For as long as I can remember, Cox’s Bazar with its endless sandy beach and azure crashing waves almost blending with the horizon, has been a second home to me. Annually, my family goes there to disconnect from the busy life of the capital and spend time mingling with nature at its purest. Cox’s Bazar is the world’s longest unbroken natural sea beach, stretching for almost more than 90 miles, present at the southeast coast of the tiny country Bangladesh and therefore almost 12 hours away from my house (Google Maps claim that it’s around 9 hours but coming from a local who is well trained with the traffic and rush, my words should have blind faith put upon it). A coconut or some tangy Aachar may be fit to be perfect symbols of this sanctuary tucked away, but personally for me, an emblem would be a conch shell with the ocean roaring out to me when I place my ear lightly against it, the salty air dancing just out of my reach at my fingertips.
Dawn at Kolatoli Beach, Cox’s Bazar
The beaches are speckled with towering luxurious hotels glimmering with vibrant lights and one my family always resides in is Sayeman Beach Resort with its picturesque views, subtle romantic cuisine, homely spacious suites and welcoming staff. During every one of my trips, I set my alarm to wake up and gaze at awe out the enormous windows overlooking the vast ocean and golden beach at the break of dawn, because the sight of a thousand crimson crabs crawling on the shimmering grains of sand is breathtaking. The beach looks as though veiled by a scarlet velvet blanket, the first rays of sunlight illuminating everything in sight. As the day progresses, the same window shows fishermen dragging their boats into the water, the fishing net bobbing on the already wild waves, indicating that the ocean will be showing some unnecessary attitude throughout the day-but like parents of a spoilt child, the locals, tourists and us welcome this sass with open arms.
Relaxing under Umbrellas and Seagulls
The resorts provide free umbrella service and there are numerous on-hire umbrellas all over the area as well but most times I feel extra touristy with my holiday gears set at full speed so I always sport a beach hat and sunglasses (which I have to ditch the moment I get into water but later onto that!) It is mandatory to lather oneself with sunscreen before jumping into the ocean because the midnoon glaring sun can be brutal and gives us a nasty tan. The specialty of the Bay of Bengal is its vicious torrents grasping at ones’ footing, the waves throwing people off balance and perfect for the amateur locals’ endeavor at surfing. In my experience, the waves on this side of the Earth has been capable of stealing sunglasses, hairbands, collected seashells and a golden tooth, depositing it somewhere into the depths of Atlantis. Half an hour in leaves me exhausted but determined to come back so there are usually Coconut water (Daab er pani in local language) breaks where a lot more than serenity and meaningful laughter is exchanged. My family likes to gather around shivering in the breeze to look dotingly at baskets full of seashell jewelry handmade by local kids and enormous conches. This is a main attraction for tourists, because a larger version of this seashell collection is called the Jhinuk Market where one can find marvelous quint creations ranging from rings to windchimes wholly made of seashells! While unwinding on a sun lounge, local children come along and ask whether we would like to listen to songs which usually ends up in us eagerly letting them sing Bhatiali Bhawaiya songs one after another. These songs are regional traditional music with beautifully woven lyrics that talk of the lives of fishermen, ferrymen, women making traditional dishes and so many stories that remain unheard to the majority of the population. The finest bit of these out of tune songs are the tales of ecstasy of being able to be alive within the beauty of Bangladesh, not woes of poverty that over half of the total population suffer from- it reminds me the importance of optimism and gratitude.
As the sun lowers and our tans darken, I part with the ocean with vows of returning and silent prayers of having the destiny to one day return there again. So far, the prayers haven’t gone unheard.
Cruising shades of blue
The Bay of Bengal is incorporated of hundreds of shades of blue, with the small waves breaking at the shore being a tinge of turquoise fading into teal, the aquatic plants being washed up as well while deeper into the zone where less people venture into, being a generous shade of cobalt, the sand in there having abrupt lows and ups. Deeper yet, where I have never been to alone, the zone where the ocean truly begins to get dark and murky is one people cruise in instead of dive into in solitary. Various sizes and types of speed boats are available on hire (both with or without a guide) for people to taste the salty breeze on the tip of their tongue while their wet hair strands brush their faces as the world only consists of a low humming of the boat, the splashing of waves, the steady bobbing in the middle of nowhere- a world tainted with a murky azure and tranquility.
