Tanguar Haor

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February 25th 2013
Published: February 27th 2013
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North to Tanguar Haor

We rented a van and driver to take us up to Sunamganj. On the map it looked like we could bypass Sylhet by driving west of the city, going north from Habiganj. Unfortunately that road is missing some bridges, so we had to go around to Sylhet. We left Dhaka at 7am and only stopped once for a short break, arriving in Sunamganj at 3:30pm. After lunch there we took a ferry across the river where we got in a laguna, which is a miniature pickup, and drove for almost another two hours through the countryside to the house we stayed in. The next morning it was another hour or two in a laguna to get to the river that led to the wetlands. After an hour motoring up the river we made it to the wetlands and entered Tanguar Haor, which is a protected wildlife area.

The Countryside of BangladeshThe Countryside of BangladeshThe Countryside of Bangladesh

All along the way we passed rice paddies and people replanting them. Some were seedling paddies where people were picking each plant to be replanted like this one. Rice is such hard work.
To check out another part of Bangladesh, I went bird watching with a couple colleagues on the northern border near India, in a wetlands area named Tanguar Haor. Before I moved to Bangladesh I had heard that it was the best place for bird watching in Asia. The whole country is a river delta. The Bradt guide says "If you're supremely adventurous or a keen birdwatcher (perhaps both), Sunamganj is where you'll want to head." It also mentions that it takes four days on a boat to do the round trip from Sunamganj to Tanguar Haor, staying on the boat at night and waking up surrounded by birds in the wetlands.

A haor is a large depression in the earth, which creates a wetlands area. Water trickles in from nearby rivers and rains fill the depressions. Considering how flat and saturated Bangladesh is, some water is probably forced up from underground. The shallow water and abundant fish and plant life creates an ideal habitat for birds. Many Asian birds stop by during their winter migrations. There are several haors in northern Bangladesh, but Tanguar is reputed to be the most pristine.

It was a long day traveling up from
Farming the Dry SeasonFarming the Dry SeasonFarming the Dry Season

When rain isn't falling every day, especially when it hasn't rained in months, people have to rely on irrigation. All farming is done the old-fashioned way, by hand or with water buffalo pulling the plow.
Dhaka on Thursday, (see map notes) but we made it. The next morning we got up ready for action. Like all good (and nerdy) birdwatchers, we were armed with cameras, tripods, binoculars and a bird book specifically about South East Asia. We had hats and sunscreen and were ready for a day out on a boat, quietly watching birds. After a later-than-anticipated breakfast, we rode in a laguna for over an hour to the boat, which turned out to be bright red. They had obviously made a new awning for us, to shelter us from the sun. It was flashy red and yellow fabric, complete with bunting around the edges and bright red chairs. It was stunning. No bird in its right mind would go within a mile of it. (They don’t have hummingbirds here). But we got on, and politely greeted the four other guys onboard, who turned out to be the boat owner, boat driver, haor guide and a friend of the owner. Add them to our group of five: guide, manager of the place in Sunamganj and three foreigners. There were too many people to actually keep quiet.

Motoring up the river, on the way to

Across the river from Sunamganj there were only rickshaws, motorcycles and lagunas. It's a CNG vehicle, bigger, but just as bumpy and noisy.
the haor we spotted lots of Brahminy kites and drongos, which can also be found in Dhaka. We saw hooded crows and sparrows, domesticated ducks and geese, starlings and mynah birds. Once in the haor I got to see lots of birds that I had never seen before. Some of these are probably mis-identified since we couldn’t get very close and only had one book with drawings to work from. On my list are: great and intermediate egrets, Indian pond herons, coots, Oriental Darters, great and little cormorants, Pacific reef-herons, Great-billed herons, juvenile Grey herons, several kinds of gulls and terns, black kites, purple swamp hens, little grebes, fulvous whistling ducks, common potchards, common shelducks and ruddy shelducks, Eurasian wigeons, purple herons, red-crested pochards and Oriental skylarks. My favorites were the purple swamp hens. They were the size and shape of a chicken, but bright purple with red beaks.

The best bird watching was from the Swiss research station, where we got out on foot, away from the bright red boat, chugging engine and ringing cell phones. The larks were singing and the ducks stood still in the shallows. I got a good look at a purple heron, walking
Living on the RiverLiving on the RiverLiving on the River

Many fishermen live on boats like the one in the foreground. The blue boat behind is a school, often sponsored by an NGO or foreign charity. This one is funded by BRAC bank.
up close behind some willows, watching it stalk around in the reeds, catching fish and turning in the afternoon light, so the sun caught the red neck feathers and purple wing feathers at different angles. It was beautiful.

