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BANGLADESH Off the beaten track
March 29, 2015, 10:54 am
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Slow down for this rural wonderland laden with waterways, peppered with villages and bursting with famously friendly people. Find the world's longest beach, countless mosques, the largest mangrove forest in the world, interesting tribal villages and a wealth of elusive wild life in Bangladesh.

PLACES
Dhaka
The half-completed, misty Mughal past of emperors and princesses – Lalbagh Fort and its well-tended gardens are an excuse to escape Old Dhaka’s hustle and bustle for an hour or so. About 500m past the entrance to the fort, Khan Mohammed Mirdha’s Mosque dates from 1706 and is worth a peek  Searching for the Mughal-era structures, the Bara Katra and Chota Katra, among the high-walled, pinched alleyways of this part of the city is one of the highlights of a wander around Old Dhaka. Bara Katra, once a palace of monumental dimensions, like the Chota Katra, now has a street running through its arched entrance, which houses a cool little tea stand. 

The huge assembly of concrete cylinders and rectangular boxes, sliced open with bold, multi-storey circular and triangular apertures instead of windows, at the National Assembly building, designed by a world-renowned American architect Louis Kahn, could be seen in a four-hour guided tour. The building often features in books on modern architecture, and is regarded as among Kahn’s finest works.

The great lost city: Bagerhat
At the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, a fifteenth-century Turkish general ordered a town to be built, filled with palaces, mosques and tombs (including his own). This city of 360 mosques, an outpost of the Islamic world, fell into disrepair shortly after the death of its founder and lay for centuries under vegetation; it has now been partly restored.

Rajshahi: the city of silk and mangoes
The happiest city in the world by the World Happiness Survey in 2006, the city of Rajshahi is famous for trade in many exotic items, including pure silk, mangoes and lychees. To have a glimpse and taste of famous mango trees of Rajshahi, visit Kashia-Danga.

In the village of Paharpur, where the remains of the most important and the largest known monastery south of the Himalayas has been excavated, the architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is profoundly influenced by those of South-East Asia.

Visit Puthia, a complex of ancient Hindu temples and Gaud - a historical center with lots of important mosques. For ancient history and culture of Bangladesh, visit the Varendra Research Museum for a rich collection of artifacts, relating to Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim heritage.

IDEAS
Eco-tours: Take to the hills

Bangladesh Eco-tours trail the Chittagong Hill Tracts region to stay with tribes, share traditional feasts, shop for handicrafts, and eco-tourists here often find themselves the audience for an impromptu song-and-dance given in their honor.

For ideas and tips on where to hike, try to club with members of the community-run hiking group Bangla Trek.  Surfing Surprise
The bustling beach town of Cox’s Bazar may not have the surf of Hawaii or the beach culture of Australia, but it has a near endless stretch of sand and all the charm of a happy go-lucky seaside resort that draws in huge flocks of holidaying Bangladeshis.

River Trips
Bangladesh has more than 8,000km of navigable waterways and boarding a boat along a river is a quintessential Bangladesh experience. The most famous boat trip is aboard the old paddle-wheel cruiser known as The Rocket - Dhaka to Khulna is popular. Sundarbans tiger trips are also by boat.

Although tough to get to, at the stretch of the Sangu River, that runs between Ruma Bazaar and Bandarban in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, dramatic rock faces rise up from the water's edge, backed by forested hills teeming with wildlife.  Spotting a Royal Bengal Tiger

The muddy and mysterious tidal waterways and mudflats of the Sundarbans comprise the largest mangrove forest in the world, 60 percent of which lies in Bangladesh and the rest in India. Slinking with ease between the tangled vegetation and labyrinthine islands, there is a large population (almost 500) of handsome Royal Bengal tigers here who pay no regard for the international border.

Resolutely wild and untamed, despite being sandwiched between two of the world's most populated countries, the Sundarbans’ exotic residents include crocodiles, pythons and Ganges river dolphins.

Tea estates
Predominantly agricultural Bangladesh's rural bliss, in the gentle hills of the northeast Sylhet, the country's prime tea-growing region, offers the chance to escape the heat of the plains and for a stroll around tea-growing estates before putting your feet up with a top-class cuppa. The most popular place to use as a base for your tealeaf explorations is Srimangal.  

MORE OF BANGLADESH
Heritage:

Enriched by its ancient animist, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim roots, its Bengal region has a multifaceted folk heritage. Weaving, pottery and terra-cotta sculpture are some of the earliest forms of artistic expression. The best known literature of Bangladesh is the work of the great Bengali poets Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam. Folk theater is common at the village level and usually takes place during harvest time or at melas (village fairs).

Floating rice market:
Like the more famous floating markets in southeast Asia, the small floating market at Banaripara near Barisal is where locals who live in this river-laden part of Bangladesh come to buy and sell rice without ever having to step off their boats. 

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