Exploring the East to the Southern Coastal Regions of Sri Lanka.
Expedition: “the southeastern voyagers” – exploring the East to the Southern coastal regions of Sri Lanka.
Expedition members: Anuruddha / Chrishan / Gayan / Laieq & Pramodya
“From Ceylon to Paradise, according to native tradition is forty miles; the sound of the fountains of Paradise is heard there, wrote the Papal Legate Marignolli five hundred years ago describing his visit to Sri Lanka on his way back to Rome from China. `When Adam was expelled, an angel took him by the arm and set him down here’, this tourist of five centuries ago confidently reported.“
“Backpacker Trails” is the latest project conceptualized by Authenticities to discover hidden trails of unexplored territories in Sri Lanka. Followed by a quick briefing on the 28th May 2020, three teams set out to explore lesser-known trails and authentic experiences through different parts of the island.
For us, the road was paved from Passikudhah, all the way down to the southern coastal regions. Navigating through the unknown, at times hitch-hiking when no public transport was available, eating at raggedy roadside cafes, sleeping in humdrum lodges, would seem daunting, but what made it an incredible experience for us was the company and the fact that we had never done it before!
From the start of the journey until the end, we never felt short of our welcome and hospitality. The humble faces we met along the way made us feel safe and closer to home, and from this we grew a sense of extreme appreciation for our country, which we’ve never felt before. We are fortunate to share this peaceful island with its greatest affluence, its people. From exploring new landscapes to learning about new experiences to meeting incredible personalities, our journey was about connecting stories with emotion. Every day we had the opportunity to live a person’s life through his words. Whether it was about a war hero or a hard-working fisherman or a humble businessman to a scientist looking for solutions to decrease Human-Elephant conflict, our experience was made whole by the people we met along the way and the places we unearthed.
Here you will find a series of daily blogs, which will give more insights to what we’ve seen and experienced during this adventure.
Day 1: 16th & 17th of July, 2020
It all started when a challenge, or rather a task was given to us to go on a backpacking trip from the eastern coast to the southern coast on a mission to explore lesser-known territories, to expand our emotions and experiences for Authenticities. Since our first meeting, all five of us were keen and focused on this with a “challenge accepted” mentality. Eventually, after several brainstorming sessions, we were very much counting days until the time came. More than just a trip, this was an adventure of a lifetime. We didn’t have much of a clue about any surprises that may come our way and certainly didn’t stress ourselves thinking what-if. We were ready!
Since the start, we knew that the first day was going to be quite tiresome… a bit too much for a regular visitor. However, It all seemed possible when our hearts were in the right place.
We took the night-mail train from Colombo Fort, and after eight & half hours of sleepless traveling (well !! some of us agreed to disagree on the term “sleepless” !!, since we had the luxury of traveling in a second-class carriage with no other passengers on it), at three thirty in the morning we finally made it to the slumbering train station. We felt quite tired for obvious reasons… but to see Pradeep and Rathish, eagerly waiting to meet us at the entrance of the train station with a bright smile on their faces made us feel very welcoming and happy.
After a quick wash and change, it was time to head out and explore… and then comes OUR HOST, Evera, who invites us for tea and snacks in the morning, not knowing us completely, his invitation itself made us realize what sort of a personality he is… a person who would go that extra mile to make us feel like “HOME”, in a world where social distancing has become the new normal. Evera (a well-known personality in Passikuddah) and a hardworking citizen who usually spends the day attending to his businesses, decided to stay with us through the day to make sure our mission is fulfilled. It also made us think, could he be a “Regional Representative” at Authenticities?
Here’s a little something about Evera, he is a humble Tamil personality who speaks fluent Sinhalese and a person who knows his way around the kitchen. Evera had been living in Colombo until 2005 and unfortunately due to the on-going civil war, he finally decided to return back to his hometown and get on with his life where he was born and bred.
Onwards to the unfamiliar parts of the East, although an estranged territory to all five of us, we were quite eager to meet an indigenous coastal tribe whose livelihood solely depended on fishing and fire-fallow cultivation. In Sri Lanka, the common forest dwellers are known as “Veddas or the Vannilaththos”. However, these coastal dwellers were somewhat different from the other indigenous tribes we found travelling across the country. Originating from a social group within the minority Sri Lankan Tamil, these tribes primarily reside in small coastal villages stretching from Trincomalee to Batticoloa.
