care. The B613 is a historic cargo boat with gigantic tangerine sails that can be hoisted on to a 20-foot mast. It is equipped with six luxurious rooms and dark wooden panelling throughout, and can be used for overnight tours as well as day trips. The Fleche D’Or is a 40-seat passenger boat that is primarily used for cruising the river channels around Dhaka. Meals served on both boats are delicious and give guests the opportunity to enjoy a genuine experience of Bangladesh’s rivers.
Unfortunately, the historic versions of Bangladesh’s sailing vessels are gradually disappearing. With the arrival of cheap Chinese irrigation pumps in Bangladesh, most of the river people have traded in their sails for the speedier engine versions of their boats. Contic is one of the few—in fact it is probably the only one—working to preserve the riverine boats of Bangladesh. By offering tours in their historic boats, travellers are voting to preserve this dying boat-building tradition. Finally, Contic Tours also works closely with Friendship, an NGO that has created unique floating hospitals that service the poorest of Bangladesh’s river people. Friendship is headed by Runa Khan, who is Yves Marre’s wife. All in all, the choice to travel with Contic is an excellent one, not only for the wonderful experience of visiting Bangladesh’s rivers up close, but to support their development initiatives as well.
The tour is part of Contic’s larger initiatives to preserve the boat building traditions of Bangladesh. And thus this could be considered a kind of ‘floating heritage tour’ of the riverways near Dhaka. The boats are constructed using techniques that are, according to Yves Marre, thousands of years old.
Unfortunately, Contic is perhaps the only organisation working to bring these traditions to the rest of the world and they’re doing it in a country that doesn’t receive many tourist visits already. But upon seeing the boats for the first time, and experiencing the beauty of Bangladesh’s rivers up close, one quickly comes to understand that preserving these traditions is important, as the history and culture surrounding Bangladesh’s rivers provide a sample of the country’s soul.
- The first sight of the gigantic B613 boat, you can’t help but feel you’re in for a very special experience of Bangladesh.
- Excellent meals served on board both the Fleche D’Or and the B613.
- Relaxing on the B613 deck during lazy warm afternoon cruises.
- Seeing the gigantic tangerine sails of the B613 raised on the mast.
- Contic’s tours are not for those with slim wallets — expenses to maintain and run their boats mean that trips are among the most expensive you can have in Bangladesh. But they are also the most unique — no other company operates traditional sailing boat cruises.
Like the Bangladeshi people he works with, owner Yves Marre possesses a fluid and frenetic personality—the aura of a man who has been energetically following his passions for his entire life. As a former sailor, the silver-haired Frenchman eventually found a match for his passions along the rivers of Bangladesh. When Marre first travelled into the country in 1994, he was so amazed by the variety of vessels he saw that he never left the tiny country.
“I was totally impressed by these traditional boats,” says Marre, a former Air France crewman. “It was totally marvellous, like travelling in the past because these boats were built with traditions and technologies that are several thousand years old.”
“Silk Road Review here…” Title here, Silk Road (inflight magazine of Dragonair). July 2009 Issue
Ideal For Whom
While Bangladesh has yet to attract many high-end travellers, this is mostly because of a lack of knowledge about what luxury products or unique experiences are available. Otherwise a group of upmarket travellers would very much enjoy this historic and unique sailing journeys, which do offer a taste of the real Bangladesh, from its rivers. Families would also enjoy it as well.
When To Visit
Winter season (October to March) is the most comfortable time to travel in Bangladesh, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t take this tour during the Monsoon/hot season (April to September), it would just be a lot less comfortable!
Things To Bring
Mosquito nets are provided on board the boat. But it would be handy to have a torch for the evening or for late night reading. A camera is also a must, as sunsets from the boat deck are unforgettable.
All trips depart from Dhaka, and the company can offer pickup/dropoff service from guesthouses or hotels.
Zia International Airport is the gateway to Dhaka and the rest of Bangladesh; most travellers will find themselves coming here at one point or another during their tour. Dhaka is serviced by direct flights from Hong Kong (Dragonair), Kolkata (Jet Airways or United Airways), Bangkok (Thai Airways, Druk Air and Biman Bangladesh), Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines, the cheapest gateway from SE Asia), Kathmandu (Biman Bangladesh and GMG Airlines), Delhi (GMG Airlines and Jet Airways) and Singapore (Singapore Airlines).
Normal Payment Policy: At time of booking a non-refundable deposit of 10% is charged to your credit card in Euro equivalent by Travel To Care on behalf of Urban Study Group. The rest of thepayment can be mad eon completion of the tour. The payment shall be made by credit card; all credit card handling fees are applicable on deposit.
Normal Cancellation Policy: –
Payment Options: Credit cards accepted & terms: Not accepted
Period(s) tour is not operational: Always available