The Eco-sites of Sundarban

by Shatil Alam

006A colorful jetty, a tree house and the serenity of the Sundarbans mangrove forest right across the canal: Welcome to the eco-sites, which were set up by the Relief International’s EU funded project ‘Promotion of Local Culture in the Sundarbans Impact Zone in Bangladesh through Cultural Ecotourism and Entrepreneurship’.
The project was set up in eight sites all over the Dacope and Shyamnagar regions, with an aim to promote the local culture of the communities living around the Sundarbans. Besides, the project wants to encourage community-based tourism that adheres to sustainable ways.
Each eco-site has a unique set up of a jetty, a bamboo cottage built with local labour on locally owned land, a watch tower at some sites and a multi-purpose shed, specifically designated for cultural performances. One of the sites also has a tree house set up at a height of about 30 feet. The tree house can provide a nearly aerial view of the top branches of tree, making it appropriate for bird-watching enthusiasts.
007The eco-sites are run by the locals who have been trained specifically in hospitality and services, guiding, management of the cottages and culinary trainings to develop them as entrepreneurs. Aimed to help community members living alongside the fragile eco-system of this natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, and find alternative ways toward income generation for them, the Relief International project is committed towards promoting and marketing the sites to bring in visitors and help eco-tourism flourish.
The eco-sites in Dacope begin from the Dangmari canal in the Baniashanta Union, a canal that is one of the three Dolphin sanctuaries of Bangladesh. As you travel down the canal, the sites are at a distance of about 20 minutes from each other.
Activities include fishing in the organic ponds which have been set up to encourage sustainable aquaculture while visitors can also cook their catch in the cottage owner’s kitchen.  Once the meal has been taken care of, visitors can burn those calories by taking a walk through the village as you let the atmosphere seep in to you and let the rustic surroundings relax you.
008Afternoon tea is highly encouraged at the watchtower as the sun turns into a ball of orange while the birds raise a cacophony on their way back home. Once evening arrives, tourists can enjoy the local cultural troupe’s special performance of the bon bibi natok and a medley of songs and dances that fit well with the ambience.
The eco-sites in Kalinchi, Shyamnagar-Satkhira are run by the Munda community, a unique ethnic community that have a distinct language called the Shadri bhasa, with their own distinctive cuisine which also sometimes features snake, but only by on request!
The Munda community dress colourfully using feathers in their head gear and put up a fantastic performance of song and dance in their local language.
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