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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Bangladesh opens lavish theme park
The main entrance to Fantasy Kingdom
The park is expected to fill a major recreational void
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By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka
line

A multi-million dollar theme park has opened on a 50-acre site near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, offering roller coaster rides, bumper cars and water sports to the general public.

A giant dinosaur stands guard at the park
Entertainment and education side-by-side

The park and its attractions, such as Speed Way, Giant Splash and High Way Convoy, have been specially designed to cater to the country's growing urban middle class.

"We wanted to give these people of Bangladesh some much-needed leisure facilities," says S M Kamal Uddin, Chairman of the Bangladeshi-owned Concord entertainment company, which is behind the venture.

"We're more than confident that we will recover the costs of our multi-million dollar investment," he says.

Incongruous project

Located on a greenfield site more than an hour's drive from Dhaka, the Disney-style theme park sits a little incongruously alongside paddy fields and villages that have no running water or electricity.

The theme park has a number of thrilling rides
The sponsors expect 5,000 visitors a day

On offer is everything the fun-lover would expect to find in a western theme park, right down to the hamburger bars, popcorn stalls and a large amusement arcade.

Critics argue the park itself is incongruous in a country where around half the population of 130m lives below the poverty line.

"While the backers of this project should be credited for taking steps to cater for this country's growing middle class and their high disposable incomes, it's not honest to say that a venture like Fantasy Kingdom is available to all Bangladeshis," says Atiur Rahman of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.

"After all, the vast majority of people will not be able to afford the minimum adult entry fee of around $3 - that's more than most people earn in a day.

But Mr Kamal Uddin says that while the project is geared towards the middle class - who have benefited over the last five years from an economic growth rate of around 5% - the needs of the less well-off have not been totally ignored.

"On Tuesdays we plan to make Fantasy Kingdom open to everyone," he says, "and we have provided a coach service from Dhaka to the site, which is not too expensive."

Razzmatazz

Mr Kamal Uddin said that he decided to locate Fantasy Kingdom more than an hour's drive outside Dhaka so that customers could escape the city's notorious pollution.

Rides are expected to attract visitors of all ages
Critics question the theme park's relevance

"Part of the reason why I have spent so much money on this initiative is because I am determined that Bangladesh should shed its image as an economic basket case, famed only for poverty, malnourishment and cyclones.

"The opening of Fantasy Kingdom is another sign to the outside world that economically Bangladesh has come in from the cold."

Evidence of his determination in this aim was clearly seen during the launching party for Fantasy Kingdom, which consisted of all the razzmatazz normally associated with America, rather than a conservative Muslim country like Bangladesh.

Mr Kamal Uddin announced then that he wanted to attract around 5,000 visitors a day to pay off costs estimated to be around $600m.

The various restaurants and take-aways on the site, coupled with plans to build a luxurious hotel, are by no means the only huge developments taking place in Bangladesh.

There are at least two or three even bigger projects under construction elsewhere in the Dhaka area.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alastair Lawson
"The park has been described as Bangladesh's answer to Disneyland."
See also:

27 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh TV faces possible closure
25 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh concern over porn spread
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
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