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Around the desh with Eliza

  • Published at 12:25 pm April 22nd, 2019

The trending globetrotter takes on her own country

The continued economic growth in Bangladesh has led to many lifestyle shifts for its population, and one of the more visible ones is that more Bangladeshis can afford to travel abroad more frequently. While the direct exchange with different cultures is ultimately a good thing, with little to no parallel development in our domestic tourist infrastructure, it means that a lot of our own cultural and heritage treasures are being largely overlooked. 

Eliza Binte Elahi, an academic and travel writer aims to change that with her passion project “Quest…A Heritage Journey of Bangladesh”, as she travels to all 64 districts of the country, and documents her findings of the unique aspects of each district. 

Bitten by the bug

Eliza maintains that her love affair with history began in her childhood, but it was during her undergrads, while studying a course titled “Greek and Roman Literature in translation” that the interest deepened into something approaching a goal.  As a travel writer, her journeys took her across Europe and Asia, and in each location, she gravitated to sites of archaeological importance. Somewhere along the line, she thought about following in the footsteps of legendary explorers like Ibne Battuta, Hiuen Tsang and Sir Francis Buchanon and travel through Bangladesh to see what they might have seen. And thus “Quest…A Heritage Journey of Bangladesh” was born. “Bangladesh has a rich and diversified legacy, a heritage to be proud of,” she says.

Buckling up for the ride

 The quest officially kicked off in 2016, and Eliza carefully documents her travels, working in collaboration with local groups such as Prothom Alo Bondhushobha, Photography Association and Cyclists Association, as well as Bangladesh Scouts, to name a few. The aim is to raise awareness about the importance of preserving historic sites.

“Before going to visit a district I buy books of the district, written by the history and archeological experts of our country,” she informs us, adding that she places emphasis on local writers who provide personal accounts of their home districts. Preparation for each new leg of her journey involves getting in touch with journalists and locals in her network to arrange accommodation and the necessary permits to enter the archeological sites.  As a woman travelling on her own, she has to carefully research the routes and modes of communication, and secure lodgings before she even begins to travel. Because this is a personal project, Eliza completely funds it herself. “I use public transport in all the districts I visit. So I want to know the route and what type of vehicle the local residents use. There are two benefits to using the regional transports: one, its economical for me as I’m bearing the expenses myself, and two, in this way I can meet the endemic residents,  know about the challenges to develop heritage tourism and I can see the real Bangladesh” she explains.

“Bangladesh is endowed with many historic sites and we have a very rich history, but those are not preserved properly. If we preserve and showcase it accurately, we can really earn tourist dollars.” Eliza believes that heritage tourism is an untapped goldmine in Bangladesh. 

By the time this issue goes to print, Eliza will have completed 45 districts.

Beautiful Bangladesh

“I was really excited to visit each and every district of Bangladesh. Because every district has her own individuality, history, culture and tradition. The more I explored the more I was surprised” Eliza says, adding “For me exploring a new city means falling into a new love.” 

She confesses being surprised to discover historical establishments of international standards that are unknown even to the residents of the districts they are located in. The locals often discover these treasures after seeing her posts about them on social media.

Concerns and advice

Eliza’s biggest challenges when planning each trip is securing accommodation. Another big hiccup comes from co-ordinating travel times. “In some areas of the southern parts you can’t move in the evening. There is scarcity of transportation” she explains. 

Having said that, she wants to ensure us that it’s not only possible, it is worth it to make the trip. “It is safe for a woman to travel in Bangladesh. The local people are very helpful, amazing and wonderful .  If an ordinary woman like me can travel at the age of 43 then any woman can do it.” 

Eliza’s advice:

- Before travelling do your research properly. Learn about your intended destination, and plan out where to stay , eat and travel . It will save money and time. 

- Pack light 

- Stay local, buy local , meet local 

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