Riding away into the Sunset, Cox’s Bazar
After a just-enough-to-get-rid-of-yawning nap, I head out along with my family to watch the sun being chased across the horizon on one side and the moon climbing the pinnacle on the other side. The sky gets illuminated with a tangerine hue, the sea now further off due to the ebb and flow, the soil embedded with arc patterns the waves left behind, the Sampans (Malay wooden boats) tied to their harbor after a long day of labor. As the sun steadily sets, the waves tame and the air light with peace, several horse tamers are seen wandering and looking for customers, trying to earn their wage for the day. Most times I distastefully look away from the shackles that restrict the horses but sometimes, just sometimes I get on them so that I can watch them gallop towards freedom for even the slightest of seconds. With each gallop, the world turns blurry as I hold on for my dear life with my eyes sealed shut but the moment I take a peek, I feel like those cowboys disappearing into the sunset, off to save humanity with echoes of a sonnet reverberating in the mist
“I love you
As certain dark things
are to be loved,
Between the shadow
and the soul.” — XVII sonnet, Pablo Neruda
Delving into the Burmese Market
Every evening is more or less filled with travelling to the main town of the Cox’s Bazar district to experience the authentic Burmese Markets loaded with various exotic items from headache medication to fish shaped slippers to a tangy dish called Aachar infused with spices and local herbs to the extremely famous dried fish (more commonly known as Shutki). The ride is short and dangerously exciting as an open motorized version of pull rickshaws called Tuktuki is one of the most desired means of transport there. The rush of wind and the adrenaline pumping through ones’ bloodstream at every tilt or rough turn is honestly recommended (You can experience living life at the edge quite literally. Sorry, bad pun). The shops are congested and cramped, tourists bustling to and fro while negotiating prices and threatening to leave the shops, the fluent at marketing shop keepers somehow managing to convince us to exit with 7 bags clasped in our fists. The Aachar places have small paper cups to let its clients taste the sweet and sour delights, the intense flavors bursting inside the mouth. Aachar ranges from the sweet Boroi er Aachar (Jujube Sweet pickle) to the tangy sour Aam er Aachar (Mango pickle), these two and everything in between being quite popular.
The next desired stop is the Dried Fish shops all lined in a row with enormous sharp faced Churi shutki hanging upside down and large packets containing an array of dry processed fishes that are perfect for making local dishes. As my family originates from Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar’s close neighbor, I am immensely fond of dishes made with dried fish that is submerged in spicy onions and green chilies therefore the shops serve as a major attraction for my eyes during every trip. The preservation techniques are stunning and it is an experience that one must have when visiting this region and the Burmese Market.
Treating the tastebuds to exotic dishes
Besides the salt-tinged air evident with every inhalation, the aroma is accompanied by fresh aquatic animals being fried or grilled. Despite being a brutal practice, the preparation of fresh food straight from the ocean is much adored by tourists and locals alike. People have the liberty to choose which fish, crab or shrimp they want grilled or cooked for them and receive their succulent food served in banana leaves and drizzled with various sauces or plated with a side of sour yoghurt. The best part about this is that these dishes are not constrained to 5-star hotels that prepare it with delicate care and culinary expertise but also served as street food which is affordable by all, made with passion and proper hygiene measures. This food includes but is not limited to (this list is making me salivate) coral fishes, shrimps, crabs, squids, Rupchanda fishes, Bhetki fishes and Loitta fishes (just to list a few). The adventurous feeling of connecting with Mother nature spiritually while feasting onto delicious recipes and gazing off into the wild ocean is something magical and extraordinary. When in Cox’s Bazar, eat as the locals do, Bon Appetit!
Moonlit Panorama, Cox’s Bazar
Wrapping up trips with the entire family gazing at the night sky lit with shimmering diamond like stars and listening to the ocean roaring with every crashing wave, not interrupting each other’s thoughts is an age-old tradition. We get to feel the togetherness yet get to enjoy the silence of our minds, almost becoming nothing but a tiny segment of this ginormous Milky way. The moonlight shines over the rippling ocean, the enchanting silver rays bobbing with the game of run and chase of the shore and the tides.
As my day and trip comes to an end, I realize that all the people I love around the world are looking at the very same moon that I cannot keep my eyes off. It is such a beautiful thought to close my eyes to.
Written by: Samia Nur Chowdhury
Born in the capital of the tiny country Bangladesh, Samia harbors an unquenchable adventurous spirit and dreams of traveling all around the globe. When not busy studying as a first-year university student majoring in Criminology, she adores talking about her experiences, making plans for her next trips and spilling her thoughts on ink. A huge food and travel enthusiast, she aims to change the world one step at a time with her dark humor, bad puns and stories.