India restarts ferry to Sri Lanka after 30 years of civil war

Sri Lanka, Scotia PrinceSri Lanka is still recovering after a long and brutal civil war that started in 1983 and only ended two years ago. The fight between Tamil separatists and the government left 100,000 people dead, many of them civilians, and there were accusations of war crimes on both sides. The government won and the island nation is now beginning to rebuild.

A sign of that rebuilding is the relaunching of passenger ferry service with India, which had been suspended for 30 years due to security concerns. The first boat left from Tuticorin in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu last night and arrived in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo this morning. The boat is called the Scotia Prince, can carry 1,000 passengers, and is fitted with a restaurant and casino. The Scotia Prince last hit the news when it rescued thousands of Indians and Sri Lankans from the war in Libya.

Flemingo International, the company running the India-Sri Lanka route, says their service will do two round-trip journeys a week and provides a cheaper alternative to flying. Travel to Sri Lanka has been increasing since the end of the civil war.

A second ferry will start soon, operated by the Ceylon Shipping Corporation.

[Image of Scotia Prince courtesy Rama]

Travel to Sri Lanka grows, along with obstacles for tourism

Travel to Sri LankaSince the end of the Tamil Tiger confilct in May 2009, travel to Sri Lanka has been increasing, with the country celebrating their 600,000th foreign tourist last month. This year, 700,000 are expected with tourism growing to 2.5 million a year within 5 years, reports the BBC. “The nature has blessed us with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and historic places. We as a nation have a reputation for our hospitality,” says Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka‘s Minister of Economic Development. While the increase in visitors is welcome, Sri Lanka is experiencing some growing pains and challenges as a tourist destination.

India and the United Kingdom are currently the largest sources of tourists, though now it is claimed that the Eastern European tourists who came during the confict are being ignored in favore of Western travelers. Russian-speaking tourists are being turned away in the tourist boom, hotel prices have soared, and Russian guides complain of lost income. A proposed change in the visa process could discourage more visitors, though the government claims the new system is designed to help travelers.The visa can currently be obtained for free on arrival for citizens of 78 countries including the United States. Similar to the Australia electronic visa, the new visa process would be done from your home country online. Approval would take 24-72 hours and “special facilities” would be provided on arrival for tourists with the online visa. An added fee could potentially dissuade visitors who could instead spend their vacation dollars at a free visa destination.

The government hopes to allow tourism to develop naturally without direct intervention, though some small businesses feel they are struggling while larger-scale projects are planned. In northwest Sri Lanka, an adventure tourism zone is being developed with whale watching, scuba daving, and an underwater vistor center. A similar Tourism Promotion Zone is in the works near the country’s international airport to capture a similar transit market as Dubai, and increasing Sri Lanka’s flights as a major Asian hub.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Planning to travel there now that warnings have ceased? Leave us your experiences in the comments.

[Photo of Sri Lanka’s Pinewala Elephant Orphanage by Flickr user Adametrnal.]

Anthony Bourdain enjoys Sri Lankan street food in the below video.

U.S. State Department travel warnings. Useful or useless?

How useful are those U.S. State Department travel warnings? If you read too many, you might become scared off of travel all together.

As Carol Pucci points out in a recent Seattle Times article, politics and economics might play into U.S. State Department travel warnings and recommendations. This doesn’t mean that, if there is a travel warning for a particular country, you should poo poo it as nonsense, and not proceed with caution when making plans. Perhaps, though, the travel warning isn’t totally warranted. Pucci suggests checking other government’s travel warning venues, such as Canada’s, Australia’s and the United Kingdom’s.

Sometimes, even when a warning might be a good idea, the country does not make the travel warning list. Pucci cited India as an example. Consider this:

Just recently, less than a month ago, there was a bombing at Connaught Place in New Delhi, a part of the city that boasts United Coffee House, my favorite restaurant for samosas and drip coffee.

It is a gem of a place that dates back to the early 1930s. The colonial architecture with an Art Deco twist is superb. Connaught Place is popular with tourists, but is also part of the finance industry and is near government offices.

When I lived in New Delhi, two terrorist attempts were thwarted close by where I frequented. Our response, as well as everyone I knew, was to toodle around like normal.

Pucci makes the observation that despite the 140 people who have been killed in India since May due to troublesome unrest, India isn’t on the warning list.

Click on the link for the countries that are on the list. Israel is one of them–so is Nepal. A friend of mine who recently returned from Israel recently emailed me about the great time he had. Other friends of ours moved to Nepal a year and a half ago and haven’t had any problems that I’ve heard of.

The best advice I have–if you want to visit a country that is on the list, is find out which part of that country is a safety concern and avoid those areas. When we went to Sri Lanka, for example we flew into Colombo, but left for other towns and had an absolutely safe, marvelous time. Perhaps, Colombo would have been perfectly fine, but the sites we wanted to see were elsewhere anyway.

If you can swing it, go to United Coffee house. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out.

Word for the Travel Wise (10/15/06)

Sri Lanka FlagIf time and money aren’t issues for you and say a fun travel companion then I suggest booking a first-class ticket over to the tiny tear-drop shaped island of Sri Lanka for Deepavali happening on October 21, 2006. Deepavali also known as Diwali is the ‘Festival of Lights’ which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. The event lands on a Saturday this month.

Today’s word is a Sinhala word used in Sri Lanka:

Senasuraa da
– Saturday

English is spoken by ten percent of the population and Sinhala is the official and national language of the country. I’ve actually never tried to learn this one much, but judging from the alphabet it looks like a challenge. Omniglot has a great starter page on learning all the characters and use of this English to Sinhala dictionary could slowly help in distinguishing common travel words. Let’s Speak Sinhala offers lessons at a very small and reasonable fee. They appear to be one of the better Sinhala language-learning websites.

Past Sinhala words: hari shook, a da, ga ma, ida netu, purusha, sthree