December 5, 2023

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How the Sonaichhari trail hikers changed Joynal’s life

How the Sonaichhari trail hikers changed Joynal’s life

24 March, 2022, 01:20 pm

Last modified: 24 March, 2022, 01:27 pm

Iftakhar Hamid, team leader of a renowned Facebook-based tour group named Shopnoghuri, was leading our team. 

“I met Joynal three years ago when I came with my team in Shonaichaari for the first time. Since his grocery stall is the last store before the trail, we stopped there to buy water and other essentials. Joynal approached me asking if we wanted to have lunch at his place. 

And ever since, every time I come here, he hosts and prepares our food,” said Iftakhar, adding “In three years, I saw how the tourists have changed the life of Joynal. He used to live in a mud house back then, and now he has a nice tin-shed structure.” 

When we reached his house after the day’s hike, Joynal, along with his wife and sons, were busy serving food to our team. We found another hungry team already waiting to eat. 

Joynal, now a 45-year-old man, did not get the scope to study much when he turned to business at 15.

He used to sell bread, tea and a few other food items on the hill by the Sonaichhari trail. 

“Back then, 200/300 people from the village used to go to the hills to cut trees and bamboo. I used to carry my shop on my shoulder to the hills to reach those customers,” Joynal reminisced about his childhood. 

Ferrying tea to hill workers cannot earn you much; poverty was Joynal’s inevitable companion. 

So a few years after he married, about a decade ago, he launched a permanent store near the trail. He also built a mud house near the stall to live in. 

“Back then there were not many tourists. Only a few would come to this trail. So I depended entirely on my grocery store,” Joynal said, “things changed only three to four years ago when a lot of tourists began to come and I got a new source of income by feeding them lunch.” 

Initially, Joynal said, small teams of three to five people would come and ask if he could make them lunch. Gradually the number increased. “From five to 10, then 15 … and now people from all over Bangladesh call me before coming here to get lunch,” Joynal said. 

Because many people eat at his place every week, Joynal stores around 50 people’s food in his fridge all the time. 

“Many people come here without calling. They ask for food while passing my store,” Joynal said. He stores food so that he does not miss out on these customers either. 

Due to the increasing number of tourists, you may not enjoy the trail as much as you would have liked it hiking alone. 

Hikers eating in Joynal’s house. Photo: Iftakhar Hamid

Hikers eating in Joynal's house. Photo: Iftakhar Hamid

Hikers eating in Joynal’s house. Photo: Iftakhar Hamid

Instead of the sound of clicking bats overwhelming you at the bat cave in the middle of the trail, you will probably hear a teenage boy playing lousy Bollywood songs. If you are one of those hikers who wants to get closer to nature free of human noise, you should walk this trail on weekdays. 

But in the backdrop of such human traffic at the Sonaicchari trail, some people like Joynal now have an alternative source of income. 

Even his sons, besides going to college, can contribute to family earnings by working as guides – when they don’t have classes – for the hikers. 

“They can earn a few hundred taka by guiding us on the trail. There are other people too who guide and host hikers for lunch on this trail,” tour operator Iftakhar Hamid said, explaining how tourism is contributing to the income flow of the locals. 

In Sonaichaari trail, however, none of the locals could make a name for themselves among the tourists as much as Joynal has. 

Capitalising on the new source of earning, he paid most of the loans he had taken while building his house, sent his kids to college and now anticipates an even brighter future ahead. 

Joynal said that “Sometimes when tourists are few, I struggle to pay my loans. I have to pay my [house] loans for two more years. But more tourists will come in the rainy season. By the mercy of Allah and thanks to your prayers, I am doing very well.”