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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trip to World Heritage Site of Sigiriya

Trip to World Heritage Site of Sigiriya
We, the four Rotarians, were brave enough to accompany a contingent of sixty members of the Inner Wheel District 328, Bangladesh drawn from different clubs of the District to attend their South Asian conference for the year 2010-2011 held on 23 and 24 April, 2011 in Habarana, a North West town from Kandy. The Inner Wheel's South Asia conference is held in the area once in three years. The next conference is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in the year 2013-2014.

Inner Wheel clubs are associates of Rotary clubs and are formed by the wives of the Rotarians. The Headquarters of the Inner Wheel is in Manchester, UK. The Inner Wheel District 328, Bangladesh comprises 28 clubs with over 660 members.

The route of the journey was -- Dhaka-Colombo-Kandy-Sigiriya Village Resort-Habarana-Colombo-Maldives-Chaaya Islands-Male-Colombo-Dhaka. The journey took us ten nights and eleven days.

In this write-up (heavily drawn from literatures available on the tour and the related websites), I will briefly touch on Sri Lanka, Colombo, Kandy, Maldives and Male but will present somewhat intrinsic details about World Heritage Site at Sigiriya, Sigiriya Village and Chaaya Island. I will also present history of tea, as I could come across from the varieties of tea and coffee menus available in the lobby of the Hotel Ceylon Continental, where most of us stayed while in Colombo, for the knowledge of the general readers.

I had a feeling that the journey would not have been complete without a visit to Sigiriya Village, Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Chaaya Island. It is recommended that those who are either on official or pleasure trip should not forget to visit those places.

Sri Lanka 

Sri Lanka has an area of 83,000 sq km, about half of Bangladesh with a population of only 21 million. For the last two years, they could maintain a growth rate of 8%. With the 30 years of war with LTTE over, people everywhere see a booming Sri Lanka now and in future.

The capital city is Sr Jawardenapura, Kotte, whereas Colombo is the island's business and commercial city. Sri Lanka is one of the most densely populated areas, only second to Bangladesh among the least developed countries in Asia. Seven per cent of the population is Muslims, Colombo's population is 650,000. The island is the fast growing tourist centre in Asia. Sri Lanka was selected as the lead country in tourism in BIMST-EC in 1998. Lanka's per capita income is around US$ 1,500; textiles, garments, tea, coconut, gems, diamonds, jewellery, rubber-based products are the prime export items.

During our 14 hours' journey on highways and sightseeing tours within Colombo and Kandy, we have not seen any beggars around, no street quarrel anywhere, not heard any honking of horns, not seen any overtaking, or parking vehicles here and there, no pile of logs or furniture or wood. 

I lost my mobile phone twice and could get them back even after several hours. On discussing this with one of the Sri Lankans, I could gather that every telephone has a unique number. On complaint of loss or theft to the appropriate authority, the phone itself is locked from further use inside Sri Lanka and, as a result, there is no use of stealing the instrument!

Even with wars on, they could build a deep seaport; roads are now being widened; 473 acres of sea are being reclaimed to build a modern town; tourism is booming and major five and four star hotels in Colombo are built facing the sea. Unlike the scenario in Cox's Bazar, no hotels are built within 200 yards from the shore.

Golfers should not forget to carry the golf set along. You can take some time off and make a dash to Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC) and play at least 9 holes.


'Kandy, the hill capital, is another World Heritage Site.' It can be compared with any European hill city. It was the last stronghold of the Sinhalese kings during the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule and finally ceded to the British in 1815 after an agreement. Close by are the remains of Royal Palace, Maha Wasala, Palle Wasala - where the queens stayed - now used for the National Museum.

If you are a golfer, do not forget to play golf at Victoria golf course. The certificate hung on the wall of the golf shop says, "It is the best golf course in Asia." It is about 1-hour one-way journey from the Hotel Mahweli Reach. Riding on the zigzag hilly road to the golf course will give you a feeling of travelling to Kaptai from Chittagong. But do not forget to carry plenty of balls, because there are plenty of bushes all around the golf course.

