On November 26 last year, my wife and I decided to visit Brunei on a long-pending invitation from our son, Shahriar Shams Rony, who works as a teacher at the Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB). His insistence for the last two years that we pay a visit to his residence overseas—we were to realise later—didn't merely reflect a son's desire for a family reunion away from home or to show how his newly raised family was doing in an expatriate environment. We felt it also stemmed from a belief my son held that Brunei Darussalam has features that characterise it as a unique tourist destination.
Indeed, after visiting Brunei Darussalam, I found that it was a lovely and peaceful country surrounded by the sea, with carpeted roads meandering up and down without any traffic on the streets. Climate-wise, it is a tropical country with heavy rainfall and bright sunshine, with temperatures varying from 23–32 degrees Celsius. The majority of the country is covered in forests, and the land in many parts is still virgin, ready to be utilised for a rich variety of agriculture. The people breathe unpolluted air and drink fresh water, and the country imports quality-controlled groceries that satisfy the needs of its citizens, and needless to say, those of its foreign visitors.
Brunei is a constitutional sultanate state that can be traced back to the 15th century. It was a part of Borneo, which included the states of Sabah and Sarawak of Malaysia. In 1959, Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien introduced a written constitution for Bruneians, which established Islam as the state religion. Muslims in Brunei Darussalam constitute 78 percent of the population followed by Christians who constitute eight percent and Buddhists seven; the rest are agnostic.
The present and 29th Sultan, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum, is the Prime Minister, Defence and Finance Minister, and Head of Religion of the country. He is advised by five constitutional bodies—the Council of Succession, the Council of Cabinet Ministers, the Privy Council, the Religious Council and the State Legislative Council. The State Legislative Council consists of Cabinet Ministers, Local Dignitaries, and people who achieved distinctions in business, society and religion as well as district representatives.
With an area of 2,225 square miles and a population of 450,000, Brunei is a very tiny state. It consists of four districts, namely Brunei Muara (which hosts the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan), Tamburong, Belait and Tutong. District towns are very well-planned, and replete with forests, rivers and waterbodies.
Bandar Seri Begawan is lush green with beautiful parks. The leaves of the trees are evergreen from steady rainfall throughout the year. But as a tropical country, sunshine is aplenty. The afternoon breeze emanating from the sea embraces the capital and the heavy rain keeps the road so clean that not a single leaf can be seen.
The Bruneian capital is a refreshing change from Dhaka as everyone is law-abiding and follows driving rules. There is hardly any overtaking or mad rush. Even if by chance an accident takes place, the car owner stops and reports it to the police—there are no hit and runs. Respect for law is the guiding principle in everyone's daily life.
The country has six glorious beaches along the coastline. On the other side of the sea is a river, divided by the road heading towards Malaysia. By the side of this road are beautifully designed mosques and restaurants—spotless, where snacks and fruits abound. Washrooms and toilets are kept so clean that one feels that he is the first user.
A gentle breeze flows from the sea and reinvigorates the body. Green forests, descending like a mountain, engulf the river bank.
The highway connecting the sea beach is also covered by deep forests on both sides. Surprisingly the forests by the road are free of wild animals like tigers, lions and bears.
An account of Brunei is not complete without a description of the architectural beauty of its mosques and their intricate interiors. There are over 200 mosques in Brunei city, built from marble chips, their domes covered in gold and bronze petals, their floors carpeted in vibrant spreads.
The country's tourism authority is keen on capturing the country's heritage and culture. Two of its four museums are open to visitors while the other two are currently undergoing renovation. The first museum in the city is known as Royal Regalia Museum, where His Majesty's coronation is depicted in the form of lively statues. The other, the Natural History, Technology and Culture Museum, is located on the riverside, three miles away from the main city.
The people of Brunei live in harmony under His Majesty's rule. They love and respect him and pray every Friday for his long life. To them, he is Plato's Philosopher King who'd devoted his life to the happiness and safety of his people. As children, we would hear Kashmir being called “Paradise on Earth”, but to me, it is Brunei that is Paradise on Earth.
M Shamsur Rahman is a former professor of Rajshahi University and also the first Vice-chancellor of Jatiyo Kabi Nazrul Islam University.