by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

Crisis and restlessness are probably the opposite of sun and sand. The very smell of these words associated with a country in the news deters most travelers from visiting even the most enticing destinations. The wise traveler, however, spots opportunities, because not all crises are created equal. Some can, in fact, lead to a six-star vacation at a three-star price.

In other words, a European, for example, might consider the option of a four-month tropical vacation instead of paying a gas bill four times the cost of such a vacation. Therefore, today, if we were to mark countries in crisis on a map, the country that immediately meets these criteria would be Sri Lanka. The Covid-19 pandemic is a pandemic that hasn’t really gone viral around the world. About 40 tourists, mostly young backpackers on small budgets, found themselves stranded in Ella, 200 km east of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

Cafe owner Darshana Ratnayake knew that small guesthouses would soon run out of food due to broken supply chains and be forced to close. He offered free food and shelter to tourists. For Ratnayake, the decision was simple: “Our livelihood depends on tourism. We must help tourists when they are in difficulty. Money is not everything. We need to help and share in difficult times like this.

The Sri Lankan and Sri Lankan ways of this story are timeless. They have survived all sorts of calamities, man-made and natural, from floods, droughts, cyclones and a debilitating tsunami in recent years and, in the long run, half a millennium of colonial rule, more than 70 years of mismanagement after independence, two bloody insurgencies and three decades of war.Turmoil. It’s a word that seems to have become a ‘must have’ in all Sri Lanka-related news in recent months. There are others like crisis, bankruptcy, turmoil, turmoil, uncertainty, and default. These, for three months ending July 9, 2022, were often accompanied by visuals of mass protests.

A bloody overthrow or else a bloody crushing of dissent was on the cards. Neither happened. The people protest, a chief abdicates. A peaceful transition of power. A case study, in fact, of democracy in action, in constitutional terms and in spirit. Political change does not immediately translate into economic prosperity. This is especially true when antecedents are locked into institutional arrangements, established procedures and administrative cultures. Sri Lanka remains in the grip of an unprecedented crisis which, in addition to precipitating local processes, reflects global economic turbulence.

Human beings are resilient creatures, but it would be hard to find a people as resilient as those who live in Sri Lanka, an island that floats between the pearl and the teardrop of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka was known to other ages and long-gone peoples like Taprobane, Serendib, the breadbasket of Asia and the pearl of the Indian Ocean. It could also be called the spice island or the cinnamon island since Sri Lanka produces the best cinnamon in the world. Maybe Island of Smiles is also appropriate. And if a label is demanded, the best tea from the island in the world would work considering the priceless flavors of what is called Ceylon tea.

Tales dating back as far as the time of the pharaohs and indeed the legendary epics of India speak of the innumerable natural and human endowments of the island. They did not fail to mention the capacity of the people to bravely bear the blows of chance, the willingness to smile through disaster and to set aside personal tragedy at will in order to welcome and shower random strangers.

To sum it up more easily, through the good times and the bad, Sri Lanka is probably the only country in the world where two friends who have dined together and enjoyed an evening of easy conversation punctuated by frequent bursts of laughter have been fighting. to collect the check. This is happening all over the country. It should come as no surprise at the generosity of Sri Lanka, after all, which has been providing eyes to the world for decades, with hundreds of thousands of people volunteering for eye donation in the event of death.

Sri Lanka is in economic crisis, there is no reason to deny it. And yet, there is a Sri Lanka that has enchanted so many travelers over millennia and from every continent in a way that has made almost every one of them want to return again and again. This Sri Lanka stands firm, inflexible and continues to smile despite the trade imbalance, shortage of fuel, gas and fertilizer and other difficulties.

But what is this resilient, immobile and even unshakable Sri Lanka? What remains unchanged and undisturbed by descriptions such as turmoil, crisis, bankruptcy, turmoil, shortage and currency problems? Unfortunately, the answer cannot be given in a few hundred words, but an overview for those unfamiliar can be put together.

References to the physical and cultural attributes of Sri Lanka inspire the urge to visit, but they are nonetheless misleading. Sri Lanka is much more than the eight World Heritage Sites. This is in part because of a rich, varied, and multilayered history that stretches back far beyond the officially recorded events and personalities of two and a half millennia.

