Mizan Ali |
June 14, 2021 9:51:08 p.m.
Surrounded by the hills of Mizoram to the east and Tripura to the north, the Sajek Valley, once witness to insurgencies, now showcases the cultural diversity of Bangladesh engaging people of different ethnicities in developing tourism in the region for their economic benefit and their social elevation.
The Sajek River marks 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. By traversing the high peaks and falls on the road, one can reach from Khagrachhari to the Sajek valley in about two to three hours. Bangladesh Army provides security escort service on the road from Baghathar to Sajek every day morning and evening.
The 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 the Konglak hill, which is mainly inhabited by the Lusai people. Besides the Lusais, Tripura, Pangkhoa and Chakma also live there.
People started visiting Sajek in 2014, soon after the road network connected the valley to the rest of the country. The Bangladesh Army took about 10 years to complete the road which traversed the steep terrains and valleys of the Kasalong mountain range.
It used to be 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 as he recounted stories of his experience working with Dhaka-based national dailies since then.
Residents of Rangamati town used to take about two days to reach Ruilui, where most 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. Another eight hours were needed from Old Lankar to reach Ruilui,” Supriya recounted while describing how tourism has helped change Sajek’s socio. -economic situation before his eyes in less than a decade.
The boom in tourist activity in Sajek can be understood from the fact that the number of resorts in the region registered with the Sajek Cottage Owners Association (COAS) increased to 83 last year from six in 2016.
Sajek has become a tourist spot because “enterprising people from all over the country have come here with the dream of making their business a success,” said Suparno Dev Burman, founding president of COAS.
“They came from all over the country, especially from Dhaka, Chattogram, Khagrachhari and Rangamati and took advantage of the business opportunities offered by Sajek,” Suporno said, adding that the economic activities were helping to change the socio-economic condition of the residents.
“But Sajek’s opportunities should be explored with caution,” he said, mainly because of its “geographical location” as well as the “ethnic, cultural and religious sensitivities of people who live together in the area, and have makes an economic hub”. Activities’.
“Sajek is now one of the most desirable tourist spots in the country,” said the head of Ruilui Mouza, where most Sajek resorts have been established in recent years. He feels, however, that the region is developing without much planning.
Critical infrastructure such as water storage and distribution systems should be developed in Sajek at the earliest to ensure investment growth and for more job opportunities, he noted.
Business in the region could not have flourished if the parties involved in the process could not ensure ethnic and religious harmony, he said, adding that the local people were benefiting from the economic activities.
“Those who came here for business either partnered with locals or started their own businesses by paying rent to 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.
M Faisal Mahmud, a young entrepreneur from the plain district already in business, 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 prospects for the future”.
One of his partners, John, a Chakma resident of Khagrachhari, felt that he should “introduce facilities for yoga, meditation, swimming, etc. for their guests matching Sajek’s environment to further explore its business potential”.
“With a very small amount of money, many people including myself have started their business in Sajek,” said Khoka, another entrepreneur from Dhaka, adding that there is a demand for more beach resorts in the area. .
COAS officials said Sajek’s chalets could accommodate about 3,000 people, but couldn’t really keep up with demand at peak times. They said that the entrepreneurs wanted to start a resort business in Sajek, but did not mention the number of applications submitted to them for approval. A directive for guests and cabin owners must be formulated before more resorts are allowed to open given the sensitivities of the area and the safety of visitors, officials stressed.
Peak season for visiting 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 been running a lodge for four years, pointed out that some adventurers sometimes ask for tents to camp overnight. He said his resort offers camping facilities for those customers.
Located about 2,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by hills and mountains with reserved forests and birds, Sajek offers year-round scenic beauty and gives you the taste and feel of seasonal changes, said photojournalist Supriya Chakma, smiling proudly.
The experience of touching a cloud or losing the visibility of the nearest person due to a cloud or being covered under a cloud during a hilltop walk in Sajek is unique and unforgettable, a underlined Supriya.
Since visitors love the clouds, hills and scenic beauty of Sajek, they have made it one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the country, Supriyo said, adding that what they had read in the stories travel or heard from friends was now experienced personally and explored in their own environment.
“Their love for such treasures and their moments of joy change the destiny of thousands of unemployed young people from different ethnicities in the region,” he said.
Khagrachhari-Sajek round trip by refurbished 4WD jeep known as ‘chandergari’ or other 4WD vehicle with overnight stay will cost around Tk 8,000-10,000 for a group of around 12 people , while the same trip in a CNG three-wheeler for two people will cost around Tk 4,000-5,000 and a motorbike for one person will cost around Tk 1,500. Cottage accommodation and food per person will cost around Tk 4,000-5,000 per day, some tour operators said, adding that if cottage owners overcharge a tourist in Sajek, they will be penalized soon after investigation .
Crossing ethnic boundaries, Sajek is now ready to help people either by engaging them in tourism or by facilitating them, which is probably unique from the perspective of Bangladesh. Journalists, sociologists, economists and policymakers, while exploring the prospects and potentials of tourism in Sajek, can also study the role of tourism in creating inter-ethnic and religious harmony in Sajek and suggest whether it can also be replicated in other regions.