It was just around 9 pm, but the skies overhead suggested it was well past midnight. It was pitch dark, the shacks had packed up early, there wasn’t a soul around and the full moon was shining at its brightest. There we were, seated right at the edge of the shore, quietly sipping the most renowned local whiskey in town, Carew, from our flasks, dismissive of its usually negative reviews. “Why drink it, when you can run a bike with it?” a colleague of mine had once remarked. After all, perturbing thoughts rarely enter your mind when you’re in a trance, caused not by the drink, but the soothing chemistry of the bright blue moon and the waves thrashing against the shores.
For three hours, we sat amidst the serenity, oblivious to the fact that each of us lived in the world’s most densely populated city. We had forgotten the woes of spending two hours on the road just to cover mere 10 km every day to work. That’s what Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest uninterrupted, natural beach, located around 450 kilometers away from Dhaka, does to you.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of places one can go to in Bangladesh to find inner peace. You could get lost in the heavenly, forested Chittagong Hill Tracts, or spend your evenings in the tea gardens of Sylhet. You could travel around the Sunderbans, or just hang out at St Martin’s Island with some fried fish. But at the end of it all, one keeps coming back to Cox’s Bazar.
That particular night, though, was extra special. As we sat on the beach, we were witnessing the calm after the storm. The tropical Cyclone Roanu, a relatively weak one, had been hovering over the Bay of Bengal for the past one week and it was predicted to make landfall at Cox’s Bazar. That was one of the main reasons why my friends and I planned this trip in the first place. However, Roanu withered away at the last moment and landed at Chittagong, around 150 kilometers away.
At the hotel that morning, before the cyclone was supposed to hit, our complementary breakfast got cancelled; the restaurant’s top floor was flooded because of the scathing rains. Instead, they offered us bananas, toasts and eggs. We returned to our rooms, only to find the verandah door thudding with the forceful wind. Soon after, the hotel’s signboard, weighing around 20-25 kg, collapsed with a huge thud. And that’s when Sakeb, the youngest in the group, had a wacky suggestion. He covered his camera with a condom, buttoned up his raincoat and said, “I think this would be the best time to go to the beach.”
And so, ignoring the hotel manager’s advice, the sirens and the blaring messages from the loudspeakers, we stepped out on to the beach. The five of us got ourselves an electric auto and arrived at the beach a bumpy 10-minute ride later. To our surprise, we weren’t the only ones. Youngsters were diving into the unusually enormous waves, thereby driving the coastguards up the wall.
It was quite a task just to stand at the beach, let alone go into the water. Persistent gusts of wind pelted huge chunks of sand at us, pocking our bare skin like a thousand needles. The water had swelled to an alarming level, up until the main road. Standing at the beach, however, in the aftermath of a cyclone, there was a sense of joy amidst all that chaos — the feeling of the wind sweeping through one’s hair, the adrenaline rush, and the overall realisation of just how powerful nature can be. The efforts of simply trying to remain planted to the ground, however, fatigued us and we decided to hit Poushee, one of the older and busier restaurants in town.
It’s one of those restaurants that offers traditional cuisine at nearly half the cost of Dhaka restaurants. From fried fish ranging from rupchanda to loitta, and seven kinds of bhartas to the giant faluda — almost nothing on the menu card was spared. We had a feast and it just came up to around BDT 2,600. A BDT 500 note — not so common in India these days — per person was enough for a meal that would have cost us more than BDT 1,000 in Dhaka per head.
It may have spanned over just a weekend, but that May weekend in Cox’s Bazar will be revisited time and again.