DAILY TELEGRAPH by HC120607055424

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									DAILY TELEGRAPH

Along the spirited road to recovery
On a trip through the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka, Adrian Bridge is struck by the
resilience and good will of the people.
(Filed: 02/04/2005)


 Sri Lanka essentials


Jo Williams and Steve Ainsworth wanted a memorable wedding - and they got it, though
not quite in the way they had planned.




                             Rear view: In Sri Lanka it's not
                          unusual to see an elephant on the road

The idea had been to celebrate with a romantic sunset ceremony on one of Sri Lanka's
loveliest palm-fringed beaches, and then to dance the night away against the backdrop of
the Indian Ocean.

But with less than 24 hours to go they received a warning that must rank as one of the
worst pre-marital scares of all time: a tsunami could be on the way.

With 40 family and friends who had come over from Britain, Jo and Steve were ushered
to the upper levels of their beach hotel in Bentota just before midnight on Monday, and
there, for a few gut-wrenching hours, they waited.

"It was surreal," said Maurice East, one of the guests. "A couple of people did get a bit
panicky, but most of us tried to remain calm and show a bit of the Dunkirk spirit."

By the early hours of Tuesday morning it was clear that, unlike the one of December 26,
the latest earthquake off the western coast of Indonesia had not unleashed a devastating
tidal wave, and that Sri Lanka, with most countries in the Indian Ocean region, had
escaped unscathed.
Later that day, Jo and Steve, both originally from London but now working in Sri Lanka,
duly tied the knot. "It was a beautiful ceremony and in the end the mood was definitely
very upbeat," said Maurice.

The decision to hold a wedding in Sri Lanka barely three months after the tsunami that
claimed more than 30,000 of the islanders' lives had been a brave one. But having
checked that everything was up and running at their chosen hotel, and that their guests
would not be greeted with signs of devastation everywhere they went, Jo and Steve
decided to go ahead with it.

"We thought that bringing 40 people here from the UK for our wedding was absolutely
the best thing we could do to help the country," said Jo. "They desperately need tourists -
and we were convinced our friends would have a great holiday as well."

Tourism is hugely important to Sri Lanka; the country has taken enormous strides to
repair the damage along popular stretches of its coastline and to make sure that, in
addition to being made to feel welcome, visitors will also feel comfortable.

I have just spent a week in the country and can vouch for the fact that those who have
decided to come are by and large glad to have done so. There have been no outbreaks of
disease, communication and transport links have been restored, most hotels are
functioning normally and, apart from the coastal areas in the east and south-west, the
country remains largely unaffected by the tsunami.

The only things missing are tourists. In one of the country's many gorgeous new boutique
hotels, the Taru Villas Taprobane on Bentota beach, I found I was the only guest, with a
petal-strewn swimming pool and a great swathe of pristine sandy beach all to myself.

To encourage more of us to return, there have been some exceptionally good deals.
British tour operators, with SriLankan Airlines, have been offering "two-for-the-price-of-
one" packages. In many ways there has never been a better time to go.

Along the "Golden Mile" beach at Beruwela, just north of Bentota, I came across the
extremely well-tanned Diethard Grosser and his two daughters who had just spent two
weeks at the five-star Eden Resort & Spa on a package, including return flight from
Hamburg, accommodation and food, for just 940 euros (£650) per person. "We've felt
perfectly safe and have been able to sunbathe, swim in the warm sea and stay in a lovely
hotel, all for an excellent price," he said. "A nice time? Of course we've had a nice time."

The Eden sustained considerable damage from the tsunami and was closed until February
1. Ground-floor rooms and one restaurant remain closed, but everything else is
functioning normally and, at least until Monday, visitor numbers had begun to creep up
again. On the day I was there, 50 of the 158 rooms were occupied.

Farther along the beach, at the Hotel Neptune, Shantila, a 15-year-old German schoolgirl
on holiday with her mother, was relaxing on a sunbed. "My friends thought I was mad to
come here, but I've had a great time," she said. "Of course you can still see some of the
effects of the tsunami, but that was three months ago. People should stop thinking about
that and get on with their lives."

