Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins Sri Lanka election

Colombo, Sri Lanka 17th November 2019 – The Sri Lanka Election commission has declared Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the winner of the Sri Lankan presidential election after a closely fought race against ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa.

Rajapaksa in a sort of victory speech among chants of his supporters said “I would like to inform everyone that I will execute everything you trusted in me [to do],” he continued “Especially, at this moment, I happily say that I will carry out all that is in my manifesto during my tenure.”

Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary during Mahinda’s 10 years in power, based his campaign for Saturday’s election on providing strong leadership on national security issues, following coordinated bombings in April that killed 269 people.

His campaign was also backed by Sinhala Buddhist monks who have called for greater controls to be placed on the island’s roughly 10 percent Muslim population following those attacks.

Rajapaksa secured victory with 52.25 percent of the vote, according to final results announced by Sri Lanka’s Election Commission, more than the 50 percent margin needed to ensure a runoff was not required.

“As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey,” Rajapaksa said in a Twitter post.

“Let us rejoice peacefully with dignity and discipline in the same manner in which we campaigned.”

Sri Lanka election
Thilaka Rohini, 62, a Rajapaksa supporter, said she was ‘very happy’ to see the president-elect win, and wanted to see his brother made prime minister [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]
Earlier on Sunday, Premadasa issued a statement conceding defeat.

“At the conclusion of a hard-fought and spirited election campaign, it is my privilege to honour the decision of the people and congratulate Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as the seventh president of Sri Lanka,” he said.

Rajapaksa will take oath as president on Monday at a ceremony in the central town of Anuradhapura, an ancient Sinhala Buddhist heritage site located about 160km (100 miles) north of Colombo.

Focus on security
Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, said national security is Rajapaksa’s “primary concern”, along with the revival of the economy.

Rights groups have long called for investigations into alleged rights abuses committed during the Rajapaksas’ previous terms in power, including the United Nations’ allegations that more than 40,000 people were killed by security forces in the final days of the country’s civil war in the north, as Tamil rebels took shelter among civilians.

Rajapaksa’s campaign stressed on his credentials as the defence secretary that brought a close to that war, while also calling for an overhaul of economic policies implemented by Premadasa’s UNP during its five years in charge of parliament.

The Rajapaksas’ previous stint in power also saw widespread allegations of a crackdown on dissent, with rights activists and journalists subjected to enforced disappearances.

Sri Lanka election
A soldier stands guard outside Sri Lanka’s Election Commission as officials read out results to candidates inside on Sunday [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]
Sandya Eknaligoda, a human rights activist and wife of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing in 2010, two days before Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected, said Rajapaksa’s tenure would be “a very bad time for human rights activists in Sri Lanka”.

“Many people’s lives are in danger now,” she said. “His government will jail people by filing different charges against activists, will disrupt major investigations such as my husband’s case [and journalist] Lasantha [Wickrematunge’s] murder.”

The Rajapaksas deny any wrongdoing during their previous terms in office.

Outside the Election Commission on Sunday, scores of SLPP supporters waved flags and raised a roar of approval when Rajapaksa appeared after the official results were announced to the candidates.

“These people ruled for four and a half years, but they did not do anything that the people can see,” said Thilaka Rohini, 62, a Rajapaksa supporter who had come to cheer on the president-elect.

Potential standoff with Parliament
Rajapaksa has said he will name his brother Mahinda prime minister in his government. Sri Lanka operates a semi-presidential form of government, where the president, prime minister and cabinet share executive authority.

Current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, chief of Premadasa’s UNP, has not indicated whether he will resign following his party’s defeat. At least three cabinet ministers resigned from their posts on Sunday.

As things stand, the UNP will remain in control of Parliament until at least February, when the president can constitutionally dissolve the body ahead of a general election. Alternately, Parliament can vote to dissolve itself, prompting a snap election.

On Sunday, Mahinda Rajapaksa announced his party was examining proposals to repeal the 19th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, which introduced greater checks on the president’s powers and transferred some of that authority to the Parliament.

Sri Lanka election
Rajapaksa supporters cheer as they catch sight of the president-elect on Sunday [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]
Paikisothy Saravanamuttu, executive director at the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, said Sri Lankans had elected “a majoritarian, authoritarian government”.

