Friday, July 20, 2012

Bandarban; a Beautiful City in Bangladesh

Bandarban, Bangladesh
Bandarban (Bengali: বান্দরবান) (Urdu and Punjabi: بندربان) is a district in South-Eastern Bangladesh, and a part of the Chittagong Division and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bandarban is regarded as one of the most attractive travel places in Bangladesh. Bandarban (meaning the dam of monkeys), or in Marma or Arakanese language as "Rwa-daw Mro" is also known as Arvumi or the Bohmong Circle (of the rest of the three hill districts Rangamati is the Chakma Circle and Khagrachari is the Mong Circle. Bandarban town is the home town of the Bohmong Chief (currently King, or Raja, Aung Shwe Prue Chowdhury who is the head of the Marma population. It also is the administrative headquarter of Bandarban district, which has turned into one of the most exotic tourist attractions in Bangladesh since the insurgency in Chittagong Hill Tracts has ceased more than a decade back.

One of the three hill districts of Bangladesh and a part of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bandarban (4,479 km²) is not only the remotest district of the country, but also is the least populated (population 292,900). The three highest peak of Bangladesh - Tahjindong (1280 meters, also known as bijoy)[* The height of Tahjindong is 829.66m +/-3m as per a recent measurement with Garmin GPSMAP60CSX GPS], Mowdok Mual (1052 m), and Keokradong (1230 m) [* The height of Keokradong is 986m +/-3m as per a recent measurement with Garmin GPSMAP60CX GPS], - are located in Bandarban district, as well as Raikhiang Lake, the highest lake in Bangladesh. Chimbuk peak and Boga Lake are two more highly noted features of the district. The newly reported highest peak of Bangladesh - Saka Haphong (3488 ft) is also here in Thanchi upazila.
Site View of Bandarban Sadar
Bandarban Sadar, Thanchi, Lama, Naikhongchhari, Ali kadam, Rowangchhari, and Ruma are the administrative sub-districts of Bandarban. Major road routes are:
  • Bandarban-Rowangchhari-Ruma 
  • Bandarban-Chimbuk-Thanchi-Alikadam Baishari-Dhundhum 
  • Chimbuk-Ruma 
  • Chimbuk-Tangkabati-Baro Aoulia 
  • Aziznagar-Gojalia-Lama and
  • Khanhat-Dhopachhari-Bandarban. 
  • Meghla Parjatan 
  • Nilachal 
  • Shoila Propat 
  • Prantik Lake 
  • Chimbuk 
  • Boga Lake
  • Rijuk Fall 
  • Keokradong 
  • Tahjingdong 
  • Shangu River 
  • Golden Temple 
  • Nilgiri 
  • Mirinja Parjatan 
  • Upabon Parjatan
Buddhist Temple in Bandarban

Bandarban lies, by bus, eight hours away from Dhaka, two hours from Chittagong and three hours from Cox's Bazaar. It is also possible to get there by a six hour bus ride from Rangamati.

The Buddha Dhatu Jadi, the largest Buddhist temple in Bangladesh, located in Balaghata, 4 km from the town. This place attracts many tourists every year. This Theravada Buddhist temple is made completely in the style of South-East Asia and houses the second largest statue of Buddha in Bangladesh. The waterfall named Shoilo Propat at Milanchari is another place tourists like to visit.

The numerous Buddhist temples, known as kyang in local tongue and bhihars in the town include the highly notable the Rajvihar (royal vihar) at Jadipara and the Ujanipara Bhihar. Bawm villages around Chimbuk, and Mru villages a little further off, are also lie within a day's journey from the town. Prantik Lake, Jibannagar and Kyachlong Lake are some more places of interest. Boat ride on the river Sangu is one of the main attraction here for tourists.

King's Palace in Bandarban, Bangladesh
Bandarban Town

A nearly 52 km² hill-town housing about 32,000 people, of which the majority are Marma. There is a Tribal Cultural Institute here, which features a library and a museum. The town also features Bandarban Town Hospital (offering the best medical service in the district), the District Public Library, Bandarban Government College, the District Stadium, banashri, the solitary movie theatre, the royal cemetery, and, of course, the Royal Palace (two of them since the 11th and 13th royal lines both claim the throne). Apart from the numerous kyangs and mosques, there is a temple dedicated to Kali, the most revered goddess of Hindus is Bangladesh, as well as a centre maintained by ISKON.


In the early days of 15th century, Arakanese kingdom, where Mrauk U was the capital, expended its territories to the Chittagong area of Bengal. After the victory of Arakan on Burma's Pegu kingdom in 1599 AD, the Arakanese king Mong Raja Gree appointed a Prince of Pegu as the governor of newly established Bohmong Htaung (Circle) by giving the title of "Bohmong" Raja. That area was mostly populated by the Arakanese descendants and ruled by the Burmese (Myanmar) noble descendants who started to call themselves in Arakanese language as Marma. Marma is an archaic Arakanese pronunciation for Myanmar. As the population of the Bohmong Htaung were of Arakanese descandants, these Myanmar-descendants Bohmong chiefs (Rajas) of the ruling class took the titles in Arakanese and speak a dialect of the Arakanese language.

