|A shopping mania and the lure of cooler climes in the hills of Central Sri Lanka may have saved the lives of up to 1,000 Indian tourists in this island country, the shores of which were battered by the murderous waves of the tsunami last Sunday.
"A distinct lack of interest in sunbathing on the sand, and swimming in the sea may have saved their lives," conjectured an Indian diplomat in Colombo.
"There is no other way we can explain the comparatively lower casualty rate among Indian tourists. Initially, we feared that hundreds would have died and were thinking of making the necessary arrangements to deal with the situation," he said.
There are only eight (possibly 10) Indians among the 80-odd foreigners dead in the disaster, which struck the resort-studded coastal areas of the island country.
This is a small number considering the fact there might have been at least 1,000 Indian tourists in Sri Lanka on that Black Sunday.
Sri Lanka receives about 100,000 Indian tourists a year and the year-end is considered the best time to visit the island.
"There were only about 25 enquiries from both India and Sri Lanka about relatives or friends lost in Sri Lanka since last Sunday," the diplomat said.
Asked about the Indians' favoured destination in Sri Lanka, Pravin Nair, the CEO of the Taj Samudra hotel shot back: "Indians aren't too fond of the sun and sand, are they? They have a natural tan!"
But they travel a lot within the island and do a lot of shipping, Nair said.
Hills and the cooler climes are a favoured destination for the Indians. This contrasts with the Whites who head for the beaches immediately on arrival and there loll on the sand most of the day.
The Indians also shop more than the Westerners and therefore make a beeline for the swank shopping complexes in Colombo like Odel and the House of Fashion. The profile of Indians abroad is changing fast. Overseas tourism is a new phenomenon in India.
In the past decade, foreign trips for pleasure, has been accepted as legitimate by middle class India.
Indians, who had avoided Sri Lanka for decades, began pouring in from 2003 onwards, quickly becoming the single largest group coming to the island, beating the entrenched British and Germans.
Indians were thought to be stingy and "low spending". But a change had come about by 2003.The burgeoning wealth of the middle class in India had begun to get reflected in tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka and their life style in this island.
In a survey conducted by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board between April and July 2003, 65 per cent of Indians had said that they had come only for "pleasure".
Sixty-two per cent were in high-income occupations and 55 per cent had travelled for pleasure in the previous three years.
And they were not stingy — spending not less than $60 per head, per day. The average period of stay was a week, which put them in the top category.
In 2003, Indians were not big shoppers (only 14 per cent of their expenditure went into shopping).
But there is perhaps a change in this respect as Indian hoteliers and diplomats are now saying that a lot of Indians come to shop, heading for up-market outlets in Colombo like Odel, the House of Fashion and Noritake.