We, human beings live in a society which keeps getting inevitably evolved. Therefore, it is important to aid that evolution in a positive way by learning more about different cultures and backgrounds in this world, while spreading love and awareness.
In this society more often than not, we tend to get caught up in our day-to-day lives, getting judgement from or giving out judgement to others that look more different from us or to others who do things more differently than us. In other words, we create our own little bubble of life’s perspective. A famous quote by Saint Augustine says “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Therefore, it is important that we heal ourselves out of these shields which bind us, humans, from reality and connect together as one as all other forces of nature. From my standpoint, travelling aids that immensely.
When we travel, both domestically and overseas, we get to see variety in life. Learning about the racial and ethnic diversity of the world is something that will help us re-evaluate ourselves in some opinions that we hold. Moreover, seeing the diversity in nature itself in different geographical locations is truly amazing. Experiencing differences in climatic conditions and observing the uniqueness of flora and fauna in certain regions will enliven the mind. Being a foodie myself, trying different restaurants and cafes in certain regions or countries and getting to introduce diversely unique flavours of foods and beverages to the palette is one of the major reasons why I love travelling.
Furthermore, different types of music, clothing and catchphrases are some of the things we get to experience while travelling. We of course carry some of these when we go back home. It’s true that all these can be seen and heard at the push of a button or the sliding of a screen due to the technological advancements that have been happening. However, in my humble opinion, the true physical experience of travel in terms of authenticity massively overrules it.
As a junior travel consultant, in other words, a person who is relatively new to the field of tourism, I feel like I finally found a career in which I can grow and at the same time enjoy the tasks involved. While learning activities such as designing a travel itinerary, allocating guides with transportation, allocating accommodation and setting up exclusive experiences and excursions for tourists who visit Sri Lanka, my mind is at bliss knowing that I’m helping people make remarkable memories in my motherland, Sri Lanka. Further to that, working in a trade where the splendid beauty of Sri Lanka is being appreciated more and more is another major factor why I love what I do.
Roads less travelledhttps://authenticitiessrilanka.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2-1.jpg420281useruserhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b58996c504c5638798eb6b511e6f49af?s=96&d=mm&r=g
There are places in the world that speak of times gone by and the north is one them. It is a different world compared to the rest of the island and rightfully so. Imagine quaint cities, with small colourful houses neatly stacked by the roadside, colossal temples jutting out to the sky and colourful sari-clad women on their bicycles going about their daily life. Then there are the pristine beaches…
Exploring the Northern parts of our island is always exciting and we often end up discovering new things. We have never done a backpacking trip in these parts of the island before and the very thought of it seemed quite intriguing yet daunting at the same time.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the north is that it is a living monument. Families who have lived here for generations and tasted the bitter outcomings of a civil war that lasted for nearly 3 decades, will continue to inhabit the fortified streets. They are resilient, inspiring and hopeful for a better future. The days we spent navigating through the north was an invaluable and rewarding experience for all of us as it was not just a trip we planned to go “look for things” but it was more engaging on the levels of connecting with the surrounding, people and places. Wherever we travelled, we travelled with all our heart. It made us think, what you get from your journey depends on what you bring; if you never stray away from your mainstream hotel comforts and the conventional tourist attractions, you could drown in boredom in a few days. Travelling would give much more meaning if you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone and be interested in getting to know the people, history, nature and art – all the things that really matter. It is safe to say that lifetime is not enough for this!
We meticulously planned our seven-night journey. We researched information on the internet and made several phone calls to cross-check what we had at hand with our colleagues. We made a list of all the places that we were keen to visit. Included new visits like “The Sinking Church” and “The Donkey Clinic”. We were also intrigued to meet outstanding personalities in the local communities and learn their stories. Through our contacts, we arranged meetings with possible hosts for future experiences. We absolutely looked forward to the sit-down session with the ex-LTTE child soldiers. As expected it was completely mind blowing to be able to converse with people who have been at the forefront of a devastating civil war that tore numerous families. For most part, due to these terrible events, the two cultures that onced lived in peace and harmony, drifted apart. It resulted in each of us looking at one another in utmost doubt and hesitation. Now the remnants of the war are slowly deteriorating. Thus learning about their point of views and lifestyle was definitely an eye opener.
We travelled in loud and crowded buses, cramped up tuk tuks and rode on the back of trucks. We were also able to try out a not so common mode of transport as well – a tractor. Even Though the roads were bumpy and the terrains were hard, our trip was a memorable one every step of the way.
