Bhola, the largest island district of Bangladesh, has versatile natural beauty including mangrove forests with spotted deer, rivers and beaches.
However, the district has failed to draw as many tourists as expected, due to a lack of facilities. Now the government is mulling a plan to transform it into a tourist hub.
The attractive tourist spots include: Tarua Beach, Char Kukri Mukri, Bagan Bari, Jakob Tower in Char Fashion, Monpura, Monpura's Dhal Char, Fatima Digital Museum, and beautiful parks on the banks of the River Meghna.
Most of the spots are surrounded by river and sea water while others are covered with natural forests. Tourist arrivals have been increasing at all the spots of the district since last month.
Visitors can enjoy the sunrise and sunset from Tarua Beach at Dhal Char, a union of Char Fashion upazila. Zigzag narrow canals transit through the forest, attracting nature lovers.
At dawn, herds of spotted deer are seen grazing on the river banks, at beaches and forests of Char Kukri Mukri. And the area can also be enjoyed sitting on a boat, trawler or speed boat.
There is a rest house with all modern amenities for visitors in Char Kukri Mukri.
In a visit to Char Kochchopia Ghat at Char Fashion, this correspondent saw a good number of tourists boarding trawlers or speed boats to go to Dhal Char and Char Kukri Mukri.
"We are earning a good amount by transporting tourists," said Jahid, a speed boat driver of Char Kochchopia.
"During the season, I earn Tk1,000 to 1,500 per day for transporting the tourists while I earn Tk400 to 600 at other times," he said.
The voyage towards the two islands is very exciting as it traverses blue sea water.
On the way to the Dhal Char, a tourist can stop at a coconut orchard on the beach. A rest house is also there for tourists.
There are also two small beaches at Char Kukri Mukri. The Tarua Beach with mangrove forest attracts the most tourists.
The Khamar Bari on the way to the two islands adds to the difference for nature lovers with its: forest, ponds, flowers, different statues, and artificial hills.
The Proshanti Park at Vetua in Char Fashion undoubtedly soothes the heart of the tourists with its unique natural beauty.
From Jakcob Tower, tourists can explore the fascinating scene of Char Kukri-Mukri, beauty of the Bay of Bengal, forest, and rivers.
Russell Square beside the tower adds some aesthetic structural charm.
The upazila town has a good number of motels for tourists.
The fish landing ghat at Dhal Char and Char Kukri Mukri and Sahabaz also appeals to tourists as different catches of sea fish are brought on fishing boats there for selling.
Monpura adds some new experiences for visitors and the upazila is surrounded by the River Meghna.
The whole area gets power via solar panels, however, tourists are facing a serious accommodation problem here due to a lack of good hotels or rest houses.
If accommodation facilities improve, the number of tourists may increase very soon, Mamun, a local journalist, said.
"I am fascinated seeing the beauty of Char Kukri Mukri and its surroundings," Jasim Uddin, a resident of Barishal city, said.
The Fatima Khanom Complex and Swadhinata Digital Museum at Bhola sadar is the first digital museum in the country which has witnessed a turnout of hundreds of visitors, including students.
Thousands of migratory birds throng islands of the district during the winter season, said a school teacher of Bhola town.
The government has recently declared eight tourist districts, including Bhola, said Masud Alam Siddik, Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Bhola.
"Around Tk20 crore to Tk25 crore is earned annually from the tourism sector in the district," said the DC adding that the income will be increased to around Tk100 crore to Tk150 crore once the ongoing project is implemented.
The government has a master plan to develop accommodation facilities, rest houses, sanitation, and communication of the district to attract more tourists, he added.
"We are going to build a 'Chinta Nibash' named after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Monpura. During the visit to the upazila after the Bhola cyclone in 1970, the father of the nation wished to establish such a structure, seeing the natural beauty and tranquility of the area.''
The whole area will be developed centering around the Chinta Nibash, he added.
He hopes the district will be a tourist hub very soon.