It is also partly due to a diversity of fauna and flora due to Sri Lanka’s enviable position as a tropical island in the Indian Ocean blessed with south-westerly and north-easterly winds and rains. , without forgetting a unique geography with three subdividable climatic zones. in no less than 46 ecological zones. Sri Lanka has the highest biodiversity per unit land area among Asian countries. The area’s tropical rainforests are home to almost all of the country’s endemic woody plants and about 75% of its endemic animals. And it’s not just rainforests; Sri Lanka has a striking variety of forest types through spatial variation in rainfall, elevation and soils.

One can imagine the range of exquisite culinary diversity that all this translates to. As someone pointed out, all fruits and vegetables grown in Sri Lanka, including those from distant lands, and even fish from Sri Lankan waters taste much better because of these multiple diversities. The economic crisis has taken nothing away from the relevant scents and flavors.

You may have heard of the World Heritage Sites such as Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Kandy and Galle Fort, each filled with exotic stories and equally remarkable archaeological treasures that speak of a rich heritage. Archaeological maps tell a richer story. The whole island is dotted with archaeological sites, each filled with references to chronicled history and each accompanied by legends conveyed and evidently embellished and enriched by oral tradition.

Fascinating are the many stories that remain on the periphery and beyond the tourist routes. It is an island that awaits and welcomes explorers and exploration. This island is not troubled by crises of any kind.

The central hills are also classified as “World Heritage Sites”, but there are hills and there are hills. The roads pass through tea plantations, where the delicate picking produces what appear from afar as lush, finely crafted carpets of greenery. They descend from forest lines of a darker hue and fall into vegetable gardens or rice paddies that sit among hamlets that seem to come from centuries-old folk tales.

There are other hills that rise from relatively flat terrain outside the Massif Central. They have their own unique histories and ecologies. Again, made to delight the explorer. Again, undeterred by economic downturns. There are religious and cultural performances throughout the year. There is dancing and drumming. There are chants from Buddhist temples and Hindu Kovils, the call to prayer emanating from mosques and hymns descending on adjacent communities from churches every Sunday and feast day.

There are pilgrimage destinations such as Adam’s Peak, revered by all religions, some who believe the footprint at the top is that of Adam, made when he was cast down from paradise, some who believe it is Lord Shiva and others as a mark left by the Buddha. Adam’s Peak has known travelers since ancient times. Adam’s Peak is as still as it gets. Indifferent to the economic crises that have sometimes engulfed the island and the world.

There are rivers, 103 of them all originating in the central hills, flowing radially to an ocean where the waves, calmed by coral reefs, crash into shallow waters fringed with golden sand. And each beach has its own character, each with its own special gifts, from surfing the brilliantly colored marine life among the corals to whale watching and diving the centuries-old shipwrecks. Insensitive to the crisis, of course.

All these places, all these festivities and this living heritage are populated. And they are always smiling. They know crises and troubles because they are the obvious recipients or victims of such things, but they survive and their ancestors have, with a good humor that eases the suffering of deprivation and an ethic of giving and hospitality as enchanting as anything you would encounter on the island. It is an island of smiles.

Sri Lankans, for example, were full of smiles when an Australian cricket team recently visited the island. They braved all kinds of shortages to fill stadiums. They were so grateful to Australians for ignoring horror stories on the island that they switched to Australian colours; the stadium was a riot of yellow, casting aside a long history of sporting antipathy. They were all smiling. Visiting Australians have essentially told a skeptical world a simple story: Sri Lanka is not only acceptable to visit, but it is a place of so many small miracles, all contained within less than 66,000 square kilometres.

Alex Degmetich, a 31-year-old American entertainment executive who benefited from Ratnayake’s largesse, said it well: “We were totally blown away. Coming from Western society, where nothing is really given to us and where we have to pay for everything that goes well. But here locals offer us tourists free food and accommodation, it’s really humbling.

Rebecca Curwood-Moss, a tourist from England, also a beneficiary, went further, referring to the meals offered by Ratnayake: “In the box, we not only found the delicious homemade rice and curry, but we found hope.”

There are things you can’t really give stars to. Sri Lanka is made of a million of these things. And there are hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans ready to reveal them all to you, one by one.


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