Bangladesh is a country located in South Asia that is known for its lush landscapes, bustling cities, and rich cultural heritage. With a population of over 160 million people, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Yet despite its large population, Bangladesh has made great strides in developing its economy and improving standards of living.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various aspects of Bangladesh, including its history, culture, economy, geography, cuisine, and more.
A Brief History of Bangladesh
Bangladesh has a long and storied history stretching back thousands of years. The area that is now Bangladesh was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austroasiatic peoples in ancient times. The region was later ruled by powerful empires and kingdoms like the Mauryas, Guptas, Palas, Senas, and Mughals.
Bangladesh was under British colonial rule from 1757 to 1947 as part of the Bengal Presidency. After the Partition of India in 1947, Bangladesh became East Pakistan while the rest of Pakistan was known as West Pakistan.
Although Bangladesh was joined with Pakistan politically, the two regions were separated by over 1,000 miles and had significant cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences. This disparity eventually led to the independence movement in the early 1970s.
After a bloody liberation war in 1971, Bangladesh gained independence and established itself as a sovereign nation. Since then, the country has transitioned from military rule to democracy.
The Geography of Bangladesh
Bangladesh is located in South Asia and shares borders with India and Myanmar. The country has a total area of 147,570 square kilometers, making it one of the smaller countries in the region. However, Bangladesh has a large population with over 1,000 people per square kilometer on average.
The geography of Bangladesh consists mostly of flat, fertile plains crisscrossed by numerous rivers. The country has over 700 rivers, with the major ones being the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. Much of Bangladesh consists of deltas and floodplains, rendering it very prone to flooding during the monsoon season.
Bangladesh has several hill ranges in the southeast and northeast, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The country has a tropical monsoon climate with high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and high humidity. There are six seasons in Bangladesh based on rainfall patterns.
The Vibrant Culture and Tradition of Bangladesh
Bangladesh has a vibrant culture that reflects both indigenous traditions as well as influences from Islam, Hinduism, and British colonialism. The main ethnic group is Bengali and the official and most widely spoken language is Bengali.
Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, with over 90% of the population being Muslim. Most Bangladeshi Muslims are Sunni. Hinduism is the second-largest religion. Other religious groups include Buddhists and Christians.
Some of the most important cultural traditions and practices in Bangladesh include:
- Celebrating Pohela Boishakh, the Bengali New Year, with colorful processions and fairs.
- Observing religious holidays and festivals like Eid, Durga Puja, and Buddha Purnima.
- Wearing traditional dresses like sarees, salwar kameez, and lungis.
- Preparing and eating Bengali cuisine that often incorporates fish and rice.
- Playing traditional Bengali sports like kabaddi and ha-du-du.
- Appreciating arts like classical Bengali music, dance, pottery, and puppetry.
- Following customs and rituals during important life events like births, weddings, and funerals.
Bangladesh also has a rich literary tradition and its poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam are revered worldwide.
The Cuisine of Bangladesh
Bangladeshi cuisine reflects the country’s geography and blending of cultural influences. Rice is the staple food and is served with a variety of curries, vegetables, fish, and meat dishes.
Some iconic Bangladeshi foods include:
- Ilish Mach – Hilsa fish curry is the national dish of Bangladesh.
- Bhuna Khichuri – Rice and lentil dish that is comfort food in Bangladesh.
- Fuchka – Street food snack with hollow puri shells filled with potato, chickpeas, and spiced water.
- Mishti Doi – Sweet yogurt made from curdled milk that is a popular dessert.
- Shondesh – Sweet made from milk curds and shaped into balls.
- Biriyani – Spiced rice dish that is a staple at celebrations.
- Kebabs – Skewered and grilled meats that are ubiquitous street food.
Bangladeshi cuisine uses many fresh vegetables like gourds, roots, greens, and eggplants grown in the fertile land. Spices like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves are used liberally. Given the numerous rivers, fish like hilsa, pangas, tiger prawns, and crabs are integral to food. Desserts often incorporate jaggery, coconut, and fruit pulp.
Meals are traditionally eaten sitting on the floor without the use of cutlery. Food is served in a large dish and people help themselves with their hands. Meals often end with digestive pain.
The Thriving Economy of Bangladesh
In recent decades, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in growing its economy and improving socioeconomic indicators. The Bangladeshi economy has sustained an annual GDP growth rate of over 6% since 2010, reaching 8.15% in 2019 before the pandemic.
Some key facts about the Bangladeshi economy:
- GDP: $416 billion (nominal, 2022 est.)
- GDP Per Capita: $2,554 (nominal, 2022 est.)
- GDP Growth: 7.25% (2022 est.)
- Economic Sectors: agriculture (14.8%), industry (29.3%), services (56%)
- Exports: $52.1 billion (2022 est.) – garments, seafood, jute goods, leather products
- Population below the poverty line: 20.5% (2019 est.)
Bangladesh has transitioned from an agriculture-based economy to an industrial and services economy. The garment industry is the biggest export sector, accounting for over 80% of exports. Other major industries include textiles, leather goods, pharmaceuticals, ceramics, electronics, and shipbuilding.
Bangladesh has been applauded for its innovative microfinance initiatives through Grameen Bank which provide loans to small enterprises and entrepreneurs. It has also invested heavily in infrastructure, education, and healthcare to boost economic development.
Going forward, Bangladesh aims to become an upper-middle-income country by 2031 and a developed country by 2041. It is focusing on export diversification, skilled workforce development, technology upgrades, and higher domestic consumption to aid its growth.
The Natural Beauty of Bangladesh
Despite its small size, Bangladesh is home to diverse natural landscapes that provide a habitat for rich biodiversity. The country has rolling hills, evergreen forests, meandering rivers, and the world’s longest natural sea beach at Cox’s Bazar stretching 75 miles.
