Post-war Jaffna among must-see places in island

Updated 29 April 2014
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Post-war Jaffna among must-see places in island

The Jaffna Peninsula is a 400-square-mile tract of colorful temples and barren, strange spectacular landscapes in northern Sri Lanka that have only recently opened to tourists after the 26-year civil war. You get to see the reminders of the war all around.
Ethnic Tamils living in the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna are recovering fast from the devastation caused during the country’s 26-year long civil war, which ended in 2009. Large-scare development projects are under way.
Lankan Spice Gardens: Sri Lanka has always been famed for its spices and several spices gardens around the island. Take a walk through trees, plants and native herbs, all of which are the secrets behind Sri Lankan food and spices. The spice gardens have a traditional open kitchen where the spices are grinded and a mini restaurant where traditional Sri Lankan food is cooked and served.
During early historical times, Sri Lanka was well-known globally for its quality spices. In ancient times, the Greeks, Romans and the Arabic sustained their associations with Sri Lanka through the spice trade.
Spice Gardens in the hill capital Kandy, Matale and Mawanella give remarkable insight into spice production in Sri Lanka. Spices used in Sri Lankan cuisine consist of cinnamon,cardamom, pepper, cloves, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin,sweet cumin, curry leaves, lemon grass and gamboge.
Galle Fort lighthouse and ramparts: The lighthouse in Galle is Sri Lanka’s oldest light station dating back to 1848. Being a UNESCO world heritage site and well known tourist attraction, the light station is within the walls of the ancient Galle fort, making it the country’s most often visited lighthouse.
The magnificent Galle fort was initially built by the Portuguese in 1588. The fort was equipped by Dutch in 17th century and was visited by the Chinese, Greeks, Arabs and Indians for business and commercial trading purposes.
The centerpiece of Galle is the Dutch Fort. It stands majestically alongside the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The Galle Fort covers an area of 36 hectares and hems in the Dutch museum, the maritime museum, the lighthouse, a clock tower, churches, mosques and several hundred private dwellings.
Whale-watching at Mirissa: If you haven’t heard of it yet, this is the best place to see blue whales. Mirissa is one of the whale watching hubs of Sri Lanka. Many tourists visiting Sri Lanka have been taking a side trip to Mirissa to do some whale and dolphin watching.
Visitors are taken on boat rides to do the whale watching, while maintaining a distance to get a better view of the ocean inhabitants.
Chances are that you will get a sight of Blue Whales, Fin Whales and even Sperm whales in these waters along with a variety of dolphins.
Pettah commercial market: The Pettah market is one of Colombo’s most popular and hectic open-air market, where you can buy various goods including local products and food and what not.
It’s perhaps the best place in Colombo to get introduced into the local Sri Lankan hurly-burly, to gulp down the hums and aromas, and to get a taste of life in Colombo.
This fresh market doesn’t only stop at selling edibles but a combination of electronics and dvd’s, knick knacks, lots of clothing for low-prices , a huge section of fresh produce and huge crowds of people.


Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

Updated 22 May 2019
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Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

  • The Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert
  • Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden

CHIBAYISH, Iraq: Thirty years after Saddam Hussein starved them of water, Iraq’s southern marshes are blossoming once more thanks to a wave of ecotourists picnicking and paddling down their replenished river bends.
A one-room home made of elaborately woven palm reeds floats on the river surface. Near it, a soft plume of smoke curls up from a firepit where carp is being grilled, Iraqi-style.
A few canoes drift by, carrying couples and groups of friends singing to the beat of drums.
“I didn’t think I would find somewhere so beautiful, and such a body of water in Iraq,” said Habib Al-Jurani.
He left Iraq in 1990 for the United States, and was back in his ancestral homeland for a family visit.

Tourists sit in a canoe as they are shown around the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“Most people don’t know what Iraq is really like — they think it’s the world’s most dangerous place, with nothing but killings and terrorism,” he said.
Looking around the lush marshes, declared in 2016 to be Iraq’s fifth UNESCO World Heritage site, Jurani added: “There are some mesmerizing places.”
Straddling Iraq’s famous Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert.
Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden.
But they were also a haven for political opposition to dictator Saddam Hussein, who cut off water to the site in retaliation for the south’s uprising against him in 1991.
Around 90 percent of the once-expansive marshes were drained, and the area’s 250,000 residents dwindled down to just 30,000.

This picture taken on March 29, 2019 shows geese swimming in the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra. (AFP)

In the ensuing years, severe droughts and decreased water flows from the twin rivers’ source countries — Turkey and Iran — shrunk the marshes’ surface from some 15,000 square kilometers to less than half that.
It all culminated with a particularly dry winter last year that left the “ahwar,” as they are known in Arabic, painfully parched.
But heavier rains this year have filled more than 80 percent of the marshes’ surface area, according to the United Nations, compared to just 27 percent last year.
That has resurrected the ancient lifestyle that dominated this area for more than 5,000 years.
“The water returned, and with it normal life,” said 35-year-old Mehdi Al-Mayali, who raises water buffalo and sells their milk, used to make rich cream served at Iraqi breakfasts.

Wildlife including the vulnerable smooth-coated otter, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Basra reed warbler have returned to the marshlands — along with the pickiest of all species: tourists.
“Ecotourism has revived the ‘ahwar’. There are Iraqis from different provinces and some foreigners,” Mayali said.
A day in the marshes typically involves hiring a resident to paddle a large reed raft down the river for around $25 — not a cheap fare for Iraq.
Then, lunch in a “mudhif” or guesthouse, also run by locals.
“Ecotourism is an important source of revenue for those native to the marshes,” said Jassim Assadi, who heads Nature Iraq.
The environmental activist group has long advocated for the marshes to be better protected and for authorities to develop a long-term ecotourism plan for the area.

An Iraqi boy pets cattle by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“It’s a much more sustainable activity than the hydrocarbon and petroleum industry,” said Assadi, referring to the dominant industry that provides Iraq with about 90 percent of state revenues.
The numbers have steadily gone up in recent years, according to Assaad Al-Qarghouli, tourism chief in Iraq’s southern province of Dhi Qar.
“We had 10,000 tourists in 2016, then 12,000 in 2017 and 18,000 in 2018,” he told AFP.
But there is virtually no infrastructure to accommodate them.
“There are no tourist centers or hotels, because the state budget was sucked up by war the last few years,” Qarghouli told AFP.
Indeed, the Daesh group overran swathes of Iraq in 2014, prompting the government to direct its full attention — and the bulk of its resources — to fighting it back.

An Iraqi tourist grills fish by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

Iraq’s government declared victory in late 2017 and has slowly begun reallocating resources to infrastructure projects.
Qarghouli said the marshes should be a priority, and called on the government to build “a hotel complex and touristic eco-village inside the marshes.”
Peak season for tourists is between September and April, avoiding the summer months of Iraq when temperatures can reach a stifling 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
But without a long-term government plan, residents worry that water levels will be hostage to fluctuating yearly rainfalls and shortages caused by Iranian and Turkish dams.
These dynamics have already damaged the marshes’ fragile ecosystem, with high levels of salination last year killing fish and forcing other wildlife to migrate.
Jurani, the returning expatriate, has an idea of the solution.
“Adventurers and nature-lovers,” he said, hopefully.