Published:  08:41 AM, 27 April 2021 Last Update: 08:53 AM, 27 April 2021

In quest for North Bengal glory

In quest for North Bengal glory

-Nazmun Nahar

The night view of Momo Inn alfresco from our 8th floor suite balcony is just amazing. A few stars in the sky above head. The swimming pool on the 3rd floor and the massive green lawn with the thatched coffee shop at the far right side were so beguiling that we forgot our tiredness of Dhaka to Boguraride that started early morning followed by checking in, lunch, a jaunt to Mahasthangarh and so on and so on. Even then we took no time to take the elevator to come down to the coffee place at 10.30 pm. It’s there we probably tasted the best tea of our life time. Four of us: Dalia, Shudha, Farah apa and I agreed. At a far end a group of people was seen sitting at the BBQ corner must be relishing kababs or something, some others were walking around. The place is too big to feel that it was moderately crowded at that hour even in COVID-19 time at a remote Bogura district. We started to kind of shivering and came back to our room against our will keeping the rest of the Momo Inn expedition for the next morning before starting for Panchogarh.

It was in fact Panchogarh that four of us wanted to sightsee. The main targeted part was Tetulia and Banglabandha since we all are so familiar to the phrase associated to Bangladesh, “Tetulia toTeknaf”, one end of Bangladesh to the other. Teknaf is so much visited but never Tetulia. So, let’s make it this time during Spring Break, I proposed. It wasn’t that easy for us to materialize it with so many obstacles: suddenly worsening Covis-19, some unforeseen political upheavals related to the ongoing visit of few foreign Head of States etc. But we, the superwomen decided to start at any cost to touch the dead end of one corner of our motherland and also to explore northern side of our beloved country. The excitement was that of going to the moon. 

Next morning after a delectable breakfast and a few precious photoshoots, we whizzed off towards Panchogarh, the last district of North Bengal which is bordering India as well as giving transit for Nepal and Sikkim. It was unfortunately one of a hartal days called after a long time. We rightly assumed that it might not be an issue; rather the roads were moderately crowded, very comfortable for highway ride. When we reached the red-bricked RangpurParjatan Motel for tea break, namaz, washroom, we found out it was almost empty. Google map was a big help all along, also the directions given by my brother Zia:Rangpur-Dashmile-Panchogarh as it goes. At intervals the overhead signs with places and arrows were very helpful. Bangladesh has developed in terms of highway communication in most parts. It’s more impressive outside Dhaka.The Asian Highway is a remarkable one. Dhaka is rather rotting in terms of road condition, traffics norms and road discipline.

The real sightseeing for us began from then on with lovely music, greenery on the sides, roads mostly smooth. As we’re approaching, I was contemplating about Panchogarh district. So for quenching my thirst I started googling:

“Panchagarh is located in the extreme north of Bangladesh, and is bounded on three sides by the 288 km long Indian border, with the Darjeeling district on the north, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts on the northeast, Uttar Dinajpur on the west, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon districts on the south, and Nilphamari district on the east.

It was first known as Pachagarh. There are two main beliefs associated with the name of the district. The first is that Panchargarh was named after an area called PanchaNagari in the kingdom of Pundu Nagar. The second is that it was named for the five forts (or garhs) in the region. The forts were Bhitargarh, Hosaingarh, Mirgarh, Rajangarh and Devengarh. Hence, the name Panchagarh, meaning 'five forts'. The rivers that flew in Panchogarh are Karatoya (Karatoa), Atrai, Teesta, Nagor, Mahananda, Tangon, Dahuk, Pathraj, Bhulli, Talma, Chawai, Kurum, Tirnoi, and Chilka.
After the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Panchagarh was a thana under the Thakurgaon mahakuma. On 1 January 1980, it was established as a mahakuma consisting of 5 thanas named Tetulia, PanchagarhSadar, Atwari, Boda and Debiganj. It was established as a district on 1 February 1984.”

As we were proceeding nice views charmed our eyes, at places wheat fields that resembled Panjab side of India. Passing rivers namely Atrai was a heartrending experience, same happened at the sight of Karatoya. In school we read those names, so it was exciting to see those rivers. It reminded all of us our school days a great deal but the dry and shrinking appearances of those once mighty rivers saddened us. We sighed but could not dwell on that for a long time as Dalia craved for street tea. We stopped, took out our disposable paper glasses that was brought plentifully in order to try not to be infected by deadly Covid-19.Those people give damn to Covid. They laugh and say… “kisher corona, we don’t believe in that,Allah vorosha” etc.Though there were few smart ones who cared to wear masks.A bite of delicious Altime dry cakes brought by Dalia couldn’t enhance the bland taste of liquor tea but the road side tea sipping experience was an entertaining part.

