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Indian tourists flood Sri Lanka on the Ramayana trail and destination weddings

Sri Lanka remains a favourite among Indian travelers (Photo: Sri Lanka Tourism/Twitter)

Indian travelers headed the list of tourists to Sri Lanka in 2021, giving hope of tourism revival in the cash-strapped country. 

Despite the coronavirus pandemic which has forced countries to close their borders, 56,268 tourists—about 42 per cent of the visitors to Sri Lanka came from India, followed by visitors from Russia, the UK and Germany. According to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), December 2021 itself saw over 23,000 tourists from India.

For the Indian pilgrim-tourist, exploring locations from Indian epic Ramayana top the list. Ashok Vatika–where Lankan king Ravana held Sita captive, remains popular with Indians. Now called Seetha Eliya, it also has the Hakgala Botanical Garden, which people believe is the Ashok Vatika from the Ramayana.

The other destinations where the Indians head to on the Ramayana circuit include the Koneswaram temple–dedicated to Ravan. The temple is located on hills in the Trincomalee tourist town in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

Indian pilgrims also visit the Sanjivani Hill at Ritigala–the highest mountain peak in Sri Lanka. The scenic landscape includes medical plants as well as plantations, which the locals believe are protected by yakshas. It is said that once Hanuman brought the Sanjivani mountain to Sri Lanka, pieces of it fell in Ritigala.

The governments of the two countries are promoting the Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka as also the Buddhist circuit in India in an effort to not only promote tourism but also boost people-to-people contact.  

With Sri Lanka famed for its natural beauty–beaches, jungles and waterfalls, many Indians have selected Sri Lanka for destination weddings.

For the Indian Ocean island nation, tourism is the third largest foreign exchange earner, which remained completely shut down during 2020 after the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus had struck, the Easter bombings in 2019 significantly reduced tourist confidence in the country and also the number of tourists.

The SLTDA says that the numbers of Indian tourists in 2021 show that the Indian traveler has regained the top slot among foreign arrivals. Sri Lanka has been looking at developing destination weddings as a niche market for young Indian travelers who want to have an inexpensive but quick holiday in scenic resorts and natural surroundings.

Facing a severe foreign exchange crunch, Sri Lanka is once again attempting to revive tourism by battling the spread of Covid-19. The country's tourism board has pushed international promotions to bring back tourists. SLTDA chairperson Kimali Fernando told journalists: “Sri Lanka is back, and we are open for tourists. Our country has everything a post-Covid traveller is looking for. We have created a relaxed, bubble-free travelling for fully vaccinated travellers. Sri Lanka is ready to welcome you with the warmth of our hospitality".