Sigiriya Village

Living in the Sigiriya village resort - imagine you are surrounded by chalet type rooms, greenery, various types of abundant Ayurvedic plants and trees, water bodies here and there, cottages on the trees, playground for the kids at a distance, and interconnecting pathways complete with a sprawling swimming pool - gives you a feeling of tranquility and calmness; if you complain of high level of stress present due to heavy workloads, and escalating demands in your occupations back home, you may return as a new person with soothing nerves, and yourself completely rejuvenated.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigriya is home to the 5th century 'Fortress in the sky' which is perhaps the single most fantastic wonder of the Island. People here tend to believe that it is the 8th wonder of the world. It is also known as Lion Rock because of the huge lion that used to stand at the entrance to the fortress. The huge rock rises almost to a sheer height of 700 feet.

On its summit are the foundations of what was once a great and sumptuous palace and gardens complete with swimming pool. On one of the stairways, the only known ancient work of Sinhala secular painting survived in the form of Frescoes of life-sized damsels in all the freshness and delicacy of their original colour.

Sigiriya dates back to 1-2 centuries BC. Monasteries Kasiyapa established a fortress in 473 AD and shifted the capital from Anuradhapur to Sigiriya. As one approaches the lion rock, one could still notice two fountains built then still flowing with water which are working on the principle of gravity and pressure. Two cisterns were built then on the two sides to control the water pressure.

As said before, up on the hill was the palace and down the hill was his playground, audience hall, and other functional activities.

An excavation done at the cave site called 'Aligula' has revealed evidence of pre-historic settlements of which thirty have been found and eight of them contain brahmi inscription.

The bodhi - tree shrine and the stupa in the boulder garden are monuments that testify to the second monastic phase after Kasiyapa.

Unfortunately, Kasiyapa (whose mother came from the common caste, and father was a king) ruled only for 18 years. His half-brother was all along against his ascending the throne. He came back one day with fighting force composed of South Indians and reached Habarana. As Kasiyapa heard about it, he proceeded towards Habarana with his army mounted on elephants.

On their journey forward, the elephants sensed marshy and muddy land ahead and began to retreat. Sensing this as an evil omen, the whole army retreated without a fight. On this, Kasiyapa killed himself. He killed his father before. Perhaps the guilt of killing his father overpowered his conscience at that point. 

On our return to Colombo, we visited the Elephant orphanage situated at the town Rambukkana - started in 1975 to house the abandoned and the wounded. The orphanage has grown to be a big family. The number of elephants has now increased well over 40 including the baby elephants brought from other areas and babies born in captive breeding programme. 

On the way, you pass through Krunegale - the coconut triangle - where the largest number of coconut trees are grown with preponderance of yellow coconut. Passing through this road, one may have a feeling of travelling through a garden, surrounded on both sides by flowers, banana, varieties of fruit trees. The ride is pleasant indeed.

History of tea

Tea is one of the major export items of Sri Lanka. It is famous for brand names like Dilmah, JAF, Earl Grey, Green Tea, Black Tea. While in Bangladesh Krishi Bank as a General Manager, I was also looking after about 150 tea gardens for meeting their financial needs.

I knew that tea was introduced to this part of the world by the British Raj. It didn't much occur then to know its history in detail. Perhaps I rather spent time much on financial matters. Now that I have come across on its history a little bit from my Sri Lankan trip, I have a feeling that I should present it for the benefit of those who want to know about it in detail.

The story of tea begins over four and a half thousand years ago. According to the Chinese Mythology, in 2737 BC, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, along with scholars and herbalists, was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled water. A leaf dropped into the water. Shen Nung, however, decided to try the brew. Incidentally, the tree happened to be the wild tea tree.

