Things get fishy

Things get fishy

Cox's bazar

Things get fishy

With an unbroken 125-km-long sandy beach by the Bay of Bengal, Cox’s Bazar, in south eastern Bangladesh, is a strong contender for the longest beach of the world. And to prove it, Jahir, a young pharmaceutical executive, offered me a ride on the pillion of his bike the entire length of the beach in a single, uninterrupted go. I politely declined his offer, but vowed to believe him.

Coast to coast

We, however, did jump into a car and drove south from the Hotel Zone of Cox’s Bazar town, not on the beach, but on the marine drive, with the Bay of Bengal and its golden beach never out of sight. At one point we stopped the car and walked down the beach to where a number of shampans — boats — were parked on the sand. Men were at it, repairing, coating lacquer. I marvelled at the shape of the shampans, where the bow and the stern have romantically curved up, as if to reach the sky, giving the profile of crescent moon when they sail on the sea. And that’s when the thought struck me. I was in the Arakan region, a unique tract, and a culture, which has seamlessly traversed from Bangladesh and into Myanmar.

“How far is Myanmar,” I asked Jahir.
“Less than 50 km from here,” he said.
I nodded. Yes, I had seen some distinctly Rakhine people in Cox’s Bazar town. Their features and attire are markedly rooted in the Burmese moor of the Arakan. There is even a Burmese Market in the thick of Cox’s Bazar town run by the Rakhine people, vending clothes and stuff characteristic of their design and lifestyle. There is also the Buddhist monastery in nearby Ramu, with its own reclining Buddha, making the region a confluence of cultures.

And for the crescent-mooned shampans, they historically traverse several centuries and 9,000 km of maritime brotherhood, from here all the way down the Andaman Sea, through Malacca Strait, around the Malay Peninsula, and up and up to South China Sea. Shampans, O yes, have I not seen them bobbing in south western China at the Pearl River Delta?

We resumed our journey down south through the marine drive. The beach, truly, seemed never ending.

The seascape

“We have covered just 30 km from Cox’s Bazar,” said Jahir when we arrived at Inani Beach. To the right, a river has snaked its way into the sea. As we trudged through the stretch of sand towards the sea we realised that we have to cross another river, shallow and rippling, which is flowing parallel to the sea before curving stylishly, as only rivers can, into the sea. Shoes and sandals came off the feet. Trousers got rolled up the knees. We steadily stepped into the river and wadded our way across.

We came up on the narrow strip between the river, now behind us, and the sea in front. The sand strip has large, dark and moss-green coral boulders strewn around, some half buried in sand. Their texture is strangely uneven. As if some outlandish rodent has been nibbling off it. The sand, the mossy coral boulders of remarkable texture, and we, caught as we were in the web of the rivers and the sea, might as well be some artist’s imagination. I pinched myself to reassure it was all real.

Back at Cox’s Bazar town, we got into a restaurant buzzing with locals. Jahir pronounced that Cox’s Bazar has three major delicacies that I must try out. Fish, fish and fish. Shutki (dried fish) bhorta and prawn bhorta were delicious with rice. Then came fries of Lote fish, which the locals in their musical dialect call loitta. More prawns were on the way as curry, along with roopchanda — a variant of pomfret. Jahir was pushing for more, but I had to put my foot down. There was a limit to get fishy. Even if one was in Cox’s Bazar.

Travel Tips

Winter is a pleasant time to visit Cox’s Bazar.

Getting there: Cox’s Bazar has an airport with direct flights from Dhaka. It is 160 km from Chittagong by road.

 Places to visit: Innumerable beaches; Teknaf at the mouth of Naf River with Myanmar on the other bank; sailing trip to St Martin’s Island, a coral island; Buddhist Monastery in Ramu, 16 km away.

Staying and eating: Cox’s Bazar has hotels for all budgets. There are plenty of eating joints as well. Although seafood is predominant, a wide variety of vegetarian fare is
also available.

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