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Kaptai Lake: The Lake of Tears

Updated on September 11, 2014

Kaptai Lake History and Facts, Rangamati

Kaptai Lake is an artificial manmade lake located in Rangamati district under Chittagong Hill Tracts region, south eastern part of Bangladesh. The Rangamati town is hilly area surrounded by this beautiful overwhelming lake. It is a great tourist spot for tourists. Behind this charming lake there is a great dark history.

The reason for creating this lake is Kaptai Dam. It took place in 1957-1962, when as part of the Kaptai Hydro-electric project. A dam was constructed on the Karnaphuli River and the artificial Kaptai Lake was created.

Beneath this beautiful lake, once there was life for many indigenous people. Because of Kaptai Dam, thousand acres of land were submerged; indigenous people had to lose their lands, houses, future and their hope! One hundred thousands of people were evicted. A tragic event forced them to leave home and to become refugees, which the hill people or jummo people named "The Great Exodus".

Location & Description

Originating from the Lushai hills in Mizoram, India, the Karnaphuli river flows southwest through Chittagong Hill Tracts and Chittagong into the Bay of Bengal. An earth-filled dam on the Karnaphuli River, the Kaptai Dam created the Kaptai Lake.

The lake is full of amazing natural scenarios. Most part of the Rangamati town is surrounded by Kaptai Lake. But, Kaptai Dam it is located in sub-district called Kaptai Upazila under Rangamati District. The lake's surface area is 11,122 km, average depth is 100 feet (30 m) and maximum depth is 490 feet (150 m).

Kaptai Dam, Kaptai, Rangamati

Kaptai Dam, Kaptai, Rangamati
Kaptai Dam, Kaptai, Rangamati

Book - The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk - Indigenous people never destroy forest but rulers!

The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk
The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk

This book will focus about CHT's life and its nature. CHT is a beautiful region in South East Asia. Indigenous people here practice different agricultural method. But today its beautiful nature at risk because of some greedy people who are destroying CHT's forest and culture.


Brief Description of CHT

Have you ever heard of CHT before? The Abbreviation of CHT is Chittagong Hill Tracts. Chittagong Hill Tract is located in the southeast part of Bangladesh, bordering India and Myanmar. The area of CHT is 5,093 square miles. It comprised three hilly districts

1. Rangamati

2. Khagrachari

3. Bandorban

These are the three districts where indigenous people have been living for long time ago, even before British era.

It is the place where 90% of total population of indigenous people lives, in the whole Bangaladesh. They like to call them Jummo people. There are 12 indigenous groups live together with peace and harmony. These indigenous groups are Chakma, Marma, Chak, Tanchangya, Tripura, Bom, Pankhu, Mrung, Lushai, Kheyang, Mru and Khumi live here, who together like to be called as the "Jummo" nation. They have their own languages, cultures, customs and religions. The Chakma, Marma, Chak, Tanchangya, the vast majority of the hill people, are in Buddhist in religion.

List of Indigenous Groups live in CHT














During the East Pakistan period, a large hydroelectric power plant using Karnaphuli River was built in the Kaptai region in the 1960s. The construction process started in 1957 and fully completed in 1962. The dam’s water storage capacity is 11,000 km. The hydro-electric project was funded by the United States. The construction site was chosen at present location of the dam in 1951, under the guidance of then Chief Engineer (Irrigation) Khwaja Azimuddin. Two international organizations were involved while building this dam. The International Engineering Co. Inc. (IECO) was engaged for a study on the project and Utah International Inc. was selected as construction contractor.

About 670.8 meters long and about 54.7 meters high, the dam was completed in six years. The power plant produces a total of 230 megawatts of electricity.

Beautiful Landscape of Kaptai Lake

Book - Chittagong Hill Tracts: Living in a Borderland - A must read book to know about Indigenous people in CHT

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Living in a Borderland
Chittagong Hill Tracts: Living in a Borderland

This is an excellent book written by Willem van Schendel. The book consists of 400 mostly unpublished photographs with important information of CHT indigenous people. You will see their life style, nature and destruction in CHT, Public display of power and many unknown facts.


Condition before the Kaptai Dam

Rangamati town that we see now, is actually on hill tops. Rangamati seems surrounded by lake. But actually old citizens of Rangamati lived in plain lands.