Natural scenery at Bandarban District, Bangladesh
Bandarban Hill District was once called Bohmong Htaung since the Arakanese rule. Once Bohmong Htaung was ruled by Bohmong Rajas who were the subordinates to the Arakanese kings. Ancestors of the present Bohmong dynasty were the successor of the Pegu King of Burma under the Arakan's rule in Chittagong. In 1614, King Mong Kha Maung, the king of Arakan appointed Maung Saw Pru as Governor of Chittagong who in 1620 repulsed the Portuguese invasion with great valour. As a consequence, Arakanese king, Mong Kha Maung adorned Maung Saw Pru with a title of Bohmong meaning Great General. After the death of Maung Saw Pru two successors retained Bohmong title. During the time of Bohmong Hari Gneo in 1710, Arakanese King Canda Wizaya recaptured Chittagong from the Mughals. Bohmong Hari Gneo helped King Canda Wizaya in recapturing Chittagong and as a mark of gratitude the later conferred on Bohmong Hari Gneo the grand title of Bohmong Gree which means great Commander in Chief.

DC office in Bandarban, Bangladesh
British and Pakistani rule

During the British reign in 1690 The Raide of Frontier Tribes Act -22 was passed which among other things envisaged the creation of Chittagong Hill Tracts District comprising the entire hilly region along the south eastern border of present day Bangladesh, stretching right from Tripura in the north and Myanmar in the south. The act also provided for the appointment of a superintendent to discharge the administrative functions under the direct control and supervision of Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong. However seven years later in 1697 the post of superintendent was redesignated as that of Deputy Commissioner.

In 1900 the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulations 1900 was enacted to provide a consolidated and broader legal framework for the administrative system. This Act with minor modifications constituted the fundamentals for the administration of three hill districts. Recognizing the special historical and geographical features of the place as well as uniqueness of tribal population, the Regulation of 1900 divided the entire district into three circles. Each circle was to be headed by a circle chief whose primary responsibility was to collect revenue, assisted by a Headman (Head of a Mouza) and a Karbari (Head of a Village) respectively at Mouza and village level. The Bohmong king was appointed as the Circle Chief of the Bohmong Circle. During the British period, the area of Bohmong circle under Bandarban and Lama Thana was operated as lowest administrative unit, with a Circle Officer as its head.

During World War II the area saw the presence of a formidable British military presence that came to stand against a Japanese invasion. The tribes of these hills held the reputation of unyielding rebellion throughout history. When India, Pakistan and Myanmar went independent from the Raj, the tribes of Bandarban flew the Myanmar, then known as Burma, flag for a few days. During the Bangladesh Liberation War (1971) to gain independence from Pakistan, leaders of the tribal people sought allegiance with Pakistan government though most the general tribal people were against the decision.

Meghla, Bandarban, Bangladesh
Since Bangladeshi independence

In the late 1970s, a policy of forced settling of Bengalis into Chittagong Hill Tracts to change the demography of the region was pursued, which later gave rise to much violence against the hill people and the insurgency led by Shanti Bahini. There have been an attempt to create divide among tribal cultural lines between the Chakmas, who led Shantibanhini, and the Mrus, by creating an anti-Shantibanhini militia out of them. Now, after the peace treaty, Bandarban stands as a locally governed ethnic region together with the two other hill districts. Representation of numerous tribes of the district in the Hill Council now stands as a thorn of dispute here. Contemporary history of Bandarban has not been a happy one, despite much development initiatives taken by church organizations and UN agencies like UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA as well as Bangladesh Army present in large numbers here. The district is still under a quasi-military rule. Insurgents from across the border as well as drugs and arms smugglers play a large role in the jungles here. Newspaper reports of discovering poppy fields or arms caches are not rare for Bandarban. There also is much tension between Bengali settlers and ethnic minorities, as well as between early Hindu settlers and recent Muslim settlers and between dominant tribes and lesser tribes.

A Market in Bandarban, Bangladesh

Heavily dependent on Jumm farming, which is a slash and burn agricultural technique, Bandarban produces little that is of economic value outside self consumption of the hill people, also known as Jumia. Fruits (banana, pineapple, jackfruit, papaya), masala (ginger, turmeric) and tribal textile are the major exports of the district, with tourism growing fast as a source of revenue. Much of the trade in fruit, like most other commerce in the district, has been taken over by Bengali settlers.

