A common tendency here is to highlight the merit and potential of tourism in the country. Speakers go gaga in seminars and functions marking tourism over the prospect of earning handsome revenues from the sector if and when it is developed. True, the country boasts a few unique sites and natural preserves. Heading the list are the longest sea beach in the world, the mangrove of the Sunderbans on the one hand and the swamp forest of Ratargul on the other. But are the deliberations learned enough when suggestions are made for opening up the country's tourist spot to massive tourism?
People who feel disappointed that foreigners do not stream into the country like they do into some of the neighbouring countries perhaps need some introspection before they strongly argue for promotion of tourism. India is a huge country and a large number of tourists disperse all across that vast land at the many tourist spots leaving not a great adverse impact on its environment. Nepal can provide circumstantial evidences of tourism development in that country and lack of it in Bangladesh. The mountainous valley of a country is more or less of the same size as the deltaic Bangladesh. But it has a population of a little more than 29 million whereas the latter is gasping under the heavy burden of at least 160 million.
Already income of a large segment of Bangladesh population has risen to a level where a significant number of it can afford holidaying. Money at the disposal of upper classes is literally unlimited and if they are not well disposed towards trips into Nature's heart, they have developed a habit of visiting foreign lands on medical tours. No doubt that the overwhelming majority of domestic tourists are the first generation sight-seers. Uninitiated and fun-loving these holiday-makers give in to their unrestrained exuberance while their counterparts elsewhere in most cases look for quiet and peace.
Hardly there is a tourist spot where one can find silence in order to face oneself in lazy tranquillity -let alone in pristine or primordial surroundings. The Bangalees have earned the infamy of going overboard whenever a new craze takes their fancy. It is bound to happen when money comes aplenty through channels not always legal and there are few facilities for healthy recreation. The urban people can hardly be blamed for overreacting when they find themselves in Nature's vast open laps. Its consequences are however highly adverse on the tourist spots.
Cox's Bazaar or Inani beaches are awfully crowded, the water is muddy and there is no privacy at all. Some can feel that it is simply insane to be among this crazy crowd. The St. Martin's Island is no better so far as the rush of people there is concerned. The coral reefs are getting damaged by the arrival of a far greater number of tourists than its capacity permits. The latest news is that the palm and coconut trees that stand guard against erosion of the island are falling one by one. Environmentalists have long issued warning against over exploitation of tourism on the island. Many of the rules and regulations such as restrictions on construction of buildings are violated with impunity. It won't be surprising if the island gets obliterated entirely in the foreseeable future.
The Sunderbans is not merely a tourist site, it is also a source of livelihoods for a large number of people. Collection of golpata (nipa palm leaf), Sundari (heritiera fomes) tree, honey from the forest and crabs and fish from the canals flowing through the forest involves massive intrusion in the regeneration of the vegetation there. It is no wonder, in the far smaller part of the forest on the Indian side, more tigers live than they do on this side of the forest.
Sylhet, famous for its scenic beauty, hillocks and small waterfalls, has also not suffered in small measures. The waterfall at Madhabkunda is in a sorry state mostly because of arrival of unregulated visitors and their no-holds-bar activities there. Jaflong was once a splendid tourist spot but commercial stone collection has reduced it into an ugly place. Now comes the alarming news that the swamp forest of Ratargul and Bichhanakandi, each one with their especial appeal for visitors, are fast falling victim to mindless tourism.
To both places visitors have unregulated access. A fact-finding team of the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA) reports that stone extraction known as 'stone terror' because of the employment of what is called bomb-machine and unregulated tourism have posed a great threat to their existence. Bichhanakandi is paying for the caves dug by the bomb-machine and Ratargul for overcrowding of fun-loving visitors. They have turned the entire area virtually into a fair or a recreational park where they sing and play musical instruments in high volumes. The entire areas are littered with plastic bottles and rejected food packets.
What a shame! The attractions of these places are highlighted in order to draw visitors but no facilities other than a watch tower, to which the BAPA objected earlier, were built at Ratargul. All this has been responsible, the team reports, for depletion of the bio-diversity in the swamp forest.
If this is how the local visitors are allowed to damage tourist spots and then the authorities lament for not attracting foreign tourists, the contradiction itself speaks volumes for the state of things on the tourism front. Local tourists must be educated on how to take care of the places they visit and how to conduct themselves in presence of Nature's myriad wonders. Let tourism cut a low profile in the interest of the small land's environment. Only sustainable tourism can be encouraged.
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