“The first thing that will happen is the prime minister will [likely] offer his resignation and Mahinda Rajapaksa will be sworn in,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘Polarising’ vote
In the north of the country, where Premadasa swept polls in areas dominated by the country’s roughly 15 percent Tamil minority, the vote was seen with concern, analysts said. Tamil voters have long indicated a preference against the Rajapaksas, mainly because of the rights abuse allegations from the final days of the war.

“This election, in particular, it was not so much a vote for Sajith Premadasa, it was more of a protest vote against Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” said Ahilan Kadirgamar, senior lecturer at the University of Jaffna.

Kadirgamar said a high turnout number even in areas that had traditionally eschewed the polls “reflects how the north has come into the national mainstream in terms of participating in national electoral politics”.

He warned, however, the fact that the poll still went to Rajapaksa, buoyed by his strong support from Sinhala Buddhist areas, could further polarise Sri Lanka.

“There are forces both in the south [Sinhalese areas] and the north [primarily Tamil areas] who thrive on polarisation and divisive politics, on keeping communities divided… This election provides an opportunity for both forms of ideologically polarising forces in the country.”

The scene at the UNP headquarters in the Sirikotha area of Colombo was a far cry from the loud slogans and fireworks that greeted a victorious Gotabaya Rajapaksa outside the Election Commission.

The whitewashed building complex, festooned with green party flags, was deserted with three police officers deputed to secure the location watching election results streaming in on television.

“If he [Premadasa] had won, there wouldn’t even be space for us to stand here,” said a caretaker, laughing.

Inside, a metal bust of Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sajith’s father, a former president who was assassinated in 1993 by Tamil rebels, looked out upon an empty auditorium.

 

Major international event to be held in SL after Easter attacks

By Charumini de Silva

Sri Lanka expects a major tourism boost from the first-ever carbon-neutral ‘Ashara Mubaraka’, a 10-day spiritual convention drawing 21,000 religious visitors from 40 countries from next week, with an expected revenue of $ 31 million.

This is the first major international convention the island nation is hosting after the 21 April Easter Sunday attacks, and was initiated by the Tourism Development Ministry as well as the Bohra community in the country, to boost the image and to demonstrate to the world that Sri Lanka is safe for travel.

Sri Lanka last played host to Ashara Mubaraka in 2009. Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the spiritual leader of the international Dawoodi Bohra community, along with thousands of devout Muslims from around the world,gather every year in a 10-day long period that sees the community mourn the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussain.

The global convention this year, titled ‘We Believe in Sri Lanka’, aims at zero food and plastic waste, making it the first carbon-neutral religious commemoration held at the Dawoodi Bohra Masjid in Marine Drive, Colombo 4.

In addition, the Dawoodi Bohra community desires to take on the memories of the natural beauty of the island nation, and become a global tourism ambassador for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Tourism expects visitors from 28 August to 12 September, while noting that 3,000 rooms in 100 hotels from Negombo to Mt.Lavinia have already been booked for the convention. In addition, 200 apartments in Colombo have been reserved for accommodation.

“Sri Lanka is all set to host the first-ever carbon-neutral ‘Ashara Mubaraka’ next month. Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the spiritual leader of the international Dawoodi Bohra community, will visit the country on the invitation of the President, Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader to participate in this 10-day convention in Colombo,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Consultant/Director and Head of Tourism Relief Facilitation Unit Kavinda Makalanda told the Daily FT.

Sri Lanka Tourism expects visitors from Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, the UK, the US, Yemen and Zambia.

Noting that this spiritual convention will give a major boost to hotels and other sectors related to tourism, he said they expect revenue during the 10 days will top over $31 million or Rs.5.6 billion, as they calculate an average spending of a person to be around $1,500.

He also said that 50,000 meals will be freshly cooked twice a day, and over the 10-day period, a total of 600,000 fresh meals.

Makalanda said the Tourism Development Ministry expended a lot of effort to win the opportunity for the convention to be held in Sri Lanka, particularly after the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

“This is a significant opportunity for the tourism sector in particular, as well as for the entire economy, to recover from the 21 April Easter Sunday setback,” he added.

Makalanda assured that the Tourism Development Ministry was coordinating all facilities along with all other institutions,including the Defence Ministry, Sri Lanka Police, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Immigration and Emigration Department, Sri Lanka Customs, Airport Aviation Ltd., Urban Development Authority, Health Ministry, Disaster Management Ministry, Colombo Municipal Council, Central Environmental Authority and Transport Ministry, to ensure all logistics were in place for the convention.

