What Sri Lanka has done in the last couple of years is nothing less than a miracle. This country has put an end to 30 years of internal war and has succeeded in bringing people closer to each other or at least as much as it was feasible in a short time.
I will not indulge in the history of the conflict, but briefly saying it was an ethnic/religious conflict, which very successfully parted the people of this island state into two halves at the best if not more.
Although most of the observers and media lamented Sri Lankan effort to fight internal terrorism as conflicting with human rights and other such distant stuff, because it was only the people of Sri Lanka, who could rightfully justify or denounce the collateral damage incurred during the operation.
Talking to people here, we came to know that during these 30 odd years of internal disturbance things had gone so bad that children born in Jaffna (Northern Sri Lanka) could not travel to Kandy and children born in the Southern areas could not go to Jaffna for example.
But today things are different. Busloads of youngsters are travelling from Jaffna to southern cities and youngsters from the southern areas are travelling to the north. People born during those 30 years are exploring their own country anew.
In today’s Sri Lanka one doesn’t need to bother about the past war. If you come to this country as a tourist, you can feel safe going anywhere on the island. There are no no-go zones and in cities like Colombo or Trincomalee all that you feel is serenity and comfort. People are very hospitable and the country is ready to be rediscovered as heaven on earth.
The beautiful coastline of east Sri Lanka, the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura, the hills of Kandy and the old Portuguese city of Galle are all ready to welcome tourists and investors. A week in Sri Lanka offers more serenity than one can avail in years passed at other destinations.
Colombo is a bustling city, but even in Colombo one can wander around in any area, fearlessly at any time of day or night. Wandering around in Colombo one can’t even imagine that a few years back bomb blasts and other terrorist activities were a norm in this city and the country at large.
I think religious tolerance has played a major role in gluing back the torn apart society, because for example when you go to the Adam’s peak you will see Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus worshipping around the same footprint, which according to all of them belongs to different deities or people.
When you go to Kelaniya temple or Gangarama temple in Colombo, you will see statues of Hindu deities at the entrance and in the halls, although both of them are Buddhist temples. In this country of just 8% Muslim population, you see ample number of mosques and you hear Azaan and sermons. Religious tolerance is a characteristic, which can mend many of the societies, which face religious-ethnic problems.
Sri Lanka unlike the neighbouring tourist destinations is very inexpensive. The range of accommodation starts from 1000 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) and goes up with the addition of amenities. The country offers ample budget and luxury accommodation at guest houses, B&Bs and Hotels.
If you want to discover Sri Lanka by bus or train, you will be surprised to know of the low fares. A train ride to Trincomalee is just 900LKR if you opt for a sleeper, but you can also opt for 2nd class, which would cost even less. A bus ride within the city of Colombo costs from 10 LKR upwards according to the distance covered. A train trip from Colombo to Galle costs just 230 in a 2nd class car. A ride in the observation car of Colombo Kandy train gives you a chance to see the natural beauty of the island through a huge glass window. The interesting thing is that your seat faces that window so you have a panoramic view.
Now telling you about all these prices let me mention that 1US$ is app equal to 128LKR. Now you can understand how inexpensive it is to travel and live in this master piece of nature.
The most comfortable means of travelling is of course taking a private taxi. The taxi prices for intercity travel are definitely lot higher than train or bus prices, but comfort has to be paid for!
And if you are an adrenaline monger, rent a bike, motorcycle or a car and believe me you will have sufficient adrenaline rush for a long time, just travelling a 100 kilometres on mostly narrow intercity roads.
Food is another thing that inflates a traveller’s budget, but in Sri Lanka this commodity is also very inexpensive. You can find local cuisine, as well as Chinese and European cuisines. If you buy a portion of fish rice curry, it will cost you app 400-450 LKR and believe me a normal human being can’t even drink water after eating all this food. This set of food is comprised of a platter of rice, four vegetables a plate of fish curry and salad. All of this for a little more than 3.5US$.
The most interesting fact in all of the above mentioned and witnessed, for me as a Pakistani, is that Sri Lanka was assisted by Pakistani state institutions in curbing down terrorism and finally to eliminate the issue at a political level at least, But unfortunately within Pakistan we cannot still counter this situation. Probably we are not working on inculcating tolerance in the society? Or maybe we are not looking for any harmony or tolerance? Or maybe someone within the country is reaping the fruits of conflict?
Whatever the reason maybe, I am sure that I want to see Pakistan progressing into a harmonious society, just like I see Sri Lanka today.