The place where we resided for the next two days in Panchogarh is a splendid one. So peacefully artistic at the heart of a tea estate! The massive balcony on the second floor of the bungalow adjacent to our rooms was so extraordinary with the lovely view of the tall trees and birds’ chirping. Just a few souls working there in the kitchen cum dining room, a cone-shaped bungalow poetically named Addaghar. The place that seized our hearts was the thatched open shed with bamboo made benches and table namely Alsheghar opposite the dining. Beside it was a pond with cemented stairs leading to the water failed to cast any spell. After the mouthwatering late lunch of fresh spinach, fish, chicken,daal and rice, it was hard for us to decide how we spend our rest of the day: tea at Alsheghor, or sitting on the balcony or taking a stroll!

What an exciting moment it was to see Tetulia Zero Point milestone come into view on our left hand side the next morning at around 11 am! That was the main purpose of taking the long ride and everything else that we had done so far. After breakfast, Mr. Biren explained our compliant driver the way to Tetulia and Banglabandha :and the other must see places on the way up and down.The atmosphere of that place was so pleasant for the Dhakaittes that we sucked in the loveliness of the surroundings for a while. Shudha being the youngest and spirited lass was in charge of photo taking all along. After a few clicks on that area and Zero Point circle, we settled in the car for our next destination Banglabadha. Sightseeing continued along with chitchat. Nature there was breathtakingly beautiful. Green and clean. Land must be fertile for it was producing various kinds of corns and other fruit like sugarcane profusely. The attractive part was the pieces of tea gardens here and there on plain land. My curiosity was nudged at the view of the area and googling began as we were approaching Banglabandha:

“Banglabandha is of international character and used for Nepal transit traffic passing through a small corridor of India. It is about 22 meters away from the Bangladesh-Indian border.The growing tea sector in Panchagarh has ushered in a new hope for further enhancing the standard of socio-economic life and empowering women. The female workers are yet to get fair wages from the garden-owners as the growing tea-farming sector in the region has been facing manifold problems including unfair prices of the tea leaves for the tea farmers..Presently, over 7,000 skilled and unskilled workers, mostly women, have been working in 246 tea gardens, including 18 big estates, 13 medium-size and 215 small-scale gardens set up on more than 1,815 acres (7.35 km2) of land in Tetulia and its surrounding areas.” 

At one stage we reached the first BGB check post. They generously allowed us to move further up to the Banglabandha Zero Point milepost. It’s there! The pole barricade! Had to stop. The no Man’s land was in view. The BGB duty personnel stopped us. We came out of the car with the request to let us have a few snaps on the Banglabandha Zero Point stand. The young BGB guard who looked like a boy to us kindly accompanied us to the stand and even extended his kind hand to take our group photo. That was truly our best photo in whole North Bengal trip. 
I have previously been to Benapole border many times, also Tamabilbut the look of this border was completely foreign to me. It was totally free from the usual hustle and bustle of any land bordering two countries. So wide and open. Quiet. A pleasant silence was prevailing all around. Weather tremendously favored this small enthusiastic lot. Comfortably sunny with no rain.Proper Bangladeshi spring weather.A few kilometers to Shiliguri, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.Nepal only 63 kilometres. Kanchenjunga can be viewed from July to October. The border guard accompanying us informed confidently when we enquired about sighting Kanchenjunga from there. Recently a good number of tourists are taking interest in coming over to Panchogarh to have a view of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain of the world. When both Dalia and Shudha were getting bit further, the BGB guard cried out to stop them as they childishly stepped into Indian land. “Please don’t go there, that’s India, they’ll object.” 