We had plenty of questions ready for the tribe chieftain. Upon reaching the village, we saw him in a sarong, a red cloth on his right shoulder accompanied by an axe on his left shoulder. It took us to a whole new comfort zone at the very instance he greeted us saying “Ayubowan”, with his two palms pressed together under the chin and in front of the chest. From there, it was a very interesting conversation with him, in getting to know about their culture, traditions, rituals, etc… which he proudly spoke of, and with his own words we understood that being a chieftain was a huge responsibility with the challenges faced nowadays. His enthusiasm to showcase his fellow clan members who lived in adjacent villages made us visit them, regardless of the time restrictions we had, and made us curious to learn more.
On the 14th of July, two days before we left Colombo, we got an unexpected, rather disappointing message from a pottery artisan whom we were supposed to meet with. She mentioned that she is unable to meet us due to her being sick, but right after meeting with the chieftain we got another call from her saying that she would like to meet us. Since the meeting with her was not confirmed, our hopes were down on this experience but after seeing her pottery craftsmanship we were like “WOW” and our perception changed within a matter of a few seconds. We were truly amazed by the way she gave life to a chunk of clay by making it a fine product.
Just when we thought that the day was well spent, we ventured on to the next listed visit on our agenda, that is, to visit an estate that manufactures coconut tree-based products. Coconut tree… “The tree of life” (referred by our host Harrison), also known as the wonder tree… has so many things to offer, there is absolutely nothing that goes to waste out of it. During the tour we learned so many things, some of them were – traditional methods of extracting oil, choir products, use of coconut shells for charcoal and for various crafts. However, the most heartfelt moment was to have learned that Mr. Harrison himself has empowered a rehabilitant who had a difficult past. The passion, the set of skills he possessed and the effort that he has put into turning a new chapter in his life, left us speechless…
To be continued….
Day 2: 18th of July, 2020
“With the rising sun, we have revived ourselves from the first day to start our adventure.” One of us thought out loud.
After a well-rested night, we woke up very energized and were looking forward to our second day which turned to be quite adventurous. As expected, our chauffeur for the day Karthi was right on time and we bid farewell to our hosts at “Ashram” (the guest house we stayed over). And then we ventured on a bumpy ride to Thoppigala Reserve (our decision to hire a Jeep to commute on this road was spot on, as the road conditions were pretty bad; props to us ☺). We drove through diverse landscapes with bare lands, lakes, paddy fields, woods and some water buffaloes, peacocks, cows, goats and that was quite a soothing sight.
The Battle of Thoppigala was a battle between the Sri Lanka Army and the LTTE, fought during a period of the first half of 2007, over the control of LTTE-dominated peak of Thoppigala (also known as Baron’s Cap), located 40 km northwest of Batticaloa, in eastern Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Army announced that they had launched a military operation to capture Thoppigala on 14th April, 2007. Sixteen long-range reconnaissance patrol units from the Army Commando Regiment were used extensively in this operation, making it the first operation in the civil war where such deep penetration units were used in a large scale. After 13 years, the Sri Lankan military captured the final stronghold of LTTE in the East, Thoppigala (Baron’s Cap), on the morning of 11th July, 2007.
Archeological evidence suggests that the rocky mountain and the surrounding jungle had been the venue of a large monastery built during the Anuradhapura era. Stone inscriptions found atop the mountain details various donations made by King Kanishta Tissa to the monastery complex.
After a journey of nearly one hour and fifteen minutes we finally reached Thoppigala Heritage Center and we were warmly welcomed by Dahanayaka who was supposed to take us on a guided tour of the Heritage Center. After a very informative session on Thoppigala and the history behind it, made us more curious to climb the rock though it wasn’t a part of our agenda. IT WAS WORTH THE CLIMB AND THE FIRST WORD THAT CAME OUT ON TOP WAS “WHAT A VIEW!!!”.
Few things about our host Dhahanayaka – during the hike and by the time we reached the summit, our conversations became friendlier and he felt more and more comfortable opening up to us. His journey as a soldier begins with traumatizing experiences caused by the civil war, ever since he was a child. After completing high-school he straight away joined the Sri Lankan Forces and operated as an LMG operator (It did make sense when we looked at his physique, he was clearly up for heavy duty) with one motive on his mind and that is to protect his mother land over any evil force that may come along his way. Then he continued talking about the Thoppigala Mission, and it was a very proud moment for us listening to the stories of our war time heroes while looking at the very sight at which all those events took place and it painted quite a picture in our minds.
