There are some fantastic hikes in this part of Bangladesh. None is technically challenging, but some are multiday trips, which require hikers to be fit and adventurous. It’s not unusual, for example, to find yourself having to wade through rivers en route to your ultimate destination, and hikers to more remote areas will have to be prepared to rough it. Accommodation will either be in tents (if you bring your own) or in small villages with almost no facilities.
Also bear in mind that many of the more remote areas are often off-limits to foreigners. If you apply for permits to climb some of the peaks in these areas, you may be denied them. That doesn’t stop some foreigners having a go, though.
Blazing a trail through previously unhiked areas of the Hill Tracts is the community-run hiking group, Bangla Trek (www.banglatrek.org). It's a very welcoming group of amateur hikers, most of whom are based in Dhaka, and many of them speak good English. If you’re looking for ideas for places to hike to, or just want to hook up with like-minded walking enthusiasts, try contacting them through their website.
Guides & Permits
The permit situation for the hill tracts region is in a constant state of flux. At the time of research it was necessary to be accompanied by a local guide in the Hill Tracts – the ripples of security incidents in Dhaka can reach this far, and authorities may even decide that your vehicle needs a police escort. In previous years you could arrange your own Hill Tracts permit then explore much of the region on your own. Hopefully this will return in time, but it's essential to check the latest before you leave.
Permits currently cost Tk 1200 for Rangamati and Tk 1500 for Bandarban. Apply seven days in advance of travel, with a copy of your passport and visa. If private permit applications are being allowed, you'll need to go to the Divisional Commissioner's Office in Chittagong. Take plenty of patience as well as an itinerary covering everywhere you want to go.
Make multiple copies of your permit, which you should keep handy to dish out to any checkpoint police on the road, and hotel receptionists at check in.
The following companies are recommended for handling permit applications, and can arrange guides and transport:
- Bangladesh Ecotours Chittagong-based operator specialising in the Hill Tracts.
- Guide Tours Long-established tour operator, and owner of the Hillside Resort in Bandarban.
Guides typically cost around Tk 2000 per day, with vehicle hire around Tk 5500.
Because of the frequent changes in permit regulations, we advise you get on the Bangladesh branch of Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum before you leave for Chittagong division, just to double-check the latest.
Travel Warning: Security in the Hill Tracts
The Chittagong Hill Tracts is the most restive part of the country, with Hindu and Buddhist groups claiming neglect and persecution by the national government. Tens of thousands of people are still internally displaced after the government suppressed a tribal insurgency in the 1990s, and resentment periodically erupts into violence. Because of the security concerns, the government mandates that tourists obtain a permit before travelling to the Hill Tracts, and the conditions for this change regularly. Always check the security situation and the latest permit rules before you visit.