Although we were on a tight budget, we were able to enjoy some delectable local meals during our trip. We had meals at humble homes, raggedy road-side cafes as well as a popular villa in the area. At times we were quite concerned about getting indigestion but we had a local Ayuruvedic remedy at hand – Asamodagam. We were able to taste some amazing Jaffna crab as well as spicy prawn and cuttlefish too. We were humbled by the hospitality of the local community and how welcoming they were. We learned how simple life can be in these parts of the island and we will definitely travel to these parts of Sri Lanka again.
Day 1: Saturday, August 8, 2020
We had discussed meeting at the Colombo Bus Station in Fort at 6 AM. The three of us were excited to embark on this adventure, exploring the Northern Province of the country. Even though we had visited these areas many times, we were sure that this experience was going to be one of a kind. We packed our bags with clothes and essentials that would last us for a week as we had to carry the luggage on our backs throughout the journey.
It was early in the morning; the sun had not come out yet but the Bus Station was busy and we quickly managed to find our way to the bus taking us to our first location – Udappu. Loud music being played in Sri Lankan buses is quite common, and none of us could squeeze in a decent nap. We were mesmerized by the towns we saw along the way. In the fishing village of Negombo we saw the beautiful churches as we drove by. By this time, the roads were not that deserted anymore as people had started commuting to work. We passed the town of Waikkal, which is popular for its tile kilns. These tiles are commonly used on the roofs of Sri Lankan houses as it helps to keep the home cool during the hot weather.
After a 2.5hr bus ride, we reached the ethnically diverse fishing community of Udappu which is made up of 2500 families. This was such a close-knit community where everyone knew one another. It made us think how different things were back home as how we sometimes did not know who our neighbor was. We hailed down a tuk-tuk to get into town as we were backpacking and this ride was a bit of a tight squeeze since our bags were quite bulky. The skies were cloudy and it was not as hot and humid as we expected. Majority of the population in Udappu is Tamil, and we could see many majestic and colourful Kovils or Hindu temples in the area. We decided to visit the two most important ones – Sri Parsarathy Draupadi Amman Temple and Kali Amman Temple.
Sri Parsarathy Draupadi Amman Temple is known to be one of the oldest Hindu temples in the country and was built by the early Indian settlers who first arrived in Mannar and then eventually settled down in Udappu. During every month of August, this temple follows a ceremony which requires all worshippers to abstain from eating meat and fish. We then walked through some lively local fish and vegetable markets. The vendors were selling a great variety of produce which had vibrant colours – from avocados to prawn to corn. The next Hindu temple we visited was Kali Amman Temple which is known to possess cleansing powers. Back in the day, this temple used to be a small shrine on the beach covered by a humble hut made of coconut leaves. The ancient rituals performed at the temple were used to protect the fishermen that went to sea. The visit was followed by an interesting chat with the Iyer (Hindu priest) at the temple.
Prawn farming is quite popular in this area, and we were eager to learn more about it. During our chat with the friendly Iyer outside the kovil, we asked him if he knew a prawn farm we could visit. He nodded and with a quick clap of his hands he caught the attention of motorcyclists driving by. The motorcyclist stopped and came up to us and the Iyer instructed him to take us to his prawn farm. Siamurthi has had over 15 years’ experience in this field and was very eager to show us around his farm which spans over an acre of land.
He was kind and very proud of his farm and explained all the small details about prawn farming. His farm was spacious and well maintained. Siamurthi explained that he travels to Chilaw (which is about 45 mins south) every 3 to 4 months to purchase about 250,000 to 300,000 prawn hatchlings. As the prawn hatchlings have a 90% survival rate, he is able to generate about 3000KG of prawn in 4 months. In Colombo, prawns are not a novelty and we consume it on a daily basis but it never really occurred to us, how complex the farming process was and how dedicated these farmers are.
Before we stopped for breakfast, we also visited a local school in the area – Udappu Tamil Maha Vidyalaya, which has just under 600 students. This rural school has poor infrastructure with very few facilities – their computer lab does not have a single computer. As the schools sits by the ocean, the sea breeze tends to damage any equipment in the computer lab. Recently the school constructed brand new toilets but unfortunately due to the thunderstorms and strong winds, the roof of this unit was blown away. It is always heartbreaking to see how difficult it is for children in these areas to receive a proper education. When children are faced with such hurdles early on in life, it always hinders their interest to learn.