From the earliest time, tea was renowned for its properties as a healthy, refreshing social drink. By the 3rd century AD, many stories were being told and some had written about tea and the benefits of tea drinking, but was not until the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) that tea became the China's national drink and the word 'Cha' was used to describe tea.

The first mention about tea outside China and Japan is said to be by the Arabs in 850 AD and it was they who were reputed to have brought it to Europe via the Venetian Circa 1559.


It is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, formed by a double chain of 26 atolls (this chain of islands is in reality the tops of a vast undersea mountains - the atolls are composed of coral debris, live coral reefs and sand bars - this acts as a natural barrier against the storms and high waves of the sea, forming lagoons), featuring 1192 islands of which only 200 are inhabited. 

The atolls are dispersed over an area of 90,000 sq km, in geographic terms, the most dispersed country in the world. The country has a population of 300,000 people, with Male, the capital of the country, is inhabited by 100,000 people only.

The Maldives is the smallest Asian country by both size of population and land area. With an average ground level of 4 ft 11 inch above sea level, it is the lowest country on the planet. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world at 7 ft 7 inch and rising sea levels are a concern for the Maldives.

The first settlers date back to 300BC-300AD. 100% of the population is Muslim. No non-Muslim can be a citizen of the country.

Real GDP grew by 7.5% for more than a decade. Today, the Maldives' largest industry is tourism accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of its foreign exchange receipts. Fishing is the second leading sector. Recently, they are out of the LDC status.

Historically, Maldives provided enormous quantities of cowry shells, an international currency of the early ages. From 2nd century AD, the islands were known as the 'Money isles' by the Arabs. 'Monteria Moneta' was used for centuries as a currency in Africa, and huge amounts of Maldivian cowries were introduced into Africa by western nations during the slave trade. The cowry is now the symbol of the Maldives Monetary authority.

Chaaya Island

The island is a 30-45 minutes trip by speed boat from the Maldives' international airport. Once you arrive in the island paradise, life transforms. Tranquility envelopes you and leaves you fabulously rested. Life will never be the same again. Each day is more blissful than the previous one. Each day is a memory to be treasured. This is a holiday experience that will remain with you forever.

The warm waters of the azure sea are an ideal balm that lifts the spirits and calms the soul. Whilst perfect waves make the surfers an unforgettable experience, the clear water allows you to sample the beauty of the underwater treasure.

Celebrate the most memorable moment, standing on the soft white sandy beach surrounded by the preponderance of turquoise and blue waters studded with colourful corals and marine life. As you seek complete leisure and relaxation during holiday, soothing nerves for returning home are completely rejuvenated.

The in-house experience is unparalleled. There is an array of fabulous options for you. To select from the choice of accommodation varies from garden bungalows to beach and water bungalows, but each option is unique and memorable.

The gastronomical experience of freshly caught sea food awaits you. Apart from that you have a choice of culinary delights to tickle your tastes and leave you satiated.

Do not forget to go island hopping and submarine ride where you will discover underwater treasure and tradition and a way of life that is so different, among the natives of the nearby islands.

There are a lot of Bangladeshi workers in the island and in Male. According to them, they are the lowest paid employees, and their employment is off and on terminated in the absence of any relevant protocol between the two governments. A protocol is needed to be signed soon to protect their employment and wages. 

A K M Nozmul Haque
(A K M Nozmul Haque is the former Managing Director of Prime Finance and Investment Ltd.)
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Tourism returns to northern Sri Lanka

After 30 war-torn years, northern Sri Lanka is opening up to tourism. Is it too soon to visit its friendly villages and unspoilt beaches?

