Moon ride on ‘chander gari’
Travelling is always a delight, but what makes it even more enjoyable is the various kinds of ride you get to take through the journey. The Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) is already a preferred destination for tourists, but one of its attractions is the open quarter or open roof genre of jeep, commonly known as "chander gari".
The CHT is not the only place with the chander gari. Sajek, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, Cox's Bazar and more also have it. In more than 20 sub-districts across the CHT, the chander gari is in use.
There's some folk tales surrounding the jeeps. There's a saying by locals of Khagrachhari and Rangamati, who believe that it must've come from the moon, mostly because for the folks of these areas, engine-driven vehicles were still a novelty when they first came around. There's also the belief whereby locals think the vehicles are capable of going up to the moon given how it treads the difficult terrains of CHT at the speed of a hurricane.
"That such a car can ride so fast in these terrains gives you a tremendous adrenaline-pump when you ride it. It has also very good functionality, as it helps you reach your destination in a short time and can visit remote but beautiful places of the CHT," shared one passenger while travelling to Sajek.
The idea of such vehicles was inspired by the signature jeep car of the British age. They are mostly modelled after army cars, except for the open quarters, open roof style, which was later redesigned by locals from its primary infrastructure. Army cars that would go up for auction were bought and modified in the chander gari fashion.
Gradually, it took over the hilly regions for their superiority in navigating the mountainous terrains over other cars.
Although the primary motive behind the chander gari concept was for its convenience in transporting people, eventually it also became a vehicle to deliver goods and a tourist attraction.
The treacherous journey of going up and down through these steep, slender roads can be terrifying and scary, but even that fear of death succumbs to the sheer beauty of the hills, said visitors.
Compared to a natural roller coaster, the terrains of CHT are no less jerky. This is why they sometimes carry a bad reputation for tourists, but the drivers of the chander gari are adept and acquainted enough to cross these roads comfortably enough to drive these fears away, they said.
But this is not to say the terrain and the vehicle doesn't have its own crash history.
"The passengers often start screaming when we turn the more sharper roads. Driving in rocky and hilly roads on a daily basis does sound scary but we (drivers) don't worry about it anymore because the other drivers of the road know the ways as well as I know them. We have just adapted to these roads," said Mohammad Khorshed, a driver of chander gari in Bandarban.
The sitting arrangements in each cars are for 12 people maximum, but sometimes it exceeds according to need. The passengers are often seen covering the windshield of the front-glass of the vehicle by hanging their legs while sitting on the roof, which can be a hazardous behaviour.
And yet, if the passengers are cautious enough of their own safety, the ride can be a beautiful introduction to the beauty that is CHT.