Next on our list was a visit to Batticaloa Fort. Much to our dismay, what we had hoped to be an exhilarating walk, turned out to be a horrific experience on account of seeing the fort and its ramparts so poorly maintained. The disappointing outcome made us cut short the visit. Without lingering on and having more time left, we kept brainstorming ideas on what to do / where to go next.
By some stroke of luck, we found our next host. A member of the Sri Lanka Portuguese Burgher community, who was very much looking forward to sharing his knowledge on Portuguese cultural activities such as singing, dancing, playing instruments, Portuguese cuisine and proud heritage. They say “age is nothing but a state of mind” and Uncle Newton – our lovely host, stands testament to this. By extending his enthusiasm and passion, he performed a small piece with his violin. A simple “Portuguese song” that instantly put us in a merry mood. It was a treasured moment at Uncles Newton’s!!
Our next stop was at a Residence of a French lady, Sandrine, who has been living in Sri Lanka for over a decade. she was excited to receive us at her home. During her well spent time, she has managed to buildup up an incredible bond between herself and the local community of Batticaloa… with that relationship she has curated a variety of authentic excursions in the region whilst being responsible and giving back to the local community.
Before wrapping up our adventures for the day, we had our final rendezvous with Felician Fernando who is one of the most experienced professional deep-sea divers of Sri Lanka. We were amazed by his love and addiction to diving, his stories of the sea and diving actually made us wonder if he lived in the sea more than on land! His passion was so strong, it made us want to become divers too!
Felician considers his finding the location of the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier (which was lost for more than 3 decades due to fishing restrictions and the unrest which was sunk by the Japanese during the 2nd World War off the east coast of Sri Lanka), as the highlight of his career.
PS: We were amazed by the hospitality shown to us in all the regions we been so far, simple example would be that our bus conductor gave us tips on how much we should be spending on a TUK TUK to reach our accommodation and the TUK TUK guys (Hilmy and Shafeel) recommended us a place to have dinner and they wanted us to taste the food before buying it to make sure we liked it! THESE THINGS REASSURED THAT HOSPITALITY ECHOES ALL ACROSS THE ISLAND. Us Proud Sri Lankans!!
Day 3: 19th of July, 2020
If anyone says the name “Arugam bay” the first thing that comes to your mind is that Arugam bay is one of the most popular surfing destinations in the entire world. But we realized that it has so much more to offer.
Want to know why? Keep reading…!!!
To begin with, we will speak about Priyantha, a prominent personality born and raised in Arugam bay (Panama village). A patriot, a researcher, a wild life enthusiast, and most importantly a humble, funny guy who loves to crack some jokes every now and then. Once we approached him with our ideas and the places we wanted to see, he added his thoughts on to it, made it more organized and decided to accompany us throughout. His approach towards tourism is not entirely on a business perspective, but to showcase the heart and soul of this city. As we kicked-things-off with our visits planned for the day, he took us on a virtual tour on the rich history and cultural heritage of Arugam bay and its surrounding villages.
A little insight to Priyantha’s home town – Panama, situated close to the Kumana National Park and is considered to be the farthermost village in this area. Consisting of five divisions, it is believed that the inhabitants of Panama are the descendants of those who sought refuge here after the Uva – Wellassa uprising during the British era (1815).
Our first visit for the day – Kudumbigala monastery complex, which was built on 246 BC during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa as a refugee camp for the Buddhist monks back in the days. Walking to the top of the rock through the jungle gives a feel closer to the nature and this is such a unique feature of this monastery, all five of us felt the same. As we entered the monastery complex, we realized that the villagers are very conservative of the place and that they had thousands of questions running on their minds with regard to our visit because their culture and values had been dishonored by recent visitors who had merely visited the site to admire the view rather than to appreciate and acknowledge the historic or cultural values. As the visit moved on, we had an opportunity to meet the chief incumbent of the temple who took us through the history of the temple.