Beautiful, yet horrible. For much of the past 30 years, it seems to me, the island of Sri Lanka has lived in a similarly sour-sweet atmosphere. There is a smiling side to the place: a land of coconut-fringed beaches, jungled hills and a colourful culture that varying numbers of tourists have been prepared to visit, the variation depending on how much the other, much darker, side has intruded. And the other side has certainly been dark: suicide bombings, ethnic hatreds and cleansings, tales of death squads and unmarked mass graves; most of all the relentless, apparently endless, horror of a big bad war in the north.
But now that war is over. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) are defeated and their hopes of a separate Tamil state crushed. And with that defeat, millions of acres of pristine beach and jungle in the northern third of the island have opened up to the kind of tourism enjoyed by the southern part of the island for the past three decades.
A glance at a map of the north draws the eye to two obvious protagonists in the coming battle for the tourist dollar. In the far north there is Jaffna, with its huge lagoons and beaches, but that area is still tricky to access, requiring a permit. On the west, there is Mannar island, a 35km spit of sand and coconut trees connected to the mainland by a causeway. Mostly inhabited by Tamil Catholics, it was always government-held during the war, but often surrounded by Tigers territory. Both sides in the conflict committed atrocities: in June 2006, after an attack by the Tigers left 30 sailors from the Sri Lankan navy dead, the church in a nearby fishing village called Pesalai came under a hail of gunfire that killed six people. Locals and independent witnesses held the navy responsible.
It is to Pesalai that I am heading with Sidantha, for a homestay arranged by Sri Lankan specialist tour operator Experience Travel. Homestays are still a rarity in these parts, where tourism is starting from almost zero.
No tourists for 3 decades
“There haven’t been tourists in Mannar for three decades,” says Sid. “Someone said two Dutchmen turned up on bikes last year, but apart from that, nothing, till you.” Watch out for new editions of guidebooks because change will come quickly.
It is late at night by the time we rattle across the causeway and pass Mannar town, a dilapidated former colonial outpost and the main settlement on the island. The Portuguese built a fort here in 1560, no doubt drawn by the presence of rich pearl beds in the shallow seas nearby. It’s not pearls we want, however, but cold beer, something not easily found as there are no bars, only unmarked beer shops tucked away down darkened lanes. Eventually we locate one by the crowd outside: boys selling roasted chickpeas wrapped in scraps of newspaper, and tipsy fishermen who shout good-natured greetings.
We buy supplies, then negotiate the last 15km to Pesalai. Our house is a simple bungalow in a sandy lane surrounded by coconut palms. We wash in delicious cool water hauled up in a bucket from the well, say a brief hello to our hosts, who live opposite, and fall asleep in seconds.
Everyone has a story
Rohan wants me to try a local favourite, curried squid, and goes off in search. Sid and I get some breakfast: tea and rotis, all the time saying hello to people eager to talk. One man takes me to see the church: a pink wedding cake of a building pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel wounds. Everyone here has a story: a house flattened by explosives, a family member abducted and never seen again, or – more often – the urban-legend-tale of the man who got away and is now sending money back from Europe or America.
Out on the other side of the island, a few miles away, we find the fishermen working with beach nets: singing and hauling together on long lines to pull in a vast silvery bag of fish. I join in, at least for the pulling, not the songs. These people look wiry and fit: products of a lifetime eating just fish and rice. There has not, to be honest, been a great deal else for a long time. The beach is perfectly clean and natural, the waves gentle – unlike on the east coast of Sri Lanka, which can be dangerously rough.
