There are many interesting places scattered all over the country where a special tree or garden has become a part of the identity of a specific area. The famous Suryapuri mango tree in Thakurgaon's Baliadanga is one such place which has become a major tourist attraction. When I planned to visit North Bengal, the huge tree, which is about 200 years, was at the top of my list.
On a misty winter morning, I started my journey from the Boda upazila of Panchagarh. Instead of taking the same route all the time, I usually try to use different roads while travelling. With that in mind, I avoided going through Thakurgaon sadar and left for Baliadangi through Atowari. The battery-powered autorickshaw was moving slowly along the rural road through the green paddy fields on either side. It took a long time to reach Lahirighat, one of the largest markets in Thakurgaon.
Incidentally, I met local homeopathy doctor Mr Dhiman, the father-in-law of one of my friends Sushant, who is very popular among the people of the area as an esteemed gentleman. After hearing of my interest to visit the country's largest Suryapuri mango tree, he told me about the tea garden near the border area. I had no idea that there were tea gardens anywhere other than Panchagarh in North Bengal. After taking tea, he arranged an auto for me to travel through Baliadangi. I thanked him and said goodbye.
The road we took was passed through croplands, most of which were empty after harvesting. Farmers were sitting, talking idly and taking in the warmth of the morning sun. The state of roads in this area is better than other parts of the country. It took us a short time to reach the tea gardens, which covers a huge area.
The tea gardens in this part of the country do not look as green as those in Sylhet. It's possible the gardens looked a little faded from the distance as the young leaves were recently cut. The workers appeared busy rushing around in the gardens. In the distance, the barbed wire of the Indian border was visible.
These tea estates were established not too long ago. The first official survey for tea gardens in the northern districts was conducted in 1999. The first commercial tea cultivation started in 2000 in the Tentulia upazila of Panchagarh.
After about seven years, tea cultivation started in the Baliadangi upazila of Thakurgaon. More tea gardens will probably be established in other border areas of the division as the soil and climate are similar all around. Apart from Baliadangi, tea is already being cultivated at Ranishankail, Pirganj, Haripur and Thakurgaon sadar. About 3,000 men and women are working here.
After visiting the tea garden area, we went to see the historic Suryapuri mango tree in the Mandumala village in Harinmari, near the Indian border. Suryapuri mango is a popular variety which produces a good yield only in Thakurgaon. For this reason, it has become synonymous with the district. Most of the Suryapuri mango orchards are in the Baliadangi upazila. However, the centenarian tree is different from all other trees in terms of size and age. That is why many visitors come from far and wide to see this mango tree.
As soon as I reached the gate, I saw that the owner of the tree had set up a ticket counter for the visitors. I bought a ticket for Tk20 and went inside. The historic mango tree caught my eye from a short distance away. It appeared like a huge banyan tree with branches all around. Lots of people, including locals, were inside the premise. Everyone was busy watching the tree and taking pictures. Local youths were playing carom board next to the tree.
Although the history of the mango tree is unknown, the locals say it is about 200 years old. Growing over two bighas of land, it is considered to be one of the largest mango trees in Asia. The tree is about 90 feet high and about 35 feet wide. The tree still produces more than 100 mangoes every year. The mangoes from this tree are sold at almost twice the price of mangoes from other trees in the local markets.
Although, a signboard was placed next to the tree forbidding anyone from climbing up the tree, many people were ignoring the message and taking pictures sitting on its branches. The whole area was also dirty with plastic and garbage strewn around. There were clear signs of mismanagement everywhere, which was in a complete contrast to the beauty of the tree. After watching the natural wonder, I returned back riding on the same auto.
To visit the tea gardens and the mango tree, you have to come to Baliadangi in Thakurgaon. There are some good bus services from Dhaka to Thakurgaon, including Hanif Paribahan and Nabil Paribahan from Kalyanpur. The distance from Thakurgaon to Baliadangi is about 23 kilometres and the distance from Baliadangi to Harinmari Bazar is about 10 kilometres. You have to come to Harinmari Bazar using local transport. From there you have to take an auto or van to visit the tea gardens and Suryapuri mango tree.