By this time, our stomachs were rumbling and we decided that it was finally time to grab some food. We indulged in some hot vadey (balls made up of chickpea) and paratha (type of flatbread) and we washed it all down with a cup of hot tea. We then hopped on the number 87 bus that took us to Meddawachchiye and this ride took us 2hrs. This bus was quite crowded and we found it difficult to breathe. It amazed us that this is the way that people in these villages travelled on a daily basis. Once in Meddawachchiye, we waited for the number 4 bus which was coming from Colombo to take us to Mannar – our overnight stay. The landscapes were different from what we initially saw on our way to Udappu, the land was quite barren and deserted. Then suddenly we saw an iconic Palmyrah tree. This was a clear sign that we had entered the infamous Northern Province of the island.
We arrived in Mannar by 05.15 PM and as we had not eaten for a while, we decided to settle down for a quick lunch. The closest place for a bite was called Private Bus Stand Canteen – which did not look very appetizing. Much to its disappointing name, they served us an equally disappointing beef fried rice. We ensured to gulp down a couple of sips of Asomodagam (herbal remedy for indigestion) each to prevent any future stomach upsets.
We took another tight tuk tuk ride with our big bags to our overnight stay – Hotel Ahash. The hotel looked clean and decent and for dinner we have ordered Prawn Noodles and Chicken 65 – after that fried rice earlier today, we really do not have high expectations for dinner. Here’s to hoping…
Day 2: Sunday, August 9, 2020
As expected, last night’s dinner was not impressive. The prawn noodles did not really have prawns as it should have been but instead it had koonisso (miniscule version of dried shrimp). It was a bit of a letdown, as we had visited a beautiful prawn farm earlier that day. The Chicken 65 dish consisted of seven small pieces of chicken tempered with onion which we divided justly between the three of us.
This morning we woke up early as we had quite a busy day ahead exploring the ins and outs of Mannar. Since we had quite a number of sites to explore, we figured that if we used public transport today, we would have not been able to complete all the visits. Therefore, we rented out a van for this particular day, as it would reduce our time spent on the road. This was somewhat of a luxury for us after roughing it out the first day in buses and tuk tuks.
Before we left the hotel by 7 AM, we decided to have breakfast as we were not too sure when our next meal would be, because the day was going to be swamped. We were quickly served a meal of idiyappam (rice noodle dish) with some dahl curry, boiled eggs and spicy coconut sambal. In Colombo, idiyappam is usually eaten for breakfast or dinner and it is quite filling. So, we were happy to start the day with this.
Once we started our drive, along the way we saw the big baobab tree, which Mannar is famously known for. These trees are not native to our island but were introduced back in the day by Arab traders.
Our next stop was the Dutch Fort which was built by the Portuguese and handed over to the Dutch colonies later on. Compared to the other forts around our island, this one is relatively smaller in size. It has not been preserved well over the past years, however there was some repair work going on today. Hopefully this will help restore some of the damage that has come over the years through erosion as well as the 30-year conflict. As this fort is bordering the lagoon, from December to April, this is a magnificent location to take pictures of flamingos and other migratory birds.
We then drove along the Eluwamkulam Road around 08.30 AM to visit the Doric Bungalow which used to be Sir Frederick North’s residence. Later on, this bungalow was used to revive and supervise the pearl fisheries in the area. As the bungalow sits just by the beach, it has been exposed to extreme weather conditions, and due to lack of maintenance the bungalow is now mostly in ruins. We tried to imagine how this historic residence must have looked like back in the day – it must have been glorious! And when guests were invited over, they must have been in awe when they saw the stunning views of the Indian Ocean.
The village of Kunchikulam is about 20 minutes’ drive from the bungalow, through a thick forest which was quite striking and adventurous. Legend has it, the local villagers back in the day used to be all quite mighty and most of the men were 6 feet in height and the ladies were considered to be the prettiest. When the Yodha Wewa or Giant Tank was being built in the ancient times, the king back then sought help from the village of Kunchikulam.
When we visited this town, we met a young and enthusiastic guesthouse owner. His place has basic rooms and a hall facility for meetings and functions. During the brief chat we had, he mentioned that before the pandemic, he had been receiving guests all the way from the US, Australia and even Estonia. It brought us such joy to see how determined and motivated he was and the way he has established himself, even though the country went through two recent disasters. Amidst all this, he was kind enough to treat us to some freshly plucked wood apple from his garden.