Some of the top natural areas and parks to enjoy Bangladesh’s scenery are:
- Sundarbans – Lush mangrove forest and delta home to Royal Bengal tigers and crocodiles. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Chittagong Hill Tracts – Densely forested hills in southeast Bangladesh with waterfalls and indigenous tribes.
- St. Martin’s Island – A small coral island in the Bay of Bengal known for its coconut palms and pristine beaches.
- Lawachara National Park – Tropical semi-evergreen forest with rare flora and fauna like the hoolock gibbon.
- Ratargul Swamp Forest – Only freshwater swamp forest in Bangladesh is located by the Gumti River.
- Kuakata Beach – Sandy Beach on the southeastern coast is famous for its sunrises and sunsets.
Bangladesh has over 700 protected areas covering over 6% of its land and supporting at least 593 bird species, 42 mammal species, and 310 fish species. However, climate change and uncontrolled development pose risks to its ecosystems.
Prominent Personalities from Bangladesh
Bangladesh has produced many pioneers and trailblazers who have made their mark regionally and globally across different fields. Some eminent Bangladeshi personalities are:
Arts & Literature:
- Rabindranath Tagore – Nobel laureate poet and the author of India’s national anthem.
- Kazi Nazrul Islam – Prolific poet and musician known as the National Poet of Bangladesh.
- Zainul Abedin – Pioneer of modern art in Bangladesh and founded the Folk Art Museum.
- Tareque Masud – Internationally acclaimed film director of acclaimed films like Matir Moina.
- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – Founding father and first president of Bangladesh, often called Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal).
- Sheikh Hasina – Current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and one of the longest-serving state leaders.
- Khaleda Zia – Former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the first woman to hold the office.
- Muhammad Yunus – Pioneer of microfinance, founder of Grameen Bank, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
- Begum Rokeya – 19th-century writer and social reformer who advocated for women’s rights.
- Jahanara Imam – Writer and activist who led the protests for justice for liberation war crimes.
- Shakib Al Hasan – No. 1 all-rounder in ICC ODI cricket rankings and national icon.
- Mashrafe Mortaza – Leading wicket-taker for Bangladesh in ODIs and former national team captain.
These and many other Bangladeshis have helped shape the nation through their work and activism. They serve as an inspiration to future generations of Bangladeshis.
Bangladesh may not be on most travelers’ radar, but the country offers many historic sites, natural areas, cultural experiences, and modern conveniences worth exploring. Some top attractions and activities for tourists are:
- Old Dhaka – Labyrinthine old quarter with Mughal and British colonial architecture, mosques, bazaars, and rickshaw rides.
- Cox’s Bazar – Long sandy beach lined with resorts. Gateway to tropical island St. Martin’s.
- Sundarbans National Park – Jungle safaris and boat tours to see Royal Bengal tigers, crocodiles, and exotic birds.
- Bogra – Visit archaeological sites from ancient kingdoms and empires that ruled the region.
- Sylhet – Explore lush tea plantations and the landmark Ratargul Swamp Forest.
- River Cruises – Cruise along rivers like Padma and Jamuna to see rural vistas and landscapes.
- Cuisine – Feast on spicy curries, hearty biryanis, street snacks, and delectable sweets.
- Shopping – Buy local handicrafts like brass, silk, ceramics, and jamdani textiles.
- Festivals – Time your visit with festivals like Pohela Boishakh, Durga Puja, or Buddha Purnima.
Bangladesh offers affordable travel, warm hospitality, and rewarding experiences off the beaten path for those who visit with an open mind. The tourism infrastructure is also growing rapidly to meet increasing demand.
Like any developing country, Bangladesh also faces a variety of challenges that it seeks to tackle:
Poverty – While poverty has declined considerably, around 20% of the population still lives below the poverty line. Inequality between urban and rural areas persists.
Political Instability – Frequent political turmoil between ruling and opposition parties disrupts governance and reforms.
Infrastructure – Insufficient transport networks, power shortages, and poor water supply impede growth in some regions.
Climate Change – Natural disasters like floods, storms, and erosion displace millions periodically. Rising sea levels also threaten low-lying coastal areas.
Overpopulation – The surging population strains already limited resources and public services.
Gender Inequality – While improving, women still lag in literacy, workforce participation, and healthcare access.
Terrorism – Fundamentalist terrorism poses a security threat. The 2016 Dhaka cafe attack killed 22 people.
However, Bangladesh continues to make determined efforts to tackle these multifaceted challenges and uphold its growth trajectory. With sustained political stability, policy reforms, and higher investments, Bangladesh can leverage its human capital and become an upper-middle-income country within the next decade.
Bangladesh has transitioned from a newborn nation ravaged by poverty and famine in the 1970s to a lower middle-income country with impressive economic and social progress. It has defied predictions to become a manufacturing hub and pioneer innovative anti-poverty programs.
Yet, Bangladesh remains connected to its rich history, tangible heritage, and cultural roots. Home to lush jungles and the world’s longest natural beach, it offers varied natural beauty. The people of Bangladesh are also welcoming of foreigners.
With sustained growth, Bangladesh is poised to become a leading economy in South Asia. Its youthful and driven population will enable the nation to achieve greater prosperity while retaining its distinctive culture and values. Despite its challenges, the future is bright for Bangladesh.
This was a comprehensive overview of the different elements that make Bangladesh a fascinating country from its ancient history and resilient people to its mouth-watering cuisine, natural wonders, and rapid development. Bangladesh truly is a country of contrasts that has come a long way but still has immense potential going forward.