Accordingly, 3,000 local and foreign volunteers will also participate at the 10day convention.

 

Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez promotes Sri Lanka tourism

Speaking at the promotional event in Mumbai Monday, the Bollywood star said despite the terror attack which took place in April, Sri Lanka is still a paradise isle and safe to travel to and urged the Indian tourists to visit the country.

June 25, Colombo: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau along with the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and national carrier SriLankan Airlines unveiled a total of 15 special promotional packages to Indian travel trade in Mumbai with a guest appearance by Sri Lankan-born Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez.

“Sri Lanka is my homeland. I have spent some of my most beautiful and fondest memories and holidays over there. Sri Lanka is absolutely safe to go back right now. And we really would love your support for Sri Lanka.”

“Sri Lanka tourism is something that I always try to encourage, I always try to promote because I am extremely attached and very fond of my homeland. So, it’s important in time like this, at time of distress.”

 

Who is National Thowheeth Jama’ath Sri Lanka

The horrible 6 blasts on Ester Sunday in Sri Lanka have reminded the island nation of the past decades troubled Sri Lanka, which many had already forgotten.

It is know that Police chief was warned by the Indian Intelligence agencies that such attacks might happen on Ester Sunday.

The National Thowheeth Jama’ath is an unknown terrorist outfit possibly inspired by an Indian Muslim organisation called Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath or an other organisation of Sri Lanka called Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ) with wich NTJ has saperated in 2016 according to wikipedia.

The National Thowheeth Jama’ath or NTJ was unknown before the Sunday blasts. Only after the blasts some corners in the Island have spoken about it but the organisation it self has not opened its mount. We still do not know their leaders names and their where-abouts.

It is quite interesting to note that there were 6 attacks 6 Indian nationals were in the causalities and the prior info was given by India. This is certainly a point to ponder what exactly was the reason behind this atrocity and what did the attackers wanted beside creating unrest and uncertainty in the country

 

Bombs exploded Churches and 5 star hotels in Sri Lanka scores dead and Injured

Apr 21 2019, Colombo: A dark day in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday bomb explosions witnessed at several churches outside Colombo and five-star hotels in Sri Lankan capital Colombo over 138 Including 9 foreigners have been killed and over 560 have suffered injuries.

Bomb blasts occurred in five places including St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, St. Anthony’s Church in Negombo and at St. Sebestian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Katana, the Police Media Unit said.

Hotels that have been attached are Kingsbury, Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand Hotels in Colombo.

The bombs have gone off at the same time in all the churches at around 8:45 am local time, according to reports.

Minister Harsha de Silva said there were many casualties including foreigners.

The injured are being rushed to the Colombo National Hospital. More than 80 people have been hospitalized, the reports say. Another explosion have been reported from the Zion Church in Batticaloa.

Sri Lanka Police meanwhile, requested the public to refrain from visiting blasts sites and remain calm and assist the Police in maintaining Law and Order.

The police reminded the public that spreading rumors and inaccurate news is legally punishable crime asked the people to refrain from stirring communal violence.

In a statement, the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo said that the hotel’s Table One cafe was hit just after 9 a.m local time. The hotel is popular with foreign tourists and the country’s business community.

“We are working closely with local authorities and emergency services to provide our fullest assistance and support to the affected staff and guests,” said the hotel.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts.
“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said on Twitter. “The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

The country’s authorities had convened an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy, according to Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva.

He said on Twitter that all emergency steps had been taken and that the group would issue a statement on the blasts.

 

Sri Lanka to offer free visas to tourists from 30 countries

Sri Lanka aims to boost its tourism efforts by giving away free visas to travelers from more than 30 countries.

The small island nation off southern India will offer the promotion starting May 1 to travelers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, according to Lonely Planet and The Independent.

The average U.S. tourist stands to save between $20 and $40 in visa fees, Lonely Planet says.

The free-visa period initially will run for six months to help bolster tourism during the off-peak season – the Yala monsoon runs from May to August – but if successful, Sri Lanka may extend the free visas to tourists from other countries or make the arrangement permanent.

Sri Lanka saw 2.1 million tourists in 2017, according to the nation’s Tourism Development Authority. Tourism numbers have been on the upswing since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.

