Dhaka, Bangladesh – At first glance, Bangladesh would not appear on many people’s bucket lists as a “must” visit for those who do not know this South Asian country.
Bangladesh has been an economic marvel in the last 15 years with constant GDP growth of more than eight percent per annum despite a two percentage point loss per annum due to effects of climate change, compounded further by its 580-kilometre long coastline which results in saltwater inundation into agricultural land.
Currently, it is known more in the international arena for its plight of providing temporary sanctuary to more than 1.2 million Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, natives who fled ethnic cleansing, terror and almost death.
However, on deeper study of the country followed by first-hand experience on an eight-day tour of the country, comprising of Dhaka, the capital; Khulna, the fourth-largest city; Tungipura, the birthplace of the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as well as his mausoleum at Tungipura; the 60-dome mosque at Bagerhat; a two-night three-day cruise along the amazing world’s largest mangrove forest where wildlife thrive; the Sundarbans, a visit to the Liberation War museum; the national museum and the founding father’s Dhaka residence, where he and his entire family staying there at that were shot and killed mercilessly less than five years after he gained liberation for Bangladesh and its birth as a nation after the genocide which killed more than three million people, one comes away with a deep sense of reflection of the potentials of the country.
The potentials of the country, its dark and sad history aside, are remarkable. Its unique selling product for tourism is certainly the Sundarbans, a journey which would be more enjoyable with better facilities onboard the cruise vessels, roads leading to the jetty at Mongla and which is very enjoyable with chilly temperatures between September and March where the thermometer can drop to ten degrees.
Not to be outdone are its historical, cultural and religious sites, such as the 60-dome mosque, and other sites already mentioned and those which we did not get to see and experience, such as the Srimangal tea fields for eco-tourism, the archaeological sites in the northern part of the country, which mostly covers the Buddhist circuit of Asia, ancient Hindu temples, 13th-century Muslim heritages and Cox’s Bazar, reportedly the world’s longest unbroken sea beach in the world.
Despite the hours long, bone-wrenching bus rides and endless traffic jams and related noise and sound pollution, Bangladesh has much to offer besides that already mentioned. It has a huge population of almost 170 million people with more than 40 percent below the age of 28, thus presenting an able and largely well-educated and skilled workforce which attracts investors in droves to the extent that the country is planning to establish some 100 special economic zones.
From a basket case economy in the 1970s, Bangladesh, which has eight divisions, or states, has risen to be the fastest-growing economy in South Asia, which is the among the top 40 in the world in terms of market exchange rates, 29th in terms of purchasing power parity and second in the continent after India, fastest-growing middle-income country and has been identified as the next 11 emerging markets.
As Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mr AK Abdul Momen, who graciously hosted a grand farewell dinner for 36 media and academic delegates from 20 countries last Saturday at the state guesthouse, said: “Go home and tell your readers, friends, people at large and everyone else of the political, economic and social stability of our country.”
“Tell the world the wonders of Bangladesh, a success story and leap from a basket economy to an economic power with strong exports, diversity in its people, religious tolerance, rich cultural, historical heritage and of course the one and only Sundarbans.”
Our gracious hosts, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, went to great lengths and spared no efforts to make our visit and stay in this remarkable country as comfortable as possible and attended to every request and tried their best to resolve every complaint. They even provided VIP airport clearance and fast track luggage collection.
All in all, it was an unforgettable and memorable eight days. Would we go back again? Yes. There are so many similarities with Cambodia that there is much more to be discovered, understand and learn.