The Financial Express

Discovering the hidden charm of 'speed tour'

Discovering the hidden charm of 'speed tour'

Few people in the COVID-19-hit countries can now seriously think of travelling abroad. The problem begins with the non-availability of the modes of transport --- beginning from flights, inter-country trains to cruise-liners. The long-haul trips are under a ban, prompted by the global pandemic. Lots of people avoid regional trips out of the fear of being infected with the deadly virus. Many of these countries are under lockdown.

To speak in short, travel and tourism worldwide has fallen on real bad times. With news of deaths and infections pouring in from different parts of the globe, travel enthusiasts feel discouraged from setting out for unknown lands. As a stop-gap arrangement, footloose people in many nearly lockdown-free countries mull touring the unexplored territories in their native lands. However, this option runs the risk of falling through. Despite their large size and the varieties in nature, a few of them have long emerged as COVID-19 hotspots. Domestic flights are operating in reduced frequency. These countries include the United States, Brazil and South Africa.

The fascinating India scares the habitul tourists for its prolonged lockdown. Australia has always been a favourite destination for overseas tourists. After the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the vast country has become a regulation-ridden spot. Apart from a strict ban on leaving the country by the Australians, trips to the land by foreigners have also been made cumbersome. In accordance with a rule, vast swathes of remote areas in the country have been made off-limits to tourists.

Given these adverse developments, tourists in many countries free of the severity of anti-COVID-19 regulations, and thus the pandemic's ravages, now opt for domestic spots. The case for Bangladesh comes up in this category. Despite the country's humble economic status, and the insolvency pervading most of its people, it can be singled out for its nouveaux riches. These newly emerged moneyed people spend hefty amounts on travelling overseas tourist spots. Those are mostly located in Southeast Asia, China and Japan. A few of the richer segments fly into places as far as New Zealand, Australia and a few South-Pacific islands. Many of the prospective fun-seekers this year are expected to limit their travel plans to hazard-free countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Mauritius. The overcautious of them, yet compulsively adventure-seeking with a penchant for discovering new places might possibly roam about the home-country. In their thrill-dominant expeditions they are expected to be on the hunt for off-the-track spots. A drawback of these adventures is they have to be male-dominant. Thanks to their impromptu nature, featuring a noticeable dearth of comfort and basic facilities, middle-age women and children are discouraged in these tour endeavours. This is what makes these adventures special.

In spite of its being a small country, Bangladesh can still take pride in its scores of spots filled with abundant tourism potential. That it has the longest unbroken beach in the world, the largest mangrove forest on the planet and seemingly infinite monsoon water bodies, locally called 'haors', are cliché features. Its beauty lies in its awe-inspiring dark-blue clouds that gather in the south-western sky. This nearly unearthly view cannot be enjoyed from the cities' concrete jungles. The new-generation tourists choose their spots to watch this phenomenal beauty in wide open fields or the middle of a mighty river. The following nor'wester accompanying wind-swept rains is the next phase of this view. Apart from it, watching downpours from a cottage with thatched or tin roofs built on a mid-river shoal completes the typical visual of the Bengal monsoon.

The southeastern and northeastern parts of the land were once home to rows of green hills. As the demand for stretches of land continued to increase to accommodate people, the atrocious practice of levelling lush green hills and hillocks became a norm. As part of it, large tracks of hills in the country are gone. The few forest-covered undulating hills that remain unspoiled are found scattered among the forests in the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT). In fact, this is where many a wonder spot lies. Aside from exotic flora and fauna, these places hidden deep inside dense forests are inhabited by nearly a dozen indigenous ethnic groups. Reaching their settlements is no easy task. On occasions, it takes two days' arduous walk fraught with unseen dangers before setting foot on the boundaries of an indigenous hamlet. The following chapter is days-long merry-making complete with Tibetan-Burman songs and dance, feasts of rice boiled inside hollow bamboos and taken with the meat of wild cows and roosters.

The completely isolated people in the indigenous villages leave no stone unturned to entertain the guests from the plain land. As the teams of tourists comprise mainly youths having a liking for derring-do, they do not need guides. Quite often, they lose track of the right path in deep forests and end up being stuck in wrong places. But finally they find out their elusive jungle paths back.

Improvised tours within the country's borders have become the latest trend. Some youths choose sites not too far from the capital and the other cities. In most cases, they do not spend more than one full day on these tours, termed by many 'speed tours'. The prime requirement of these day-long travels is a private vehicle, preferably a microbus. The tourists ought to be intimately known to each other. The team undertaking the tour must carry dry lunches, sufficient drinking water and a first-aid box. Prior to the recent countrywide shutdown, a number of teams comprising 'speed tourists', both male and female, would be seen out on these unique tours. Now that the general shutdown order has been lifted, these tours are expected to resume in their earlier form. What the organisers should ensure is the sites they have picked for their visit are fully COVID-19-free, with no local lockdowns and restrictions on movement or stopover in place.

In many respects 'speed tours' resemble a picnic. But they are especially focused on sight-seeing and nonstop movement. Sumptuous food, outdoor fun and merrymaking has little place in these outings. Those who are seasoned 'speed tourists' know well the amazing experiences these tours have in store for the first-timers. In spite of the development spree now encountered on the two sides of the country's highways, the 'speed tourists' look for the rural patches along the way --- especially those surprisingly untouched by urbanisation. The sights of a sprawling field or a tranquil pond complete with 'ghatlas' and noisily swimming and splashing village teenagers are encountered frequently. If the time is noon, interested tourists can get down from their vehicle, park it beside a dirt-road and spend some time under the shade of trees on the pond's bank. There might be neatly clustered villages nearby.

Upon taking a semi-concrete road branching out from the highway, and driving around 2/3 kilometres, the tourists might encounter a small river. A tiny village market, with tin-roofed thatched shops and scattered crowds, is found along one of its banks. Seeing the tourists with cameras, enthusiastic people come up and take the former to a British-era palace, now dilapidated and deserted. Sitting arrangements are made at a cool veranda, green coconuts and glasses are brought along. With the photography session over, the tourists may be taken to an ancient banyan tree assumed to be 300 hundred years old.

All these experiences are serendipitous. Back to the highway and driving further, it may not be unlikely for them to stumble upon a lesser known archaeological site and a flotilla of boat gypsies (Bedeys). The rules of 'speed tours' do not allow people to stay outside after dusk. They should be back to the city by nightfall after a day-long tour venture. The tours appear to have lately been tailor-made for people willing to taste a relief after the corona-time shutdown boredom.





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