In past, indigenous people used to have beautiful life, they lived happily and peacefully. Indigenous peoples of Rangamati hill district were wealthy. They had a very few insufficiency. Cultivation lands were fertile. Houses were full of rice, corps, and corn, cows, goats. The whole area was full of natural resources and wildlife. They almost had no poverty in their life unless the Kaptai Dam came as theirs life destroyer.

Hills surrounded by Kaptai lake

Effects of dam

Kaptai Dam is the one and only dam of Bangladesh that is used to generate hydro-electric power. It was a blueprint that plotted in the heartland of the indigenous Jummo people in order to break down the economic backbone of the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and in the name of so-called industrial development.

It submerged 54% (54,000 acre) of the best arable land and About 18,000 families with a total of almost 100 thousand Jummo people were also displaced from their ancestral hearth and homes. It swallowed 125 mouzas (specific land area) including the major portion of Rangamati town.

The palace of the king of the Chakmas was also flooded and is now under water. The former residents of the area claim they watched helplessly as their land and houses engulfed by surging water.

The reservoir inundated most of the fertile Karnafuli valley and large parts of Chengi, Kassalong and Maini valleys containing lush paddy fields and vegetable gardens.

Once, CHT was full of natural resources and wildlife. It had many rarest animals. Because the reservoir inundated many of the best forested valleys, most of the wildlife once comprised of wild elephant, peacock, bison, barking deer, wild boar, leopard, Royal Bengal Tiger, panther, etc. are not seen anymore. Elephant population has drastically decreased and the tiger species have gone totally extinct from the CHT.

On the other, though the government officials promised to the Jummo people during the construction of the dam that Jummo people would be provided job in the project and supplied free electricity. But it is unfortunate that neither jobs nor free electricity have been provided to the Jummo people.

Even the Chakma King's Palace could not survive!

Even the Chakma King's Palace could not survive!
Even the Chakma King's Palace could not survive!


It was pledged that affected indigenous people will be rehabilitated and they will get land as compensation but reality was they were not compensated with land. As a result 30-35 thousand people were forced to leave the country.

Rehabilitation Program was a cruel farce. American master plan allotted $60 million for full comprehensive economic rehabilitation of evictees of the Kaptai Dam. In a publication of the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1980, it was amply stated that the government set $31 million aside for rehabilitation. Only $2.6 million had actually been spent.

On 10 February 1963, indigenous leader, the awakening voice of Jummo people, Manobenro Naraion Larma protested against government of East Pakistan for unjustified and improper compensation and rehabilitation to the affected people of Kaptai Dam. The government detained him for 2 years in a prison cell. He was released from detention on 8 March 1965.

Unpleasant truth was, the Jummo's were citizen of East Pakistan. But had they been first class citizen it could never happen to them. How a state, a government, could act so irresponsibly.

The Kaptai hydroelectricity dam is one of hundreds of development projects across the globe where people have been victimized without any proper compensation. Water projects have created lots of problem throughout the world. The projects which were initiated in CHT in the sixties and were financed by the United States have gone against the interest of the indigenous Jummo people.

Hills and Kaptai Lake

Book - The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Militarization, Oppression and the Hill Tribes - Stop Oppression!

The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Militarization, oppression and the hill tribes (Indigenous peoples and development series)
The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Militarization, oppression and the hill tribes (Indigenous peoples and development series)

CHT history says indigenous people were happy in the past but today their life is full of misery.


Do you think that Indigenous people must get their own Rights?

See results


Due to Kaptai Lake shape of CHT changed dramatically. Kaptai Lake, so charming for tourists, for the people of Rangamati remains a "Lake of Tears". It was such disaster that still remains as a deep wound in collective psyche of hill or jummo people. At present, still jummo people in Bangladesh have not got their rights, though they got a very few right that is not enough. Until now Bangladesh government does not recognize them as INDIGENOUS people.

Photos of Jummo people

Here are some photos of jummo people.

Smiling Jummo Girl

Smiling Jummo Girl
Smiling Jummo Girl

A Chakma girl wearing traditional dress

A Chakma girl wearing traditional dress
A Chakma girl wearing traditional dress

Mru Indigenous People

Mru Indigenous People
Mru Indigenous People

Great movies based on Indigenous people - Watch these great movies! They are great.

The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans

A war is about to start between Mohicans and the British! Don't forget to watch this movie. Music of this movie is superb!

Whale Rider (Special Edition)
Whale Rider (Special Edition)

This movie is based on a Maori tribal girl. You will learn about Maori tribal tradition and culture while watching this wonderful movie.


