Camping at Cox's Bazar
(Dacca Observer 5/26/68)





We flew down to Cox's Bazar, the seashore area with golden sands along the Bay of Bengal, during the last Eid holiday--three American men and nine teenage boys.

Like other outdoor types, we crave the seashore when the weather turns warm and the idea of a camping trip further whetted our appetite for adventure.

I had looked forward to a Cox's Bazar visit ever since an American educator who had worked for U.S. AID in Dacca told me about his camping trip there with his family. They traveled there by auto. We decided to fly down and made arrangements with Pakistan International Airlines. But there was plenty of preparation.

We loaded up a Wagoneer with borrowed tents, coats (for the adults), sleeping bags (for the younger bones), cooking utensils, kerosene lanterns, food and other necessities and sent this off with a cook and bearer on the day before our departure.

We left Dacca the next morning in a PIA Fokker Friendship, leaving a rapidly warming city behind. Members of the crew were most cordial. One of the two pilots visited us in the passenger area for a few minutes. The stewardess was from Karachi and did her duty for Pakistan tourism, stressing there were many interesting places to visit in that area, too.

After a brief stopover in Chittagong, where we had to leave the plane for awhile, we were once more on our way, finally arriving at Cox's Bazar Airport, which consisted of the airstrip, a small tower and a few buildings here and there.

Our Wagoneer and driver were on the spot and one of the men in our group, who had been at Cox's Bazar before, took off in an advance party to scout a camp site. The rest of us wandered about, taking a few pictures, until the Wagoneer returned, loaded up with boys and departed again. The rest of us wandered through town, looking at the boat-building spots and a few of the shops. I was busily snapping color photos but mostly looking longingly toward the beach and thinking about getting into my swimming trunks and diving into the water. But there was more walking and some work to do first.

Along the way, we observed high on a hill to the left, near a VIP rest house, a Buddhist temple with its dazzling white spire rising into the blue sky. That became an immediate subject of several photos. We ambled along slowly in the beach areas and saw really impressive modern motels, built on concrete pillars so that the ground floor had plenty of space for parking autos.

Turning into the beach area, we stopped off at Motel No. l, where my 17-year-old daughter was spending the Eid weekend with several of her teenage American girl friends. They were accompanied by a teaching couple from the Dacca American Society school and their small son.

The girls were anxious to go for a swim so we didn't get a chance to take a look at their rupees-ten-per-day motel unit. I looked them over carefully later, however, and thought they were comfortable enough considering the rental fee involved. Each room had two single beds and there was a small kitchen and a bathroom with hot and cold shower. You bring your own portable stove for cooking.

Before long our Wagoneer came churning through the sand and we ground our way over the soft dunes (four-wheel drive is essential for this) to harder sand surfaces paralleling the water, and then moved easily along. Minutes later we found the campsite, about four miles south of the motel area.

The boys were already hard at work setting up their tent on the sand some 100 feet from the water. We men decided to back off a little and drove our tent stakes within a grove of small trees a couple of hundred feet away. An awning went up next, nearby, to keep the sun's hot rays off while we had our meals. Then the kitchen area was cleared and we were in business.

"This is the life," one of the men campers said with a contented grin a short time later as we relaxed with a cool drink after our working spree. It was completely peaceful, a place of solitude, where the soft air from the Bay in the evening wiped away the cares and pressures consistent with the humdrum existence of modern city living.

Part of the therapy of being at Cox's Bazar was putting aside the artifices of man and placing into perspective the works of nature. Such as gazing at the breakers on the shore or watching the sun turn colors at dusk and suddenly vanish in seconds as if it was sinking into the sea.

I recall the enjoyment of walking along immense stretches of the beach, gathering a collection of colorful shells and stones for my small daughters, at home in Dacca. I also remembered during the peaceful evenings President Ayub Khan's remarks in his book, "Friends Not Masters," when he found time for a few hours of relaxation and meditation at Cox's Bazar. It is certainly an ideal spot for long, deep thoughts and rest.

There were moments of hubbub and confusion, too, particularly when nine hungry boys crowded under the awning after a day of swimming and exploring. And they were usually up at the crack of dawn to see what the new day would bring.

One day we visited a small and picturesque waterfall at Himcheri, a few hundred yards off the beach some seven miles from Motel No. l. It was nestled in a valley cut into the sheer rocky palisades that soar from the sand and hold back the jungle. The silver stream came tumbling from the jungle and spouted some 15 feet into a pool, which sheds its excess water into a small creek that twists and turns through small farm plots.

Our teenagers visited this lovely spot twice and some of the daredevils managed to crawl up on top and leap down into the water below. The temperature of the water was much cooler than the Bay but felt delightful. Some of the youngsters lathered up with soap and washed away the salt and sand they were coated with from the beach.

The natural wonders at Cox's Bazar are countless. One of the boys spotted a group of wild monkeys scampering along the beach one morning. When they caught sight of him, they swung up the cliffs and fled shrieking into the protective jungle.

Huge jellyfish also attracted a lot of attention. Several washed up on the beach by the overnight tide and waves were more than three feet in diameter and lay like sodden masses of gray plastic. Some of our young swimmers were flicked by the strange creatures and suffered minor burn-like ailments that had little lasting effect. All of us confined our swimming to daylight, leaving the water in late afternoon when the jellyfish seemed to move toward shore.

There was a lot to see in the area. We wandered around Cox's Bazar town one day, capturing with cameras some of the scenes we could take with us to observe on the slide screen: the people, including little boys and girls all decked out in their best clothing for Eid; shops; homes; old cars that somehow keep running; the spinning looms the women operate to skillfully weave fabrics for saris and other clothing and the airstrips built during World War II to carry the war over the "Hump." Some of the group took in the tobacco rolling works where the ladies produce the cigars for smokers in Dacca and elsewhere.

Some of us took a quick trip to Ramu, a Buddhist spot some ten miles north of Cox's Bazar on the narrow road to Chittagong, and I would recommend a visit there for any tourist or vacationer. Here are wooden temples of unique design and residences, all within an enclosure.

Two ponderous temple bells outside were targets for several camera shots and we were permitted, after slipping off our shoes, to enter two temples. One of them contained the largest statue of Buddha in Pakistan, we were told. It was cast in bronze and measured some 12 feet or more from its base to the top of its head. Another temple had several small statues of Buddha.

Some of the slender Buddhist ladies guided us around the grounds, politely pointing out interesting features. An elderly Buddhist monk, wearing the saffron robes so common in Southeast Asia, nodded a greeting as we walked through one of the temples. It was with reluctance that we decided we would have to leave for out motel and camp.

All good things come to an end and so it was with our adventure at Cox's Bazar. We had hired autos in town to take us to Chittagong, about a hundred miles away to pick up our connecting PIA flight back to Dacca. This we did without incident and returned to our homes in the provincial capital.

Most of us were struck by the natural beauties of Cox's Bazar and I am sure that many westerners will be coming along as time goes by to partake of the relaxation afforded by this potentially magnificent resort spot. I found it similar in many ways to some of the sandy beaches along the coastlines of America. The camping trip was not greatly different from another my family had enjoyed in the summer of 1965 at the National Seashore Park, stretching a sandy finger south along the coast of North Carolina: the same salt water, cooling breezes, beautiful sunsets. Even the mosquitoes seemed the same after dark, so some words of advice to campers to motel residents: Bring Mosquito Netting...

The American teenagers, who have a jargon all their own, were ready to return for another trip almost before they stepped off the plane into Dacca's hot windless air.

What did they think of Cox's Bazar? One of them said, in one breath, "fun, boy! Was that neat; cool, man; swell." Somehow I got the message.