 

Sri Lanka entry in space “Raavana 1” successfully launched

COLOMBO – Satellite named after the epic Ramayna’s king ‘Raavana 1’ was launched into space early this morning (April 18, 2019), marking Sri Lanka’s entry into the global space age.

Ravana 1 Satellite launch

The satellite, designed and developed by two Sri Lankan engineers, will be shuttled to the International Space Station. The “Raavana 1” was launched into space with the assistance of the US rocket “Antares” from the mid-Atlantic space station in Virginia.

The cube-sized model satellite was built by Sri Lanka’s Tharindu Dayarathna and Dulani Chamika Vithanage who were scholars of the Peradeniya University’s Engineering Faculty and the Asian Institute of Technology respectively. They were able to launch this satellite while they were studying space engineering at Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan.

The satellite was launched at 2.16 am and scheduled to reach the International Space Station by 6.30 pm (local time).

 

CITES CoP18 kicks off in Sri Lanka on trade of endagered species

Geneva, 12 February 2019 – In exactly 100 days from today, the 183 Parties to CITES (182 countries + the European Union) will gather at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for the next World Wildlife Conference – the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP18) to be held from 23 May to 3 June.

A record 107 working documents and 57 species listing proposals reflect the massive interest from across the globe in the conservation and sustainable use of wild fauna and flora. With a 20% increase in the number of agenda items, CoP18 is set to be the largest meeting of the Conference of the Parties in the history of CITES.

CITES Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero, said: “The ever-growing level of interest in CITES demonstrates the confidence of the world’s governments in this Convention. It also clearly demonstrates the Parties’ aim to implement CITES as a mechanism to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as it equally pays attention to environmental, social and economic sustainability. Parties to CITES are also showing their will to recalibrate the focus of the Convention in a bid to strike a better balance between the effective regulation of international trade in species of wild animals and plants and efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, which has gained global support from all levels in the past few years. For example, the proposed strengthening of legality and sustainability findings, the proposals for better coordinated capacity building efforts, including a Compliance Assistance Programme and a resolution on CITES Management Authorities, collectively contribute to the former. The CITES Strategic Vision for 2021 to 2030 is also high on the agenda”.

“The ever-widening gap of losing species due to multiple factors have jeopardized societal functions, economics and the well-being of the planet. Sri Lanka as an island nation is proactive to challenges and firmly believes on the need for global partnership to combat the threats and issues that affect us in achieving strategic outcomes of the SDGs, the Aichi targets and the CITES Strategic vision.

We are eagerly awaiting to host CoP18 and to showcase Sri Lanka’s commitment to sustainable livelihoods and species conservation. All arrangements are now in place to host a very successful conference,” said Minister of Tourism and Wildlife of Sri Lanka, John Amaratunga.

CoP18 preparations

Working documents are being posted on the CITES website as they become available. In the meantime, important preparatory meetings at international and regional levels as well as meetings focusing on specific issues are already underway before the 183 CITES Parties meet in May. Examples include the following:

A consultation meeting with stakeholders and member countries of the European Union was organized by the European Commission on 29 January to discuss positions to be taken by the EU with regard to the proposals on the CoP18 agenda. In addition, the 28 member countries of the EU will meet at least once a month in the run-up to CoP18.
The North America region will meet from 8 to 11 April 2019 in Victoria, Canada to coordinate positions on CITES CoP18 issues.
The Oceania region will meet in Samoa from 25 to 27 March to prepare for CoP18. The meeting is being facilitated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The CITES Secretariat will be present at the meeting to assist Parties in the region.
The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), led by the CITES Secretariat, is leading the preparation of the third global meeting of the world’s wildlife enforcement networks which will take place during CoP18.
Sri Lanka, the host country of CoP18, is organizing a Global Dialogue on Wildlife Trafficking from 15-16 March 2019 at the University of Colombo.
Several meetings on sharks and rays in relation to CoP18 will take place around the world from March to April 2019, including in Dominican Republic, Jordan, Maldives, Samoa and Senegal. These meetings are led by various CITES Parties and NGOs.
A few highlights on the CoP18 agenda

The agenda of CoP18 is rich and diverse. Many issues are recurrent themes for the meetings of CITES Parties as they require their ongoing attention, such as enforcement, capacity building and traceability as well as the conservation of, and trade in, elephants, rhinoceroses, big cats, sturgeons or agarwood.

