My first time in Sri Lanka was in October 2010. I was part of a group of invited travel media professionals from the US on a tour of the country that was slowly emerging from its long hiatus after a bitter 30 year civil war and becoming the next must-see destination. Everyone in the industry was writing about Sri Lanka’s Eden-like paradise. The New York Times even named it #1 in its list of “The 31 Places To Go In 2010″.
Although I was aware of the country’s pristine beaches, I soon realized how little I knew of this island nation’s treasures. Within a short span of a few days, a kaleidoscope of experiences kept me mesmerized. Climbing the steps of an ancient rock fortress to see exquisite centuries’ old wall paintings, walking alongside elephants in a one-of-a-kind animal orphanage, drinking Pimm’s cocktail in a mahogany bar of a British colonial era tea estate and of course, marveling at the relentless waves of the Indian Ocean lashing against miles of sandy shoreline were only a few of them. This trip, I thought, was going to end on the all-so-familiar high of visiting (and photographing) an amazing foreign land.
Then something unexpected happened.
Almost on a whim, I was added to a list of people who were granted special access to visit the northern part of the country that had been synonymous with the fight between government forces and the much feared L.T.T.E. (a militant separatist group seeking a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority) for over 30 years. Although the war had ended for about two years then, once we landed at a small airstrip (in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka), I realized I was in a different world. What I saw on the ground (now I know), was a life-changing experience.
Little did I know that I was embarking on probably one of the most remarkable projects of my life till date. One thing led to another … and about a year later, led to the founding of The Cartwheel Initiative (opens in a new window).