The rest of the trip we were the focus of attention. That must be the most frequent comment about Bangladesh: everywhere we went, people crowded around to stare. Even on the boat, since we were accompanied by six local men, I always felt eyes on me. We didn’t see any other foreigners the whole time, including the road trip to and from Dhaka.

I had expected the long trip from Dhaka, but didn’t realize that from where we were staying it was another three hours of laguna and motor boat to the haor. That’s a six hour daily commute. The countryside is beautiful, and if other things had gone better it would have been okay. Unfortunately, we had other problems. The lodging was unexpected and they were obviously unprepared to host tourists. I didn’t feel comfortable there. The political situation blew up on Friday while we were out in the boat and we were rushed back to Dhaka on Saturday,

We passed a lot of bridge building projects, replacing the bamboo bridges with sturdy cement ones. Cement is less poetic, but is also less likely to be swept away in monsoon floods.
in anticipation of country-wide protests and strikes on Sunday. It was a shame to have the trip cut short, but considering how it was going we probably didn’t miss out on too much.

There were a lot of beautiful places we passed through, and I would like to learn more about Bangladeshi culture and living on rivers and around the wetlands, so I would do it again. If there were to be a next time, I would first talk to the guide about his local knowledge (it’s never a woman) and arrange to go on a boat that we can sleep on, to save us the six hours of transportation each day.

This blog is also available on www.heatherjasper.com

Additional photos below
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Coal from IndiaCoal from India
Coal from India

The river to Tanguar Haor was filled with boats going empty up to India and coming back laden with coal. Some had water over their gunwales.
Headed for IndiaHeaded for India
Headed for India

Riding high in the water, boats went up to India empty. They have nothing to export.
Bird WatchingBird Watching
Bird Watching

I was horrified when I saw the boat they had prepared for us to go bird watching. Far from the usual camouflage and silence, our boat was decorated as if for a wedding, with a loud engine and several extra guys whose cellphones rang constantly.
The Haor GuideThe Haor Guide
The Haor Guide

We had another guide for the trip, who served mostly as translator. This man knew the places in the wetland where it was deep enough for a boat to pass through, and guided us around the marshes.

Of all the birds, the egrets are the easiest to spot since their size and white plumage stands out in the haor. The hills in the background are India.

The haor isn't off limits to fishing, despite being protected bird habitat. We saw quite a few fishermen along the edges of the wetlands, trying to find food.
The Swiss CampThe Swiss Camp
The Swiss Camp

Out in the middle of the haor is a research station, funded by the Swiss government. Most of the men there weren't actually researchers, but were hired to protect the wildlife from poaching and the waters from overfishing.
My ideal bird watching boatMy ideal bird watching boat
My ideal bird watching boat

I was hoping we would have something with cover from the sun, where we could peek out the sides with our binoculars. Perhaps something less brightly colored would have been good.
Emergency Village on the RiverEmergency Village on the River
Emergency Village on the River

Back on the main river we passed a village with brick buildings, perched on sturdy cement stilts. Our guide explained that it was the safe point for villagers when the monsoon floods were higher than normal and flooded their homes.
River LifeRiver Life
River Life

Bangladesh is so covered with rivers and marshes, even in the dry season, that everybody lives with and in the water most of the time. They have boats, not bikes.
Guest HouseGuest House
Guest House

This is the house that we stayed in.
Village LifeVillage Life
Village Life

Most village homes had thatch walls and roofs; the walls strengthened with mud that has to be reapplied constantly. Few homes had metal siding or roofs.
Dry SeasonDry Season
Dry Season

Everywhere I looked the effects of the dry season were evident. Boats were abandoned in the mud and some rivers were impassable.
On the Road AgainOn the Road Again
On the Road Again

We settled in for the long drive back to Dhaka. At least there is a lot to see out the windows.
Driving in the Parking LotDriving in the Parking Lot
Driving in the Parking Lot

Our van used CNG (compressed natural gas) so we stopped often to fill up. At one of our stops I checked out the most common form of transportation all over Bangladesh, a 3 wheeled vehicle called a CNG.

2nd March 2013

Hi! Just wanted to say that I\'ve been keeping up with the posts and everything sounds amazing (except for the snafus on this trip I suppose...). Hope you are happy with your life in Bangladesh :-)
28th May 2016

Fantastic Tanguar haor
Really Tanguar Haor is a very beautiful wet land of Bangladesh .I have visited 5 times and I always love to visit .

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