Further along the broad beach we meet a community of Singhalese fisher people who spend a season here every year, living in palm thatch huts and catching the seasonal fish runs. Everywhere I’m made aware of how intertwined and interdependent the people are. There are Tamils married to Singhalese, Hindus to Christians or Buddhists. Our host family are Singhalese who came from the south 60 years ago, settled on Mannar and became – linguistically and culturally – Tamil. In a war that was driven by ethnic mistrust and racist propaganda, they suffered. Now, however, they look like a hope for the future.
Untouched by tourism
A couple more days on the island are spent eating seafood, visiting sites such as the ancient baobabs brought by Arab seafarers from Africa in the 15th century and the supposed graves of Adam and Eve at the tip of the island, near what is known as Adam’s Bridge – a series of sandbanks that lead all the way to India 20 miles away. If and when a promised ferry service from Mannar to India begins, the island will undoubtedly clamber aboard the backpacker trail, losing perhaps a little of its charming naivety. For the moment, it is untouched by tourism: I’ve only been here a short time, but people wave and shout greetings like I’m an old friend. It’s this sense of being absorbed, easily and comfortably, into a community that creates the magic in this place.
On a long beach we find the ruins of a house built by the first English governor, Sir Frederick North, in 1804. It has now mostly tumbled into the waves. In the nearby village of Arippu there are further poignant reminders of former times in the 17th-century Dutch fort. First is a grave – “Charles Lays – died of sunstroke 1878” – and then a plaque for Robert Knox, an English sailor who was held captive on the island by the Rajah of Kandy for 19 years before he managed to escape to this lonely Dutch outpost in 1679. Back in London he wrote a bestseller and the first account of the island in English, incidentally introducing the word Buddha to the English language. Knox’s experiences also helped feed the newly coined ideal of a tropical island as a paradise, the very ideal that drives much of Sri Lankan tourism today.
Contrast marked
My time on Mannar is over and I head across the island, dipping south into what is, and was, tourist territory. The contrast is marked: less military and police, more traffic and bustle. The people are certainly more accustomed to visitors. I stop at two lovely eco-retreats: first the Mudhouse, a place that is gathering a reputation for superb service matched with total simplicity. I sleep under a thatched shelter and mozzie net in the middle of the jungle, waking to birdsong and a man on a bicycle with a tea tray. The second is Back of Beyond, a good wildlife and bird-watching jungle retreat at Pidurangala, equally simple and handy for visiting the mountain fortress at Sigiriya and the superb cave temples of Dambulla.
Heading north and east to the coast, I’m back into what were Tigers danger areas, but now the problem is flood-damaged roads after a particularly heavy monsoon season. Nevertheless, freedom from war has brought big ambitions for tourism. Many hotels are being proposed, some of them vast and costly. Despite the fact that most development is coming from Singhalese businessmen, often with political connections, local Tamils that I spoke to did not mind. Even at Santhively, near the east-coast port of Batticaloa, where fishermen are being evicted from the beach, ostensibly to prevent tsunami losses, but coincidentally to make way for a hotel, they are welcoming the construction. “It’s good,” they tell me. “We want progress.” What benefit they will ever get remains to be seen.
At Trincomalee, a vibrant port city possessed of a magnificent anchorage, I bump into Mark Davis, gardener with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. “We couldn’t get in here for 20 years,” he tells me. “It was just too dangerous.”
The cemetery holds 362 graves from the second world war. Mark’s workers are young men, the sort who not so long ago might have expected to be fighting themselves on one side or the other. Now they are eagerly learning the trade of gardening, discussing plantings and turf types. For all the talk of tourism development, it seems appropriate that the most peaceful and uncontroversial first steps in economic progress that I have found are taking place here, in a war cemetery. (The Guardian)

