Eid brings Moulvibazar tourism back to life
The name "Sreemangal" makes the heart tremble, according to a man who came to visit the ever-popular tourist destination to enjoy the Eid holiday with his family.
Following two years of stagnation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry in Moulvibazar is enjoying good business at last as vacation spots across the region are seeing an influx of travellers thanks to the lifting of restrictions on public movement.
"Almost all the affordable rooms at resorts and luxury hotels in the district have been booked since May 4," said Kazi Shamsul Haque, general secretary of the Sreemangal Parjatan Seba Sangstha, a collective of local businesses related to the tourism industry.
"As such, it can be estimated that there are currently more than 4,000 tourists in the district," added Haque, also owner of the Nishorgo Eco Resort.
Selim Ahmed, president of the Sreemangal Parjatan Seba Sangstha and owner of the Grand Selim Hotel, said some 50,000 to 70,000 tourists could visit Moulvibazar during this Eid-ul-Fitr season.
"As a result, the local tourism industry might be able to do business worth about Tk 25 crore to Tk 30 crore at this time," he added.
Shahin Ahmed, a ticket collector of Lawachara National Park, told this correspondent that not many visitors had arrived in the past two Eid seasons as the Covid-19 crisis had put a damper on celebrations.
"This year though, we earned more than Tk 2.5 lakh in the first two days after Eid from ticket sales alone. So, we hope more tourists will continue to come," he said.
Backward-linkage industries are enjoying similar benefits as the huge presence of visitors is keeping them all busy.
"We used to solely work on producing betel leaf but are now benefitting from increased tourism as we have become involved in various professions related to the industry," said Saju Marchiang, publication and information secretary of the Khasi Social Council, a platform for members of the Khasi community in Kamalganj upazila.
Saiful Islam, manager of Fahim Enterprise, said the local tea leaf business was not in a very good state for the past two years due to Covid-19.
But since tourists have finally returned this year, thousands of people are director or indirectly benefitting from about 200 tea shops spread across the region, he added.
Mir Nahid Ahsan, deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar, said about one tenth of the people currently travelling in the country have come to the district.
Ahsan informed that the local authorities had held meetings to discuss safety measures for tourists prior to the Eid celebrations.
However, the authorities were prompted to hold another meeting in the wake of an incident on May 5, when volunteers of the upazila administration assaulted tourists at the ticket counter of the Jaflong tourist centre.
"We are working to strengthen security now so that all tourists can travel at peace. As such, additional police have been deployed along with the tourist police in Sreemangal, Kamalganj and Madhabkunda since that day," he said.
Ahsan went on to say that they initiated a local tourist bus service to facilitate travel between various spots in Moulvibazar.
"Many of them cannot see everything in time due to transport issues and so, they could make use of this opportunity now," he added.
Mohammad Shahin Mia, a tourist from Rajshahi, said he came to the district with a view to enjoying a vacation at a very low cost.
"I thought it would cost a lot because after everything has become pricey in the wake of Covid-19. That's why I thought I'd go home but instead, I got on a Moulvibazar tourist bus," Mia said.
"It made our tour so much easier and budget-friendly. We could also visit all of our desired tourist spots with much less hassle and in just one day," he added.
Officials of the Sreemangal Parjatan Seba Sangstha say the number of visiting tourists has never been so high.
During a recent visit to the area, this correspondent found that travellers were braving the extreme heat to spend time with their loved ones at various destinations.
People like Subha Begum, who live in large metropolitan areas like Dhaka, said they came to enjoy a break from city life during the Eid holiday.
Poppy Begum and her husband Mumin Mia said there are a number of new places to visit for young couples too.
"The tea gardens along with the lights reflecting on water surfaces all together give you a sense of romance," she said.