Connecting World Heritage Sites through people’s participation between the two North Bengals of Bangladesh & India through tourism to confirm conservation of heritage and peace.
Help Tourism , initiated local community participation through tourism in another UNESCO declared World Heritage Site, PAHARPUR and their first site in Bangladesh with the assistance of Biplab Saha, the CEO of Sun Tourism and Taifiq Rahman, 1st Vice President of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB).
The first survey of the World Heritage Sites in Bangladesh was undertaken by Help Tourism in the year 2001. February 2009, one of the master degree ecotourism intern from University of Applied Science – Eberswalde/ Germany, Sascha Prinz from Help Tourism visited the Paharpur site and gave his inputs. After that, the meeting in TTF Kolkata in July, 2009 with the tourism industry of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Consulate at Kolkata raised hope that this was the right time to work on ‘people’s involvement in tourism’ and create the first model for Bangladesh.
Accordingly, the trip to Paharpur was undertaken between 9th to 11th September, 2009 by Raj Basu and Biplab Saha. The route taken from Siliguri was Chengrabandha, Burimari, Bauri Bazar, Boro Khata More (Lalmonirhat is 65 km from here), turn right to Teesta Barrage, Dalia Bazaar (Burning Ghat, Nilfamri can be accessed from here), take 20kms of the canal road only open to small vehicles to Jaldhaka, Boro Ghat, Boro Bhitta, Tapa Daligram,Ganjipur, Paglapir and you are on the Biswa Road from where one can go 69 kms to Dinajpur, but we turn left 11 kms to Rangpur and again from Mokamtala turn right covering Kalai, Botoli Baazar to Joypurhat. Joypurhat being 10 kms from Paharpur, the nearest urban area with available logistics, we chose this as the base. The other reasons for choosing Joypurhat was the other National heritage interests being close by, easy road and rail connectivity and motivated people with good network at the nearby Bangladesh-India border. Rangpur has a good Parjatan Motel. Also a good place to eat would be at Medical More in Rangpur called Baisakhi (1712656488). The taxi stand is close by.
The major interest is that Paharpur is a World Heritage Site, and we explained locally that 1) such a heritage confirms and enlightens the development of the communities who lived here, 2) and keeping aside our class, creed & religion, we must all be proud of it and bring back the old glory. 3) We further explained that tourism is the only window that opens to the world and we look forward to their involvement in tourism. 4) This will create wonderful easy land connectivity between the World Heritage Sites: from Darjeeling to Paharpur to Dhaka, uniting the two North Bengals. 5) This will help in cross-border relations and peace.
As the lonelyplanet.com mentions in its description very rightly, except the approach (getting to Paharpur) which is now quite easy:
The Somapuri Vihara at Paharpur was once the biggest Buddhist monastery south of the Himalaya. It dates from the 8th century AD. This is the most impressive archaeological site in Bangladesh ; it was declared a protected archaeological site back in 1919, although the scholar-traveller Dr Buckman Hamilton had shown interest in it as far back as 1807. The name of the site has changed over the eons; it began life as Somapura (abode of the moon), then became Mahavihara (greatest monastery) before taking its current combination name. Getting to Paharpur is a bit of a pain on public transport, but it all adds to the element of discovery.
On the evening of 9th, we visited the Paharpur site. It was dark and person living near the site, he offered us his house to stay. The people near the site suggested that we go to Joypurhat and spend the night there. We put up at the Hotel Prithbi at the Thana Road in Joypurhat, where we were met by the Joypurhat Municipality Panel Mayor, Mr.Nandalal Parchi and his team. We had a long discussion, after which he was convinced that our concept for community involvement in Paharpur and adjoining places of interest will go a long way towards sustainable development of the entire area. He insisted that the next day, we should visit the Paharpur site and a few places of interest with his people.
On 10th morning we first visited Paharpur and surveyed the whole site, after which we met the Custodian, Md.Abdul Latif Pk at the Paharpur Museum. He discussed several points like the encroachment of the site by the local people through their activities in jute processing in the wetlands, cattle grazing, stealing of bricks etc. There are on an average 500 people illegally entering the site everyday. The other problem is about the salinity in the atmosphere and maintenance is tough. There is only one pump and it is difficult to avoid water logging in the monsoons. Guide engagement has not been possible. There is a lack of proper audio-visual material and equipment. Practical archaeological deficiency has left a lot of archaeological site Goalvita, Dhamurhat etc in distress. The practical orientation in the tourism industry is missing and hence proper interpretation has not been possible.
We were accompanied by Mr.Ashok Kumar Sarkar (Gaur) & Mr.Mrinal Kanti Sarkar (Minu) of Joypurhat. We visited some of the other places of interest like Baro Shiv, Sugar Mill etc. The other places are Mahasthal, Akkelpur and pagla Dewan. Everyone told us that we must visit Dhamurhat, Jagdalvihar and Patharghata, the description of which will be found in the book by Mr.Rakhal Das Bandhopadhyay. Every year at Hille border in India a festival is organized in respect of the Indian army, who have laid their lives in the Bangla Independence War. Also Mr.Dhananjay Rai of Kaliaganj has also written a lot on the heritage of this area. The other personalities who have an elaborate knowledge about this area are Mr.Shyamal Bhattacharya, ex-Headmaster of Bagora School, Dr.Martuja Khaled (Dipu), Islamic History Department of Rajsahi University and Mr.Samar Pal who is now a senior Secretary at Dhaka.
In the evening, we had an elaborate meeting of local personalities and NGOs presided by Mr.Aminul Haque Babul at Phulki and attended by Ad.Nanda Kishore Agarwala, Mr.Tapan Kumar Khan, Mr.Ranjao Kumar Kundu, Mr.Tapan Kumar Mahanta, Mr.Niresh from Rangpur, Mr.Apurba Sarkar, Md.Motinur Rahman, Mr.Sujan Kumar Mondal, Md.Monsur Rahman, Mr.Azizar Rahman and Mr.Gholam Haqkani.
The discussions led to the following conclusions and appreciations,
1) That this area has a reputation of terrorism and tourism will help to built good reputation and livelihood and hopes for the area.
2) Tourism will attract the confidence of Dhaka, as the circuit that is being planned is Dhaka-Paharpur-Darjeeling.
3) That good NGO infrastructure is available even to accommodate tourists.
4) That the area has good NGO capacity and good work reputation with the villages of the area.
5) It is possible to develop Homestays, several of them had good access to the private residential houses in Joypurhat through the initiative of developing the biggest infrastructure of Home Libraries in Bangladesh.
6) Also there is an opportunity to develop different kinds of Handicrafts and Handlooms.
7) One of the biggest difficulties is that Jotpurhat and the Paharpur site are in two different districts and have two different political parties in power, but the biggest advantage is that they have same linguistic accent and culture, and the two districts with the political have very good relations locally.
8 ) There is a wonderful Adibashi (tribal) area with rich culture.
9) That we must have a Paharpur Festival every year.
10) Organize a big Bangladesh-India meeting in the Raiganj/Kaliaganj/Balurghat area in this winter.
The meeting was coordinated by Mr.Nandalal Parchi and he was selected to lead the initiative of Connecting World Heritage Sites and developing Cross-Border Tourism with special reference to Paharpur in Bangladesh
This article has been provided by Raj Basu, Positive Tourism, India.
The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.