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HIGH UP ON THE LUSAI HILLS

About the Author: Mr. Enayet Mowla was an adventurous nature traveler of his time (1950-60), renowned writer, and well-wisher of Chittagong.com. We are very honored to share his real traveling stories of his time in this post. If you like it, please share it.

During my long stay in the Kassalong Reserve Forests in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to look after a fairly big timber extraction project of the company I represented, I came face to face with many unusual situations and met many people with habits developed differently because of their long stay in the forests, some of them I liked but there were some I tried to avoid. There was one man however whom I met at the tail end of my stay who fascinated me. He was Osman, a Beat Officer, transferred from somewhere in the same reserve and seemed an adventurous kind. He told me of many unknown places he visited and the wonders of the forests he had seen. The name of one such place was Butling, on top of the Lusai Hills. I saw in the map that the location of Lusai was in the north-east of Mainimukh. Actually the major portion of the hill was in Assam, India but the smaller southern part was in Bangladesh (East Pakistan in those days.) On the western slopes of Lusai Hills there was another place known as Sajek Valley where oranges grow profusely. Quality was not good, small in size, a bit sour too but very cheap. People coming down to Mainimukh Bazaar in winter often brought those oranges in baskets. According to him, it was a place worth visiting. Right on the hill top, Butling was a small village where a tribe known as “Kuki” lived. They were Christians and more civilized than most of the other hill tribes were.

He used to live alone in another place known as Pablakhali, about four miles upstream. A six foot tall, healthy and strong Osman was quite impressive when he talked about the places he visited. Listening to him I made up my mind to visit Butling before I have to wind up my timber extraction project. Actually there was not much time left either. The first step of the Hydroelectric Project was to construct a barrage across the river in 1960 which would put a stop to our normal practice of sending logs down the river in rafts. In other words, if we had to visit Butling, we must make our plan quickly as there was not much time left for us. I decided therefore to have a talk with Osman. To my surprise I did not find him as eager and as enthusiastic as he was before. I had a similar problem with Huda earlier when the DFO assured me then that I could have the help of anybody as long as he remains within the boundary of his Division. I thought that Osman was hesitating for the same reason and assured him that I would have a talk with the DFO­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ but he told me not to do that either. Thinking that it was one of his personal problems which he did not want to discuss with me I did not press him further and kept on making my own arrangements. Couple of days later when Osman mentioned about his problems again I became irritated but before I could say anything he said that he would go. Khalilur Rahman, the DFO knew that there were many places in his division where nobody visited in connection with their normal duties and as a result those places remained virtually unchartered and unused. Knowing my curiosities to visit unknown places he told me once that I could take any one of his Officers, if he could be spared, but in that case it would be his duty to write and submit a report to his senior on those areas. That would make his trip official too. Next time when Osman came to tell me about his problems I told him about the arrangement I had with the DFO about him.

Ultimately the day came when we left Mahilla for our journey upstream to Butling on the Lusai Hills. Three Chakma tribesmen and my boatman Badsha was with us as usual. Osman was sitting silently in the middle of the boat. Due to some reason the engine was spluttering, not running well. May be there was a clot on the spark plug that needed cleaning. I decided to stop at the mouth of Sishak River near Bagaicharri. It was a Forest Beat and also a Forest Village, meaning the Chakma settlers were brought in by the Forest Dept., for different kind of work in the Reserve. After finishing the job when I was turning the boat in the river for going upstream, one of the Chakmas suddenly raised his arm and shouted to tell me something. In response I waved my own arm and pointed to the north as the Chakma sat back quietly. If I had only stopped and heard what the Chakma wanted to tell me – well I didn’t, and that was that. Before leaving Mahilla I had a talk with Osman about the route we were going to follow. According to him, we shall go directly to Bagaihat, spend the night there and proceed for the next leg of our journey by boat to Massalong Bazar, as we did the last time. He was a little vague after that. All he said that leaving our boat at the Bazaar we shall have to proceed on foot towards the East following a foot track.

Reaching Bagaihat in the evening we ate, slept and proceeded to Massalong Bazaar and reached there in the afternoon on the last leg of our boat journey. Badsha and the three Chakmas left to find a place for us to sleep and Osman also left to make inquiries about the foot track that will take us to Lusai. Badsha returned with the Chakmas after half an hour or so but Osman was late. Actually I was getting worried for this man. His report was equally bad. There were hundreds of tracks made by the bamboo cutters but among those he could not find the track he was looking for. I was aghast hearing that and he remained silent when I reminded him of his assurance that he could reach there blindfolded. Next morning he went out again to make further inquiries and returned too late to make a start. His next report was as bad as his first one. He said because of many miles of long tracks made by the bamboo cutters he was getting confused but he thought that he would find the right track we were looking for after we leave this area. Leaving our boat and the outboard engine under a shop keeper’s care we left Massalong Bazaar early next morning. I was looking red but told Osman without a show of temper that there would be no turning back today.