A fun folk story by Priyantha at the Okkanda Kovil regarding Lord Ganesh, (Elaborated in modern terms) “Lord Murugan and Lord Ganesha were siblings and Lord Murugan had a crush toward Valli amma (A princess of sorts – A stone age jungle princess). Lord Murugan asked his brother to help him out to make Valli amma fall in love with him. They worked on a plan and that was to scare Valli amma and Lord Murugan to be her savior (Typical Bollywood love story). Lord Ganesh prepped as an elephant to be ready for the act, and that was to scare Valli amma and for him to be back being human Lord Murugan had to throw magical water at him. Though things went according to plan once Valli amma was scared and hugged claiming Lord Murugan as her savior… Lord Murugan was lost in love, and this made him forgot to throw the magical water at Lord Ganesh for a while and which later on he did… but due to the delay, only his body changed to the human form and the face remained to be an elephant. That is how Lord Ganesh has his half human and half elephant mutation.”
En-route to our next visit we had a quick photo stop to capture some pictures of lazy Sri Lankan crocs. When we spotted a few of them on the river bank, to the sound of our footsteps a crocodile jumped into the water and Pramodhya from our team who is literally scared of any animal, ran off for about 15 meters pushing all of us toward the crocs in a matter of milliseconds (Anuruddha said that she ran like “Flash”, the DC super hero). Nevertheless, it was a moment to remember.
Lying on the northern edge of the Lahugala National Park, Magul Maha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple that has been part of the Kingdom of Ruhuna in ancient Sri Lanka and is one of the major tourist attractions of the Eastern province. It is an archaeologically protected monument located about 22 km off from Siyambalanduwa town and about 11 km off Pottuvil town in the Ampara District. The history of the Magul maha Viharaya is believed to date back to the 2nd century B.C. while the legends state that the temple was built by king Kavantissa (205-161 BC) on the location where he married princess Vihara maha devi (word ‘magul’ stands for wedding in Sinhalese).
As we entered the premises, it was an emotional moment for all of us… this innocent family approached us to sell flowers for offerings. It was a touching moment when they talked about not having their usual customers during these unprecedented times, and how they struggle to make a living. From the entrance onwards we were escorted by Sunil… a smart gentleman with a classy moustache who is very passionate about his job which he had been doing for over four decades. We all were amazed by his knowledge… kind of felt a sense of belongingness there… His explanations sometimes made us wonder if he’s a time traveler or a reincarnated person who had really lived among the ancient civilization, back in the days of King Kavantissa.
Next, it was the Tharulengala forest monastery, which lies several kilometers away from Lahugala, houses the longest cave in Sri Lanka. Built by King Kawanthissa on a 633 feet tall hillock, this monastery complex is home to what is considered to be the longest drip ledge cave in Asia. This 512ft long drip ledged cave is 30ft wide and 82ft high at the highest point with eight levels in its interior. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete the entire trek since we weren’t allowed to stay at the premises after 1800hrs… we’re determined to return very soon !!!
Our final stop for the day was at Muhudu Maha Viharaya. The story of Magul Maha Viharaya was pre-connected to Muhudu Maha Viharaya where princess Vihara Maha Devi landed after being cast into the sea to spare the island from the wrath of the gods. This site was barely salvaged, and a stopped project due to the war which took place back in the day. (Wished we got a chance to see more of it but it was under sand dunes.)
Await for more…..
Day 4: 20th of July, 2020
After a long journey, we were finally in Tissamaharama, seated overlooking the beautiful Debara lake ready to document our chronicles for the day with “Mad World” by the Riverdale Cast playing in the background.
As usual the alarms went off in the morning but we were surprised by the sounds of the pouring rain outside our rooms as this is not quite the season for rain in Arugam Bay. Even though it delayed our schedule by a couple of hours we felt revived and more energetic to start off our day as we were on to a new chapter of our journey changing our course from the east towards the southern part of the island. So, it was breakfast time !! and that is when we realized that it was the first time, we all sat together for a proper breakfast and it was at a nice roadside café by the busy streets of Arugam Bay (The previous days it was all light snacks and fruits on the way for obvious reasons).