Those effects become pretty apparent when you leave the compounds of the hotels and
wander along the beach. The Golden Mile used to boast some 200 small shops, selling
anything from saris to model wooden ships. All of them were swept away.




                             Happy to meet you: Sri Lankan
                                        locals

"Tsunami - help!" called out three women selling colourful shirts, shawls and sarongs
from a makeshift stall in front of the rubble of what was once their shops. The women
were worried that under more strictly enforced regulations, which forbid the construction
of new buildings within 100 yards of the sea, they would be forced to move away from
the tourist-rich beach area.

Given Monday night's scare, the regulations, in part designed to reduce the risk of
destruction from natural disasters, are probably no bad thing, but that's not how they
seem to those whose livelihoods are at stake. Feeling sorry for the traders, I paid what by
Sri Lankan standards is a princely sum, 1,000 rupees (about £5.50), for a beautiful shawl
with an elephant motif for my daughter.

Not all tourists want to be reminded of December 26. Elfriede Windhofer, from Vienna,
over for a week of Ayurvedic healing, said that while she had found the oil treatments
wonderful the sight of the damaged buildings had had a "negative influence" on her
"energy field".

But it is quite possible to go to Sri Lanka and avoid any signs of what happened. "There's
so much more to my country than sun, sea and sand," protested Udaya Nanayakkara,
chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, when I caught him at the end of a busy day of
meetings in Colombo. "There's our cultural heritage, our spas, our wildlife... You can
come here to ride an elephant or to hike along tea trails. You can fly in a hot-air balloon
or meditate like a Buddhist. Or you can come simply to shop."
Plenty of visitors are doing precisely that - going beyond the beaches. Deep in the
beautiful tea-growing country around Nuwara Eliya, I came across two Londoners, Fiona
Burton and Ruth Lord, on a career break gap year.

Over a cup of the local Orange Pekoe brew (savoured against the backdrop of the
spectacular Devon Falls), they said they had deliberately avoided the south and east as
they had not wanted to be tourists in tsunami-hit areas. Instead they had spent the
previous six days visiting an elephant sanctuary and the key heritage sights of the
Cultural Triangle - the palace of a playboy king on top of the rock at Sigiriya, the
medieval capital of Polonnaruwa and the sacred Buddhist shrines at Anuradhapura. They
had seen dancers in Kandy, ridden bicycles at dusk and seen eagles, snakes and iguanas
on safari. The cost of the trip? A total of £130 each, including car, driver and
accommodation.

"It has been absolutely fantastic," said Fiona. "We've had many of these sites to ourselves
and have been spoilt with gold-star service. People here really can't do enough for you."
What's more, having done the cultural tour, Fiona and Ruth were planning to fit in a
beach stay as well, at Negombo - an undamaged resort north of Colombo.

Quite a lot of visitors to Sri Lanka at the moment do want to engage in some way with
what happened on Boxing Day and, if possible to help. Jean and Roger Ingram, two
pensioners who were basing themselves in Negombo, arrived with a suitcase full of pens
and sellotape to give away. "What happened here touched the heartstrings and we want to
do our bit," said Jean.

Others want to go even further. In addition to attending his friends' wedding, Maurice
East, here with his wife, Vicky, on honeymoon when the tsunami struck, had returned to
settle his bill at the hotel in Arugam Bay in which they stayed (their money and
possessions were swept to sea). He had also brought a donation of £6,500, which was to
be spent on helping A-level students make photocopies of the notes they need in time for
exams in July.

At Kalutara, about an hour's drive south of Colombo, I came across some British
volunteers who had been spending their two-week holiday helping fishermen clear rubble
from the beach and visiting camps containing some of the tens of thousands who lost
their homes in the tsunami.

The group had come with i-to-i, a Leeds-based company specialising in holidays for
people who want to travel and contribute something to the countries they visit. In
temperatures approaching 40C, the work was proving both physically and emotionally
challenging, but the volunteers, of varied backgrounds and ages, said it had been
extremely rewarding.

"People actually want to talk about their experiences, no matter how painful. We've
cheered them up in bleak surroundings," said Andy Hewitt, a pensioner from Cumbria.
"And we personally have experienced far more than we would on a conventional
holiday."

