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Sri Lanka is on the brink of a tourism boom with hotel chains rushing to open luxury resorts. But venture off the beaten track a little and you will find deserted shores, natural beauty and little-visited temples. I believe this will be a harmonious travel and your family!

The beach is on the south coast of Sri Lanka Gurupokuna wild and empty. Up and down looked at its length, you may see another person. The waves below are wild. Taoyo tour for 8 months. They crashed and the pound was so angry that you could hear them roar for at least half a mile inland. At night we feel like our hut, just meters of the waves, is about to be engulfed by the sea. The fact that the original hut was swallowed by the sea at the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami gave us the slight advantage of the first night Mamboz Beach Cabin.

But all angst evaporated with the morning sunshine. Mamboz is a very simple place: just four huts on stilts in the sand, a few hammocks strung under palm trees, and a back gate that opens directly on to that beach. Arriving with my partner and six-year-old son, I felt like we’d stumbled across an exotic little club: exclusive because of its spectacular and remote setting, but friendly and welcoming thanks to the easy charm of its owner, American Matthew Gale. Over dinner of tuna steaks and banana leaf curry, one couple told us they’d come for three days but were now into their eighth. “We can’t leave.”
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While Matthew will arrange tuk tuk cars or cars to nearby attractions – including Udawalawe National Park and 500 powerful elephants, or Mulkirigala Rock Temple – what people most like Mamboz into lazy various states, whether it is lazily Lying on a hammock, watching the sun set to wet sand gold and sky pink, or was hit for two hours: Matthew is the Thai massage expert.

However, there is work to be done for those who feel energetic. Every morning at around 7am, fishermen cast vast nets between 200 and 300 metres out to sea, then spend an hour hauling them in. Half the village was there to help and every extra pair of hands was welcome. My partner joined the long line of people leaning back and slowly heaving the load in as an older man sang to keep the momentum going. Eventually the net was dragged on to the beach with its fat wriggling cargo. Locals who’d come to help picked the tiddlers out of the net while the bulk of the catch was sorted into polystyrene crates to be taken to market. It’s quite a contrast to some of the stilt fishermen near Galle, who have become one of the most photographed sights in Sri Lanka and now only “fish for tourists”, according to one guide we spoke to.
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But even here, fishing is more like a place to live than a scenic spot, it is not the same. “They used to go out once a day; now the four teams went out four times a day,” Matthew told us when we came back. And not just change the fishing on this coast. After 13 years of isolation, Mamboz is a neighbor, luxury, modern hotel by Russian investors. Matthew did not object to having a neighbor, but he was worried about the size of the hotel in the country. Seven years after the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is in the building boom, with international chain hotels sprang up along the coast.

The bay of Weligama, the southern coastal town famous for its surf schools, is now dominated by a hulking Marriott hotel – the group’s first on the island. In Hambantota, 18 miles east of Mamboz, a 300-room Shangri-La opened in June this year, overlooking a pristine beach. It’s handy for the new Mattala Rajapaksa airport, or it would be if any international airlines actually flew into it. The million-passenger-capacity airport, with its 4km runway built over an elephant corridor is just one of several vanity projects built by – and named after – former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in a bid to turn his home town into an thriving business hub. A new convention centre and new cricket stadium are also barely used white elephants.

Back to the hotel to name a few examples: luxury chain Anantara opened the first property, Tangalle suburb, late last year; one, another upscale hotel opened in March, is to open a Sheraton Hotel Kosgoda, ‘turtles nest Beach; 2017, Colombo will get a Shangri-La, Movenpick, Sheraton, Grand Hyatt, the first ITC beyond India.
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You can’t blame a country, especially one held back for so long by civil war, for wanting to benefit from tourism. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Agency is aiming to almost double visitor numbers in the next four years, from 2.2 million in 2016 – up from 1.5 million in 2015 – to four million by 2020, but what does such rampant growth mean for the people of Sri Lanka? Matthew was due to open Mamboz the day the tsunami struck. He was fixing the roof when he saw a “wall of white” coming towards him and told his staff to run. Fortunately no one was hurt and Mamboz was rebuilt. Now, 13 years on, the huge increase in hotel capacity along the coast is having a direct impact on his bookings and he is scathing about the government’s focus on big luxury developments. “You should have come 10 years ago. Mass tourism is where it’s going,” he said ruefully.

Born in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans are keen to protect their country, the new wave of tourism means to redouble their efforts to protect cultural heritage and the environment. Tharanga Liyanarachchi Tradition Foundation is an archaeologist employed in Galle. His job is to protect historic buildings within the 400-year-old Galle Fort. The physical threat comes mainly from developers who want to change the unique look of the old town house, but seriously and staunchly Tharanga Fort is also responsible for ensuring that it will not become an open museum, only rich visitors can keep and shops, already has six boutique hotels, More and more upscale stores sell $ 40 aprons and luxury beauty products and restaurants offering cocktails and sushi.
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The indigenous community has already fallen from 2,500 to 1,500 and he wants these people to be able to continue living and working in the fort. “We have a tuk-tuk association for the 80 drivers in the fort, and a mobile vendors’ association. We must get participation for them to preserve our culture. The money must go to them.”

