The hilly regions of Bangladesh are growing in popularity as tourist destinations among the adventure-loving sightseers, which is contributing to the economic advancement of the local people.
However, there is lack of modern facilities for travellers in the hills. Experts said additional facilities should be ensured to attract more tourists.
International Mountain Day will be observed today in the country as elsewhere across the globe to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development, and build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain people and environment.
The theme of this year’s day is “sustainable mountain tourism”.
Mountains are home to 13 percent of the world’s population. Ninety percent of the world’s mountain dwellers live in developing countries, where a vast majority lives below the poverty line.
Sustainable tourism in mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promoting poverty alleviation, social inclusion, as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation.
Mountains can be a new horizon of economic driving force and the life style of the hill people can be enhanced if this opportunity is grabbed properly, said tourism sector insiders and experts.
“We’ve experienced a huge positive change in mountain tourism in the last one and a half decades. Construction of new roads has made hilly areas accessible to the tourists but we need to offer them more facilities,” he said.
MH Murad, managing director of Shuktara Nature Retreat located in Sylhet’s Khadimnagar, also believes that travellers in mountain areas need more options to pass quality time.
He said, “Adventure travellers in Bangladesh only can do hiking, biking and cycling which require their own efforts but they hardly can enjoy new options like rafting, ziplining and kayaking on mountain slopes.”
Apart from flat lands and rivers, Bangladesh, a country of 147,570 sq km, has hills which is home to many races and tribes who add a plethora of diversity to the country’s beauty bouquet through their languages, customs, religions, literature, music and food habits.
In the southeast region, there are hills in Chattogram’s Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari while low hills in Sylhet in the northeast and highlands in the north and northwest region.
In the three districts of Chattogram Hill Tracts, there are 12 hills with a height of more than 3,000 feet on average. Some of these hills are Saka Haphong, Tajingdong, Mowdok Mual, Dumlong, Keokradong and Jogi Hafong.
Many places are inaccessible due to security concerns. There is lack of food and safe accommodation. Due to inadequate sanitation system, these places full of natural beauty are left out of the list of women tourists, said tourist experts.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there are 45 ethnic minorities in Bangladesh and most of them live in hills.
Tourism experts think the country can highlight their language, culture, foods and festivals to attract and facilitate more tourists in mountains.
Associate Professor and Chairman of tourism and hospitality management department at Dhaka University Dr Santus Kumar Deb said, “There’s no alternative to involving more local people in the industry to ensure sustainable mountain tourism.”
He said the people of hilly areas can earn money through offering home stays to tourists by renting their houses, as well as showcasing indigenous food and culture. Educated youths can become tour guides and there are also opportunities of renting travel aids.
Tourism experts recommended right directives, proper branding and long-term planning to further boost hill tourism.
Asked about the government’s steps to promote mountain tourism, Chief Executive Officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board Jabed Ahmed said, “Tourism in the hilly areas of Bangladesh is shifting its gear. We’re trying to ensure more options and facilities for travellers as adventure tourism is attracting more people, especially the young generation.”
“We’ve taken suitable projects and planning to offer more facilities along with the private sector,” he added.