Many a city finds the banks of wide rivers beside them suitable for building recreation sites. Quite aptly, these spots could be grouped among hill resorts, small islands and dense forests. The corona pandemic will be over one day in Bangladesh. With the country back to its earlier landscape varieties --- quite unique to it, travelling by its rivers is set to return with its age-old elegance. Lately, tourism experts have included the spectacle of migratory birds taking shelter on a 'char' (river shoal) during winter in the list. Travelling a 'char' and overnight or a little longer stay on it could be a memorable experience.
Watching flocks of birds flying in to Bangladesh to escape severe winter in their native lands and staying here for months is filled with rare thrills. They are not found at conventional tourist spots. In fact, rivers and 'chars' add generously to the gifts of Bangladesh tourism.
Viewing separately, a Bangladesh river emerges as a distinctive tourism entity by itself. Rivers have remained popular attractions for nature lovers for ages. At the riversides, people willing to enjoy both solitude-filled and raucous timeout can pass a few hours from afternoon to midnight. European and American rivers noted for their vibrant riverfronts include the Thames, the Seine, the Hudson, the Danube --- to name but a few. The authorities of New Orleans in the Louisiana state of the USA turned the Mississippi shores into virtual beaches. In Asia, the Yangtze, the 5-country-long Mekong, and the Ganges --- despite its revoltingly polluted atmosphere at places, offer the urban people soothing moments during and after sunset. Starting from river cruises in the nearby areas, sipping coffee, juices, different types of local beverages and exotic snacks at kiosks to the accompaniment of open-air concerts to strolling in pairs or arranging barbecues distinguish these riverfronts.
In Bangladesh, the northern bank of the Buriganga once emerged as a popular leisure spot. It was also filled with snacks corners and improvised restaurants. This both serene and festive riverfront lasted for quite a few decades. The riverfront site exists no longer. Attempts have lately been taken to bring back the beauty of the site. The condition of the areas near the banks of the three other small rivers is no better. Due to unabated encroachment, these rivers do not have even banks. The human settlements in some places appear to have risen right from the edge of the water. Once upon a time, the banks of Turag and Bangshi rivers were used to witnessing their both young and elderly strollers. With the rivers fast becoming shallow streams of fetid water, the strollers have turned to the other means of pastime.
Man has repeatedly turned to rivers to release their pent-up woes and grief. But due to human greed, displayed through river encroachment, people of Bangladesh are being continually deprived of the gifts offered by rivers. This is a great paradox. It should not have happened. As a land filled with rivers, Bangladesh may also be viewed as a country where people have time and again turned to its rivers. But modern realities are harsh. Yet the country's great number of rivers prevents its people from losing their hope in the seemingly ageless flows. In line with this, mustering the vision and courage to weave new types of tourism dreams around rivers doesn't seem absurd. Against the backdrop of the present state of the country's rivers and their underuse and abuse, the proposal for setting up pastime spots on the mid-river 'chars' (land masses rising from rivers) came up as a wonderful idea. It was mooted a couple of years ago by tourism enthusiasts mulling the fruitful use of these 'chars'.
It is the sediments accumulating at river bottoms from currents which create these 'chars'. The idea of building centres of leisure and recreation in the middle of a river is indeed offbeat. During winter, after the start of the arrival of migratory birds in the country, 'chars' are set to emerge as a favourite place for many tourists.
However, people who will not fully back the idea are expected to support it in principle. This stance will add to the strength of a novel plan. There is no doubt that people with unorthodox disposition may find great potential for pure leisure and fun at these 'char'-centred recreation facilities. The idea of these centres may have derived from the Malaysian tourist island of Langkawi in the Andaman Sea. However, the mid-river tourist sites in Bangladesh cannot be called islands. But then the spacious monsoon rivers of the country turn into veritable seas.
Tastefully designed bungalow-type structures, duplexes, streetlight-lined roads may radically transform the rustic look of the original 'chars'. There should not be any sign of squalor or repugnance. Besides the architectural beauty, the rebuilt 'char' sites ought to reap the benefits of their unhindered spaciousness. Arrays of street-side trees with specially grown woodlands scattered all around are set to add to the tempting beauty of these tourist sites. It's worth keeping in mind that the domestic tourists visiting these spots on the otherwise vacant and secluded 'chars' sites will comprise mostly the affluent segments in society. In course of time, venturesome tourists from foreign lands may also join them.
Big and small 'chars' dot the large rivers in the country's northern and central regions. These 'chars' have been lying virtually deserted for long, with many populated by a handful of erosion-hit families. They cannot grow the main crops on the 'chars' for which they have to return to the mainland. When it comes to scenic beauty, these 'chars' emerge as enchanting. Apart from the windy cool nights, there are the daytimes with bright sunlight. The naturally grown isolated forests and bushes and expansive grasslands can make them tempting to those in quest of sylvan beauty. If electricity cannot be connected to the mainland grids due to the site being too far from the mainland, solar panels mounted on bungalow tops or placed in fields could be the easy source of power. Many are expected to attach stress on safe communication. Private enterprises which might involve themselves with the 'char' site ventures cannot remain oblivious to this problem. They can put into service engine-driven boats to ferry people between the mainland and the 'char' sites.
Besides, there could be small-distance cruise ships to take interested tourists for trips to the other 'chars' and the riverside villages. Security might become a constant headache for many. Since 'char'-based tour sites might enjoy considerable amount of the authorities' support, the latter are expected to set up police camps at the sites. The private tour entrepreneurs can ill afford to sidestep the issue.
At a time when young educated entrepreneurs are on the hunt for new openings in domestic tourism, they can give the 'char' tourism a serious try. The venture, however, demands maturity of mind, sensitivity and pragmatism on the part of the entrepreneurs. For, a private initiative, claiming them to be wise and practical, cannot encourage tourists to visit sites during the season of furious nor'westers or prolonged rainy days. However, the view of the jet-black-and-deep-blue clouds before a summer storm might remain lodged in the mind of foreign tourists once they have a full view of them. The sunny winter is considered the best of times for 'char' tours. With migratory birds swarming on the swampy segments of 'chars', a rare view, both domestic and overseas tourists would most likely find the visits to these mid-river 'chars' highly rewarding.
Due to the huge expenses involved, it is only the local and foreign joint ventures which can summon their entrepreneurship spirit to launch such spots even on the offshore islands. But most of such islands in the Bay of Bengal are densely populated. Deep-sea fishing is the chief means of livelihood for people living on these islets. A few of them have long been declared wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests.
It might turn out to be difficult to set up tourist hubs on the remote and generally inaccessible small islands on the sea. They can, at least, be chosen for developing adventure tourism. The wary countdown to periodic cyclonic storms may add a lot to the thrill and suspense of staying on these islets for a couple of days. Yet spending a few days at a humble-looking but well furnished cottage on a Bangla 'char' in mid-river could become an unforgettable experience for many.