Hanging bridges are a rarity in Sri Lanka. However, we stumbled upon one of the most well-kept hanging bridges, the Hanging Bridge of Kunchikulam, which is suspended over the Aruviyaaru River. If you are not scared of heights, then this 100-meter bridge is a great place to take some lovely pictures.
After walking on the wobbly bridge, we realized that it was time for another snack – and pol roti (coconut flatbread) with lunumiris (sambal paste consisting of shallots, lime and chili) did the trick! Back in Colombo, lunch time involves a heavy dose of rice and curry but today as we were on a tight time frame, we all agreed that a couple of pol rotis would suffice for the time being and we had a quick round of Asamodagam again just to be on the safe side.
After our simple “lunch”, we drove on to the Nambikay Farm House which was 15 minutes away. This is a wonderful organic farm as well as a goat farm bordering the Giant Tank. On the rooftop of this farmhouse there are stunning views of the surrounding paddy fields and the tank. We also learned that the farmhouse serves lunch and at this point, we wished that we had waited to arrive here and not eaten those measly pol rotis. This farm also caters to the rehabilitation of the people that were directly involved with the conflict that spanned for 30 years, by offering them a sustainable livelihood. It is always such a delightful feeling when businesses are eager to give back and support the needy people in their communities.
We returned to our accommodation and collected our big bulky backpacks and proceeded in our van to Talaimannar towards our hotel for the night. On the way we noticed that the land on both sides of the road was quite desolate but there were plenty of donkeys, most of which were injured. It was a heart-wrenching sight to see that these innocent animals were hurt and helpless.
We arrived at the Donkey Clinic by 02.30PM and were greeted by the manager. He was very happy
to explain to us in detail about how this donkey welfare all began. After the civil war, a Sri Lankan born Australian was keen to give back to his motherland. He noticed that there were numerous injured donkeys in the area and the people in the villages were not too fond of them, as they were causing road accidents. After a few hurdles and not getting any local support, in 2016 he managed to set up the Donkey Clinic in Mannar. The clinic has a fully functional medical operational unit, separate enclosure for injured animals and three separate pens. All the donkeys have names and their own separate medical files. We were very lucky to meet a few of the popular kids on the block – Museaus, Ronaldo, Mathilda & Jo. They snacked on corn and chickpea and it was such a treat to be at their presence. The manager continued to explain that apart from donkeys, they sometimes provide their veterinary services to cows and dogs from the surrounding area.
By 04.30PM, we reached our hotel for the night – Vayu, which is located right at the North Western tip of the Mannar island. On the drive here, we came across two young children playing with marbles by the road. It was such a lovely sight and it made us understand how simple life is in these parts of our island. As we walked into the lounge area, we saw the breath-taking views of Adam’s Bridge. We truly felt disconnected from the rest of the world at this point. While we admired the scenery, we realized that we were quite famished and that those pol rotis we had earlier were wearing off. So we decided to feast upon some rice and curry. The food was out of this world and we enjoyed it thoroughly – we were served 3 vegetable dishes, a chicken curry and poppadom as we gobbled down greedily.
To beat the ever so fading sunlight, we took a quick stroll to Adam’s Bridge. It took us 45 minutes to reach the first island. While we were standing there we practically saw the tide coming in and because of that, we could not proceed any further. Walking to the second island on Adam’s Bridge was on our bucket list so we decided to attempt this walk again in the morning.
For dinner, we were surprised with a delectable treat – crabs! It was served with fried rice, coconut gravy and pittu (steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut shavings). Needless to say, we finished everything off with a few pints of Sri Lanka’s favourite lager! We now look forward to a good night’s sleep and off to the Adam’s Bridge in the morning.
Day 3: Monday, August 10, 2020
It could have been the comfort of this luxury room at Vayu or the exquisite meal we had consumed last night or just a combination of both, we woke up this morning well rested. We felt refreshed and recharged.
By 0615AM, we set off on our morning exploration of the islands of Adam’s Bridge, as we had expected low tide in the morning. The skies were clear and the views were spectacular. It was such a magical place to be in. As we were walking on the sand, two friendly dogs joined us and they seemed to know their way around the area. Unfortunately, when we reached the edge, we realized that the water had not receded from the previous night and the water level was a bit high. While we were contemplating on what to do, one of our new canine friends jumped into the water and led the way to the first island. We decided to follow him and we crossed over in waist deep water. We really wanted to proceed onto the second island as this was our goal, but unfortunately, the sea level was too high and we decided not to risk it. We were carrying quite expensive camera equipment along with us and we decided it would be best not to try our luck. We headed back towards the hotel with the dogs happily tagging along.
