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Published: February 18th 2012
The Cox's Bazar beach is at 120 km the longest natural sand beach in the world.
Beach, boats, tribal people and fish
Here comes the first blog entry from my latest travels. This time the destination was Bangladesh. This is my first visit to Bangladesh and it is one that I have looked forward to for many years. Unfortunately the photos on this and the two following blog entries are less good than they usually are. First there was hazy and cloudy weather some days and that made the photos a bit less colourful than usual. I also had a mishap with my camera on one of the first days in the country and that messed up many of my photos. I hope you still think the blog entry is worth reading.
I landed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. My plans were to see the rest of the country first and take a few days to see Dhaka at the end of the trip. Therefore I stayed only one night before leaving for a town with the unbelievable name Cox's Bazar
. I don't know what you think when you hear that name but I think Cox's Bazar sounds more like the title of a porn movie than the name of a city.
In Teknaf I visited the Teknaf Game Reserve, one of very few places in Bangladesh where it is possible to see wild elephants.
is a popular destination for locals who want to swim in the ocean and lie on a beach. And plenty of beach they have because the town's claim of fame is the beach known under the same name as the town. The Cox's Bazar beach is at 120 km the longest natural sand beach in the world.
After having spent half a day in Cox's Bazar I had seen enough there because other than the beach there is very little else to see. Swimming and sunbathing is not my kind of fun. I took a bus and left for a town called Teknaf. Teknaf is further down south very close to the border with Burma.
In Teknaf I visited the Teknaf Game Reserve, one of very few places in Bangladesh where it is possible to see wild elephants. But you have to have a bit of luck to spot an elephant because the game reserve is large and there are only very few animals lurking around there. I was not lucky that day. I did see elephant tracks and elephant dung but no elephant. But I did get a nice walk through the game reserve.
You have to have a bit of luck to spot an elephant because there are only very few animals around. I was not lucky that day. I did see elephant tracks though
left Teknaf Game Reserve I saw some people leaving the forest carrying bundles of firewood. They were cutting down trees illegally, carrying it out and selling it in the local market. Those people were refugees from Burma and selling wood at the market is the only way for them to make a living. The women didn't want me to take photos of them but a small girl who was with them didn't mind. I tried to lift the girl's bundle of wood and for a small girl it must be pretty heavy. I also tried a bundle one of the women was carrying and I could barely carry it.
When I visited Teknaf I had the opportunity to visit a local school. I went inside and said "Hi" to the children. I talked to them for a few minutes, telling them my name, where I am from and what I was doing there. Then I left them knowing very well that the poor teacher they had would have a very hard time in getting the children to pay attention to her for the rest of the day. Was it evil of me to do that?
Next place I
Teknaf is very close to the border with Burma. Here the border is only a few kilometres away
went to was Chittagong. From Teknaf Chittagong is about half way back to Dhaka.
Along the coast north of Chittagong there is a large number of companies involved directly or indirectly in a business known as ship-breaking
. The ship-breaking yards are not open for tourists but have nevertheless become kind of a tourist attraction. Old and worn down cargo ships and other large floating vessels are brought here and get dismantled. Anything that can be reused is then taken care of such as steel, the copper cables and even engine parts and life boats. They bring in the ships at high tide and push them as high up on the beach as possible driving the hulls deep into the mud. When the water recedes workers go onboard and start to cut them to pieces using angle grinders, plasma cutters and a lot of manual labour.
The ship breaking yards are not happy about having visits by tourists. One of the reasons is that it is a very controversial business. The work is very heavy and hard so a worker's body often gets worn out in only a decade or two. The ships that are taken apart often contain
Girl carrying fire wood
They were cutting down trees illegally, carrying it out and selling it in the local market. I tried to lift the girl's bundle of wood and for a small girl it must be very heavy.
dangerous chemicals and asbestos making the business both an environmental hazard and seriously dangerous for the workers' health.The work is also dangerous and many accidents happen. It is not uncommon for people to loose a finger or a hand. I personally saw one man with a large bandage on his foot getting carried out from one of the ship-breaking yards.
A few years ago I saw a documentary about this industry and I have ever since then wanted to see it with my own eyes. The ship-breaking yards are actually the main reason for me to visit Bangladesh in the first place. I was hoping that seeing the ship-breaking yards could be interesting. It turned out to be even better than I expected. When I first came down to the beach I saw at least a dozen really large cargo ships lined up. Each and every one of them was in the process of being cut to pieces. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. I actually had to stop walking and stand still for a while right when I came down to the beach because it took a while to take it all in.
School in Teknaf
In Teknaf I visited a local school.
I stayed on the beach for a while and watched the work. The small stretch of beach from where I watched the ship-breaking was the property of a fishing village. The fishermen had no problem with letting me walk around but when I walked off into the section of the beach that was the property of the ship-breaking company I was quickly shooed away.
I have learned from reading on Wikipedia that the ship-breaking yards in Chittagong
is only the second largest industry of this kind in the World. The largest is in Alang in India. I think I want to go there too.
In the morning after I watched the ship-breaking I spent an hour or so at the local fish market in Chittagong. At the fish market the fishermen bring in their catch and sell it to the buyer who pay the most. The market is very crowded and the easiest way to transport the fish is therefore to carry it. The porters carrying the fish had the fish in boxes or baskets that they balanced on their heads. They all had little hats made from aluminium foil to avoid getting mucus and blood from
Bird on a cow
I just thought this was a bit funny
the fish in their hair. I noticed that many of the workers doing the hard labour carrying the fish were very young. Without a doubt the youngest ones had not turned 15 yet. So some of the porters were children. Those children were doing labour that was so heavy that at home it would not be legal to even let adults do it.
After the fish market I went to the Chittagong Hill Tracts
, a hilly area that is the home of several tribal people. To make it simple for myself I went there on a guided tour. Taking a tour cost me a lot of money but on the other hand it saved me from a lot of trouble such as getting the special permit foreigners going into Chittagong Hill Tracts need to have. Included in the tour was a visit to two villages, a boat trip on a lake, a visit to a monastery, a visit to a local market and a few other things.
One benefit I had from taking a tour to Chittagong Hill Tracts rather than trying to go there on my own was that I could make stops at places that weren't part of
Along the coast north of Chittagong there are several companies doing ship-breaking.
the tour but I still wanted to see. One such place was a brick factory. All over Bangladesh there are brick factories. These factories are making use of the fact that the soil in Bangladesh contains a lot of clay. It is easy for them to find the raw material they need for making the bricks. I have put up a small video showing a man making bricks from wet clay. The clay bricks are left in the sun to dry for a few days before they are burnt in the oven.
In the villages in Chittagong Hill Tracts many women make various kinds of handicraft that they sell on the local market. In the Chakma village I visited weaving was the most common handicraft. But I also saw women making baskets.
I also saw something unusual in the village I went to. I saw several women smoking pipes. I can't recall ever to have seen that before.
This is all I had to say about the first half of my journey in Bangladesh. Hope you enjoyed it.
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