Don’t be tempted to visit Sri Lanka (even with those pretty beaches)

Sri Lanka is dying to get more tourists to visit the island paradise. Unfortunately for them, the country is a police state that tortures and imprisons opponents.

Nonetheless, Colombo wants to entice us with this:

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 Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, who battles to rescue his wife, Sita, who is held captive by an evil demon king who lives on 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.

According to the Independent, tourism figures are up but some remain reluctant to support a dictatorship:

Following the conclusion of the decades-long civil war against the LTTE, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa 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 per cent compared with the same month in 2009. There was a 25 per cent 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. Earlier this year, Mr Rajapaksa won an impressive victory in a presidential poll that secured him a further five years in office. Yet the authorities responded by detaining his main opponent, the former army chief Sarath Fonseka, and placing him before a military court accused of taking part in politics while still in uniform.

Many observers have also asked what the government is doing to reach out to the Tamil minority. In recent elections, turn-out in Tamil areas was very low, with many potential voters saying they saw little reason to go to the polls.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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