Mizan Ali |
June 14, 2021 9:51:08 PM
Surrounded by the hills of Mizoram to the east and Tripura to the north, the Sajek Valley, which was once the scene of insurgencies, now showcases the cultural diversity of Bangladesh, engaging people of different ethnicities in the development of tourism in the region for their economic advantage and social upliftment.
The Sajek River delimits the border between Bangladesh and India while the area named after it is the largest union in the country and falls under Baghaichori upazila in Rangamati district.
Located 95 km north of Rangamati, Sajek is only 67 km northeast of the district headquarters of Khagrachhari hill. Crossing the high peaks and falls from the road, one can reach from Khagrachhari to the Sajek valley in about two to three hours. The Bangladesh Army provides security escort service on the Baghathar to Sajek road daily morning and evening.
Sajek Valley includes Ruilui Para, Hamari Para, and Konglak Para, where Konglak Hill is one of the main tourist attractions. The last village on the Bangladesh side is located on Konglak hill, which is mainly inhabited by the Lusai people. Besides the Lusais, the Tripura, the Pangkhoa and the Chakma also live there.
People started visiting Sajek in 2014, shortly after the road network connected the valley with the rest of the country. The Bangladesh Army took about 10 years to complete the road that traversed the rugged terrain and valleys of the Kasalong mountain range.
Previously, it was one of the most remote areas in the country for its difficult steep terrain and had no notable economic activity, recalls Supriyo Chakma, a photojournalist who has visited the area for more than two decades.
Sajek was neither known to people nor linked to Rangamati or its neighbor Khagrachhari by road infrastructure, Supriyo said, telling stories of his experience working with Dhaka-based national dailies since then.
Residents of Rangamati town took about two days to reach Ruilui, where most of the resorts are now established in Sajek, he added.
“One could reach Old Lankar, the border village of Sajek after a 16 hour journey on foot and by shallow boat. Eight more hours were needed from Old Lankar to reach Ruilui,” Supriya said, describing how tourism has helped. to change the socio-economic situation of Sajek. -the economic situation before his eyes in less than a decade.
How flourishing tourist activity in Sajek is can be understood by the fact that the number of resorts in the region enlisted with the Sajek Chalet Owners Association (COAS) increased to 83 last year, compared to six in 2016.
Sajek has become a tourist spot because “enterprising people from all over the country have come here with dreams of making their business a success,” said Suparno Dev Burman, Founding President of SFOC.
“They came from all over the country, especially Dhaka, Chattogram, Khagrachhari and Rangamati and used the business opportunities offered by Sajek,” Suporno said, adding that the economic activities are helping to change the socio-economic situation of the people.
“But Sajek’s opportunities should be explored with caution,” he said, mainly because of his “geographic location” as well as the “ethnic, cultural and religious sensitivities of the people who cohabit in the area, and have it. makes an economic center of Activities’.
“Sajek is now one of the most sought-after tourist spots in the country,” said the chef of Ruilui Mouza, where most of Sajek’s resorts have been established in the past two years. He feels, however, that the area is developing without much planning.
Critical infrastructure such as water storage and distribution systems must be developed in Sajek at the earliest to ensure investment growth and for more employment opportunities, he noted.
Business in the region could not have prospered if the parties involved in the process could not ensure ethnic and religious harmony, he said, adding that the local population benefited from the economic activities.
“Those who came here on business either entered into a partnership with the local population or started their own business by paying rent to the landowners,” he said. There has been no report of inter-ethnic tension between or among different groups of people engaged in business here, he said.
Mr. Faisal Mahmud, a young entrepreneur from the Plaine district already in activity, opened a restaurant and a resort in Sajek four years ago. Faisal works in partnership with people of different ethnicities in Sajek and feels “very encouraged by his future prospects”.
One of his partners, John, a Chakma resident of Khagrachhari, felt that they should “introduce facilities for yoga, meditation, swimming, etc.” for their guests corresponding to Sajek’s environment in order to further explore its commercial potential ”.
“With a very small amount of money, many people including myself started doing business in Sajek,” said Khoka, another entrepreneur from Dhaka, adding that there is a demand for more stations. seaside resorts in the region.
COAS officials said the cabins in Sajek can accommodate around 3,000 people, but cannot really meet demand at peak times. They said the entrepreneurs were keen to start resort businesses in Sajek, but did not mention the number of approval requests they were given. A directive for guests and chalet owners must be formulated before other resorts are allowed to open given the sensitivities of the area and the safety of visitors, officials said.
The peak season for visiting the Sajek Valley is between September and March each year, when accommodation becomes limited. Long weekends also create demand for tourists.
Kallol Raoza, a Tripura, who has managed a chalet for four years, pointed out that some adventurous people sometimes ask for tents for overnight camping. He said his resort offers camping facilities for these guests.
Located approximately 2000 feet above sea level, surrounded by rolling hills and mountains with its reserved forests and birds, Sajek offers scenic beauty all year round and gives you the taste and feel of the seasonal changes, a said photojournalist Supriya Chakma, with a proud smile.
The experience of touching a cloud or losing the visibility of the next person nearby due to a cloud or covering yourself under a cloud while walking on top of a hill in Sajek is unique and unforgettable, Supriya pointed out. .
Since visitors love Sajek’s clouds, hills and scenic beauty, they have made it one of the country’s most sought-after tourist destinations, Supriyo said, adding that what they read in the stories of travel or heard by friends is now experienced personally and explored in their own environment.
“Their love for these treasures and their moments of joy are changing the fate of thousands of unemployed young people from different ethnicities in the region,” he said.
The Khagrachhari-Sajek round trip by a refurbished four-wheel-drive jeep known as “chandergari” or other four-wheel-drive vehicle with an overnight stay will cost around 8,000-10,000 Tk for a group of around 12 people, while the same trip in a two-person CNG three-wheeler will cost around 4,000 to 5,000 Tk and in a one-person motorcycle it will cost around 1,500 Tk. Cabin accommodation and food per person will reach around Tk 4,000-5,000 per day, some tour operators said, adding that if cabin owners charge excessive rent to a tourist in Sajek, they will be penalized for a short time. after the investigation.
Crossing ethnic lines, Sajek is now open to help people either by engaging them in tourism or by facilitating them, which is probably unique from Bangladesh’s perspective. Journalists, sociologists, economists and policy makers, while exploring the prospects and potentials of tourism in Sajek, can also study the role of tourism in creating interethnic and religious harmony in Sajek and suggest whether it can be replicated. in other areas as well.