India light?

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Beautiful green Sri Lanka
Beautiful green Sri Lanka

After almost 20 hours of travelling the plane began to descend towards Colombo airport, a plethora of green could be seen below covering almost every square inch of land, broken only to make way for houses each surrounded by their own jungle of green. Out of the tiredness bubbles of excitement began to rise I thought I might like it here.

We made our way out of the airport to be met by a tiny, thick set Sri Lankan (who later turned out to be of Malaysian decent, but had never actually been to his fatherland!) – Tuwan. Shaking our hands he instantly put us at ease as he loaded two very weary travellers and our bags into the back of his hybrid Toyota and we began our four hour drive to our first destination.

Overcome by tiredness I expected us both to sleep most of the way, but we were mesmerised by the greenness of the countryside. Banana palms, palm trees, all manner of brightly coloured flowers grew in every available space and vines found their way up trees covering the trunks in a sea of foliage.

Before I arrived people had said to me Sri Lanka was India light. I’d expected the landscape to be similar to what I’d seen in India. But it reminded me more of South East Asia, the Philippines was the country that immediately came to mind as I watched the world go by from the comfort of the car. I’d also expected filthy streets, roadsides littered with plastic and a general feeling of unkemptness about the place, but I was very wrong. Not a plastic bottle or bag in site, the streets were pretty much immaculate.

As the trip went on I was to discover Sri Lanka was very different to India in many ways. The hawkers are polite, they know when to leave you alone. You weren’t mobbed when you got out of a vehicle, in fact in many cases the hawkers were totally absent and those there were there disappeared after a polite: “No thank you.” They have a recycling system, and are very proud of it, and don’t leave their rubbish all over the place. Nobody pees on the streets, and it is a very safe place to be – the guide book purports that in some places the theft of two bicycles would be considered a crime wave! And everyone here smiles – all the time!

For me Sri Lanka isn’t India light, it is India not at all!

Although there is one thing they seem to have in common – corruption. But Sri Lanka seem to be doing a lot to sort this out. We have met a few people who are very keen to talk politics. If my understanding of the situation is right it goes something like this…

In January this year they voted in a new president because the people, especially the youngsters, were fed up with the previous one. The previous president it would seem wasn’t a particularly clever man. He built an airport near his home village, but couldn’t get international approval for planes to land there as it was in the middle of three bird sanctuaries and far to dangerous to fly into. He built a port in the same area only to discover later that there was a big rock beneath the surface of the ocean so ships couldn’t dock there. He planned to move the government there and make it the capital and build intended government buildings nearby, all of which are laying empty, as is the airport and port! The money for all of this come from loans from (I think) Japan, leaving the country in huge amounts of debt for buildings, a port and an airport that are totally useless.

He put around 90 members of his family in government and other high-ranking positions including his brother, sister and two sons (if I am correct) as cabinet ministers. One of his sons built a hotel on the coast – we drove past and it is currently unfinished and badged as a Marriott hotel – but no one knows where the money came from. Another son is up on murder charges, amongst his victims a prominent Rugby player whose body was found at the side of the road.

Now a new president is in place inquiries and court cases into these activities are ongoing.

If all this is true its hardly surprising the people got fed up with him…

Time to log off now. At some point I’ll get round to writing about our actual trip!

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