Let's face it. People find Sri Lanka. At any given time, in any day and age. Even now, but also then. When our isle was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and packed in a puzzle. That was the start of serendipity. The happy habit of finding something desirable by chance or happenstance. The three Princes of Serendip were washed ashore in a fortunate happening for us. And them. We had always been there.
Maybe in Atlantean times, or as Atlantis itself. Or Lemuria, or any number of other lost lands of legend. But now we have been discovered. And as a catchy slogan has it, once discovered you must explore.
Explorers flocked here in their droves. Some came as flotsam, others as jetsam. Some with high adventure in their hearts, others with soft smiles and sly deceitful wiles.
The Portuguese man-o'-war careened into Ceilao's shores, bringing a panoply of gifts. The Dutch and their Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie came to Zeilan with a plethora of graces too. The British morphed rank colonialism into a more respectable form of imperialism in Ceylon.
The Danish, messing about in India, missed making their mark south of the Palk Strait. It was Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark for the not so great Danes. It would take two hundred years for the Scandinavian presence to make itself felt. The latter-day Vikings no longer feast in Valhalla. Because their gods are dead. And trolls and frost giants make merry in Asgard.
And we were known then abroad as we are now at home. Serendib to the Arabs. Taprobane to the Greeks. Ptolemy had us mapped out as a major geographical location south of India. Cosmas Indicopleustes recorded a Persia Christian presence here. Alexander the Great's caravans rode to the dawn of nothingness from far north of here. And so we were spared tall, blue-eyed and flaxen haired progeny among our pygmies. Marco Polo amused himself an indulgent hour here before rejoining The Silk Route. Persia was at Kashyapa's court, and Sigiriya still bears marks of that Empire's pleasure gardens. India, in our kaleidoscopic nexus over eons, has been friend, father, foe, frenemy, and favourite. China dealt with the land of the gods with largesse since long before Fa Hsien. Today most of Europe sings our glory, though some damn with faint praise.
Hospitality has constructed a stately pleasure dome for the comfort and entertainment of the nations. Beach; rain forest; white water rafting; tea, foot, biker trails - these have broken old barriers down. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, Barbarian or Scythian, slave or free. We are the emerging cosmopolis of travellers of the twenty-second century - and beyond. For we have dipped into the future as far as human eye can see. We have seen the vision of the world and all the wonders that will be. We have seen the heavens filled with commerce: argosies of magic sails. And pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales. Our land has the potential to be the omphalos of the universe again. As it has been in myth, legend, fantasy, saga, and fable.
Pity then that there is a superfluity of cooks to spoil the soup. Tourist hotels associations. Associations of inbound tour operators. National carrier. Tourism ministry. Promotions boards, bureaus. All for the lack of a satisfactory, sharply salted and spicily seasoned, solitary singular recipe. Regrettable also that our chief chefs don't quite know their onions yet. Avenues lined with trees and wall-less architecture are rather novel ideas. Boardwalks are fine, boulevards are dandy. Cafés are chic, expressways connect, ports and airports provide logistical support. But our people, the backbone of the industry, are yet to be captured by a grand unifying theory. Tourism still lacks pathos, although it has plenty of logos. As for ethos, that will come if and when we get from Tangalle to Galle.
In the limit - a book to read, a glass of wine, thou beside me. These are not Paradise enough. Neither nature nor culture, or adventure; and sun and sea and sky and sand. Nor Arugam Bay on one coast and Colombo the emerging metropolis on the other. Or Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and their satellite World Heritage Sites in the hinterland. Not the Galle Literary Festival alone, or night racing, or all-night raves on Hikkaduwa beaches. But these as far-flung provinces of our island race's principal avenues of pleasure. We need a bigger, better, more overarchingly able to unite and encompass all big picture. We need a new dream. In the present dispensation, any dream will not do. The new vision must wow, unite, inspire, take our breath away. Should it give soul, spirit, serenity… that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.