Sajek – a must!

Sajek, December 2016

I knew I was running late – still had to pack my bags, take a shower and get to the bus station. Wonder what I was doing the whole freaking day! I fumbled through my closet and found what I wanted to take with me. Thanks to my checklist got everything I needed in my bag within the next few minutes. Yes, I always make a list of things I’ll carry. I took a hot shower and stuffed myself with some quick dinner because my mom would never let me leave home without having a proper meal.

10.15 pm already and I was still stuck in traffic. As much as I hate being late but I knew I will probably be the last person to arrive. I finally reached the bus station and found my travel companions. Everyone was still not here and thankfully our bus was late. If you have read my previous post, you probably know already. If you haven’t, here’s recap for you: this was a trip 8 girls were taking where anyone barely knew each other. We all met on Facebook through a female travel group. And there we were all getting to know each other. Anxious parents of our group were also there to see their daughters off. We waved goodbyes and finally our journey started at around 11pm from Dhaka. We were now off to Sajek.

We were taking a night bus to Khagrachari. It’s a +8 hours ride on a non-air con bus, but since it was a winter night that was not a problem.  However something else was. Till this date, I am wondering if our bus driver was a human being or a supernatural. The way he snaked and speed-rushed his way through the high speed buses and trucks, I seriously thought this was going to be the last ride of my life. The front seat on the bus made it even worse for me. After a sleepless ride on the superman’s bus, we reached our destination just when dawn was breaking. Beautiful is the word for what was around us and with all that I forgot about the awful bus ride. It’s time for breakfast and we stopped at an indigenous restaurant called Ejor.

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Warm and cozy seating arrangement at Ejor

After a fresh warm breakfast, we caught our next ride to Sajek. Behold “the Chander Gari”. For those who don’t know what it is, here is a photograph. Basically it is a heavy duty vehicle with no sides covered that are mainly used to get around hill-tracts to counteract the ridiculously bumpy, curved roads. This was not my first ride on one of these, but for some in my group it was. Now these can be expensive rides if you are less in number and on a budget trip. However one chander gari can easily be shared by 13 passengers.

The chander gari whisked and growled through the hilly roads covered with overgrown fauna on both sides. Every now and then there would some breaks between these trees that opened up magnificent views of the distant hills or the valleys hundreds of feet below us. We jumped, screamed, dangled our feet outside our ride and even slept a little through this 3/4 hour ride.

The views were mesmerizing and we could not imagine what a treat was waiting for us when we would finally reach our destination – Zawlbuk cottage, a two storied wooden house built far away from the typical crowded residential area of Sajek. What made it more unique was it stood there alone at the foot of Konglak Pahar which is said to be the highest peak of Sajek.

We had two rooms on the upper floor each connected to the entrance veranda which looked at uninterrupted views of the beautiful valleys of Sajek that stretched out to the borders of Myanmar/India. I was in awe with the bouncy clouds swaying over the lush green beyond us, casting strange shadows on the valleys beneath.  We were above the clouds and it was a treat to watch them dance.

 

I could sit here and watch this the whole day. I don’t know if this happens to everyone. But at times like these I tend to go very quiet…I tend to think about people I wish were there to see this with me. How I wish I could share this experience with them.

We were called downstairs for lunch soon after a quick shower. The lunch was organized in a little shaded pavilion called “matcha”. It is a raised bamboo structure with a thatch roof that works as a dining space and also a great place to chill. Lunch was divine. I am not much of a foodie but I can assure you that the food here is unparallel to any that I have tasted so far in the hill tracts. Just want to add here, water is scarce in Sajek. The people have to go a lot of distance to bring usable water for us. Hence if you go there, please use it wisely. A little waste of this precious resource only adds more to the rigorous work the locals have to do every day.

At around 4pm we were off to climb the Konglak hill and, more importantly, to witness the glorious sunset it is famous for. The hike was very short and we reached the peak at no time.

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It was rather crowded. So we made our way out to find some quiet away from the chaos. In situations like these, normally we tend to settle at the spot that we see first, no matter how crowded it may be or how busy the area is. But if you like your own space and a little silence always leave that crowded spot and look around a little deeper. You will be surprised because not everyone will go beyond that common spots.

The sun, glorious and ablaze, was on its way to set over the picturesque terrain beyond us.

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Further inside the area, we found this spot. This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in Bangladesh. As the daylight started to fade away into the dusk, it was time to head back to our cottage.

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Sunset

People sleep early in the hills and villages because they start their day with the sun. Hence we were called for dinner at 8pm. The food was spicy but super good.

