Back in January the New York Times featured Sri Lanka as its top travel destination of the year. An odd choice, considering the country is a police state and stands accused of murdering tens of thousands of its Tamil minority.
Not to worry, just enjoy a nice cocktail on a beach recently cleared of mines and bodies.
Now, the Times continues its tone-deaf journey, more fully featuring the island and while acknowledging the recent troubles simply sails onto recommending nice holiday spots:
The wounds are still fresh, as The New York Times found out after listing Sri Lanka as its top travel destination for 2010 (as the author of the entry, my e-mail in-box was bombarded with angry letters). The anger stemmed from the brutal way in which the Sri Lankan military ended the war last May. By some estimates, about 7,000 civilians, and possibly thousands more, were killed during the final battle. Hundreds of thousands were put in camps. The government remains in the awkward position of defending itself against accusations of war crimes while also trying to open up the country to foreign investors and vacationers.
But it is the country’s tranquil beauty that draws most visitors. “You don’t need to do a great deal to have the good life here,” said Ivan Robinson, a British real estate developer who refurbished a colonial manor in the south. “The rivers are full of fish. Fruit falls off trees.” Water buffalo graze beside Buddhist stupas. Elephants roam freely. And innkeepers warn guests to keep their windows closed to avoid pickpockets — not people, but monkeys swinging from the trees.
Then there are Sri Lanka’s famed beaches, crescent-shaped coves of white sand framed by colorful bungalows and bamboo groves. An unintended consequence of the war is the coastline’s lack of development. You can stroll past beat-up outrigger boats, which look like showpieces from a maritime museum, and past fishermen on wooden stilts. Or hike inland to discover hideaway guesthouses carved from old gem merchants’ homes, with mango gardens and infinity pools tucked into their courtyards.