A smaller Sundarban

Sadiqur Rahman writes why Char Kukri Mukri has the potential to be the next big tourist spot in Bangladesh

06It takes two and half-hours to reach Kachchapiya by local three-wheelers from Betua ghat area of the Charfession Upazila and then a two-hour boat journey to reach the Char Kukri Mukri, the southern-most and isolated settlement of Bhola district.
According to the locals, it is resplendent with natural beauty that attracts lovers of nature. The total journey certainly evokes memories of scenes you would find on a cruise to the Sundanbans.
Projected as the second largest mangrove forest in the country, the forest department has been developing plantation in the area since the mid eighties. Now the Char is blessed with diversified flora and fauna.
Various species of wild animals like deer, buffaloes, monkeys, cows, reptiles and nearly a hundred different species of birds already have made their natural habitat there. Hence, it is one of the country’s largest wildlife sanctuaries, a forest department officer tells New Age Xtra.
According to local people, Char Kukri Mukri, named after ‘Dog’ and ‘Cat’, emerged from the silt carried by river Meghna hundreds of years ago. Coastal people affected by river erosion in the nearby localities started migration to take shelter in the island nearly 30 years ago. They built their shelters, dug ponds for sweet water, planted trees and set up earning sources for their survival.
Local forest department officials inform New Age Xtra that the 14 thousand acres or 40 hectares of Char Kukri Mukri are surrounded by char lands including Dhal Char, Char Nizam, Char Patila, Shonar Char and Tarua Dip were afforested after the country’s independence to protect lives there under the coastal afforestation programme by the government.
07Chandra Sarker Das, bit officer of Kukri Mukri range under the forest department, informs New Age Xtra that the plants of Kukri Mukri are mostly of mangrove types like Sundori, Kakra, Bain, Kewra and others. He says, ‘Gol-pata is the latest addition in this forestry. We also have developed a part of shoreline with an orchard of coconut and date-palm trees which is already known to the local tourists as “Narikel Bagan’’.’
Sarker also informs that the forest provides habitation to hundreds of wild mammals, amphibians, reptiles and aves. ‘The population of deer has exceeded 12 thousand due to favourable conditions. Along with deer, breeding of pythons, monkeys, otters, jungle-fowls have been on the rise in the forest,’ he says.
People of the canal-crossed char lands, surrounded by river Meghna and the Bay of Bengal, are mainly dependent on fishing as its’ waters are habitants of different kinds of aqua fauna like fishes [of sweet and saline water], crabs, prawns and shrimps.
Hashem Mohajon, chairman of the Char Kukri Mukri Union Parishad (UP) tells New Age Xtra, ‘Ninety per cent of the local people are dependent on fisheries. In the rainy season, one-third of the national demand of Hilsa (Ilish or Tenualosa ilisha) produced from this area.’
Hashem thinks that the unique combination of forest and shoreline and also the natural beauties and ecosystem are attractive enough that it has a great potential to become a tourist zone for local and foreign tourists.
He says, ‘Three islands- Kukri Mukri and Sonar Char of its southwestern side and Tarua Dip of its southeastern side would be a beautiful tourist hub of Bangladesh.’
The UP chairman claims that the government has sanctioned around Tk 10 crore for construction of a quality rest house cum-hotel with 20 suites for the tourists in his area. Besides, a plan for construction of a bird watching tower in the island is also on the table, he adds.
However, the area is still behind in their preparations for welcoming tourists. It is not connected yet with the national grid so the people have to depend on oil-fired electricity generation after dusk.
Road communication facilities have not been developed there. People are used to going from one place to another on foot and they face many difficult situations very often when someone falls sick and cannot go to a nearby health complex conveniently.
Char Kukri Mukri is home to around 14 thousand people. Unfortunately they are deprived of well-equipped health services. ‘A health complex here has only three medical staffs against 14 different posts, and hence cannot provide medical services to us,’ says Hashem.
He adds, ‘All the posts of physicians have remained vacant for a long time. The medical staff are not available round the clock as they have residences in the outposts of the area.’
Conservation of the forest area also goes through many challenges. ‘Only four personnel of the forest department are deployed here to carry on all sorts of risky jobs,’ shares Sarker. He adds, ‘Though the local administration and people are careful about the wild habitat, the poachers’ network is also active here as the place is home to many wild animals, especially deer,’ the forest officer says.

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