Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Shalban Bihar
Even though it is not included in the World Heritage list, Mainamati is an area with several important Buddhist acheological sites in Bangladesh. This area is located near Comilla (pronounced Kumilla) town, which is about 80km southeast of Dhaka. It took us about an hour and a half to reach there from Dhaka. The main congestion was in the outskirts of Dhaka, where seemingly a zillion trucks and buses gather and mingle.

There are several sites in Mainamati, many of them fall inside the Comilla cantonment or are unexcavated. The place to visit is the Shalban Bihar, which was a Buddhist enclave built by Shri Bhavadeva in 8AD (a Devapala king) . On this foundation, several repairs and rebuilding have been done over the ages.

The name of the site suggests that in some distant past, it must have been a secluded spot surrounded by shal trees (This is famous for being the kind of tree under which the Buddha lay down to die). Presently, there are several residences in the vicinity and no shal trees in sight (though in all honesty, I would not be the best person to identify one). Nevertheless, it is still nice place to see.
Shalban Bihar
While we were visiting, a group of schoolchildren were frollicking about, presumedly on a fieldtrip.

Following them, I climbed on to the top of the structure looking for the central shrine but all I found were rectanglular markings designating the area.
Central Shrine?

There is a small museum next to the Bihar where you can gain admittance with 2 takas (which is a pitable amount even in Bangladesh!). I was pleasantly suprised to find some impressive statues there, though there was very little information about the pieces. They appeared to be mostly terracota but a couple were more exotic and appeared to be made of stone or bonze, including some of Tara, who is a goddess amongst Buddhas. Maybe she took a detour here on her way to the Far East . . .

Even though most of the buildings in the Bihar have collapsed, the heavy foundation and superstucture remains, sunken into the soft soil of the area. It occured to me that this phenomenon is similar to Bangladesh's ancient past, which clings on despite some people's efforts to erase the pre-islamic days, years & centuries.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tourism in Bangladesh?

Tourism and Bangladesh do not seem like words that seem to go together. Most people that I know go to Bangladesh to see relatives/get back to their roots, buy/sell property and once in a while I meet someone who is in Bangladesh for non-profit work. I have yet to meet a "real tourist" who is visiting Bangladesh to get away from their monotonous routine, see something new and experience something different.

As for me, I have visited Bdesh on and off for some years (for the usual reasons) and also lived there for a few years a long time ago. I never thought about Bdesh as a tourist destination because I believed there was not much to see. There are no Wonders of the World, no notably impressive modern tower and not even a very distinctive cultural landscape that could lure tourists.

So, I was caught off gaurd about two years ago during a presentation about Bdesh, where they were claiming that there are three World Heritage sites in Bdesh. Not only had I not been to a single site but I had not even heard of two! So, before my next trip, I purchased a guidebook to Bdesh and have tried to make time to visit some of interesting sites during my subsequent visits.

I am creating this blog as a resource for other people who are unaware and might be interested in my adventures. If you are a real tourist and need factually accurate information, I would suggest that you look elsewhere like the Parjatan site or a copy of Lonely Planet Bangladesh.