This week has really been about settling in to Batticaloa on my own. Some guide books refer to the place as a Sri Lankan Venice, which it isn’t at all because Venice has beautiful buildings and apart from the old Dutch Fort, which is where the District Secretariat is based and where I work, the buildings are ugly. The houses are a bit more attractive – bungalows/villas pretty much all with gardens full of flowers as ‘stuff’ grows here generally. What is extraordinarily beautiful about the place is just the water everywhere – a pretty much pristine lagoon flanked with mangrove swamps, palm trees and glimpses of golden sand. If I step outside my gate I have a vista that could appear on any postcard. I absolutely love the water, the way the sun shines on it in the early morning and at sunset and the birds. As well as strange, unusual water birds they have crow types that are like pigeons here and gather around you if they think food is in the offing. They all look gleaming and fit and are very comical and entertaining to watch.
So far the signs are good at the council that I am going to be given a lot more work, in fact they even asked me if I would take work home, but I said ‘no’. I need my chill out down time for the hammock, the beach and cycling which in flat, tarmac’d Batti I am beginning to love.
I got a half day induction visit yesterday and was driven out to the new tourist development at Kalkudah. I am not quite sure what I think of it. It is the most exquisite curve of sandy beach in a very sheltered bay fringed with palm trees. The sea is greeny blue see through clear. They are building about 10 top end hotels – 2 are already built and occupied. I asked if we could go in and look, but my guide was horrified and said we didn’t have permission. I would have gone in and had a nosey, but I didn’t want to get him in to trouble. They are Sri Lankan owned (I found out later that they are not), which is an improvement on El Salvador where they are all owned by Americans. At the end of the curve is a little shanty town of ‘shops’ that hope to benefit, but I am not sure they will allow them to remain or even if they are selling anything beyond cheaper drinks that rich people would want. Their national policy is to encourage high end tourism only. I also saw rice mills, coconut farms, post tsunami housing estates and a lot of road building.
My landlady has food brought to her so I have that 3 days a week which is curries and rice and then the other 4 days I will cook for myself. In the morning I have bread and greek style youghurt they call curd with fruit. At lunchtime I have ‘short eats’ which are samosa type things stuffed with curried vegetables, egg, fish or chicken which are really tasty. I can eat well for £2.50 a day. I’m still not touching alcohol.
The Tourism Development Strategy 2011- 2016 states the five major areas of focus as
According to the Mahinda Chindana Sri Lanka should achieve 2.5 million tourists every year and tourism should become the third largest foreign exchange earner by 2016.
The vision is to percolate benefits downwards through home stays, village tours, rural youth training, handicraft and cottage industry development.
The East coast region was one of the five resort regions identified in the first tourism master plan, 1967-1976, as having high potential for tourism development in Sri Lanka. The beaches in the east coast were identified to be the best available in the country with a high potential for developing a range of ocean-based recreational facilities.
Batticaloa is on the cusp of expanding its tourism infrastructure. There is a very large tourist development underway at Kalkudah/Passikudah with 14 5* hotels approved by the government from a variety of private sector interests including Maldivian and Indian. Investment laws permit 100% foreign ownership in the tourism sector other than travel agency business. Foreign investment over US$ 10 million are allowed to purchase land and properties outright that pertain to the project. 5 of these hotels are functional and 9 are still in various stages of construction. The level of local employment opportunities is not certain though general consensus quotes between 15-40%. Nor is it known what amount of provisions are locally sourced. Research would need to be undertaken individually with each hotel.
Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013