Lawachara and Baikka Beel

Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
     Perhaps one of the biggest surprises about living in this part of the world has been to discover how vibrant the environmental movement is. I have to be honest: I would not have thought poverty-stricken people who are battling to fill hungry mouths would have any time or inclination to worry about animal habitats, depletion of resources or pollution. There are, in fact, plenty of examples of incipient environmental awareness here and in the vicinity.

environmental awareness

There exists a Malaysia Environmental Society which now boasts a history of more than 50 years. Signs on street bins in Pokhara, Nepal ask, “Please assist in our efforts to maintain natural and cultural linkage by following the minimum impact code during your Himalayan journey”. Both Delhi and Dhaka have a large fleet of gas-powered vehicles which act as taxis. City councils in both countries have deliberately sought to cut carbon emissions by their introduction.

High on the Annapurna Range in Nepal, Manu is the proprietor of a teahouse. He engages us in lively conversation and talks confidently about herbal organics (using both words easily despite having another mother tongue). In the residential streets of Dhaka we often see large signs inveigling householders to recycle. And in the shops in Dhaka, plastic bags are all but gone.

Lawachara National Park

On the weekend just gone, Linda and I ventured to Srimongal to the north-east of the country in the heart of the tea plantation territory. We saw some more evidence of care for the future. 
     We ventured on push bikes into Lawachara National Park which is 1250 hectares of beautiful rainforest. The park contains 176 species of trees including eucalyptus and pine. Manik says, “Any tree will grow here”.

“Around the World in 80 Days”

There are also six species of monkeys. On our little incursion we were lucky to see two different types of langurs and then a couple of gibbons kept us engaged with craned necks for more than ten minutes. The railway line shown in the photograph runs through the middle of the national park. I believe a segment of the feature film, “Around the World in 80 Days” was filmed on this stretch of track. Of course, the railway line was built before anyone considered the concept of a national park here.

7- level tea

You might think, by the way, that venturing deep into a majestic rainforest would lead one to a natural wonderland. Well, yes, the forest was beautiful and tranquil. But then, after a rewarding walk through the jungle we paused in a tea house built sympathetically into the hillside at the railway track. We were enjoying one of the seven-level teas pictured when . . .  wait for it . . . the Imam’s call to prayer interrupted proceedings over the loudspeaker. That’s taking the religion too far, isn’t it? The friendly locals who were conversing animatedly with us about Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist at that moment didn’t bat an eyelid, but it did seem out of place in the middle of the rainforest.

As Basil Fawlty might say, “I mean really!” Anyway, it didn’t detract from the experience which was a wholly favourable look at a National Park in Bangladesh.

Baikka Beel

We also visited a bird sanctuary called Baikka Beel. The infrastructure for this was also sponsored by USAID. (It’s good to see America’s best idea being passed onto the Third World.) We saw purple swamphens, Brahminy Kites and Grey Herons among many others. We were impressed by the quietude of the wetland which is protected from drainage and poaching.

Baikka Beel contains most of the prerequisites for listing on the RAMSAR Convention but has not yet been added (even though two other sites in Bangladesh have). That’s probably a question of resources rather than foresight. It was on the water that Linda felt most at home, watching the natural world going about its business without any ado or noise.

The fact that areas of land – which could easily be developed – have been set aside for posterity is gratifying. In a country struggling to feed its population, such a luxury is not axiomatic. It’s pleasing to find such enclaves still in existence and it’s equally pleasing to find some kind of infrastructure sponsored by the state devoted to its preservation. We were glad to enjoy the greenery along with many locals out on the weekend doing the same thing.
Khoda hafez

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