Hilmy and Shafeel, who picked us upon arrival two days back were there to drop us at the Pottuvil Bus Stand. That was when we felt nostalgic to leave because there were plenty of foreigners roaming on busy streets of Arugam bay, and these happy faces made us all wonder if we are actually living in the midst of a pandemic…
Our bus was on schedule and it left Pottuvil bus station by noon. Kapila was the driver of bus number “NB-7470”, we had to find out his name as we were pretty sure that he should be holding the fastest drive time from Pottuvil to Monaragala… It was quite a roller coaster ride for us! From Monaragala it took us three hours to reach Tissamaharama. Back in the days, Tissamaharama used to be the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom of Ruhuna since the third century BC. Only few structures from that era remains still intact and it is home to some of the most significant historic monuments/places like Tissamaharama Stupa, Sandagiri Stupa, Yatala Vehera and Manik Vehera.
En route to Tissa, unexpectedly we got a notification from an online booking engine suggesting us a last-minute offer. When we checked out the place it looked quite amazing with tree house type wooden cabanas overlooking Debarawewa. NO REGRETS AT ALL! Vimukthi and Dhanushka along with their family run this small property “Lakeside Cabanas”. Needless to say, the current situation seems to have affected them severely. We felt for them as they are endeavoring to sustain their family income by giving Sri Lankans special offers. They even tried to make our stay much more meaningful, in fact they offered us bikes and a barbeque set up expecting nothing in return.
Before it got too dark, we decided to make use of the in-house facilities… we hired three bicycles, a scooter and started to explore the village and its surroundings on our own. The ride was nearly 12 km’s, on easy difficulty level through a village area passing golden paddy fields, a tar road and finished off through a lakeside trail that was busy with lake fishermen expecting their catch for the day. A perfect way to end the day.
Vimukthi and Dhanushka are ready to entertain us with the barbeque session… Looking forward to a fruitful night!
A presto !!!
Day 5: 21st of July, 2020
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes!” – Marcel Proust
Last night we decided to give ourselves a well-deserved treat, it was a lovely BBQ night by the lake accompanied by some local cocktails and music.
It is the beginning of the day 5, and we started the day off with a visit to Kirinda fish market to catch some live action as it comes alive, bright and loud in the morning. The fish market was very vibrant with fishermen and their daily catch, it gave us a chance to meet the local fishing community and have a glimpse of the fish auction. Thousands of fish were laid out on either side of the street – seer (Thora), Paraw, Kelawalla (Tuna), Thalapath, Modha, Salaya, Hadella, Kumbala, Linna, Salaya, Sea Prawns, Sea Crabs, Mullet Varieties (Garupa, Lomessa, Sole, Red Snapper) and much more… As we walked along the market, we noticed some of the boats were still returning with their morning catch… whilst some were waiting to unload the catch from the newly arrived, the others were quite busy in their respective stalls doing the usual. From being skilled at haggling, scaling, and gutting fish, it was also an interesting sight to see the ballsy fishermen auctioning off their big catch of the day.
For many, the fisherman’s life is all that they know. Often a livelihood passed down from generation to generation, fishermen are sea-nomads who are seldom stationed in one place for long. The life of a fisherman is tied to the tide. Travelling from one coast to another, they make a living by fishing during seasonal changes.
It was around nine in the morning when we decided to have breakfast and we were looking for a simple roadside café. Few minutes later we walked into a small restaurant… bright and live than the usual, and then only we realized that it was their Grand opening!! We felt the enthusiasm in them to serve us as we were their first customers, we also felt quite happy to have shared this special moment with them. We were all fueled up after a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast!!
Tissawewa is located about one kilometer away from Tissamaharama city. It was built by King Dewanampiyatissa during third century BC and was restored in 1871. Tissa lake is a home to many aquatic birds such as Pelicans, Terns, Purple Swamp hen, Purple Heron, Little Grebe, Lesser Whistling duck, Spotted Dove, Baya Weaver, Scaly breasted Munia and many more… As fishermen were laying their nets and kingfishers were trying to hunt their prey, we were lucky enough to spot most of these bird varieties whilst enjoying the sceneries during the boat ride.
Later, our stop was at a couple’s house who were probably in their mid-70s, who made a living out of doing pottery products. Their children are married and are living away from Tissamaharama. Due to the current tragic events their income was put to a stop but their passion for the art of doing pottery seems to have not faded. The couple engaged on doing what they love together, we saw that in them when they were doing a demo for us. We felt heart warmed to see their skills while listening to their tales and techniques.