Some of it very close to the bone. One night about half way through their stay, the tides
were running high and the sea had started to rise. "As the waves got higher and higher
little children grabbed our arms and said, 'No tsunami, please no tsunami'," said Anna
Trott, another of the i-to-i volunteers.

The fear of another tsunami runs deep - hence the evacuation of areas at risk on Monday
night - and many Sri Lankans remain understandably wary about going back into the sea.

The farther south you go, the more apparent the signs of destruction. About two thirds of
the way between Bentota and Galle there is a sight that must rank as one of the most
bizarre tourist attractions in the world: the mangled remains of the train that was
travelling down the coast when the tsunami swept it from the tracks, killing an estimated
1,500 passengers.

I joined curious Sri Lankans stopping to look and reflect. The train, now back in an
upright position, is stationed in Peraliya, a small settlement just north of the surf and
snorkelling haven of Hikkaduwa, and was clearly visible from the main road. All around
it were tents, temporary homes for the displaced.

Fifteen miles farther south is Galle, the town that became synonymous with the calamity
that had befallen the country, particularly after the Sri Lankan-born BBC correspondent
George Alagiah started to send back dispatches from the region.

Until December 26, after years in the doldrums, Galle had been in the throes of a facelift,
in part fuelled by the hope that the ceasefire agreed between the govern-ment and the
Tamil Tiger rebels in 2002 would hold.

On the eve of the tsunami, the Amanresorts group opened the Amangalla, a totally
revamped version of Galle's famous 17th-century New Oriental Hotel. Some of its first
guests were 500 people who lost their homes in the disaster - given what must be the
most sumptuous emergency housing of all time. Close by, another stylish newcomer is
the Galle Fort Hotel, a fabulously renovated former factory with a grand colonnaded
courtyard pool and creative Asian cuisine.

There was still plenty of debris in Galle too, but what struck me on entering the town was
how normal it seemed: the roads were clear and the bus station was back in business
(thanks in large part to the US Marines). The air was filled with the buzz of commerce
and the bang, bang, bang of reconstruction, the sputterings of the ubiquitous three-
wheeler tuk-tuks and the cheers of boys playing cricket against the backdrop of the
magnificent Dutch Fort. The clock at Galle's international cricket ground was still
standing at 9.24 (the time of the tsunami), but the town appeared to be moving on.
For a scary few hours as Monday turned into Tuesday, time stood still again. But then Sri
Lankans got on with the process of rebuilding their lives. And besides, on Bentota beach,
there was a wedding to celebrate. Rear view: in Sri Lanka it's not unusual to see an
elephant on or off the road

Sri Lanka essentials

Getting there
Adrian Bridge travelled with SriLankan Airlines (020 8538 2000, www.srilankan.aero),
which offers direct flights from the UK and Ireland to Colombo. Return fares start at
£477 (economy) and £1,750 (business), plus taxes. The flying time is about 11 hours.

Where to stay
Doubles at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo (00941 12541010, www.gallefacehotel.com)
cost from £40 a night. Doubles at the Taru Villas Taprobane, Bentota start at £70 a night.
For more boutique hotels in Sri Lanka, see www.srilankainstyle.com.

When to go
The south-west and central highlands are best from late October to March. The north and
east are dry but hot from June to October.

Special offers
Kuoni (01306 747730, www.kuoni.co.uk) has a seven-night "Ceylon Experience" tour,
including return flights from Heathrow, visits to Mount Lavinia, Dambulla and Kandy,
and transfers from £639 per person.

Working holidays
Two-week tsunami-related beach clearance and community work holidays with i-to-i
(0870 333 2332, www.i-to-i.com) cost £795 per person. Includes insurance, food,
accommodation, airport pick-up and training, but not flights.