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Sri Lanka - Island full of surprise

Sri Lanka gave us the word serendipity. Now back on the tourist map at the end of two decades of strife, it’s a place where a short train journey brings you from ivory beaches to lush hill country, writes TOM FARRELL 
IT IS TEMPTING to think of Sri Lanka as little more than an island offshoot of India. It appears as such on the map: a precious stone in the Indian Ocean, just east of the point where its huge neighbour tapers into the tropical seas.
But Sri Lanka (traditionally Ceylon) looks, smells and sounds different. I have been making trips there since the 1990s, and for me, it retains a profound sense of otherness. Moreover, it has never taken me more than two or three hours on a train or bus to exchange ivory beaches, fringed by coconut palms, for the damp lushness of the hill country with its spice gardens and rolling tea estates.
On most of my flights to the capital, Colombo, usually with Qatar Airways or Air Lanka, arrival has been just ahead of the dawn. Sadly, time is no deterrence to the touts who congregate around Bandaranaike International Airport. If a hotel has been booked, a few extra dollars is worth paying for a taxi. Otherwise, head for the public buses and avoid “bargains” being hawked around the terminal.
For a long time, thanks to the now defeated Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka had been largely off the tourist map. After 26 years of civil war ended in May 2009, the checkpoints and searches meant to protect Colombo – not always successfully – from Tiger suicide bombers, are just a memory.
The British departed Ceylon in February 1948 but amid the snarl and smoke of Colombo’s streets, an architectural facade will often evoke Victorian Manchester or Liverpool. With the end of the war, much of the old city is likely to go before the wrecking ball, as foreign investment pours in. One place, however, where the ghosts of the Raj won’t be exorcised is the Galle Face Hotel.
In all the time I have been visiting Colombo, KC Kuttan, one of the world’s oldest hotel doormen, has been at the main entrance. A diminutive man who sports a bushy Colonel Mustard moustache and almost weighed down with the badges guests have pinned upon his white uniform, Kuttan has escorted them all up the steps: kings, politicians, artists and photographers.
Indeed a nearby plaque names a few of the more illustrious guests: Emperor Hirohito, Richard Nixon, Roger Moore and Yuri Gagarin. “There used to be just the Galle Face in the old days,” he has told me, “now many hotels.”
But not many hotels have a colonnaded courtyard where you may dine on rice and devilled crabs. Or witness a multicoloured sunset while the turbulence and spray of the Indian Ocean flings itself against the nearby sea wall.
As in Ireland, one of the major challenges facing the country has been the peaceful co-existence of two cultures. In the south, west and centre of the island, the Sinhalese predominate: tall, relaxed and Buddhist. The northern and eastern fringes of Sri Lanka are inhabited by Tamils: shorter, darker and industrious.
Although easily reached by public bus, I took a hired car out to the north central province. Sigiriya, a rock fortress built during the later fifth century AD, was visible from miles away, as if Ayres Rock/Uluru had been set down amid the tropical flatlands.
We came to a halt near the crowded entrance and nearby, I spotted a western family perched atop a slowly plodding elephant with a mahout at the rear. According to legend, the Sinhalese king, Kassapa, had seized power in AD 473, walling his own father up alive and forcing his half brother and the legitimate heir to flee to India. The rock fortress was conceived and built as a kind of castle cum penthouse, looming 200 metres above the ground.
Passing through the ticket booths, I acquired a guide for a few extra dollars, the approach passing the crumbling remnants of royal water gardens.
We detoured up a spiral stairway and into a protected gallery, where the Sigiriya damsels reclined across the rock wall. There were once nearly 500 of them but the roughly two dozen that remain are vivid in their colours and details, their languid sensuality at odds with the ascetic character of Buddhism, Sri Lanka’s majority religion.
Sigiriya means “lion rock” and the visitor will discover the reason why at the northern end: a stairway rises towards the summit, flanked by two huge stone paws. Sadly, the lion’s head and gaping maw through which the summit was reached, crumbled away centuries ago.
