Chittagong Division. the second most developed division in the country and shares its eastern border with Myanmar. It has the distinction of being Bangladesh’s only hilly region with hills ranging from about 800 feet (242 meters) in the north to about 200 feet (60 meters) in the southern ranges. The narrow coastal strip is crowded in by hills to the east, which is the only region where the land is not fragmented by river deltas.
In the northeastern district of Comilla, there are archaeological sites second only in importance to those at Mahasthan. If you are driving to Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar, the Mainamati sites are about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Dhaka. Although there is an extensive range of over 50 very important Buddhist sites uncovered along the north-south Lalmai-Mainamati range of hills, many of them are located in a military zone. making access to them almost impossible. The Mainamati Archaeological Museum and some of the accessible sites are about six miles ( 10 km) west of Comilla town. Mainamati echoes the memory of the celebrated King Govinda Chandra‘s mother who was so popular in local legends and folk ballads, whilst lanai or ‘red hill’ refers to the red color of the soil. Most of the sites contain various types of Buddhist structures dating from between the eighth and 12th centuries, consisting of monasteries, temples and stupas, which have produced a rich collection of archaeological remains.
Close to the site museum is Salban Vihara, a Buddhist monastery which had 115 cells built around a spacious courtyard with a cruciform temple in the middle. Deep excavations have revealed as many as six rebuilding phases, four of which have intelligible plan forms. In the early periods it was very similar to Paharpur, being built of brick and with scores of terra-cotta plaques adorning the circumambulatories. The monastery was probably constructed at the beginning of the eighth century by Bhava Deva, the fourth ruler of the Deva Dynasty.
About three miles (five km) north of Salban Vihara, is a unique group of Buddhist brick monuments known as the Kutila Mura. They consist of three stupas, possibly representing the Buddhist trinity or three jewels Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Charpatra Mura is about two miles to the northwest, and several of its important finds can be seen in the museum. The largest of the ridge sites, the Ananda Vihara, another Buddhist monastery, is only about a half-mile away. It probably derives its name from Anandadeva, the third and greatest ruler of the early Deva Dynasty. All these sites are out of bounds unless prior permission is received from the army.
Fortunately, the museum is well stocked with the various finds made at these sites. There is a large collection of bronze images/scenes of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and Tara. There is also an interesting solid cast bronze stupa measuring 10 inches high, giving an interesting insight into the original shapes of the ruined stupas.
Sadly, no terra-cotta plaques are to be found in situ on the Salban Vihara. However, several were collected during the excavations and are on display. They are fine examples of an animated rural art form with a host of different subjects ranging from birds and animals to humans and semidivine beings depicting the local folklore and mythology. This ensemble of Buddhist sites refelects an unmistakably high standard al material civilization achieved by the people of southeast Bengal between the seventh and 12th centuries.
The busy port of Chittagong has long associations with seafaring traders and is strongly linked with the colorful spice trade between Europe and the East. Today, it is a large and thriving city set amid beautiful natural surroundings, studded with greenclad knolls, coconut palms, mosques and minarets against a background of the Bay of Bengal. The city is located on the Karnaphuli River. As a seaport it has always been a great center for trade, especially after the Portuguese overran the city in the 16th century. There is also a strong British influence in some of the colonial administrative buildings. The Circuit House is one of the most attractive buildings left by the British and has been the scene of a number of historic and bloody events, the last being the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman on May 30, 1981.
The most notable of the numerous mosques around Chittagong are the Jami Mosque, built by Shaista Khan‘s son to commemorate the reconquest of Chittagong in 1666, and the Qadam Mubarak Mosque in the Rahmatganj area of Chittagong, built In 1719 by Muhammad Yasin and one of the few mosques of the area that retains its original features.
The lush tropical vegetation and unique concentration of tribal cultures has made the Chittagong Hill Tracts a potentially fascinating tourist destination in Bangladesh. Ironically, it is the most troubled region in the country and has therefore been made a restricted area, permitting tourists to visit only Rangamati and Kaptai.
Rangamati, the headquarters of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, is a favorite holiday resort because of its location on an isthmus projecting into Kaptai Lake. You can enjoy swimming, boating, sunbathing and exploring the small islands off the peninsulas. Each year in mid-April there is a colorful Buddhist water festival. For those interested in some ethnic shopping, the tribal woven fabrics are of excellent quality with simple but bright and beautiful patterns.
There are innumerable boat trips that you can make on the 170-square-mile (426 square-km) lake, the most feasible being to Kaptai, where the site for a hydroelectric project is located.
About three miles (five km) beyond Kaptai is Chitmorong, a Buddhist village where one of the many Buddhist monasteries exhibits a strong Burrmese influence.
Perhaps the best-known tourist destination in Bangladesh is Cox’s Bazaar and the beaches around it. Inani Beach, south of Cox’s, can claim to be the longest in the world. The town derives its name from Captain Hiram Cox, who in 1798 was commissioned to settle the region with Arkanese immigrants fleeing from Burma. Cox’s Bazaar developed with the influence of the new refugee Magh settlers who erected a series of picturesque white plastered pagodas or stupas on the low hilltops above the town. In true Burmese fashion, they also built the 19th century khyangs or monasteries, which can be seen at Ramu and in Cox’s Bazaar itself.
The Bara Khyang of Lama Bazaar, near Ramu, consists of three separate buildings, one of which houses interesting reliquaries and Burmese handicratts as well as the largest bronze statue of the Buddha in Bangladesh, cast at the end of the last century. These buildings characterize an imported style typical of the buildings along the Burmese border – timber framed with multi-tiered pitched roofs and extremely decorative fretted carvings. The interiors are generally simple spaces with a forest of columns supporting the complicated roofs above.
There is a similar compound in Cox’s Bazaar known as the Aggameda Khyang, which nestles at the foot of a hill. The main prayer hall is raised off the ground on a series of round columns. Unlike at Lama Bazaar. there is an active Buddhist community of monks performing their daily worship. Scattered around the compound are a fine collection of Buddhist images/scenes, mostly of Burmese origin.
Later, the region was the favorite haunt of Mogh pirates and brigands who, with the Portuguese, used to ravage the Bay of Bengal in the 17th century. The Moghs have remained, maintaining their tribal ways through their handicrafts, their hand-made cheroots and their decorative shell work. In Cox’s Bazaar it is still possible to see the shy and unassuming Mogh craftsmen at work.
To get away from it all there are the beaches, usually fairly well-populated with local tourists for the first few hundred yards. But beyond this are more than 70 miles (112 km) of silver-gold sand and surf enough to satisfy even the most incurable beach bum.