About the Author: Mr. Enayet Mowla is an adventurous nature traveler (1950-60), renowned writer, and well-wisher of Chittagong.com. We are very excited and honored to share his real stories of his time in several upcoming posts.
During the mid fifties of the last century an American company came to build a hydro-electric power plant over the river Karnafully at Kaptai,Chittagong. We had been told earlier that when completed in 1960, the water level in the dam will be around 108’ ft. higher than sea level, when a large portion of the Kassalong Reserve Forest will go under water. All big wood based industries were invited to come and take out any quantity of timber they could extract from the forests under their own management. On behalf of my company I was sent to do the job I had never done before. I was in a vast virgin forest that was spread over thousands of sq. miles without any human habitation.I was in a difficult position and seeing my predicaments the SDFO (Sub-Divitional Forest Officer) of Mainimukh Abdul Aziz Choudhury came forward to my help. Mainimukh was a small place.Besides the offices of the Forerst Department and their bungalows, there were a couple of tea stalls and a few other shops in one of which a Chakma woman used to cook rice and a mixture of vegetable of sorts for the hungry. On another shaded place, two rows of benches were there for people to take rest. There was a marketplace too. On every Sunday Mainimukh becomes a busy and crowded bazaar but on week days not a single man could be seen there.
In spite of the help of my benefactor Abdul Aziz, it took me about a month to start work on a moderate scale. One side of the river bank for about 20 miles was given to us for extraction work but I wondered if I could ever finish cutting and extracting all the trees in that area. The actual work was being done by separate contractors and my job was to supervise the whole operation. However, to supervise the work in an area of 20 miles without any kind of transport was an unenviable job. I got a jeep later for my use in the dry seasons only but what I needed most was a speed boat that I could use for going up and down the river. With the help of Aziz the SDFO I got that too. Actually it was a homemade job. I bought a 25’ heavy dugout locally made and fixed a sturdy cross piece at one end for an outboard engine. All I needed was an engine and I bought that too when I went to the city next time. Many people laughed when they saw me chugging along the river at a maximum speed of only 7/8 miles per hour but their smiles did not last long. Their flashy fast boats disappeared one after another in accidents when my boat survived hundreds of hard bumps with logs and underwater obstacles and kept going.
After 4/5 months I had to change my camp from Mainimukh to an abandoned Forest Rest House at Mahilla about seven miles away in the forest itself. There was a Beat Office too with a Beat Officer and 2/3 Forest Guards posted and that was the total population of Mahilla where we came to stay. It was a lonely place, a different world with different problems and grand views of its own. There was a small nursery where varieties of jungle dwellers came out in the mornings and evenings to feed and it was the duty of the BO to look after the nursery. We could not enjoy the scenery however as we had to concentrate on another problem, the problem of getting food for the four of us. Supply of all kinds of food came in from Rangamati by cargo boats and under normal conditions a boat used to take three days to arrive. This routine was often disrupted due to high floods leaving the people hungry. In the beginning on many days we had our breakfast with rice, lunch with rice and dinner with rice because we had nothing else to eat. A time came when I decided to solve this problem to the best of my ability. Considering my safety, I brought two heavy rifles for my own protection and both the rifles were lying unused as there was no time to go for hunting. I found however that there were plenty of jungle fowls, pheasants and varieties of feathered game birds on the river banks. Next time when I went to the city I brought a shotgun also and that eased the situation to some extent. My boatman Badsha wanted some lines and hooks for fishing. When I brought those for him the food shortage in our camp was solved.
In order to help me Aziz gave me a book to study. On the hard cover of the book it was printed that it was the current (in the year of 1956-57) Working Plan of the Kassalong Reserve Forests, published by the Govt. of British India and the maps were drawn according the RS survey records. I became interested in that book because the maps showed a large area on all sides of the Reserve. On the eastern side, Sajek Valley was there and behind that the Lusai Hills. While checking the course of Kassalong River in the north I found Bagaihat, the Main Office controlling the departmental timber extraction project and further up, another river known as Massalong which came down and joined Kassalong. Almost near the border in the North I saw four small creeks coming down to join Kassalong and the total volume of water from these creeks made Kassalong what it was. Biggest of the four creeks was named in the map as Shankha Chari. There was another surprise behind it. The origin of Shankha Chari and the Kassalong river, according to the map, was a high mountain named Mt. Fatigue and the height was 4000’ ft. I never knew that there was a mountain that high in our country.