Nevertheless, struggling with my vertigo, I joined the sluggish train of bodies making their way up the metal steps. The 1.6-hectare summit has a surviving bathing pool and foundations: I sat down and gazed across the humid jungle canopy as Kassapa must once have done.
The relative smallness of Sri Lanka (slightly smaller than Ireland but with a population of 20 million) makes travel between its historic sites an easy matter. After Sigiriya, I drove to Polonnaruwa. One thousand years ago, a city flourished here. Bleached by the tropical glare, the ruins of its many palaces, temples, shrines and bathing pools survive.
When I made my first visit to Polonnaruwa in 1995, I hired a bicycle and made a more leisurely tour of the ruins. Although the stinging sunshine and adrenalin boost gave that trip an extra edge, my latest visit in an air-conditioned car made things a little easier.
And on my latest trip to the stone Buddhas of the Gal Vihara shrine, I found myself amidst pilgrims as a monk in orange robes chanted incantations. Whatever blessings he conferred upon me were unexpected. Then again, the very word “serendipity”, the faculty of a chance lucky discovery, is derived from serendib, the name given to Sri Lanka by Arab mariners during the Middle Ages.
On my last visit, I took one of the spartan but punctual trains to Kandy, a city of around 100,000 people nestled within the misty hills of the central highlands. This area was the last part of the island to fall to the British in the early 19th century. Low caste Tamil labourers were imported from southern India to work on tea estates. Some of the tea factories are open to visitors and on the slopes around the buildings, female labourers, baskets tied to their backs, still pluck away at the bushes.
Overlooking the lake in the centre of Kandy is the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth), said to house an incisor of the Buddha himself in a casket. If a visit to Sri Lanka coincides with the August full moon, it is all but mandatory to get to Kandy in time for the Esala Perehera festival.
As evening descends, lines of drummers, acrobats and jugglers will traverse a specially cleared route, blowing into conch shells, pounding drums and twirling wheels of fire. By night time, up to 60 elephants, adorned in capes studded with electric lights, will plod along after them.
Each elephant resembles a shuffling Christmas tree on four legs. Watching them pass, with the air smoky and shimmering and with the drums roaring, there is a sense of having dropped out of the 21st century and into a place of dark, primordial exuberance.
THE COASTLINES of the island, lashed by the December 2004 tsunami, are again alive with tourist activity. The east coast, once out of bounds, is earmarked for post-war redevelopment. The eastern port city of Trincomalee, encroaching upon seven scallop-shaped bays, was called “the finest natural harbour in the world” by Horatio Nelson.
I took a train to Trincomalee, my first visit since the end of the war. A decade ago, confined to one of its few guest houses after evening curfew, I listened to the thump and rumble of artillery as the navy retaliated against a seaborne attack by the Tamil Tigers.
Now, with new hotels and guest houses appearing, it is perfectly possible to drive out of the town to expanses of ivory beaches, indulging in some snorkelling later on. Wherever you go, there are bound to be surprises. Such is the way of an island that gave the English language the word serendipity.
Sri Lanka Where to . . . 
Where to stay 
The Galle Face Hotel in Colombo (gallefacehotel.com) and Queen’s Hotel in Kandy (queenshotel.lk) offer a colonial atmosphere.
The Colombo Hilton (hilton.com), Lanka Oberoi (oberoihotels.com) and Taj Samudra (tajhotels.com) are top range hotels in Colombo but most major towns in the country offer budget hotels and guest houses. Accommodation becomes more basic the further north and east you travel.
Get there 
The Middle Eastern Airlines offer the best deals on flights, usually via the United Arab Emirates. Etihad (etihadairways.com) and Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) offer flights to Colombo starting from €890. Also try Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) and Sri Lanka Airlines (srilankan.aero).
Don’t forget 
Malarial prophylactics are advised for travel to Sri Lanka, as are insect repellent and sun cream.
The wet season alternates between different regions of the island with rains in the south and west during the summer months and in the north and east during the winter months.
Vaccinations against typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A are recommended. Consult your doctor before travelling.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sri Lanka Tourism launches home stay programme

