The trip began, as it so often does, with indecision. This time, however, the confusion was not marked by an internal debate over whether to pack one pair of shorts over another, but a far more pressing and fundamental dilemma. Should I really be going to
Sri Lanka at a time when the country’s 26-year-long civil war was playing out its final act in a bloody crescendo of violence?
There are plenty of compelling arguments for steering well clear of many nations. Apartheid walls. Human rights abuses. Silvio Berlusconi. The world is a pretty messed up place alright.
The application of an unflinching ethos to your travel plans would not get you much further than your own doorstep, however. So it was with curiosity, fascination, and not to mention a little trepidation, that I resolved to stick with my long-held intention to explore the giant green teardrop that rolls off the right side of India’s nose.
South Asia has been a source of eternal fascination for me since my dilettante backpacking days. I first visited India in 2001 on a two-week transit visa on my way from Kathmandu to Mumbai and a return flight to Edinburgh after a year and a half on the run from reality. Accompanied by a wild- haired Dutchman named Cedric, I embarked on a 1,600km odyssey that packed in the awe-inspiring Ghats at Varanasi, tiger-spotting in Madhya Pradesh, cave temples in Maharashtra, tandoori calamari in Goa and far too many defeats at travel chess. Although I was long past the point when my backpack had stopped being a trusty travel companion and started mocking me with its girth and propensity to force required items into its hardest- to-reach crevices, the country made a massive impression on me.
I returned to south India for a month in 2007 and was even more enchanted. While no one who has ever been to the country will deny that the place has more than its
fair share of downsides, the dust, overcrowding and poverty were overridden by the beauty of the landscapes in Kerala and Karnataka, and the sheer mad intensity of cities like Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
I had always wanted to venture even further south across the
Gulf of Mannar to Sri Lanka, but it was during my 2007 trip that the kernel of intrigue mutated into full blown desire.