If “Seethawaka Odyssey” Is to Survive And Flourish,
Posted on March 27th, 2023

Sasanka De Silva Pannipitiya

My experience of taking the Seethawaka Odyssey to see the natural wonders of the Seethawaka region in Sri Lanka was very mixed.

The train ride was uneventful and peaceful, but once we reached the designated drop-off point at “Waga,” the continuation of the next part of the odyssey was nothing but disappointing and chaotic.

When the train arrived at “Waga”, there were not enough buses to accommodate the number of guests expected, and seeing the numbers, someone from the “Seethawaka Tourist Guides’ Association started making fanatical calls to bus owners from the area.

The other issue was that many did not have tickets for the buses, and the train fare guests pay does not include the side trips, and even the railway authority was of no help except to say “Buses will be there and you have to pay them then and there only”.

What a healthy way to promote their train ride to locals and foreign tourists alike.

Later, I came to understand that someone from the Tourist Promotional Authority had sold those tickets to guests who boarded the train from its starting point, conveniently ignoring the other guests boarding the train from subsequent pick-up points.

Finally, after many frantic calls, a few extra buses totalling six arrived. Four were non-airconditioned and two were supposed to be with air conditioning, but it later turned out that one of those had a defective air conditioning system, resulting in guests who boarded the bus having to travel with the shutters up, with no refund of any fare paid to them at the end.

One can ride on this train by only having a prior booking, and that means the railway authorities have a clear idea of how many guests are expected on the train, and further, their booking system requires the national identity card number of every guest.

If this information can be shared with the tourism promotional authority and their end facilitator, the “Seethawaka Tour Guides Association,” the situation cannot be that chaotic.

The booking details will let them know how many will arrive using the premium air-conditioned coach and other coaches, as the gender and age of every guest arriving by train.

But if the railway authority wants to keep those details as secretive as something like national security details, then they have to reexamine their priorities and stand again on this.

The bus tickets are another concern, with no fare or issuing authority details available on them except that they were colour-coded for AC and non-AC buses, which can only open up opportunities for fraud later.

There were six buses full of guests, and there was only one qualified guide to take them around, and no proper briefing was done prior to the commencement of the second leg of the odyssey on what to do and what not to do in those places guests were supposed to be going.

The last thing was that if the local authority of the Seethawaka region thinks that simply putting up a big sign (most of them were in a crumbling state now) is what the area and facility need to promote themselves, then they are sadly mistaken.

Adding value to those natural wonders is overdue if they want to promote that area as a tourist area.

There are lots of health, safety, and environmental concerns that must be addressed if they are to make a real buck out of this venture, or else it will fizzle out as many other big projects started with big fanfare in the past.

Sad, but those are the real ground-level issues that all authorities have to earnestly address working like a big team together to see the project sustain and flourish in the future.

Sasanka De Silva


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