“Around 150 elephants and 50 people die every year as a result of the human elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. So, what do you do? Put all the elephants in protected areas and fence them in? Unfortunately, the thousands of elephants living outside cannot be stuffed into a few protected areas. Therefore, we need to look for alternative strategies for elephant conservation.”
Our next personality, a well-known researcher, a scientist who is recognized internationally, was pretty concerned about the human elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. Dr. Prithiviraj, who resides in Tissamaharama for the last five years with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Pastorini, (who herself, a renowned scientist) has been heading the “Center for conservation and research, Sri Lanka” on a clear mission to find new strategies to resolve the human elephant conflict.
Some of the strategies in place were developed and implemented a few decades ago and was based on information that was then available. However, as little information on the ranging, resource use, ecological requirements of elephants, and interactions between elephants and the environment were available at the time, this previous management strategy had many shortcomings and was not viable over long term.
Under his new direction Dr. Fernando has proposed a new conservation strategy, incorporating protected areas and areas outside protected areas which will benefit both elephants and humans, and to ensure the sustenance of a healthy elephant population in Sri Lanka. Once our meeting was concluded, we felt quite delighted as this was something totally different to what we have discovered and experienced so far in our journey. We also felt quite fortunate to have joined hands with him to curate a unique experience for our prospect guests, and for being able to get his support to give back to the local community which is part of our core values.
Before we wrap thigs up and call it a day, our final stop was at Sandagiriya monastery complex. This complex was completed by King Mahanaga in 03rd century BC and was later renovated by King Vijaya Bahu the first. Being the oldest stupa in southern region, we were quite surprised when we learned that most of its history is yet to be discovered!! The chief monk, Samitha Thero shared mutual thoughts… yet he welcomed us with a warm smile and took us on a nice walk around the complex showcasing its beauty.
And the journey continues…
Day 6: 22nd of July, 2020
After six days of journey, we are celebrating the final night by Unawatuna Beach, which is one of the most vibrant beaches in Sri Lanka. We feel quite triumphant with what we have archived and at the same time we feel dreadful since it is the last night of this journey. Our regional expert Kavindu was eager to join us during the last day of our tour, we were happy to have him on board as we rarely get to see his face though he is one of our colleagues. He decided to join us as we started writing our daily blog while sharing the experiences and stories of previous days.
This morning started off with confused roads and obstacles as the person who promised to show us around couldn’t make it due to personal commitments but however we were determined to find our own way, as a result we somehow managed to find this lovely family that produces curd for a living. We had no pre plans, no contacts, we just headed towards a very remote village off the outskirts of Tissamaharama. Although Tissa was well known for curd making back in the days, now it has become a very rare occupation among villagers who do it genuinely. Hence, the difficulty we faced to find this amazing place. We were warmly welcomed by Dhammika’s wife though they were not expecting us to be there, little did we know of each other, she was nice enough to welcome us (strangers) into her cozy home.
Her Husband Dhammika had gone to get the daily milk containers and we were looked upon by the curious eyes of Dhammika’s two sons who are 14 years old and 04 years old. Awaiting Dhammika’s arrival, his wife briefly explained us the process of making curd.
Dhammika is a person with clear ambition to provide for his family by engaging in multiple occupations, during the school hours he drives a school bus and rest of the day he is engaged in their family business which is curd manufacturing and delivering fresh milk to “MILCO”… Shortly after Dhammika reached home we were glad to know that Dhammika is equally friendly and helpful. While Dhammika started demonstrating the curd process, his wife was busy moving around the house trying to manage ends to serve her unexpected guests. We were all again amazed by her warmth, she never lost her friendly smile on her face. Not only did we learn about the curd process, but also about the strong bonds shared by the family members which is rarely seen in city life. All four of them participated in doing one thing or the other in order to tie things up in their little family. They took pride in what they do and happily shared their tales.
On our return journey to catch a bus to Dikwella, we did a small recce around Dhammika’s village (Badagiriya), an under developed area with people having to walk miles to reach the nearest town. On our recce we passed beautiful lakes (Badagiriya maha wewa & Keliyawalana wewa) agricultural farms, herds of buffalos, villages engaged on their daily vocations and most of all the picturesque Badagiriya raja maha Viharaya, which was built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC is also considered as the highest peak in the Hambantota district.
