Sri Lanka looks for help from above to revive its post-war tourist trade

Authorities expect sites featured in ancient religious saga to draw holidaymakers

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.

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 Tamil Tigers) 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-god 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 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.

The UN has called for an inquiry into last year's military operation to crush Tamil rebels, amid allegations that both government forces and LTTE fighters may have committed war crimes. Up to 10,000 civilians died in the final stages of the war, but the government has rejected the call for an outside inquiry.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high