World renowned geographer and climatologist Dr. Manfred Domroes, who has visited Sri Lanka 80 times, talks about his unconditional love for the island and his hopes for its future  By Shaveen Jeewandara He is a man of the mountains, the lakes and the great outdoors. Born in the industrial city of Essen in Germany during [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Finding heaven on earth


World renowned geographer and climatologist Dr. Manfred Domroes, who has visited Sri Lanka 80 times, talks about his unconditional love for the island and his hopes for its future 

By Shaveen Jeewandara

He is a man of the mountains, the lakes and the great outdoors. Born in the industrial city of Essen in Germany during the early stages of the Second World War, he was always looking for the opportunity to spread his wings far and wide. We sit down with world renowned geographer and climatologist, Emeritus Professor Dr. Manfred Domroes, 73, fresh from his 80th, yes 80th visit to Sri Lanka, to find out about his long love affair with the island.

Dr. Manfred Domroes: “I don’t feel like a foreigner here”. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

“It was the tea, I tell you. Lanka had a lot to offer geographically, but it was the tea that made me take that second trip,” he says, chuckling. “Lanka has the best tea in the world you know.”

Professor Domroes’ first came to the island on a geographical exploration in completion of his post-doctoral studies in 1967. “Lanka was a wonderful case study. The relationship between man and nature, and the variation of climate within a short distance was perfect for my work,” he says, mentioning that the ancient irrigation systems of our forefathers had him in awe. “When you take all the wewas and kulams, Lanka had one of the best irrigation systems in the world. Unfortunately it’s not well shown to the tourists.”

He made several trips to the island in order to complete his research, and gradually built up his relationship with the then Ceylon Tourist Board, which requested him to hold seminars on tourism on Ceylon back home. To date he has held over 150 such seminars – opening the doors of Lanka to a plethora of German tourists. “I may not be the father of German tourism in Sri Lanka, but I could pass for the grandfather,” he smiles.

Professor Domroes started his academic career as a lecturer at the Department of Geography of the Heidelberg University, after securing a PhD with First Class Honours from the University of Bonn in 1965. He was then promoted Professor & Section Head of Climatology, Department of Geography, of the Aachen University. Subsequently, the research he completed on the agro-climatology of Sri Lanka in the early 1970s led to his elevation to Professor of Geography at the Mainz University, becoming the youngest Senior Professor of Geography in Germany, aged just 34. He also holds two honorary doctorates from the University of Peradeniya and Sabaragamuwa.

It was in 1974 that he brought the first batch of 25 geography students to Sri Lanka to study the ancient irrigation systems of Rajarata and do climate studies in the Central province. Since then he’s brought several student groups to various parts of the island. “Many who come here, make that second trip because you have an instant connection with Lanka. You see Lanka from your heart. I have come 80 times because I see it from my heart,” he says. “I remember standing on top of Mount Lavinia on my first trip, as I thought to myself-this is the real heaven on Earth. Sri Lanka and serendipity go hand in hand, because it is the land of personal discoveries. In no other country would you make so much of personal explorations that stay remain closer to your heart.”

Professor Domroes has written several books about Sri Lanka, including the leading text-book of Sri Lankan geography in German, “die Tropeninsel Ceylon (Regional Geography of Ceylon)”.

His most memorable trip was one in the late 70’s, where he visited the hill country. “My favourite place has to be Nuwara Eliya, of course because of the tea,” he smiles. Not surprisingly he takes no milk with his tea. “You must drink it pure you know.” He believes that tea should come complimentary to the hotel guests. “The waiter should come and ask, ‘Sir, can we serve you a wonderful cup of Ceylon tea along with that – on the house of course’- Lanka would be the first country to do so, and it will be amazing, he says. His theory being that Ceylon Tea is our flagship product, we would only do it justice by promoting it via complimentary serving. “One who tastes Ceylon Tea, would never go back without buying a box or two.”

Professor Domroes has seen every corner of the island, and every twist and turn in its recent past – the good, the bad and even the ugly. “I remember this particular day in July 1983 ,” he says, “ I was travelling to Yala, when the police said, ‘no sir you cannot travel anymore in Lanka, you must leave’. I stayed on for a week regardless and only had to move to the Maldives when the situation was really aggravated, but I still came back, because Lanka was home.”

He feels strongly that it was his duty to return. “When you are a friend, you have to continue to be a friend. Friendship will not end during unsettled times.” But, his unconditional love for Lanka almost claimed his life in the Central Bank bomb explosion in January 1996. “That was the most terrible experience. I was in a meeting with the Director General of Tourism, at the Tourism headquarters, when the bomb went off. I was supposed to wrap up the meeting soon, and head off to an appointment at the Air Lanka office at 10 a.m. and the bomb went off four minutes earlier. The two ladies who were handling my appointment lost their lives, and the Chief Librarian of the Central Bank, who was a dear friend of mine, lost her life along with countless others.”

His son, Joerg, also had a narrow escape at the Galadari hotel in October 1997 when the bomb at the World Trade Centre went off. “He had been sleeping for too long and had gotten up with the bomb,” the Professor says, managing to find the humour amidst it all.
“I said to my students, war is not the usual way of living together in a peaceful, beautiful country. I had no trouble at all coming during the war time. It was an obligation to come, and not say goodbye to Sri Lanka.”

He was here during the aftermath of the Tsunami, and had taken steps to help rehabilitate schools in the Southern Province, securing German aid. He founded the ‘Sri Lanka-German campaign for children in need’, and has provided uniforms for over 10,000 students in Galle, and computers to the schools in need.

He only hopes that Sri Lanka will one day learn how to make the best of her resources and not depend on other countries for development. “You have a wonderful climate of human understanding, and you can have open doors all the time. Foreigners respect your culture. They like Lanka and they want to enjoy it, but the country must learn sustainable tourism.” Prof. Domroes urges Sri Lankans to continue to be open minded without putting friendship on an economic platform.

“I don’t feel like a foreigner, I even tell people not to take me as a foreigner. You know why? Because then I don’t have to pay three times for the tuk-tuk ride,” he laughs.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.