Back to Basics in the Hill Tracts

Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Flag of Bangladesh  , Chittagong,
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Do you ever think about life as being too hard sometimes? Come on, let us all be honest, there are times that all of us feel sorry for ourselves. Think back to the time you are at work and can't wait for the day to be over. But when that time comes, you are heading home, stressing about how you are going to pay for the new HD television you just had to have. Then you head to the gym to work out, but wonder why you are punishing yourself as you try to lift weights. In the end, you give up, head home and chill out on your comfortable couch stuffing you face with home delivered pizza. Does this sound familiar?

Sometimes us arrogant people in the Western world think that we have life so hard. Yes, we have all been there, we definitely know we have. But on our recent visit to the tribal villages of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in south eastern Bangladesh, we really had to take a good look in the mirror. Our time in the Hill Tracts forced us to get back to basics and appreciate the simple things in life. This was an overwhelming and rewarding journey that we will not forget.

Do you ever sit in peak hour traffic and get annoyed that your twenty minute journey home has turned into 50 minutes because of the rain. You start cursing the rain and the traffic and just wish you could get home sooner so that you can relax in the comfort of your warm home. Well, when we headed to the tribal villages near Bandarban in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, we soon realised that traffic jams at home are a blessing compared to the ourney that nearly took us two full days. From Dhaka we left in an overnight bus, then arrived in the Bandarban district where we were faced with our first checkpoint. We then had to get a tuk tuk to Bandarban town, then a 2 hour bus to Ruma Bazaar bus station, then waited around for at least an hour, until we could get on the back of a motorbike which took us to Ruma Bazaar town. After a couple more checkpoints, we then took an hour long jeep drive up steep tracks to a little village. From there, we hiked for about 45 minutes up a steep walking track, which brought us to a beautiful village on the shores of Boga Lake, where we had to spend the night. Then next morning, we hiked up and down some more steep tracks, passed small waterfalls and amazing scenery, to finally reach our destination at the small tribal village of Passing Para. After this adventure, we would bring on a twenty minute delay in traffic anytime.

Have you ever checked into a hotel and realised that the bed is rock hard, the pillows aren’t comfortable enough, and you just wish you were in your own comfortable bed at home. Well, yes we definitely thought that when we stayed in a local hut in the tribal village of Passing Para. Selfishly, we didn’t think about the fact that the bamboo floor with a couple of blankets on the ground, next to a wooden plank with a folded blanket on it, which was acting as a pillow, is actually how these tribal people sleep. Selfishly at first, we thought about the lack of comfort and how sore our hips got when we tried to sleep on our side. But we had to think, we were staying in a tribal village in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, and here we were getting back to basics. Yes these people might not have the same sleeping comforts as we do, but this is how they live, and for them it is simple, easy, and good enough. So, therefore, it should be good enough for us.

As the days rolled on and we spent more time in this simple tribal village, we began to realise that these people were living with basics, but it seemed that it is all that they needed. Every day we would see the children running around with massive smiles on their faces, as they played for hours with a simple piece of wood. We admired the local ladies as they went about their daily chores without hesitation, while breast feeding their babies at the same time. And as the end of the day would draw closer, we saw a young girl helping grandpa to get a fire going for warmth and light, as this place was basic and had no electricity, but it seemed, creature comforts weren’t really required. These tribal people were living the happy, simple life; working hard, but always had their family around them.

Think back to the time you have just been grocery shopping and you are trying to cart all the bags into the house on your own, but they seem too heavy and you fear you fingers might break off, so you yell to the closest male to help you out. Next time you think a bag a groceries is too heavy, or you wonder why you are punishing yourself by doing weights at the gym, think of the ladies of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Day after day, we witnessed strong women carting basket loads of ginger up the steep countryside, just to get to their destination and turn around and go to collect more. Or we saw a local lady carrying a basket full of water bottles from down at the stream. The strap of the basket was placed on her forehead as she hiked back to the village hut. When she arrived, Shaun and a fellow traveller tried to lift it together, in which they severely struggled. These tribal women were stronger than anyone we had seen pumping iron at the gym. This was another true example of how basic and tough, yet simple and happy life was in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

During our stay in Passing Para, we woke each day to the sun rising over the magnificent jungle scenery all around. It was breathtaking. Each day we set out on a trek from the village to explore the local waterfalls. This area of the Hill Tracts may have only been around 1000m high, but the trekking was tough, as the hiking trails went up and down, and steep, steep, steep. At one point, Karen had to slide down on her bottom to reach a waterfall below. But once we reached these isolated waterfalls, it was so worth it. Taking our daily bath in the waterfall, washing our clothes, and admiring the sheer beauty of this secluded location made this tough trekking so worth it.

Back to the village and we had to take another reality check. At home, we so often hear about mothers who complain that they can’t get anything done when they baby is young. And when their husband returns, they often get some assistance bathing the baby and making excuses why the house chores didn’t get done that day. We picture what we saw in the tribal village of Passing Para. Two mothers working hard pounding rice using massive pieces of wood. It looked easy, so easy that one of the ladies also had her sleeping baby strapped to her back as she worked hard, while men in the village sat around drinking tea. These women looked strong and had this pounding business down pat, as Shaun soon found out when he and another traveller tried their hand at the pounding. And as you may have guessed, they couldn’t do it. These women were incredible.

In the western world, we have a lot of materialistic items. Yes, one would say we are lucky to have the latest technology, the best cars, and the best tools. When sitting around in Passing Para village, a local man was amazed when Shaun showed him how our Leatherman tool worked. You should have seen his facial expressions of excitement when Shaun showed him each individual gadget. This man was astonished, he had never seen anything like it. Well, of course he hadn’t, he lived a simple life in the simple tribal village of Passing Para. In this village, we really began to appreciate that we were forced to get back to the basics in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The morning we went to leave the amazing tribal village of Passing Para, the local family all came out together to give us a send-off. Putting on their Sunday best, which for most of them wasn’t flash, but of course it was simple and basic. We got a group photo and thanked them for their hospitality. As we trekked down the hills, to begin our long journey out of the Chittagong Hill Tracts we began to reflect on our time here. The scenery was amazing, the people were shy, but very hospitable all the same. Above all, creature comforts weren’t to be found, and we were forced to get back to basics. This was a great experience to really appreciate the important things. A simple life with love and happiness surely is better than a complicated life with all the bells and whistles. We got back to basics in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it was such an amazing adventure.

So next time we think about how hard off we are, or how we don’t have the best of everything. We really need to take a hard look at ourselves and remember the simple life of the tribal people of Passing Para, and overall be happy with our life.
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