The Chittagong Hill Tracts is one of the most interesting places in Bangladesh.
Prior to my journey to Bangladesh I read almost everything I could find on the Internet about the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), but when we got off the train in Chittagong - my starting point for this region - I was still unsure quite what to expect. Even with the extra information given by my guide I was unprepared for the magnificent adventure and experience that greeted me. My sense of curiosity and impatience to start documenting everything was sky-high.
We had met an American girl on the train who was traveling alone in South East Asia, and found that we shared a common goal – to visit the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The girl had already contacted the local authorities by phone and had been told what formal procedures were required to obtain the necessary permits to visit the area. On arrival we found the home of the officer responsible for issuing permits, and he kindly signed the papers, despite it being a Saturday.
The permits are required because of earlier political problems in the region. There had been political conflict and armed struggle between the Government and the United People's Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts over issues of autonomy and rights of the indigenous peoples and tribes. A devastating period that destroyed many lives and crippled families.
Thus is was that this region of natural abundance, home to eleven indigenous groups who collectively number approximately 700,000 people (1% of the total population) and occupy 9% of the total territory of the country, became an arena of conflict and unrest for about 20 years.
Since the signing of a the 1997 peace treaty known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, between the PCJSS and the Government of Bangladesh, the political situation has improved to the point where tourists are now starting to be permitted to visit.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts occupies a physical area of 13,295 sq.km and lies in the south-eastern area of Bangladesh adjoining international boundaries with Myanmar in the southeast, Mizoram on the east and the Indian states of Tripura in the north.
The area is hilly, with a network of paths and dusty roads leading to small settlements. The panoramic views from the hilltops are really stunning and I personally spent many hours admiring the beautiful landscapes. The forests are rich in timber, bamboo, canes and shans (a type of grass). The wildlife includes monkey, fox, jungle cat, fishing cat, wild boar, hedgehogs, rabbits, land turtle, king cobra, reticulated python, rattle snake and other non-poisonous snakes, along with many species of lizards, birds and amphibians such as frogs and toads.
One of the most memorable parts of my trip through the Chittagong Hill tracts was the Sangu River boat journey. It was an absolutely magnificent experience. This mighty river originates in the Arakan Hills of Myanmar, it flows through the Bandarban district of Bangladesh and then meets the Bay of Bengal near Chittagong – Khankhanabad.
The Sangu River is widely used for the transportation of agricultural and other necessary products by local tribal communities. What is especially remarkable is the way in which bamboo is transported; it is cut and lashed together into huge rafts, which are then floated downstream from the mountains to the towns, the raft men live on board during the journey. I would certainly have loved to experience such a journey had I more time.