Monday, April 19, 2010

Sri Lanka Tourism - Sri Lanka woos Indian tourists

A year after the defeat of Tamil rebels who had made parts of Sri Lanka a no-go area, the island hopes to entice tens of thousands of tourists to places that appear in one of Asia’s most celebrated religious sagas.
Tourist officials have identified and collated more than 50 sites said to feature in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic more than 2,000 years old. The saga tells the story of the legendary king Rama who battles to rescue his wife, Sita, who is held captive by an evil demon king who lives in what is today Sri Lanka.

With an eye specifically to attracting Indian visitors, tourism officials in Colombo believe the trips to palm-fringed beaches and unspoilt jungles can be seamlessly combined with tours of the places where Rama fought - and defeated - the powerful demon, Ravana.

“Local legends that have come down for centuries seem to confirm the authenticity of these sites,” said Asoka Perera of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

Among the sites included in the trail are Ashok Vatika, where Sita was held captive, and which has been identified as the modern-day Hakgala Botanical Garden, close to the resort town of Nuwara Eliya, and the Chariot Path, near the town of Kandy, used by Ravana when he took Rama captive.

The country has been able to draw visitors to such renowned sites as Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress, and Polonnaruwa, the country’s capital a thousand years ago. But some of the sites are in the north and east of the island, parts of which were under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or else off-limits to visitors. One such place that can now be easily reached is Talaimannar, situated at the tip of Mannar Island and the point where Adam’s Bridge - the string of coral reefs and shifting sandbanks that connect India with Sri Lanka - starts.

This bridge was supposedly built by the monkey-commander Hanuman, who then crossed over from India with his army to help rescue Sita. Another northern location in the trail is Ritigala, which is associated with the episode in the Ramayana where Hanuman is sent to the Himalayas to fetch a medicinal herb.

Following the conclusion of the decades-long civil war, the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse announced its intention to try to increase sharply the numbers of overseas visitors. Earlier this year, the authorities said that the number of visitors in January was up by more than 30% compared with the same month in 2009. There was a 25% increase in British visitors to the island.

Some potential visitors could still be deterred by concerns about the government’s actions against dissidents and political opponents. The Independent

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