Scent of cinnamon

Updated: 2015-03-23 07:46

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya(China Daily)

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Scent of cinnamon

Two men do stilt fishing on the coast of Galle in southern Sri Lanka. [Photo by Li Peng/Xinhua]

Foreign tourists who still describe Sri Lanka as the "pearl of the Orient", a colonial cliche, perhaps do so owing to the island's many stunning natural locations.

The Indian Ocean nation is quite the traveler's classic with its white-sand beaches, hills dotted with tea plantations, tropical wildlife and gem mines.

Known as Ceylon until 1972, the droplet-shaped country, located near India's southern shores, is celebrated in lore as a stop on the ancient maritime Silk Route. Chinese traders used the marine route and overland roads to sell silk abroad centuries ago.

More recently, nearly three decades of civil war affected Sri Lanka's chances to optimize its tourism potential. But since 2009, when one of South Asia's bloodiest conflicts ended, earlier inaccessible parts in the country's east and north have slowly opened for business.

China has emerged as Sri Lanka's biggest foreign investor in the past few years, with its companies involved in several infrastructure projects such as building a port in the southern town of Hambanthota, an international airport in nearby Mattala and a power plant in northwestern Norochcholai.

Last year, Chinese FDI in the island stood at $329.755 million, according to Sri Lankan embassy officials in Beijing.

Chinese tourists have also developed an interest in the island lately, government data suggests. A total number of 128,166 Chinese tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2014, placing China among the main five nations from where Sri Lanka draws the bulk of its foreign tourists, the officials say.

India, the United Kingdom, China, Germany and Russia make up that list.

This year, China attained the No 1 position in the inbound category for the month of February, when some 27,425 Chinese tourists visited Sri Lanka. China attracted about 50,000 Sri Lankan tourists last year, a 1.1 percent increase year-on-year, the website for China's National Tourism Administration shows.

A weekly direct flight from Chongqing city in South China to the island's capital, Colombo, was announced September to meet vacationers' demand.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong were connected to Colombo by air even earlier, but the rapid rise in Chinese tourists was witnessed only in the past two years.

Many young Lankans spend time in China on Mandarin and medical studies.

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