Palace Luxury Resort: A piece of paradise

There are hills, valleys and even a lake amid endless stretch of greenery. This is Nature at its very best. And it is a dream come true too, the embodiment of a vision. This is The Palace Luxury Resort in Sylhet. Arifur Rahman is one of the planners.

Arifur Rahman was admitted to Sylhet Cadet College in 1983. Sylhet means tea gardens. Arifur spent all of his cadet life amongst those tea gardens. He joined the military academy to become an army officer after leaving the cadet college, he later dropped out.

He graduated from the University of Dhaka and worked as a contributor at the newspaper Bhorer Kagoj for some time. Then he returned to tea gardens again, taking up a job there. He started working as an assistant manager at a James Finley tea garden in Shindurkhan and Rajghat of Srimangal.

Since then he started dreaming of tourism amid the tea gardens. He resigned from his job at the tea garden and became a textile entrepreneur. Their per annum export income from this sector is Tk 8 billion (Tk 800 crore).

But Arifur Rahman never forgot that dream of tea gardens and tourism. Along with his business partner Abdus Salam, he began searching for suitable land to build a resort. He learnt about the plot at Putijuri Bazar under Bahubal upazila of Habiganj from his former cadet college roommate Taposh.

The plot on the border of Habiganj and Srimangal is hilly and surrounded with forests. There was mostly long grass, shrubs, lemon trees and pineapple and some rubber trees too. There was no road for cars to travel. One would have to take a circuitous route on foot to reach there. There wasn't even any even electricity or running water there.

Out of the total stretch of land, 76.74 acre of land belonged to one of Arifur’s seniors at the cadet college, Md Kamal and his relatives. However, not all of that land was in their possession. There was 24.11 acres of land belonging to others. All that land was bought in the company's name. And today, on that 100.85 acre plot of land, stands today’s The Place Luxury Resort. Green Planet Resort Ltd is the parent company of the resort.

Arifur Rahman
Prothom Alo

Arifur Rahman said from the very beginning, the plan was to keep all the trees intact when implementing the project. It was decided that none of the trees would be chopped down. In fact, they decided to plant even more trees. Several architects of the country were involved in the design and construction of the resort. Chinese architects also provided support.

First of all a 4.1 km road was built to reach the resort. The winding road runs through the tea garden. Power connections were availed from the Rural Electrification Board initially, but they later set up their own power production system using a gas generator.

The water required for the gas generator cooling system is later recycled to produce hot water and so the environment is not affected. Even the wires across the resort are underground to ensure that nothing mars the lush green landscape.

Arifur Rahman said they received support from various government agencies at every step. Many persons, including former finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and Awami League leader Jahangir Kabir Nanak, were all very cooperative.

The whole resort area has around 37,000 to 38,000 plants. The resort has been made in such a way that the environment is not damaged. Steel bridges have been installed to connect one hill with another.

All this work was supervised by co-owner Abdus Salam. The government has given official recognition to their environment awareness and the breath-taking beauty of the resort. The company received the ‘Prime Minister’s National Award’ for tree plantation in 2014. It has a five-star licence from authorities as well.

Arifur said, “At first we had plans of setting up the resort differently, with less investment. Halfway through the project we realised that what we were building is extremely expensive. We didn't some more than just courage for such a huge task. However, when we realised how amazing it was going to be, all the expenses and hard work turned into sheer happiness.”

“We wanted to make sure that after arriving at the resort, no one would want to leave. We arranged all sorts of recreation so that the guests can watch movies, swim, go fishing, cycles or hike in the greenery. There are even arrangements if anyone wants solitude, to enjoy movies alone. There is also a special mural of Bangabandhu at the main square,” he added.

Arifur Rahman said Rabindra Sangeet exponent Rezwana Choudhury Bannya has been visiting and performing there for five years, except during the corona period. Up until now, about Tk 3 billion (Tk 300 crore) has been spent on this project. Almost 60 per cent of this money is a loan from Rupali Bank.

They have been repaying the loan in regular instalments even during the pandemic, Arifur Rahman said, adding, “In a developing country like ours, hospitality management is quite tough in the rural area outside of the capital Dhaka or other divisional town. Sometimes rumours crop up and there can be misconceptions among the people. Some people like to spread tall tales about their income and expenditure, most of which is fictitious.

Green Planet Resort has six shareholders -- Md Kamal Hossain, Lina Khatun, Abdus Salam, Abdul Awal, Iqbal and Arifur Rahman.

When asked about guest’s reactions of visiting the resort Arifur said, “Guests write their reviews in the media and based on those reviews, Tripadvisor on awarding the ‘certificate of excellence’. Since 2018 The Palace has received this certificate under resort category from Tripadvisor. We even became a super brand last year.”

Arifur believes, “Not even a fraction of beauty of country’s tea gardens has been fully unveiled. No other place is better than this for green and environment-friendly projects. There are many resorts in the world for which people wait eagerly to visit. I wish to see the Palace turning into a destination of such standards.”

“The Asian Highway that is supposed to be entering the country through Jaflong will go by the resort," he said, "Then foreign tourists will visit also with local tourists. Apart from that, work on the Dhaka-Sylhet four-lane highway has started too. When this finishes, it won’t take much time to reach Sylhet from Dhaka. At the same time, living standards of people in the villages and tea gardens around the resort will improve hugely. And that’s how Bangladesh will move forward."