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Dinner is served! Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

This area does not have electricity supply and runs on solar power. The generator was quickly shut down after dinner. It was pitch black around us. After the longest time I was experiencing such quietness at night. It felt like my ears had popped. Lying on my back, I looked out in the darkness. Twinkling over the slightly red toned sky were a thousand stars. The last time I had seen so many stars together was in 2009. Neither do I know if it was the Milky Way nor will I try to define it. This was one of those times I wished I had a camera to freeze this memory.

We were still chilling on the “matcha” when suddenly we saw this strange white light over the far distant mountains. Panic struck! “Something must have caught fire”…“Is that the Indian border, have they set everything on fire?”…The almost circular shaped light was growing and rising above the hills. What on earth was that thing? Yes, the first moon. I am unable to describe exactly was I saw with my naked eyes. For the first time in my life I was witnessing the rise of a new moon. With so much excitement around, we forgot we were on a higher altitude and to us it looked like the moon was rising from the ground or from behind those hills. I sat there stunned. This was going to a night to remember I said to myself…a night of many “firsts”.

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The new moon. Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

5 am and the alarm went off. I pulled myself out of the bed and freshened up. Sajek is famous for its jaw dropping sunrises amidst play of clouds and we were up to see that. I pulled up a chair in the veranda and waited as the dawn was about to break. With the orange hue spreading, we could see the bed of clouds before us. It looked as if it’s a blanket of cotton candy or a sea of coconut ice scream – waiting to be scooped out.

One of my (many) life goals is to see sunrises and sunsets from every possible coast I can reach. Although not a shoreline, I am beyond glad that I have been able to see the sunrise of Sajek. Bangladesh is beautiful – I wish more people would realize it and would treasure its beauty.

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Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

I went on a morning walk after this. What I saw can, perhaps, be best explained by photographs.

Back at the cottage, all warmed up! The sun was up & bright and my favourite “matcha” was all warm and cozy by its rays. Time for some chilling before breakfast is served. None of us wanted to go back and we were actually discussing the “what-ifs” regarding leaving work forever and settling here to work as a staff at this homestay. What if?

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My favorite “Matcha”. Photo belongs to Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

We waved our final goodbyes to Mintu dada and thanked him for the amazing hospitality at Zawlbuk. It was time to head back to Khagrachari where we were going to spend the day sightseeing before catching an overnight bus back to Dhaka.

I want this post to be only about magical Sajek and hence will not be adding anything about the day tour of Khagrachari. This place is special and one of its kinds. I strongly urge you that you go now before it gets touristy than it is now. Zawlbuk is probably under renovation right now (I have promised myself I’ll go back only when it is back in business) but there is a new one I hear that is located on the Konglak hill itself.

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Zawlbuk from Konglak hill. Photograph by Sumaiya Amin

Below are some important information you may refer to in case you are visiting Sajek.

Sajek is located at a distance of 100km from Khagrachari and lies in the district of Rangamati in the southeast corner of Bangladesh. It is a remote hilly valley that lies at a height of some +2000′ from sea level. It is called the valley of clouds. The scenic beauty of dancing clouds, green landscape and picturesque sunsets and rises are what makes it so special. With the establishment of the army camp at the spot, it is now more accessible and has recently started to attract a large number of tourists.

  • Bus from Dhaka to Khagrachari – Hanif, Shaymoli, Unique. Cost: 500-600 BDT
  • Chander gari from Khagrachari to Sajek costs 5000-6000 BDT. It can be shared by a minimum of 13 people (or more if you ride the roof).
  • You will need to take permission from the army camp for your entrance in the sajek valley. The army will provide security escort your chander gari through Bagaihat Bazaar to the valley. There is a schedule (10.30AM & 3.30PM) and waiting time of 30minutes for this escort.
  • If you are a foreigner (non-Bangladeshi passport), you will need to apply for permission much before you arrive in Khagrachari. Don’t try to sneak in by hiding your nationality. You will get into trouble if you get caught.
  • Where to stay: Ruilui para has a number of cottages and “resorts”. You will need to book them before your arrival. I will, however, suggest you to live near or at Konglak. Prices start from 1500 BDT. Each room can be shared by 4-6 people.
  • Food is cheap and tribal food are must haves!
  • Water is scarce and very hard to get. Please do not waste it.
  • Be nice to the locals. They have hearts of gold.
  • This place is heavenly. Please don’t litter.

I know this post has been long overdue. Over the last few months (especially after this trip) a lot of unprecedented changes have showed up in my life. While I love documenting my experiences, time has not been very favorable and at its best for me. Nevertheless, I have been traveling and will strive to post as regularly as I can from now on. So stay tuned for more about my trails.

Always love hearing your feedback, do let me know what you think about this or about any queries regarding Sajek.

All photos belong to TabassumTrails, unless otherwise mentioned in captions.

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