How to help
In addition to international aid agencies, there are hundreds of smaller organisations
trying to help the victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Here are a few:
www.adoptsrilanka.com; www.rebuildsrilanka.org; www.futuresrilanka.co.uk;
www.divingsrilanka.com. Along the spirited road to recovery
On a trip through the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka, Adrian Bridge is struck by the
resilience and good will of the people.
(Filed: 02/04/2005)


 Sri Lanka essentials


Jo Williams and Steve Ainsworth wanted a memorable wedding - and they got it, though
not quite in the way they had planned.
                             Rear view: In Sri Lanka it's not
                          unusual to see an elephant on the road

The idea had been to celebrate with a romantic sunset ceremony on one of Sri Lanka's
loveliest palm-fringed beaches, and then to dance the night away against the backdrop of
the Indian Ocean.

But with less than 24 hours to go they received a warning that must rank as one of the
worst pre-marital scares of all time: a tsunami could be on the way.

With 40 family and friends who had come over from Britain, Jo and Steve were ushered
to the upper levels of their beach hotel in Bentota just before midnight on Monday, and
there, for a few gut-wrenching hours, they waited.

"It was surreal," said Maurice East, one of the guests. "A couple of people did get a bit
panicky, but most of us tried to remain calm and show a bit of the Dunkirk spirit."

By the early hours of Tuesday morning it was clear that, unlike the one of December 26,
the latest earthquake off the western coast of Indonesia had not unleashed a devastating
tidal wave, and that Sri Lanka, with most countries in the Indian Ocean region, had
escaped unscathed.

Later that day, Jo and Steve, both originally from London but now working in Sri Lanka,
duly tied the knot. "It was a beautiful ceremony and in the end the mood was definitely
very upbeat," said Maurice.

The decision to hold a wedding in Sri Lanka barely three months after the tsunami that
claimed more than 30,000 of the islanders' lives had been a brave one. But having
checked that everything was up and running at their chosen hotel, and that their guests
would not be greeted with signs of devastation everywhere they went, Jo and Steve
decided to go ahead with it.

"We thought that bringing 40 people here from the UK for our wedding was absolutely
the best thing we could do to help the country," said Jo. "They desperately need tourists -
and we were convinced our friends would have a great holiday as well."
Tourism is hugely important to Sri Lanka; the country has taken enormous strides to
repair the damage along popular stretches of its coastline and to make sure that, in
addition to being made to feel welcome, visitors will also feel comfortable.

I have just spent a week in the country and can vouch for the fact that those who have
decided to come are by and large glad to have done so. There have been no outbreaks of
disease, communication and transport links have been restored, most hotels are
functioning normally and, apart from the coastal areas in the east and south-west, the
country remains largely unaffected by the tsunami.

The only things missing are tourists. In one of the country's many gorgeous new boutique
hotels, the Taru Villas Taprobane on Bentota beach, I found I was the only guest, with a
petal-strewn swimming pool and a great swathe of pristine sandy beach all to myself.

To encourage more of us to return, there have been some exceptionally good deals.
British tour operators, with SriLankan Airlines, have been offering "two-for-the-price-of-
one" packages. In many ways there has never been a better time to go.

Along the "Golden Mile" beach at Beruwela, just north of Bentota, I came across the
extremely well-tanned Diethard Grosser and his two daughters who had just spent two
weeks at the five-star Eden Resort & Spa on a package, including return flight from
Hamburg, accommodation and food, for just 940 euros (£650) per person. "We've felt
perfectly safe and have been able to sunbathe, swim in the warm sea and stay in a lovely
hotel, all for an excellent price," he said. "A nice time? Of course we've had a nice time."

The Eden sustained considerable damage from the tsunami and was closed until February
1. Ground-floor rooms and one restaurant remain closed, but everything else is
functioning normally and, at least until Monday, visitor numbers had begun to creep up
again. On the day I was there, 50 of the 158 rooms were occupied.

Farther along the beach, at the Hotel Neptune, Shantila, a 15-year-old German schoolgirl
on holiday with her mother, was relaxing on a sunbed. "My friends thought I was mad to
come here, but I've had a great time," she said. "Of course you can still see some of the
effects of the tsunami, but that was three months ago. People should stop thinking about
that and get on with their lives."

