At the moment (end of 2015) Sri Lanka is in the grip of a construction boom. Everywhere you look there are new guest houses and hotels being thrown up. I do mean thrown up, the construction looks downright unsafe and working practices are lethal – sledgehammer vs flip-flop is going to end badly.
What is the reason for this sudden rush of new buildings? Tourism – and every man and his dog jumping on the band wagon. Someone builds a guest house, and rents out rooms. Next door neighbour sees this, so decides to the same. Then his neighbour sees they are both making money and decides to do rooms as well. Eventually the whole street is doing the same thing, but nobody is making any money as there are not enough tourists to go around, so buildings sit half constructed, the area starts to look a bit worse for wear, and the tourists stop coming altogether.
On speaking with many Sri Lankans, and a few ex-pats, this seems to be a common theme. The ideas are good, but the execution is poor, and the maintenance and upkeep is non-existent.
Take for instance the Hotel Glendower in Nuwara Eliya. This small hotel was surrounded on 3 sides by different construction sites, 2 of which involved major works with piling rigs. Given the small handful of tourists we saw in Nuwara Eliya, I struggle to see what demand they are trying to fill.
Of course, this rampant construction needs plenty of materials moving, which means there are hundreds of massive dumper trucks crawling along on the steep, twisty mountain roads, belching out vast quantities of fumes. Couple this with the multitude of buses also spewing fumes out, and the fresh hill country air is anything but! We could not drive with the windows down as the pollution was incessant.
We found some of the beautiful Sri Lanka we had imagined, it was on the road from Nuwara Eliya back to Colombo, but as ever there was nowhere to stop and enjoy the view, owing to having the buses try to bully you out of the way, and any available space filled with construction traffic.
I so wanted to enjoy Sri Lanka, but after 10 days I had had enough of the pollution, traffic, construction and general state of the place. It’s a shame, but it seems the rush to make money is having a detrimental effect on what was previously a stunning place to visit.