News: Hop around Sri Lanka; how to get by in Central Asia

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The Independent Travel

Hop around Sri Lanka

Hop around Sri Lanka

Few airlines have seen such turmoil as SriLankan. For many years its domestic network was effectively closed down by the civil war, and in 2001 much of the airline's fleet was destroyed by guerrillas at its main base in Colombo. But following two years of relative stability, the airline has now re-started flights to destinations around the island.

Initially, the services are using small aircraft in an air taxi-style operation. Sri Lanka's roads and railways are in poor condition, and these services offer substantial time savings: the hop from Colombo to the eastern port of Trincomalee saves about six hours on the road or rail journey. But travellers will pay a high price: the flight costs $150 (£90), based on a minimum of four people travelling.

SriLankan Airlines has also launched a range of scenic tours, allowing visitors to view Sri Lanka's highlights in a one- to two-hour flight. The various packages cover the beaches of the south coast, the hill country and the Cultural Triangle, offering a bird's-eye view of the island's holiest mountain, Adam's Peak; the highest town, Nuwara Eliya; and the Lion Rock at Sigiriya. Fares start at $100 (£60), based on eight people sharing an air taxi. You can book through a travel agent, SriLankan Airlines on 020-8538 2001, or at www.srilankan.aero.

* Dengue fever is spreading rapidly in Sri Lanka. According to the travel medicine specialist Masta, 9,500 cases and 60 deaths have been reported in the past six months. There is no vaccine for dengue fever; travellers should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Masta also reports an outbreak of typhoid in the Jaffna region of northern Sri Lanka, and says that outbreaks of cholera are also occasionally reported.

Rebecca Matthews

How to get by in Central Asia

"Make it harder for police on the take by speaking only in your own language," recommends a new guidebook to Central Asia. While in most countries travellers look to police officers for help and protection, some officials in the former Soviet Central Asian states appear prone to harass visitors for cash.

The authors of the new edition of Lonely Planet's Central Asia (£17.99) recommend that travellers should never allow themselves to be taken out of the public eye, for example into an office or the shadows - though they point out that most extortion is carried out by "intimidation rather than violence". Travellers should make a scene if threatened by police, "provided they are not drunk".

The book covers Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - where another branch of officialdom makes life uncomfortable: "Turkmen customs officers will probably take you apart."

For the first time, the book includes a chapter on Afghanistan. Sights recommended in Kabul include the "Ariana Graveyard", or what little remains of the national airline's fleet. Since bombardment of the airport in 1992, "smashed fuselages and undercarriages lie twisted among the airport buses".

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