Then we bid farewell to our fantastic host Vimukthi who became a part of our team during the short stay in Tissamaharama. He assisted us in numerous ways to make sure that our purpose of travel is achieved.
After a quick brunch it was time for us to move along the southern coast, en-route we stopped at a small-scale beeralu lace making center. Weaving beeralu is at the verge of turning into a lost art. It is an age-old Sri Lankan tradition that passed down from coastal generations since being influenced by the colonization of Portuguese and Dutch. Although it is now very much a part of our culture, the history of it goes well beyond 600 years. The Portuguese women were experts at the craft and eventually it became the past time of noble women of Sri Lanka. Some folk stories state as the origins of this industry is a legacy of Kuveni, the mythical queen of the indigenous tribes back in the day. After a brief chat with Mrs. Susila Rajapaksha who heads the operation at Dikwella Lace Center, we realized that their main intention is to keep this traditional craft alive and pass it on to future generations. And it is quite challenging since its heading towards a declining stage because of the lack of interests among the younger generations and with the involvement of modern machinery.
As much as we refuse to believe in reality, this is the last night that we’d be sharing the company of each other during this heart felt adventure that started six days ago… However, we prefer to get lost underneath the starry skies, reminiscing the memorable moments we’ve shared as the night goes on….
Day 7: 23rd of July, 2020
The teardrop shaped southernmost point of mainland Asia became an indispensable port of call to the earliest travelers awaiting favorable trade winds for onward journeys. This Great Emporium became a principal center of exchange and commerce between the Mediterranean trade of the Roman empire and the wealth of imperial China. The Portuguese came with sword and cross, the Dutch with ledger and law book and the British with roads and railways. The ancient Silk Route is one such famous example. Sri Lanka was privileged to be one country en-route the ancient Silk Road where goods were transported by ships to different parts in the world. We were privileged to learn and see the whole silk manufacturing process from the beginning to the end at this silk factory situated in Gintota which is the only natural silk factory in Sri Lanka that offers this experience. The small-scale factory is run by a family, was affected by tsunami and had revived back to be in the industry.
We were amazed to see how silk was extracted from a cocoon of a silk worm, and was shocked to hear the fact that 700 meters of silk can be extracted from one cocoon. Our host Shian gave us an informative tour around the factory which educated us a-lot.
Shian and his family took pride in what they do and they have been doing a-lot of community projects with schools. Before we bid farewell, he escorted us to the back of the factory which was a beach and had a fruitful conversation followed by a round of Thambili.
Sri Lanka is a small tropical island situated off the southern tip of India. As you move along from one region to another, you’re sure to experience lots of changes… the topography, cuisine, climate and even in culture, as it’s home to a multicultural society living in harmony, embracing and respecting each one’s differences and beliefs.
Over the past week, as we moved along the coastline from Passikuddah to Galle, we’ve had the first-hand experience in these changes too. Most of all, it was our time to experience heavy rain!! Well, actually get drenched in it since we had some outdoor activities planned to start off the day, but we must admit… we all enjoyed this like a bunch of crazy kids!!
It was our second time in this adventure that we decided to enjoy a cycle ride, and this time it was an off beaten track approximately 07 KM’s inwards from the historic town of Galle. From the start the ride was almost 14 KM’s on easy to moderate difficulty, staying primarily on dirt and gravel tracks, passing beautiful landscapes, villages, green paddy fields, tea – rubber plantations & meeting locals… mostly children, yelling “Yo, what’s up??”. Clearly, they seemed to have missed the sight of foreigners or local visitors for some time. Rain kept us refreshed and drenched throughout the ride… it was the perfect way to experience an awakening of a village, the local lifestyle and also a peaceful get away that we could recommend to anyone.
Wood carving is a form of working wood by means of a cutting tool resulting in a wooden figure or figurine, or in the sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object. In Sri Lanka the ancient art of woodcarving handicrafts has been passed down by one generation to another, it requires a unique combination of skill, patience and creativity. The carvings visible at the temples of Lankathilaka & Embekke in Kandy stand as a true testimony for this expert craftsmanship.
