High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India, Chitranganee Wagiswara, tells Shubh Yatra about the similarities she finds between the two countries, her love for tandoori chicken and her plans to travel within India
It has only been a year since Chitranganee Wagiswara was appointed the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India. Her time in the country so far has been devoted to work, but she has a wish list comprising places she would like to visit for pleasure, food she would love to savour and things she would want to see and experience in India.
Have you visited India before?
I have been to the country quite a number of times earlier, for official purposes, accompanying Sri Lankan presidents and foreign officials. We would just have a couple of days, however, and not enough time to go around the country. But on my first trip to India, I was able to visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal!
How has the last year been for you?
It has been a good experience working as a representative of my country in India. Our bilateral relations are excellent. There have been several official visits between the countries too – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been to Sri Lanka twice in the last two years and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has visited India several times since his election.
What are the places you have visited so far in India?
I haven’t had the time to travel as much as I would like, as most of my time is taken up by work. I have been to Goa thrice, and have visited Pune to deliver a talk at an institute. These have, however, been official visits.
What are the places you would like to visit?
I want to visit the Ajanta Caves. I have heard a lot about the mountains in India and would love a trip to the hills. Udaipur is also on my wish list as it is called the ‘Venice of the East’, and while there, I’d like to see Jaipur too. I plan to visit the backwaters in Kerala soon and also want to witness the Beating the Retreat ceremony at the Wagah border. Every part of the country is distinct from the other, and I want to experience it all.
What are the similarities you find between India and Sri Lanka?
There are a lot of similarities, especially in terms of culture and cuisine. Sinhalese cuisine is very similar to the kind of food prepared in South India, especially Kerala. Coconut is an integral part of our recipes. The concept of curry is similar too, but the combination of spices is different. Also, we consume plenty of rice and seldom have roti. And when we do, we add coconut to the dough. Culturally, both countries are musically inclined. Like the various gharanas across India, the musical styles in Sri Lanka, too, change from region to region. We have low country music and up country music, which is reflective of the culture of the city of Kandy. Other than this, many Sinhalese pilgrims visit Buddhist sites in India such as Sarnath, Gaya and Varanasi. For a Sinhalese Buddhist, a pilgrimage in India is a dream come true. To Indians, Sri Lanka is significant because it is where a part of the Ramayana is believed to have taken place. Researchers are trying to identify a Ramayana trail in the country to help attract more Indian tourists.
What would you advise a Sinhalese to do in India?
My first suggestion would be to visit Goa and travel the Buddhist circuit across the country. They should try the local street food, along with sweets – especially kaju barfi. India is also a paradise for saree lovers from Sri Lanka!
What would you advise an Indian to do in Sri Lanka?
Ours is a small country and travelling across it is quite easy. Like India, the topography of Sri Lanka is varied. The stretch from Colombo to the south is full of lovely beaches filled with coconut trees – places where you can taste amazing seafood. If you travel to the central hills and higher, you will come across tea gardens. This region is cooler than Colombo. The northcentral areas are famous for temples, dagabas (domes) and the remnants of palaces of erstwhile kings.
The best time to visit Sri Lanka…
We have tourists all year round. But the peak time is from October to March.
As told to Shrabasti Mallik