Those effects become pretty apparent when you leave the compounds of the hotels and
wander along the beach. The Golden Mile used to boast some 200 small shops, selling
anything from saris to model wooden ships. All of them were swept away.
                             Happy to meet you: Sri Lankan
                                        locals

"Tsunami - help!" called out three women selling colourful shirts, shawls and sarongs
from a makeshift stall in front of the rubble of what was once their shops. The women
were worried that under more strictly enforced regulations, which forbid the construction
of new buildings within 100 yards of the sea, they would be forced to move away from
the tourist-rich beach area.

Given Monday night's scare, the regulations, in part designed to reduce the risk of
destruction from natural disasters, are probably no bad thing, but that's not how they
seem to those whose livelihoods are at stake. Feeling sorry for the traders, I paid what by
Sri Lankan standards is a princely sum, 1,000 rupees (about £5.50), for a beautiful shawl
with an elephant motif for my daughter.

Not all tourists want to be reminded of December 26. Elfriede Windhofer, from Vienna,
over for a week of Ayurvedic healing, said that while she had found the oil treatments
wonderful the sight of the damaged buildings had had a "negative influence" on her
"energy field".

But it is quite possible to go to Sri Lanka and avoid any signs of what happened. "There's
so much more to my country than sun, sea and sand," protested Udaya Nanayakkara,
chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, when I caught him at the end of a busy day of
meetings in Colombo. "There's our cultural heritage, our spas, our wildlife... You can
come here to ride an elephant or to hike along tea trails. You can fly in a hot-air balloon
or meditate like a Buddhist. Or you can come simply to shop."

Plenty of visitors are doing precisely that - going beyond the beaches. Deep in the
beautiful tea-growing country around Nuwara Eliya, I came across two Londoners, Fiona
Burton and Ruth Lord, on a career break gap year.

Over a cup of the local Orange Pekoe brew (savoured against the backdrop of the
spectacular Devon Falls), they said they had deliberately avoided the south and east as
they had not wanted to be tourists in tsunami-hit areas. Instead they had spent the
previous six days visiting an elephant sanctuary and the key heritage sights of the
Cultural Triangle - the palace of a playboy king on top of the rock at Sigiriya, the
medieval capital of Polonnaruwa and the sacred Buddhist shrines at Anuradhapura. They
had seen dancers in Kandy, ridden bicycles at dusk and seen eagles, snakes and iguanas
on safari. The cost of the trip? A total of £130 each, including car, driver and
accommodation.

"It has been absolutely fantastic," said Fiona. "We've had many of these sites to ourselves
and have been spoilt with gold-star service. People here really can't do enough for you."
What's more, having done the cultural tour, Fiona and Ruth were planning to fit in a
beach stay as well, at Negombo - an undamaged resort north of Colombo.

Quite a lot of visitors to Sri Lanka at the moment do want to engage in some way with
what happened on Boxing Day and, if possible to help. Jean and Roger Ingram, two
pensioners who were basing themselves in Negombo, arrived with a suitcase full of pens
and sellotape to give away. "What happened here touched the heartstrings and we want to
do our bit," said Jean.

Others want to go even further. In addition to attending his friends' wedding, Maurice
East, here with his wife, Vicky, on honeymoon when the tsunami struck, had returned to
settle his bill at the hotel in Arugam Bay in which they stayed (their money and
possessions were swept to sea). He had also brought a donation of £6,500, which was to
be spent on helping A-level students make photocopies of the notes they need in time for
exams in July.

At Kalutara, about an hour's drive south of Colombo, I came across some British
volunteers who had been spending their two-week holiday helping fishermen clear rubble
from the beach and visiting camps containing some of the tens of thousands who lost
their homes in the tsunami.

The group had come with i-to-i, a Leeds-based company specialising in holidays for
people who want to travel and contribute something to the countries they visit. In
temperatures approaching 40C, the work was proving both physically and emotionally
challenging, but the volunteers, of varied backgrounds and ages, said it had been
extremely rewarding.

"People actually want to talk about their experiences, no matter how painful. We've
cheered them up in bleak surroundings," said Andy Hewitt, a pensioner from Cumbria.
"And we personally have experienced far more than we would on a conventional
holiday."