As well as running a daily traditional walk to visit the fortress, he introduced the monthly traditional dance performances Fort Court Square and the ongoing development of the 14 fortresses to the exhibition and event space to showcase the local culture.

But his passion for conservation isn’t confined to the 80 acres of streets and historic buildings within the fort’s Dutch-built ramparts. He wants to see a commitment to “intangible heritage” across the country in a way that benefits local communities directly. “Some tours take tourists to mask shops; we should be taking them to the mask makers, so that they get paid for their work directly.”
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The current government replaced the Rajapaksa government two years ago, committed to sustainable tourism. Tharanga and Sunela Jayewardene, Sri Lankan architects specialize in green building and are doing everything they can to ensure that they are not empty promises. “I want to see that whatever happens is environmentally sustainable. This is particularly important to the size of a country. The natural environment is the badge we wear. If we lose, we will kill the golden eggs,” Sunela says.

And for the visitor? So far the hotel chains have focused on the major coastal hubs. Away from these, it’s still perfectly possible to find your own patch of empty beach. Walking the sandy back roads just inland from Mamboz we came across tiny Kingfisher restaurant, where the only person we saw while we ate our lunch of grilled prawns was a buffalo herder, who brought his cattle to graze in the neighbouring paddy field.
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In the early morning 6.30 Kalamatiya Bird Sanctuary, Mamboz to the east of the Lagoon is perfectly peaceful, with the birds calm the local guide Gayan with woods to guide us through the shallow waters. Visitors can understand straight up and other famous large game parks, but share the sunrise lagoon with the Indian pond heron, black and yellow vision, a dazzling purple swamp hen, black cormorant, peacock survey site from the rock habitat, and even A small crocodile, has its own magic.

A former tuk-tuk driver, Gayan started bird-watching only after a tourist gave him a pair of binoculars, a luxury he could never have afforded. Now he is a self-taught guide and dedicated conservationist. He would like to see the government put as much effort into preserving places like Kalametiya, which is under threat from illegal fishing, as they do into promoting already overrun parks. “Yala is horrible now,” he said. “One leopard, 500 jeeps. It’s big business, not nature.”
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For our trip we deliberately chose small, slightly broken records where our drivers did not believe there was anything along the dusty lodging, potholed roads that led us to the next stop, the so-called transcendence, a cluster of estuaries bungalow. Having our sons want to catch lizards and frogs skips easily as they like to gather in the open-air lavatory that we afternoon in the pool or canoe through the laggard wide empty beach.

Even in the more populous areas – near Galle for example – you don’t have to venture far to find quiet places to stay. The Old Palm House is a gorgeous colonial villa a couple of miles inland from the hippy beach town of Unawatuna. On the tuk-tuk ride there we had our eyes half-shut as the driver whisked past buses with centimetres to spare and swerved to avoid stray dogs with a death wish.
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Once we entered the villa door was very calm. From the lawn we can see the top of the tree and the only interruption of laziness in the morning on the balcony arguing endlessly the langur monkey and the green parrot.

Like most holiday homes in Sri Lanka, the Old Palm House had a resident chef. His name was Ruwan and we loved him, not just for his amazing cooking but for his cheerful demeanour. A devoted Buddhist, he chatted away about impermanence and reaching higher states of being. “We are all going to die, madame,” he told me cheerily one morning, while chopping vegetables.

April’s scorching heat and Ruwan’s cooking – fish or prawn curries, whole butter fish, homemade passion fruit cheesecake – made leaving the villa hard, but there was plenty to see within a short tuk-tuk ride.

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We visited the market in Habaraduwa tour guide took us to his house by cooking demonstration railroad track wife Deevika. She spent an hour preparing a huge plate with her own curry powder: jackfruit curry, crispy chewy eggplant, bitter gourd salad, fish balls, mango chutney and ambulthiyal – yellowfin tuna pieces immersed in spices. Deevika asked my son and another child to be asked to grill their coconuts and garlic.

Sri Lanka is famed for heritage sites such as the rock temples at Dambulla but there are hundreds of smaller temples waiting to be discovered. I was the only foreigner wandering among the jumble of boulders and admiring the wall paintings at 2,200 year old Yatagala, not far from the Old Palm House. A small group of worshippers sat under an ancient bodhi tree, their chanting mingling with the yowl of peacocks and the swish of a brush sweeping leaves from the sandy ground. On the way out I noticed a sign asking visitors to respect the site; it ended with the words: “May you have the bless of triple gems.”

On the brink of a country’s tourism boom, Yatagala reminds people how many gems the country has to offer and how much protection it needs.

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