With the world’s longest beach and largest mangrove swamp, Bangladesh has plenty to brag about – its natural environment is far more diverse and dramatic than most people realise. Add a fascinating architectural heritage to the mix, and you have plenty of reasons to pack your bags for a trip to this beautiful country. You may even spot a Bengal tiger!

It’s home to the world’s largest mangrove forest

The remote Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, covers a vast area of Bangladesh’s south-west. Its many freshwater rivers merge with saltwater from the Bay of Bengal, allowing a spectacularly diverse ecosystem to flourish. It’s a place of surreal beauty: often shrouded in mist, largely uninhabited, wild and swampy. You may spot wild boar, spotted deer, Ganges dolphins, monkeys, reptiles and – if you’re extremely lucky – a Bengal tiger. A few hundred of these magnificent animals live in the Sundarbans.

It has a female prime minister

The US may have failed to elect its first woman president, but Bangladesh has had a woman prime minister since 2009 – and she served from 1996 to 2001 too. Sheikh Hasina Wazed comes from a political dynasty. Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was the principal organiser of Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan in 1971. In 1975, her father, mother and three brothers were assassinated at home by military officers, after which she spent six years in exile, returning as leader of the Awami League in 1981.

Bangladeshi food is great for fish-lovers

Freshwater fish is a hallmark of Bangladeshi cuisine. Classic Ilish macher consists of a freshwater fish (ilish) wrapped in a banana leaf with mustard seed paste and aubergine, which is then baked, steamed or fried. Machher jhol is a spicy fish stew, thickened with potatoes and seasoned with turmeric, ginger and garlic. Bangladeshis like their food spicy and aromatic – even Indians find the dishes hot here.

It has the world’s longest beach

The developed hub around Cox’s Bazar town gives way to the wild, wide, palmed-fringed sands of Cox’s Bazar beach, stretching for a record-breaking 125 kilometres down the eastern side of the Bay of Bengal. Its big waves have even encouraged a nascent surfing scene. Around nine kilometres offshore from the tip of the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf Peninsula is beautiful St Martin’s, Bangladesh’s only coral island, with idyllic white-sand beaches, azure waters and palm trees.

Fishermen use trained otters to help with their catch

Yes, you read that right. Ingenious fishermen in parts of Bangladesh use otters, harnessed together, to help them catch fish. The otters spot the fish among the plants in the river, flush them out and herd them towards the nets. This once-widespread fishing method, passed down through the generations, has died out in much of Asia, but is still practised in Bangladesh.

It’s home to a lost city

In the south-west of Bangladesh, near the modern town of Bagerhat, lie the remnants of a lost city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mosque City of Bagerhat is home to more than 50 medieval mosques and mausoleums – an open-air museum of Asian Muslim architectural heritage, with a mix of Turkish and Mughal styles. Established in the 15th century by revered Sufi saint and local ruler Khan Jahan Ali, Bagerhat lay hidden by vegetation for hundreds of years before being uncovered in the 19th century.

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