Following a nice tractor track made earlier we were walking slowly towards the east one following the other with Osman in the lead. In my estimation, by midday we were about 10/12 miles from the Bazaar. The sun was up and it was very hot and humid. There were thick clumps of bamboos around us but that was also the last end of the tractor tracks in the east. It meant that if we go further in the east, we shall have to make our own way forward. It was not as difficult as it sounds because in a bamboo forest there is not much undergrowth on the forest floor. After covering another 6/7 miles or so we decided to make a camp under a leafy tree. I was busy with my tent, Badsha was getting ready for preparing food, when the Chakmas were collecting wood for a big fire tonight as there were many signs around us of elephants. Elephants normally do not bother anybody and always move away if they see fire or hear noises made by people. After eating when we were getting ready to enter our tent I saw Badsaha approaching. Coming near he sat down and wanted to know if we had changed our destination. I was surprised and when I said no, he beckoned the two Chakmas. I was curious and when they came I wanted to know what it was all about. It took a long time for me to understand the situation and then I understood what had happened. On the very first day when we left Mahilla and stopped at the mouth of the Shishak river to clean the spark plugs of my engine was the place where we missed our actual route for going to Butling. One of the two Chakmas tried to stop me but, not knowing I didn’t stop. According to them, we should have entered Sishak and reaching Harina by the evening. Sajek Valley was not very far from there and only after a day’s journey we would have reached Butling. I stared open mouthed at the King of all Liars Osman sitting with his back towards us.

We returned to Massalong Bazaar next day, spent the night there and came back to Bagaichari at the mouth of Shishak next day. Coming downstream we speeded up a little. We had a short talk with the local Beat Officer for further confirmation that we were not making another mistake and felt like a fool when he said that we could have reached Butling by the other route too. It seemed that I misjudged Osman after all. I decided to take the day off and started on our next long journey to Harina, a small village at the southern end of Lusai Hills. To make it short, we reached Butling two days later through Sajek Valley.

Butling, a small village was indeed a beautiful place and their hospitality was indeed beautiful. I never saw a more attractive place anywhere before. Perched high up on the hills the village looked like a picture. We saw a few huge black creatures with white stockings and white patch on the forehead tied up on pegs grazing. Those were bisons, tamed wild cows locally called “gobo”. On our arrival some people came forward to greet us but could not talk because neither of us could understand each other. Somebody ran to bring their Head Man who knew Bangla. He took us to a clean hut where we stayed for a couple of days. They behaved in a completely different manner than the other tribal people I saw elsewhere. In the evening the Head Man came and took us out to show us their village. Later we were surprised to see bright electric lights at a distance when it became dark. The Head Man told me that the lights were in an Indian city named Izol in Assam. In the mornings however nothing could be seen because of a white mist or fog covered everything in the valley. During our stay, Badsha had a bad time to feed us which was his job. Couple of small girls used to bring us our dinner regularly consisting of rice, a vegetable dish of some sort and earthen bowls of milk when the sun was still shining. When I was craving for my cup of tea in the mornings, the same girls brought us water to drink, some fruits and fresh milk. I remember Osman at one time referred Butling as the Darjeeling of Hill Tracts. I fully agreed with him. I tried to make friends with Osman again but failed.

Our adventure ended right here except a foot note. Because of my long stay in the Hill Tracts I had some friends among the Forest Officers and through them I met some newly appointed and promoted crop of Officers too but I was disappointed with most of them because very few of them knew about their old history. While talking with one later the name of Bagaichari came up. To my surprise he said that Bagaicharri was a small township by that time with schools and Union Council office etc. I told him that Bagaichari at one time was a Beat Office in the Kassalong Reserve Forests. A Beat Officer of the same office was killed by a rogue elephant and because of the DFO’s and the DC Afzal Agha’s personal requests it was I who shot that elephant. He could have easily checked everything I said in the Departmental records, but he neither checked nor believed me. I do not care either as my own interest lies elsewhere. I want and sincerely wish to get involved and be instrumental to send a party of dare devils down there that will go and open the door of a new Darjeeling in Bangladesh.

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