The novelist Tahmima Anam has described her native Bangladesh as a “beautiful, bruised” country. It certainly has its problems, including the devastating floods it experiences owing to its location on the Ganges Delta. But she is right about its beauty too, says Kate Eshelby in the FT. There’s the 120km-long beach of Cox’s Bazar, where you can walk for hours passing nothing but fishing boats “shaped like crescent moons”. And there are the floating markets of Barisal, and the “tiger-prowled” Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest on Earth. And yet, it sees few tourists, and some of its loveliest areas lack for hotels. That’s why Royal Bengal Tours has started offering “home-stay” itineraries, so that visitors can explore more widely while also getting a sense of daily life in the country.
Bangladesh is roughly the size of England and Wales, but home to 170 million people, making it one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Its flat, fertile floodplains are largely given over to rice cultivation, but fragments of subtropical forest survive in the hilly northeast. In Lawachara National Park, you can stay in the village of Lawachara Punji, a 20-minute walk through the jungle. Your host, Papia Sultana, lives in a mud-walled house with handmade wooden beds, and cooks “delicious” meals such as butter catfish with local wild vegetables. There’s wonderful wildlife to see, including western hoolock gibbons and capped langurs. And there’s much else to do around the nearby town of Srimangal, including cycling tours of local tea plantations and birdwatching in the wetlands of Hail Haor.
The northwest has a particularly “rich” architectural heritage. In Puthia, there’s a marvellous complex of Hindu temples built between the 17th and 19th centuries, and nearby is Paharpur, a seventh century Buddhist monastery city that is simply magnificent.
A week-long trip costs from £1,200pp, excluding flights (royalbengaltours.com).