A Vow

Let's protect their land, their language, their culture, their heritage, their religion and must above all PROTECT THEIR RIGHTS.

An Important message to the world

I am dedicating this lens for all the indigenous people in all over the world who are either enjoying their rights now or still fighting for their rights. I am with you all because I can see you; I can feel you; I can hear your crying voice.

Yours (Indigenous people) contribution to this world is immeasurable. If we deny their existence we deny our existence too. We all have equal rights to share this planet as we all are sons to this motherly planet. They don't want sympathy but Respect and Love.

Let's protect their land, their language, their culture, their heritage, their religion and must above all protect their Rights.

Image Credit: Wikimedia commons

New Guestbook Comments

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    • tazzytamar profile image


      5 years ago from chichester

      This is amazing and I learned a lot from reading this. Such a sad story - I really wish nature would be preserved more. Thank you for sharing

    • delia-delia profile image


      5 years ago

      What an interesting but heart wrenching story! It's sad to see this happening...when you see so many places developed to profit the wealthy at the expense of poor native people, they in turn's unconscionable!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Returning to pin this.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hadn't heard about this before - thanks for sharing.

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Very interesting background on Katai Lake. Thanks for the story!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens! I just published a new sports quiz I think you would enjoy!

    • chi kung profile image

      chi kung 

      6 years ago

      I wish native people were left alone and nature preserved!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My husband kept telling me how beautiful Chittagong is but we were in Bangladesh for 5 months work but just never found the time. Maybe in the future.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Well done to expose this tradgedy to the world.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful and sad.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Such a long lens with interesting informations.

    • BlogsWriter profile image


      6 years ago

      The evacuation of the people is tragic, I wonder what was the real idea behind this man-made lake. The name seems appropriate though.

    • Jogalog profile image


      6 years ago

      A very interesting read.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      wonderful read. appreciate your concern about indigenous peoples' right.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm glad you wrote this article. I didn't know about this before.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I enjoyed your lens so much. Sad though.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      6 years ago

      Lovely documentary and stand for Aboriginal rights

    • Jo-Jackson profile image


      6 years ago

      What is progress for one group is destruction for another. Similar things have happened in many other countries.

    • michalk lm profile image

      michalk lm 

      6 years ago

      Very well presented

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting topic! Very beautiful places.!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting facts!

    • cok666 lm profile image

      cok666 lm 

      6 years ago

      beautiful place and beautiful lens

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Had to return to enjoy your wonderful pictures again.

    • NoobWriter LM profile image

      NoobWriter LM 

      6 years ago

      Good informative lens. Good to read something new.

    • mskaarnes profile image


      6 years ago

      Seems like a beautiful place :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It's tragic that so much development has ruined so many people's lives. Thank you for publishing this lens that tells the story of the people who were displaced.

    • michalk lm profile image

      michalk lm 

      6 years ago

      beautiful lake

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 

      6 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Very interesting documentary article... but also sad. We seem to lose so much in the name of "civilization," and the dominant cultures everywhere on the planet-- Asia, Africa, the Americas-- always seem to lack the compassion to be able to see that perhaps "someone else's way" actually suits THAT group perfectly.

    • katiecolette profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful lake, but I think it was very unfair to take the land away from people who inhabited it. Great lens! Nicely done :)

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      6 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I enjoyed reading about these people.Thanks for sharing. Blessed by Squid Angel flinnie.

    • LornsA178 profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting lens, Kaptai lake is beautiful, it's so sad it has a tragic story. Great job!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful landscape !

    • Ninche profile image


      6 years ago

      This is really interesting and serious lens, so thank you for writing about it!

    • Camden1 profile image


      6 years ago

      What a tragic story behind such a beautiful lake.

    • jolou profile image


      6 years ago

      Well done.

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      6 years ago

      This is really interesting! Something almost exactly the same is going on where I live - except Canada is a much younger place, of course, so less damage was done when a big hydro-electric dam was built in the early 1960s and flooded all the communities in a big area of the river valley. Now the dam is coming to the end of its lifespan and the decision has to be made whether to rebuilt it at great cost and difficulty or to try to remove it and try to restore the area. I am glad I am not the one who has to make such a decision! Anyway, no palace was flooded when our dam was built - I can't begin to imagine the cultural treasures that are underwater at Kaptai Lake.


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