The Hill Tracts
When I came to Bangladesh I wasn’t really expecting anything to be pretty. But upon leaving Chittagong and entering the Hill Tract district which borders with India and Myanmar, I discovered it’s actually surprisingly gorgeous. Lush and green with large rural vistas and a far more reasonable population density than in the capital or other major cities. This region is home to several indigenous Adivasi groups who still live in quaint villages, and aside from the odd 'I Heart NY' t-shirt and few TV sets, still live off the land much in the same way they have for generations. Tourists require a special permit to visit the area, but thankfully this only required a few hours of an administrative treasure hunt to find the right office and official, and about 50 cents worth of backsheesh. Not too bad.
The first stop was Rangamati, a lovely lake dotted with quaint villages along its winding shoreline. A boat ride visiting a few sights and suspension bridges was delightful and only slightly hampered by the knowledge that the entire lake was man-made for hydro electricity production; somewhere beneath the wonderfully calm surface lies the abandoned homes of 100,000 Adivasi people who were flooded out without compensation. Hmm.
Another town in the Hill Tract region, Banderban, was built around a charming little river. A highlight of the visit was floating downstream near sunset and watching all the activity from the small villages along its banks. Adivasi villages could also be explored here on foot, and most of them were intrigued by the strange man with the camera, although I certainly got the impression this wasn’t the first time a guide had waltzed through their little dusty paths with a tourist in tow. Despite the kids insisting that I was withholding a bag full of chocolates and candies (tourists really need to stop thinking it’s a good idea to be free candy dispensers), it was a very lovely experience.