Following our bicycle ride, we met a family who has been continuing the wood carving trade for generations and depend on their hands & skill to date instead of machines, which is widely popular now. We were mesmerized in Kumara’s unique skill and grit. He is specialized in carving wooden elephants and stilt fishermen which are more sought after by tourists in the Southern part of Sri Lanka. We were able to witness different stages of a wood carving and it was an experience to cherish.
“Orange wakes you up but Cinnamon makes you remember” – Unknown –
“For uncounted centuries, they came from the four corners of the globe…braving treacherous oceans and cruel currents… howling hurricanes and turbulent tempests… They arrived on the golden beaches of our magical, lush Island of Ceylon in graceful Galleons, Majestic Chinese Junks and sleek Arabian Dhows. They came in search of the most enchanted, fabulous spices in the world. Those who arrived were the emissaries of Roman Caesars, Egyptian Pharaohs and Chinese Emperors. Who prized and treasured True Ceylon Cinnamon and other spices from our Island for Its unique, enticing aroma, delectable flavor and multiple medicinal qualities. True Cinnamon- Cinamomum Zylanicum’ and other spices which are indigenous to the bewitchingly beautiful Island Nation of Sri Lanka, which has been legendary for its Cinnamon for well over 2000 years. Wars have been fought …the country has been occupied (never conquered) by the Portuguese, Dutch and British primarily because of our spices and mainly because of our Cinnamon.
Cinnamon was one of the first traded spices of the ancient world. Cinnamon was a popular spice in the ancient Arab world, and Arab traders have paved the way for Cinnamon to travel a long distance through the spice route to the European market. ‘Cinamomum Zylanicum’ a plant indigenous to Sri Lanka is a moderately size bushy ever green tree. Cinnamon grown and produced in Sri Lanka has acquired long standing reputation in the international market due to its unique, quality, color, flavor and aroma.
Despite the rain, we have begun our travel towards Ahungalla to meet Anil who has committed his strength towards their family cinnamon plantation. This facility has been established by his father, and it dates back to 1958. Anil’s plantation spans a 35-acre area including a cinnamon processing facility.
Roadway to the plantation starts by passing Ahungalla railway station and this road laid between thousands of cinnamon trees. The processing facility is entirely filled with cinnamon aroma which soothed our mind and soul. At the facility cinnamon trees were being peeled and brought to another set of skillful workers who maneuver their knives to remove the bark into two halves from the peeled tree. Center of the plantation has been occupied by a facility where cinnamon oil is produced, which uses excess cinnamon leaves from the processed cinnamon trees. By doing so, we felt that Anil’s cinnamon manufacturing process is being be more sustainable.
The Pandemic has completely changed our lives, the deadly problem snaked its way around the world, devastating millions of lives as it grew into a global health crisis since it first surfaced in November. The wound inflicted by the pandemic on the travel industry is deep, and it hasn’t stopped bleeding yet. One way to get through it is to remain positive and optimistic. It is the time to be resilient and look beyond the daily news to keep our interests alive and motivated.
The passion to travel was never the same since the lockdown. We all were desperate for an escape to travel. This adventure not only made us regain that travel momentum but also to discover hidden and less known things and activities we could propose for our future travelers, who are out there waiting till they get the opportunity to pack for a vacation.
Over the past seven days we shared lot of laughter, joy and good company amongst each other, and also among the people we met who were down to earth, so emotional, enthusiastic to guide us around. Such humbleness and willingness to share their knowledge of their region. Even though we had a busy schedule we never missed a chance to crack a joke or two while travelling and engaging with people we met in kiosks, villages, trains & buses. That helped us stay fresh and live despite the tiredness.
Finally, it was the time to say good bye… we sat down at a local café to share our last meal together. We’ve learned so many things… our journey of seven days was one awesome adventure!! We looked through some of the pictures, things written in our notebooks, all the memories in our minds… some of the things we heard from our hosts were still resonating in our heads… Immediately we started re-living the moments.
Such gems of ideas and knowledge we acquired by the end of day seven, could be quite useful for us when we design products, products with a unique touch… including unseen and unheard parts of this exotic destination… knowing the roads and accessing some sites was far different than what we had known and heard of. We strongly believed that experiencing beforehand what you would propose to your guests is more effective than what we read…
What a trip it was! We will cherish each and every moment and we are truly grateful for being given this opportunity, especially to discover the undiscovered experiences in two different regions of the country.
Until we meet again !!