The month before this trip, I started working as a Bengali interpreter in the UK. A large number of British-Bangladeshis are from Sylhet. Sylhetis are probably the earliest migrants from Bangladesh, the first records of arrivals from Sylhet are in 1873, as cooks in the employment of the East India Company.
Sylheti is the language spoken in the Sylhet Division. It is considered a dialect of the Bengali language, even though it’s not completely mutually intelligible, but there is at least an 80% overlap. Because of the high chance that while interpreting, I would have to interpret between Sylheti and English, I expressed interest to go to Sylhet and practice.
Sylhet is in North-East Bangladesh, and is a traditional tea growing area. Srimangal is known as the tea capital of Bangladesh. Tea plantations, orange and pineapple gardens make up the landscape of Sylhet.
As soon as we got closer to Sylhet, I realised that it was looking less and less like the Bangladesh I knew, and more and more like a rural village in England! I could clearly see that Sylhet wasn’t modelled after Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, but rather London! The roundabouts were the first sign. In Dhaka, it would be unthinkable for drivers to follow the process of a roundabout…it would be blocked up in a few minutes, but in Sylhet, drivers were seamlessly going through them. Our Dhaka driver commented on it too!
On our last day when we were driving away I was taking pictures of a market we were passing, and I snapped a blurry picture of Sylhet’s Londoni influence:
Sylhet is pretty built up, it kind of reminded me a little of Pattaya. They have lots of investment from the British-Bangladeshis, and because of the large population of Sylheti emigrants, the Bangladeshi government has even set up a special trade area to encourage investment.
There are choices of hotels in the city centre, and all inclusive resorts.
We stayed in a fairly new eco-resort called Shuktara. Solar energy, hand crafted structures using natural and local materials, all construction done by local people. It’s on top of a steep hill, quite close to the city, so within 20 minutes of leaving the main city you’re in an isolated hill-top retreat being handed a glass of fresh mango juice.
We were in a group of 9, ages ranging from 1 year to 74, and every single one of us enjoyed our time here.
In the library.
In the bedroom:
When we went, the swimming pool area was still under construction, and there was no wifi, but these are two of the main additions to the facilities.
On our way back to Dhaka, we stopped by one of the tea estates too.
All this greenery and beauty in Bangladesh made me feel like there is so much that could be done to make Bangladesh a destination. For the first time, I compared it to Thailand, especially since we’ve spent so much time there, and because I’ve now seen that Bangladesh has all of the range of natural beauty that Thailand has, from mountains to beaches. And now with built up and good roads, things are also accessible, like us being able to go to Sylhet. What Bangladesh just has to build up is the standardised tourism industry that we saw in Thailand – the fact that we could choose any tour agency and order a tour and they’d deliver.