Bangladesh is normally thought of as a pan-flat country with millions of Bengali people, but the rolling hills of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) defies that expectation. Bangladesh’s ‘mini-Myanmar’ lies in the southeast area of the country, and offers visitors a chance to experience the lives of the ‘Jumma’, whose language, dress and culture resemble Bangladesh’s forlorn neighbour to the east, Myanmar, much more so than the country in which they currently reside. Given the predominantly Bengali nature of the CHT’s three main towns, an adventurous exploration into the hills is the best way to experience this culture up close and in its most natural form.
This is not an easy trip, by most measures. At 860m above sea level, Kewkradang is one of Bangladesh’s highest peaks, and it takes a solid two day trek to reach the peak. Accommodation and facilities along the way are basic. With two of the three nights housed in dorm accommodation, be prepared to rough it without a shower for a couple days.
If you’ve already decided to visit Bangladesh, you are probably already prepared for the lack of facilities available to tourists, and if you’re not comfortable being away from the comforts of even a regular hotel room this trip is not for you. If you do however, want to see the best kept secret in one of the world’s most under-explored countries, and if you enjoy getting places with your own two legs, this tour is about the best thing you can do in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Environmentally and economically, Bangladesh Ecotours is the Chittagong Hill Tracts leading adventure tour operator. Because of its close relationships with the CHT people, this tour is possible. Given the fact there is still a fairly tight security policy in the CHT, relying on the experience of the company is highly recommended, especially when trying to navigate the sea of bureaucratic red tape between you and the raw countryside of the hills. But once you’ve finished the tour, you can go home knowing that your tourist money has supported the CHT people in their quest for economic improvement.
Day 1: Transfer from Chittagong to Ruma Bazaar (5 hrs with transfer)
Day 2: Trek to Boga Lake
Day 3: Kewkradang Trek and return to Boga Lake
Day 4: Boga Lake to Chittagong or Bandarban, departure
Bangladesh Ecotours is in fact a very small company and they do not own a lot any of the facilities provided to visiting guests during this trip. All of their accommodation, food and guides (with the exception of the group leader from the company), is provided by their network of local people. In this sense the company provides a very localised, genuine experience for its guests, especially when taking them to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, our main destination.
Transport and travel wise, we also use locally hired guides and take non-motorised transport whenever possible. This includes use of a paddle boat when travelling to Ruma Bazaar, and offering very adventurous treks like this as part of our mainstay of itineraries.
Food is also a very local production, and we rely on the help of several host families along the way to help us prepare it. This provides employment to local women, and allows guests to sample the local tastes of our hosts. Apart from the group leader (who is employed regularly by the company), each of the guides and porters used in this trip are also local people who are paid for their time.
- Experiencing the landscape and people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts up close and personal.
- Seeing the diversity in terms of culture, food and religion that Bangladesh has to offer. Trying a healthy local ‘red rice’ along with your meals is quite nice, as well as having a hard drink that is hard to find in the country’s more conservative parts.
- Standing on one of Bangladesh’s highest peaks is a literal ‘high’.
- This is not a luxury tour – you will be roughing it for a few days straight. Expect dorm accommodation, very basic squat toilets, and local food along the way (quite delicious, actually).
- In 1997, a peace treaty was signed between insurgent forces of the CHT and the Bangladeshi government. But nonetheless, some security hangovers still remain from that time and all foreigners need to obtain permission to visit and travel in the CHT. This is sometimes a real nuisance, and the local security forces can put up a real fuss and insist that police escort you or your group during this tour. But the guides of Bangladesh Ecotours do handle these insistences very well, and when we travelled on this trip in April 2008, the police did NOT need to accompany us because our guide Mostafa insisted that we did not require a police escort. We had to sign a form declaring that we were responsible for our own safety, which we happily did do in trade for the freedom of trekking without armed guard.
Bangladesh Ecotours is a novel company in the sense that they are practising responsible tourism in conjunction with their local contacts from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. By offering visitors a very memorable and intimate slice of this unknown corner of the world, several positive outcomes are achieved.
The first is exposure for this hidden gem region of Bangladesh. For a country that almost no one knows about or travels to, the Chittagong Hill Tracts is also one of its most unexplored regions. This is largely due to the fact that there was an insurgency in the area until 1997, the year a peace treaty was signed between the government and the rebel forces. Because of this tourism development here has lagged far behind Bangladesh’s other destinations. Local tour operators have begun looking at the hills for potential tourism opportunities, and it probably won’t be long before the tourism industry evolves more products to meet the needs of domestic travellers.
Thankfully Bangaldesh Ecotours is at the forefront of offering responsible and sensitive small-scale tourism to outside travellers. By running environmentally friendly, economically-sensitive and socially responsible tourism for travellers, locals and guides, hopefully the company is providing a model for others to follow.
Ideal For Whom
Travellers who want to experience the true beauty of the Chittagong Hill Tracts should look into this tour. Those who also enjoying hiking and experiencing nature up close, and/or meeting indigenous culture will also enjoy this tour. Those with a sense of adventure, including active families, would also enjoy this tour.
When To Visit
Winter-time is the best time to visit all destinations in Bangladesh (November – February). The weather is fairest, the skies are clearer and there aren’t monsoon rains to worry about. These rains could cause an issue because of the stream crossings in the first day of the trek. None of the crossings are particularly deep during the dry season, and if you come in the later crossings don’t even require that you take your shoes off. But this could be a very different story after the rains.
Things To Bring
At a minimum, a mosquito net, a torch and a good pair of shoes are absolute necessities for the Kewkradang Trek. This is also not a luxury travel experience by any stretch of the imagination, so those who seek some added comforts would be well suited by a sleep sheet, pillow case, and hand-sanitizing lotion. A bottle of wine would be nice for celebrating during the evenings, and carrying several kinds of familiar treats/snacks like chocolate or dried fruit would also help power you up the hills. If you prefer to carry less, there are plenty of snack shops and villages along the trek that have packaged biscuits and tea available.
The closest international airport lies at Dhaka, and a connecting flight to Chittagong is easy and inexpensive using the local domestic operators. A one way flight to/from Chittagong/Dhaka costs about $75 USD.
Chittagong also has the nearest railhead. This is the preferred method of reaching Chittagong on local transport for a few reasons 1) those who sleep easily will be able to get a night’s rest while travelling to Chittagong. 2) This is also the most environmentally friendly and safe way to reach Chittagong, albeit not the fastest. 3) Finally, this is also the greatest opportunity for local interaction – travellers can take the time to have at-length conversations with local people during their journey.
Unfortunately, the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway has to be one of the busiest in the country and that makes bus journeys rather arduous and time-consuming, not to mention stressful due the hectic driving style found on Bangladeshi highways. This highway is particularly notorious for its numerous accidents and constant traffic jams. That’s why travelling by road is the least preferable option.
Normal Payment Policy: 50% deposit payable on booking
Normal Cancellation Policy: Deposit non-refundable
Payment Options: Credit cards accepted & terms: Credit cards not accepted, cash only
Period(s) tour is not operational: Monsoon season not advised – June – September