CoP18 will consider 57 proposals to amend the CITES Appendices, which list the species that are subject to CITES trade controls, including proposals to add additional sharks, rays and timber species. Each of 3 proposals on sharks and rays was jointly submitted by over 50 countries, showing unprecedented support to list these marine species of high commercial value in CITES.

CoP18 will also address some difficult and contentious issues where divergent approaches exist amongst CITES Parties on matters, for example, trade in elephants and their ivory as well as rhino horn, with proposals on the table designed to further restrict commercial trade, and counter-proposals intending to remove trade restrictions.

Should CITES play a role in managing non-CITES-listed species? Some Parties think so. A striking number of working documents, as opposed to species-listing proposals, relate to a wide range of animals and plants that are not presently protected under the CITES, but for which there are trade-related concerns. These documents submitted by Parties propose to examine several large groups of species, such as all songbirds, all amphibians, all sharks and rays, all marine ornamental fish and all rosewood timber species, to assess if in one way or another, they could benefit from CITES trade controls.

A majority of “wild” animal and plants traded under CITES are now in fact not harvested from the wild when it comes to live animals and plants but bred in captivity or cultivated. Multiple documents for COP18 aim to address trade in animal and plant specimens from non-wild sources.

Wildlife crime will again be a significant matter of discussion at the meeting, including how to better respond to and address corruption, wildlife crime linked to the Internet, the use of forensic applications in the field of wildlife crime, and others. CoP18 will also consider a proposal on the establishment of a database for the storage and management of illegal trade data collected through CITES annual illegal trade reports, as a potential accessible and powerful tool to inform the decision making of Parties and support the development of appropriate law enforcement responses to wildlife crime.

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) will convene several events in the margins of CoP18, including in relation to the launch of an Integrity Guide for Wildlife Management Agencies, the second World Wildlife Crime Report and capacity established by INTERPOL to support the efforts of Parties in addressing wildlife crime linked to the Internet. ICCWC will also convene the third global meeting of the world’s wildlife enforcement networks, whilst the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group will convene its 30th meeting.

Human wellbeing is addressed through the issue of sustainable use of wildlife and livelihoods of rural communities with topics such as CITES and livelihoods, food security, establishment of the rural communities committee and participatory mechanism for rural communities. Such discussions will also be relevant with regard to the trade in, for examples, eels, queen conch and bushmeat which are primarily used as food.

Why is the CITES CoP called the World Wildlife Conference?

Ever wondered why the CITES CoP is also called the World Wildlife Conference? It is because the Plenipotentiary Conference, held from 12 February to 2 March 1973 in Washington D.C. where Convention was concluded, was called the World Wildlife Conference. We are keeping that tradition alive!

Sri Lanka is ready for a great CoP18

In hosting CoP18 Sri Lanka has the opportunity to showcase for the world its unique and wonderful wildlife as well as its many conservation successes.

This will be the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in South Asia since CoP3 held in New Delhi, India in 1981. It will also be the second CoP to be held in an island country.

“Sri Lanka’s resolve towards eradication of the menace of illegal trade of endangered species is well documented and we remain firmly committed to the protection of all species. As a marine and biological hotspot in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka is proud to be only the second island nation to host CITES CoP. The fact that the meeting in Sri Lanka is carbon sensitive also shows our commitment to the environment. We look forward to showcasing to the CoP participants our tourism assets, such as our wildlife parks that are home to thousands of elephants, our seas that are teeming with whales and dolphins, our forests that are home to many endangered species, our wetlands, mangroves, botanical gardens among our many other wonders,” said Minister Amaratunga.

“The discussions at CoP18 will have a significant impact on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, especially when viewed in the context of the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We sincerely hope to have the pleasure of welcoming you in Colombo next May and supporting all stakeholders to achieve progress in meeting global biodiversity commitments”, added Higuero.

The Secretary-General is invited to join the Minister of Tourism and Wildlife to plant trees at a forest in the Nilgala region one day before CoP18 which will be declared as the “CITES Forest” to mark CoP18.

 

Stilt Fishing Srilanka’s Dying Livelihood, a Tourist Attraction

WELIGAMA, SRI LANKA — A few dozen meters from the shoreline, fisherman T. H. Sena sits motionless on a wooden stilt, waiting for tourists to come and pose for pictures. A picture in return for money.

Stilt fishing is a recent innovation, first adopted just after World War II when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted people to try fishing further out on the water. Two generations of fishermen have eked out this physically demanding existence at dawn and dusk along a 30-kilometer stretch of southern shore between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama.

