Straight out of a postcard, the Kathalbari swamp is an unexplored natural heritage.
Situated in the heart of Sylhet, it is a mere 20 minute drive from the town, on the way to the hilly tourist destination of Jaflong.
Although the swamp remained mostly undiscovered till late, the number of local tourists visiting the spot is on the rise.
Swamps are often dominated by trees. They are often named for the type of trees that grow in them. In this instance, it has been named for the abundance of jackfruit trees or 'kathal gach'.
The Kathalbari swamp is quite unique in other characteristics as well.
One of the most distinctive features of this swamp is the 30 odd, small hills that are inundated in water. Tourists are seen taking idyllic boat rides from one hill to another and many choose to get down at the hills to enjoy the scenic beauty.
Spanning an area of one square kilometre, the swamp is fed with rainwater for almost 10 months a year as the region receives the highest amount of rainfall in the country. Although hot and humid, the peace and tranquillity is what attracts tourists.
The swamp forest is considered the best place to view aquatic trees and animals, like the fishing cat. Other than the jackfruit trees, mango, lychee, java plum, pineapple and bay leaf trees are also plentiful in the area.
Abdul Hye Al-Hadi, chief executive of Save the Heritage and Environment, a rights based organisation, said the spot is a distinctive blend of hills and water that does not resemble other swamps.
Sylhet is well known for the Ratargul Swamp that has been drawing in tourists in droves for the last four to five years to view the trees submerged in water.
Locals and experts alike think the Kathalbari Swamp has the same potential to catch the fancy of local and foreign tourists.
Along with its picturesque settings, Kathalbari also boasts glorious past. The name of the deity of Raja Gour Gobind, the last Hindu ruler, was 'Hatekeswar'. In 1303 AD, when Raja Gobind defeated Hazrat Shahjalal, the Raja's deity went to a safe place at 'Kathalbari'. During the rule of Raja Joynarayan (1708-1731), one of the prominent Jaintia kings, the deity left for Sengram.
Mohammad Ashraful Kabir, coordinator of Bhumi Sontan Bangladesh, an environment and animal rights based organisation, said the Kathalbari Swamp forest is most spectacular during the rainy season.
The range of hills standing on the vast marsh, named 'Baur Haor', along with the partially submerged trees, is a sight to behold, he added.
Nasrin Jahan Fatema, vice-chairman of Companiganj Upazila Parishad in Sylhet district, said the swamp forest attracts nature lovers who can spot lotus, lily and kanchan flowers that are only found in this area.
RSM Monirul Islam, Divisional Forest Officer in Sylhet, said the swamp is on government fallow lands and has great potential for tourism.
There are boating facilities available here on a limited scale, said Mizanur Rahman, an auto rickshaw driver. The number of locals visiting the swamp forest has increased recently, he added.
The Kathalbari swamp forest is a promising addition to the other established tourist spots in the largest tea producing region in Bangladesh.