To supplement the demand for accommodation at various tourist destinations in the country, Sri Lanka Tourism launched the Home Stay and Bungalow program adding another exciting segment to present accommodation categories. 
At present Sri Lanka Tourism has recognized 1-5 star class hotels, guest houses, Ayurveda hotels, eco lodges, apartment hotels, boutique villas and hotels, and camping sites. Commenting on the Home Stay and Bungalow program, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism said: "This is a different approach to provide clean, comfortable and affordable supplementary accommodation to tourists. They will have an opportunity of an engaging experience of customs, traditions, authentic cuisine and other attractions of the location, while staying with the local host, thus giving them a memorable experience during their holiday; and it will help us to reinforce one of  our key  pillars in positioning, the 'Authenticity' of our tourism product".   Home Stay and Bungalows once approved by the Standards & Quality Assurance division of Sri Lanka Tourism will be duly publicized. An accommodation guide listing all registered Home Stay properties and Bungalows will be issued to enable both domestic and foreign tourists to avail themselves of this facility.
Sri Lanka Holiday Homes www.srilankastay.com
The objectives of the program are to provide accreditation to the Home Stay and Bungalow category, broaden the stakeholders base in tourism, expand the benefits of tourism to the community, as well as to support the demand for supplementary accommodation in urban areas, and provide employment and economic benefits to the local community.
Sri Lanka received 654,000 tourists in 2010. This figure is expected to go up to 750,000 tourists (in 2011). The Home Stay and Bungalow program is expected to generate about 1000-1500 rooms immediately.
Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said "The Mahinda Chinthana has clearly identified that benefits of all economic development will have to go down to the common people. The Home Stay program will enable the community to get directly involved in the tourism industry and derive its benefits, and will further enable us to take tourism to a higher level of success".
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has come out with criteria to inspect and register such establishments and all required information can either be collected from the Quality Assurance division or downloaded from www.sltds.gov.lk .
Commenting on the new scheme Dileep Mudadeniya, Head of Standards & Quality Assurance and Investment said: "New rooms which are under construction will take another 2 years to   come to the market. But we have untapped potential for Home Stays and Bungalows that can be turned immediately into accommodation units to meet the immediate demand. Further, this is a well known accommodation category in Europe, and even in India, and our visitors are familiar with the concept.''
While any  private house in good condition with owners occupying the same house and located in an easily accessible part of the country will primarily qualify to register as a Home Stay unit, unoccupied houses with cooking/meals (and other guest service) facilities are categorized as Bungalows. The house shall fulfill the minimum requirements of the Home Stay scheme including having one or more rooms for accommodation, with each room having separate attached bathroom facilities. Interested parties are at liberty to submit fresh proposals for approval for setting up Home Stay/Bungalow units in suitable locations, under the supervision Sri Lanka Tourism.  As part of the program  Sri Lanka Tourism will also be providing a training for all Bungalow and Home Stay owners  covering areas such as on-line marketing, house keeping, cooking with focus on guest satisfaction, kitchen hygiene, storage of food, garbage disposal,  preparation of authentic cuisine, emergencies etc .
Venture Holiday Home www.srilankastay.com 
Etisalat has come forward to promote and distribute this concept via a dedicated portal. "In the current context, the online medium has by-passed many traditional channels and real world barriers reaching the global customer at a minimal cost. Home-stay portal will enable local property owners to market their home-stay online and attract potential tourists with just a click. In the long run, we are aiming at providing knowledge to them which will help them in improving their services and standards. Our vision & mission had always been geared towards extending people's reach via advanced technologies. I strongly believe that this initiative will be a success and we are delighted and honored to be part of this initiative to empower Sri Lanka tourism sector to be the wonder of Asia" CEO Etisalat Sri Lanka, Dumindra Rathnayaka said.
Regional Development Bank (RDB ) has come forward to provide limited  loan assistance for the concept. Commenting on the program Chairperson of the RDB Janaki Kuruppu, said "At RDB we believe in Empowering Sri Lankans" to achieve economic development of their families.  We are the only 100% GOSL owned bank serving the real SME sector, with a reach of over 200 service points in rural Sri Lanka alone.  We are always on the lookout for ventures that will appeal to our target customers.  We feel the type of household that will go for this "Home Stay" concept will be very much within the reach of our customer base and will be a great opportunity for them.  This is the only way that the country's macro economic growth can be shared with the common people."
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) invites all Sri Lankans who have well located, attractive and suitable bungalows and homes, with minimum required standards, in various parts of the island to come and register with Sri Lanka Tourism.
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