Since the tsunami in 2004, however, this mode of fishing has declined drastically as a livelihood in of itself and has now become more of a tourist attraction with the help of the government of Sri Lanka, which promotes it as an attraction. Many of the true stilt fisherman have taken up farming, or reselling fish purchased at larger markets.

For stilt fishing, a vertical pole with an attached crossbar is embedded into the sea floor among the shallows or on a riverbed. The crossbar allows the fishermen to be seated a couple of meters above the water, causing minimal shadows on the water and therefore little to no disturbance among the sea life. The stilt fishermen then uses a rod from this position to bring in a good catch from the comparative shallows of the sea or from the river.

During monsoons, these fishermen catch fish on boats and sometimes on stilts too and later sell them in markets. And, for the rest of the year, they pose for pictures for tourists. The money collected from tourists is divided into equal parts among the fishermen, with a share also going to the tour operator who brings the tourists to the shore.

In 2009, the year in which the 26-year-long civil war came to an end in Sri Lanka, tourist arrivals numbered about 448,000. In 2017, tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka reached an all-time high of 2,116,407.

“We need to make a living out of something,” fisherman T. H. Sena said.

 

Sri Lanka’s experts reveal their secrets

Think of tea and you may have an image of Earl Grey or English Breakfast, cool peppermint or health-inducing green tea. But there are so many varieties available.

In Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, tea production has been a way of life for more than 150 years. The humidity, cool temperatures and rainfall in the country’s central highlands provide the best climate for high-quality tea production.

Although tea plantations now cover 4% of the Indian Ocean island, until the 1860s, its main crop had been coffee. When coffee rust fungus killed most of the coffee plants in 1869, estate owners had to diversify.

They used plants brought from India, which thrived in the crisp, damp air of the central highlands.

The Virgin White Tea Plantation in Handunugoda near Galle, in the southern province, specialises in the production of the world’s most sought-after speciality teas, such as Sapphire Oolong, Lapsang Souchong, Flowery Camellia tea and the most highly-prized Virgin White tea.

Virgin White Tea

The Virgin White Tea of Handunugoda is the only white tea in the world that is untouched by hand. Production follows an ancient Chinese ritual where the mandarins employed virgins to cut the tea with golden scissors and collect leaves in a golden bowl. Only the emperor’s lips touched the tea.

Pickers have to wear gloves and use special scissors to cut the leaves, to avoid the leaf being tarnished. It has 10.11% antioxidants, the highest known antioxidant content in any tea.

At no time do the hands of the pluckers touch the buds, and once picked, the leaves are dried using only filtered sunlight.

Just 120kg of Virgin White tea is produced a year (10kg a month). At Handunugoda, it is sold for $1,500 US dollars per kilo. You can also buy it from Mariage Frères (mariagefreres.com; €68 for 20g) in Paris, the most exclusive tea salon in the world, or directly from the Virgin White Tea Plantation (shop.hermanteas.com; $36 US dollars for 10 teabags).

And other teas? How are they processed?

Only the topmost buds and two leaves are picked to ensure freshness in a process known as ‘fine plucking’, then leaves are spread out on ‘withering troughs’ to make them pliable and remove excess moisture. They are then rolled in a machine which crushes them and triggers fermentation. Finally, the leaves are dried, sifted and graded.

Loose tea or teabags – what’s best?

Herman Gunaratne, owner of the Handunugoda Estate, says: “There is no problem with teabags. However, if you take into account the high cost of the teabag and string, then a good tea becomes more costly for the consumer. But if you have 25 teas and one is made with a teabag, I can distinctly get the taste of paper.”

Should you drink it with or without milk?

“When tea became a fashionable drink, the techniques of manufacture were not so highly developed. In order to mask the harshness of the tea, they first added milk. When that didn’t make too much of an improvement, they added sugar.”

But the techniques of production have improved over the years. Good tea should be drunk without milk, Herman says.

What’s the correct brewing technique?

“The ideal tea is made with one teaspoon per cup. Heat the water until the first bubbles are appearing, then stop. Pour it. Let it steep for five minutes. Then drink.”

How to get there

Hannah Stephenson stayed at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa, Sri Lanka (shangri-la.com/hambantota/shangrila). Room rates are from US$293 (approx. £219) per night, based on double occupancy.