Later that week I came down to Mainimukh to take a transit pass for a few rafts of our logs when I met and had a talk with the SDFO Aziz about the Mt. Fatigue I found in the map but he was not interested in anything other than forest affairs. The Beat Officer Huda who lived next door in Mahilla however was very much interested and told me that he would certainly accompany me if I wanted to go for a lookout but he needed a permission. He was an elderly man but fairly strong, travelled a lot in his time but never went that far up north where the mountain was. The DFO came on a courtesy visit next week and had his usual lunch with us, when I told him about our plan to go on a trip with Huda. I did not need a permission but Huda did. When I explained that it was only a short trip which may take one week at best and his experience may help the Department later, he agreed. We waited for a convenient time and one day both of us left Mahilla in search of our Mt. Fatigue.
All told there were five of us in the party. Except Huda and myself, there was Badsha and two Chakma tribesmen. We were carrying a small stove for cooking, enough food for all of us, enough clothes and a rifle for security. Reaching Bagaihat around two in the afternoon we decided to spend the night there. It was a wise decision as it gave us time not only to have a good night’s sleep but also help to prepare food for next day’s consumption. We were not worried for the tribesmen because we knew that they could sleep anywhere and eat anything. Starting early next morning we noted the water level was low and that forced us to proceed at a slow speed, stopping now and then and reaching Massalong Bazaar in the evening. Though the place was named a Bazaar it was not a Bazaar at all. The northern areas of the Kassalong Reserve Forest were allotted to the paper mill for extracting bamboos and the laborers had their camps including a few inevitable tea stalls almost behind every bush. We decided to spend our night right here in an empty shed.
We left early next morning because none of us could sleep well. We found an empty shed where there were bundles of dry grass and dead leaves stored in one corner full of bugs and not knowing we made our beds right over those. The prospect of a good journey looked very dim there when we found that there was not much over a foot of water under the boat. Similar to all other hilly rivers there were shallow and deep areas in the river and with that thought in mind we began to proceed. We found an interesting change in the nature of forest in this area. We found only thick clumps of bamboos around us on both sides of the river but very few trees. In another ten miles or so another difficulty arose. Because of the slow speed of our boat the engine became overheated and I decided to stop the engine. Badsha got out of the boat to check the depth and found that it was barely enough to keep the boat afloat. We did not start the engine at all after that and pushing the boat with our oars we went forward a long way and finally stopped when the sun was disappearing from our view. It was time to make preparations for the night and it was our first night out in the open. When Badsha was busy in preparing our meal, I took out a small package from my back pack, a gift from one of my American friends who was working in the project. Though it looked small, it was actually a waterproof tent for two complete with a mosquito net. At night we found to our dismay that it was almost airproof too as we felt suffocated inside. It was a quiet night. With all the normal sounds of a jungle around us we heard only once the movement of a herd of elephants at a distance,.
We had a mutiny in the camp next morning. It was cold and misty in the forest. The two Chakma tribesmen were sitting near the fire they lit last night and Badsha was busy preparing our breakfast. My companion the Beat Officer was of the opinion that instead of making further attempts to go up, it would be wise to turn back before we get stuck somewhere in our heavy boat. He thought there was every possibility of getting stuck in the almost dry river and if that happened, we could return on foot though it would not be an easy job but we would have to leave our boat and the outboard engine behind. He talked sense and I understand that now but not then. Talks continued for a long time but I was compelled to agree with him when both Badsha and the two Chakmas also voted in his favor and thus ended my adventure to reach the pot of gold, only because I did not start our journey a month earlier when there was enough water in the river. On our return trip when we were close to Massalong Bazaar we passed earlier, our boat got stuck in a shallow place. We had to get additional help from the Bazaar to dislodge the boat from there.
It was my intention to go back there for another attempt later but one thing led to another and I could never go back again. I did not forget my pot of gold though as it always remained in my mind.
P. S. The adventure ended but later I came face to face with an extremely confusing situation I did not expect. After the war, I met some Senior Forest Officers when I tried to discuss about my trip, I found to my surprise that they knew absolutely nothing of what I wanted to know. I went to their offices next. I was shown new maps of the area I visited but the old maps, the ones I saw and used before, drawn according to the old RS survey records could not be found. In the maps shown to me in their offices I neither found Mt. Fatigue nor any mountain that high. A mountain cannot vanish but political borders can be shifted. This is a puzzle that can only be solved if somebody goes up there or finds a copy of the old survey records I used. I hope people will realize why it is so important.