Gimlette spent months travelling through the various regions of Sri Lanka, exploring its rich history, stunning landscape and vibrant cultures. The road is dotted with colourful characters – from politicians to old soldiers – who are able to guide him on his trip. It is quickly clear that Sri Lanka is a place where you could probably throw a stick and uncover something worth exploring: from ancient city ruins only rediscovered in the 1820s to colonial-era forts, Buddhist temples and tea plantations, and finally to painfully fresh battlegrounds in the country’s north, where fighting was underway between government and Tamil Tiger forces as little as six years ago. Everywhere seems to have its own history. In fact, it is hard to image anywhere else that fits so much into just 268 by 139 miles. It is also hard to imagine many places that have experienced so much collective tragedy – from ethnic conflicts, to colonial occupation to the deadly tsunami in 2004.
Despite the colourful ancient history, it is the glimpses of Sri Lanka’s most recent conflict that ultimately linger: the wasteland of destroyed motorbikes and tuk-tuks that are all that remains of the final territory of the Tamil Tigers and the civil war that left tens of thousands dead in its decades-long existence. It was a conflict that left few with any credit and most with much suffering. Damaged indeed, but for many, Sri Lanka still looks and feels like paradise, and Gimlette guides us on an engaging journey through its many layers.
ELEPHANT COMPLEX: Travels in Sri Lanka by John Gimlette; Quercus Publishing; £25 (hardback/eBook)
This review was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.