We couldn’t be extravagant with our time. So much yet to be done.So towards Panchogarh again. Now it’s the Mahananda river
that came into view. As by then we’re done with our main objective of the trip, we meditatively focused on the rest. We were wondering about people working in the river with something wheel shaped. Fishing is the only thing to do in a river. What kind of fishing is this! So more googling before we came out of our car to saunter along its bank to help remember my school day’s geography lessons:

“Mahananda River is a major tributary of the Ganges in Bangladesh. Originating from the HIMALAYAS, southwest of Nepal, the river crosses Karsiang and Shiliguri in West Bengal (India). It is an important TRANS-BOUNDARY RIVER. India constructed a dam on the river 3 km north of the border near Shiliguri in spite of objections from Bangladesh. [Sultana Nasrin Baby]The neighboring country has constructed sluice gates over Mahanandariver in Fulbari inside their territory. When they open the sluice gates, water enters through Mahananda in Bangladesh.
At the river Mahananda the laborers are seen carrying stones on their shoulders. It's an age old practice. These stones are carried by the stream. These stone-laborers work from dawn to dusk. This is a different life with backbreaking work. Thousands of people lift stones from the river and this is the main source of livelihood in the riverside region. Stones are gifts of nature for these people. About 60,000 people in fifty villages make a living off of stone lifting. After they bring the stones out they have to separate the sand from the stones. Due to the dams set by India, a part of Mahananda in Bangladesh territory has turned lifeless.”  

Okay, that makes sense! Google is great! Having our curiosity met, a few photographs taken, little bit of fun with the river water we set off.Due to time shortage we couldn’t dig in to the Tetulia Park, and the Circuit House, the best place for viewing Kanchenjunga in season. Rather started to see Anadadhara Tea Estate owned by Kazi & Kazi group. Due to pandemic, the place was under some restrictions, but we could have a quick jaunt over there to succumb to the beauty of its architectural bounty. Ohh my God! At this God-forsaken place this kind of constructional luxury is beyond imagination. One has to see it to understand its stateliness. It seemed to us that an old Maurya civilization was being exposed. Outside the gate were the vast plain land tea gardens. We got to know from the local sources, of the 7000 tea workers of Panchogarh nearly 2,300 workers, mostly women, are working alone at the giant Kazi and Kazi Tea Estate (KKTE) at Tetulia which has earned reputation in both national and international markets by producing, processing and marketing the famous and most popular Kazi & Kazi organic tea and earning foreign exchange.
Another scrumptious lunch was savored by us. We didn’t waste any time to settle in the Alsheghar to relish our afternoon tea. The next day we would have to have a long ride from Panchogarh to Dhaka straight. But that we would think later, rather we indulged us in each other’s company in the enormous balcony before going to bed late after midnight.

It is possible to enjoy the 12 hour long journey when the tuning among the team members is perfect. And the roadside from Panchogarh to Rangpur is incredibly appealing.As we were approaching Bogura we were being sad to think that we’re getting back to the concrete jungle soon. We stopped at least six times on the way back. Never knew that standing against our car, sipping tea with Altime dry cakes could be such fun in a remote Dianjpur UNO office compound on a holiday. My initial plan was to stay in Dinajpur to see Kantajew Temple, DinajpurRajbari, RamsagarDighietc and the town itself, but the thing is in four days it wouldn’t be possible, so excluded Dinajpur from our tour plan. I then stated in ecstasy, “see we’re in Dinajpur, so we saw Dinajpur too, remember…”

After a little drive we again ran to two different directions to buy roadsides hingarha and jilapi. We’re careful not to open our masks when inside the car the whole time. But, well, still one final wish was to be fulfilled, Dalia loves biriany or tehari. So I was kind of desperate to make this happen. Panchogarh couldn’t provide us biriany. But Now at Food Village in Shirajganj this came true too and we finished a plate full of mutton biriany followed by another delicious cup of steaming coffee.

The four-day North Bengal Trip gave me and us I believe bountiful cherishable memories. I do travel time to time, mostly at home, occasionally abroad. Naturally very fond of youtubing travel shows or reading travel articles. Sometimes I regret a bit thinking we don’t have much to offer to travelers of all sorts considering international aspects. Next moment I counsel myself saying that ours is a small country that has rich Sylhet tea gardens, the Sundarbans mangrove forest, the longest sea beach, not to mention the Hill Tracts. Just a little chiseling here and there would make it unique for the travellers. But after my North Bengal trip, my vision changed completely with new hope. This whole North Bengal side of Bangladesh from Bogura to Banglabandha is a treasure. Panchogarh alone is a treasure. The rich natural wealth will definitely appease the yearning of the travel mongers of all corners of the world if our tourism sector could take initiative to ensure certain issues mostly security and go out on promoting elaborately to let the world know of its magnificence. “O amar deshe rmati ,tomar pore thekaimatha.”
-The writer is Head of Section, International Hope School Bangladesh ,Uttara Preschool & Primary Section

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