Clothes are mostly made of cotton, wool imported from Myanmar and silk cotton which is a rarity in most of Bangladesh. All cotton is spun and woven by hand. To promote local textile there now is a Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry Corporation (BSCIC) center in Bandarban together with a wonderful sales centre. BSCIC has also introduced mechanical spinning and weaving here.

Bamboo and tobacco grows in significant quantity, but largely is not considered as economically profitable products. Bamboo is used, along with canes, not just to make the traditional stilt houses, but is the material for most tribal craft, including the bamboo smoking pipe, a major health hazard. Some bamboo-craft and local-made cigarillos are now exported out of the district.

A Masjid in Bandarban, Bangladesh
Two church-based development organization - Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB) and Caritas are the major forces of development in the district. UNICEF is driving the education effort, which is mostly directed at younger children.


There are more than fifteen ethnic minorities living in the district besides the Bengalis, including: the Bomong, Marma, Mru, Tanchangya, Khyang, Tripura, Lushei, Khumi, Chak, Kuki, Chakma, Rakhine or Arakanese, Riyang, Usui and Pankho. The religious composition of the population, as of 1991, is 47.62% Muslim, 38% Buddhist, 7.27% Christian, 3.52% Hindu and 3.59% others.

Religious institutions is Mosque 2070, Buddhist 900 (256 temples, 644 pagodas), Hindu temple 94 and Church 2.

The Mru, also known as Murong, who are famous for their music and dance. The Mru in major numbers have converted to the youngest religion in Bangladesh – Khrama (or Crama) – a religion that prohibits much of their old ways. They are proposed as the original inhabitants of Bandarban.
Hilly Highway to Bandarban Main Town
The Bawm are another major tribe here. Now converted almost totally to Christianity they have taken full advantage of the church to become the most educated people in the district.

The Marma, also known as Magh, are of Arakanese descendants and Buddhists by religion, and are the second largest ethnic group in the hill districts of Bangladesh.

The Chakma and the Tanchangya are also closely related. The Khumi live in the remotest parts of the district, and the group is thought to include yet unexplored/ unclassified tribes.

These ethnic groups are again divided in hundreds of clans and sects, principally dominated by four religious threads - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Animism. All these clans and groups are clustered into two major ethnic families - the hill people and the valley people - though since the Kaptai dam flooded the valley to give birth to Kaptai lake, the valley people have started to live on hill tops along the hill people.

Boga Lake in Bandarban, Bangladesh
Bandarban landscape

The three highest peak of Bangladesh - Tahjindong (1280 meters, also known as bijoy), Mowdok Mual (1052 meters), and Keokradong (883 metres) - are located in Bandarban district, as well as Raikhiang Lake, the highest lake in Bangladesh. Chimbuk peak and Boga Lake are two more highly noted features of the district. Though most Bangladesh sources cite Keokradong as the highest peak in the country, but Tazing Dong (sometimes spelled as Tahjingdong, and also known as Bijoy) lying further east is recognized both by government and expert sources as a taller peak. Measurements taken by English adventurer Ginge Fullen shows that an officially unnamed peak near the Myanmar border (locally known as Mowdok Mual) is the highest point in Bangladesh.Recently a team from Nature Adventure Club took part in an expedition in the mowdok range and agreed with the ginge fullens statement. They got the hight of this peak as 3488 feet with gps accuracy of 3 meter. The unnamed summit is known as 'Saka Haphong' to the local Tripura tribes.

Chimbuk Forest, Bandarban, Bangladesh
The following is a list of mountain ranges in the area and the tallest peaks of each range:
  • Muranja (also known as Meranja) range (Basitaung, 664m) 
  • Wayla range (most of this range is in Myanmar) 
  • Chimbook range (Tindu, 898m) 
  • Batimain range (Batitaung, 526m) 
  • Politai range (Keokradang, 884m; Ramiu Taung 921m) 
  • Saichal-Mowdok range (Bilaisari, 669m; Mowdok Mual 1,003m) 
  • Saichal range (Waibung 808m; Rang Tlang, 958m; Mowdok Tlang, 905m) 
  • Wailatong and Tambang ranges
Sangu River, Bandarban, Bangladesh
The River Sangu (also known as Sangpo or Shankha), the only river born inside Bangladesh territory, runs through Bandarban. The other rivers in the district are Matamuhuri and Bakkhali. Parts of Kaptai Lake, the biggest lake in, Bangladesh fall under the are: 

There are more than fifteen ethnic minorities living in the district besides the Bengalis, including: the Marma, the Arakanese descendants and Arakanese (Rakhine), who are also known as Magh, Mru (also known as Mro or Murong), Bawm, Khyang, Tripuri (also known as Tipra or Tipperah), Mizo (also known as Lushei), Khumi, Chak, Kuki, Chakma and Tenchungya, who are closely related, Reang (also known as Riyang), Uchoi (also known as Usui) and Pankho.

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