Forty-two archeological sites, covering an area of about 25 kilometres, from Lalmai Hills to Burichang in Cumilla and having potentials for being tourist hotspot, have remained unexplored.
Archaeological monuments can be found if the sites are excavated, said Ataur Rahman, regional director, Department of Archeology, Chattogram and Sylhet Division, under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, while talking to The Business Standard, recently.
If the archeological sites were excavated, renovated and preserved plus an archeological highway was set up in this 25-kilometre area, it would draw the attention of the whole world, he continued.
"Overall, it will cost around Tk500 crore, including land acquisition. When all the work is done, the government will be able to earn around Tk100 crore per year from the sector. Additionally, big hotels and restaurants will be built there around the sites, which will generate employment for thousands of people," he said.
Even during the pandemic, a good number of visitors have gone there, he further said.
"I have raised the issue at meetings with the ministry concerned several times. But I have received no response. If local politicians or lawmakers took initiative in this regard, I think it would work," he added.
Notable monastic sites, which have not been excavated, include: Colonel Mura, Bairagi Mura, Balagazir Mura, Cha-Mura, Gilamura, Pakkamura, Wazirpur Dhibi, Kotbari Mura, Mainamati Mound 1, Mainamati Mound 1 Ka, Mainamati Mound 1 kha, and five Mura of Panchthubi.
All of them are located in the Lalmai, Sadar Dakshin, Adarsh Sadar, and Burichang upazilas of Cumilla and most of them are adjacent to Lalmai hills.
In 1943, the then-British government identified 56 archeological sites in Cumilla. Excavation started in 1956. Only 14 sites have been excavated in the last 65 years.
Of them, revenue is collected from just three sites – Shalban Bihar, Rupban Mura and Itakhola Mura – out of the 14 excavated sites.
The remaining 11 sites cannot be opened for visitors as most of them are located in Cumilla Cantonment area while four of the sites have not been renovated.
Sadequzzaman Tanu, an assistant professor at the Department of Archeology in Cumilla University, thinks the history of Bangladesh will be enriched if these archeological sites are preserved.
He said, "The history of south-east Bengal is very rich. The archeological monuments in Cumilla date back to the 6th to 12th centuries. When excavations of the sites began, Buddhist relics, various statues, burnt clay tablets, and coins of that time were found, which enriched the history of Bangladesh."
There is no alternative to excavating and preserving archeological sites to know history, he went on.
"So it is rational to excavate and preserve the archeological sites in Cumilla," he added.
The renowned sites, which were excavated, include: Shalban Bihar, Rupban Mura, Itakhola Mura, Latikot Mura, Ananda Bihar, Kutila Mura, Charpatra Mura, Rupban Kanya Mura (Rupbani Mura), Hatigara Mura, Bhoj Rajar Bihar, Rani Mainamati's Palace, and the Temple of Seventeen Gems.
Although revenue has been collected from Shalban Bihar since it was excavated in 1956, revenue collection from Rupban Mura and Itakhola Mura started on 1 January, 2020.
So far, more than Tk5 lakh has been collected from Rupban Mura and Itakhola Mura.
From January to 16 February of this year, 81,000 visitors came to Shalban Bihar while revenue of around Tk17 lakh was collected from the site over the period.
Jahangir Alam Imrul, director of Heritage Cumilla, a platform of the concerned people for Cumilla's heritage, said, "Cumilla is a region with immense potential for tourism. There are many archeological monuments here. Still Cumilla has not been developed as a city of tourism due to the negligence of the authorities concerned and political leaders."