Some of it very close to the bone. One night about half way through their stay, the tides
were running high and the sea had started to rise. "As the waves got higher and higher
little children grabbed our arms and said, 'No tsunami, please no tsunami'," said Anna
Trott, another of the i-to-i volunteers.

The fear of another tsunami runs deep - hence the evacuation of areas at risk on Monday
night - and many Sri Lankans remain understandably wary about going back into the sea.
The farther south you go, the more apparent the signs of destruction. About two thirds of
the way between Bentota and Galle there is a sight that must rank as one of the most
bizarre tourist attractions in the world: the mangled remains of the train that was
travelling down the coast when the tsunami swept it from the tracks, killing an estimated
1,500 passengers.

I joined curious Sri Lankans stopping to look and reflect. The train, now back in an
upright position, is stationed in Peraliya, a small settlement just north of the surf and
snorkelling haven of Hikkaduwa, and was clearly visible from the main road. All around
it were tents, temporary homes for the displaced.

Fifteen miles farther south is Galle, the town that became synonymous with the calamity
that had befallen the country, particularly after the Sri Lankan-born BBC correspondent
George Alagiah started to send back dispatches from the region.

Until December 26, after years in the doldrums, Galle had been in the throes of a facelift,
in part fuelled by the hope that the ceasefire agreed between the govern-ment and the
Tamil Tiger rebels in 2002 would hold.

On the eve of the tsunami, the Amanresorts group opened the Amangalla, a totally
revamped version of Galle's famous 17th-century New Oriental Hotel. Some of its first
guests were 500 people who lost their homes in the disaster - given what must be the
most sumptuous emergency housing of all time. Close by, another stylish newcomer is
the Galle Fort Hotel, a fabulously renovated former factory with a grand colonnaded
courtyard pool and creative Asian cuisine.

There was still plenty of debris in Galle too, but what struck me on entering the town was
how normal it seemed: the roads were clear and the bus station was back in business
(thanks in large part to the US Marines). The air was filled with the buzz of commerce
and the bang, bang, bang of reconstruction, the sputterings of the ubiquitous three-
wheeler tuk-tuks and the cheers of boys playing cricket against the backdrop of the
magnificent Dutch Fort. The clock at Galle's international cricket ground was still
standing at 9.24 (the time of the tsunami), but the town appeared to be moving on.

For a scary few hours as Monday turned into Tuesday, time stood still again. But then Sri
Lankans got on with the process of rebuilding their lives. And besides, on Bentota beach,
there was a wedding to celebrate. Rear view: in Sri Lanka it's not unusual to see an
elephant on or off the road

Sri Lanka essentials

Getting there
Adrian Bridge travelled with SriLankan Airlines (020 8538 2000, www.srilankan.aero),
which offers direct flights from the UK and Ireland to Colombo. Return fares start at
£477 (economy) and £1,750 (business), plus taxes. The flying time is about 11 hours.
Where to stay
Doubles at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo (00941 12541010, www.gallefacehotel.com)
cost from £40 a night. Doubles at the Taru Villas Taprobane, Bentota start at £70 a night.
For more boutique hotels in Sri Lanka, see www.srilankainstyle.com.

When to go
The south-west and central highlands are best from late October to March. The north and
east are dry but hot from June to October.

Special offers
Kuoni (01306 747730, www.kuoni.co.uk) has a seven-night "Ceylon Experience" tour,
including return flights from Heathrow, visits to Mount Lavinia, Dambulla and Kandy,
and transfers from £639 per person.

Working holidays
Two-week tsunami-related beach clearance and community work holidays with i-to-i
(0870 333 2332, www.i-to-i.com) cost £795 per person. Includes insurance, food,
accommodation, airport pick-up and training, but not flights.

How to help
In addition to international aid agencies, there are hundreds of smaller organisations
trying to help the victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Here are a few:
www.adoptsrilanka.com; www.rebuildsrilanka.org; www.futuresrilanka.co.uk;
www.divingsrilanka.com.



For the latest updates on Tsunami relief efforts in Southern Sri Lanka go to
www.adoptsrilanka.com

We hope that you will visit Sri Lanka when life returns to normal. For further
information on superb properties, villas and services refer to www.srilankainstyle.com

								
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