For breakfast, we had a scrumptious meal of kiribath (milk rice) with lunumiris (a zesty local sambol or a paste served as a condiment. It consists of dried chilli flakes, Maldive fish, sea salt, onions, and lime juice usually ground with a traditional grindstone or an electric grinder). This is a very conventional breakfast dish in Sri Lanka, and it is usually eaten during important auspicious times too. Along with the kiribath we were served, chicken sausages, tempered kidney beans and toast. The morning walk had got all of us quite hungry and we cleared everything on the table!
We needed to travel to Mullaitivu today and we would be taking the local bus. The only possible route was taking the bus from Mannar towards Vavuniya and then taking a different bus to Mullaitivu. There was no direct bus from Mannar to Mullaitivu at this time. We departed Mannar at 12PM on the local bus. The ride was loud and bumpy and we reached Vavuniya by 0230PM. We changed buses and arrived in Mullaitivu by 0430PM. We were quite shaken up at the end of the bus ride.
In Mullaitivu, we met a local graduate from the University of Jaffna. She was very kind and hospitable and she invited us to her humble and colorful home in the village of Kallapara. There, we met the rest of her family – her father and brother who were involved in fishing. Her mother had prepared a wonderful meal of rice and curry for us and we were very touched. They had gone to the extent of preparing different curries to indulge us – cuttlefish, prawn, fish AND crab curry! We felt thoroughly spoilt and looked after in her home.
After spending some time with this lovely family, we explored the Mullaitivu fishing beach. Before we checked in to our accommodation for the night, we had plans to meet with some ex-LTTE child soldiers in the area to discuss their life and transition from the war. As expected, this discussion turned out to be a very captivating experience for us. The stories that were shared, muddled our emotions. At times feeling sad, angry or disappointed, we felt as though we wanted to have all the answers to all the questions and problems that came to be. Instead we could only sit in utter silence and listen. We’d like to think it helped. The conversation opened up a lot of people sitting in the circle to share their peace.
We reached our accommodation quite late and as we have packed day tomorrow we decided to share our fascinating chat with the ex-LTTE child soldiers tomorrow. This will give us time to quickly have dinner now and get some much-needed shut eye. Off to Jaffna tomorrow!
Day 4: Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Last night’s intimate discussion with the ex-LTTE child soldiers had a great impact on us. It was truly fascinating to learn about these people and how they were recruited by the LTTE at such a young age. We met up outside our new friend’s house and sat together on the beach and enjoyed a few drinks. They reminisce about their childhood and how they came from humble families. They told us how at the young age of 15, the way they were groomed to join the Tamil militant organization and how they continued to fight for their cause for another 15 years. Through the LTTE they learnt how to be disciplined and orderly and they managed to continue their studies as well. However, they were presented with certificates issued by the LTTE for their studies, which in today’s society, are not recognized. This made it very difficult for them to apply for jobs and they find themselves doing common day to day labor work or fishing instead. Their rehabilitation process was not an easy one, as it was such an arduous task for the four of them to come out of the war mindset they were used to, but taking each day at a time helped them come this far.
Waking up in the morning, we felt truly blessed for having such a wonderful childhood like we did. We did not have to worry about guns or fighting for a cause we may or may not have believed in. During our childhood we concentrated on our studies and who batted first during cricket or who could run the fastest. Simple yet amazing experiences like this force you to think differently and they definitely make you count your blessings.
While thinking back about last night however, we were not too grateful about the meal of kottu (local street food made out of strips of a type of flatbread mixed with chicken/fish curry, egg and vegetables) we had. We drank copious amounts of Asomodagam afterwards. We really needed to purchase more bottles of Asomodagam as we did not know how many more dodgy meals we would be having this week.
We started this morning at 0745AM, which was quite late compared to the previous mornings. We had a very simple breakfast of parata (Indian flatbread) with coconut sambal, dahl curry and omelettes. We washed it all down with a cup of hot tea.
After last night’s session by the beach, one of our friends from last night, was very keen to show us around Mullaitivu before we set off for Jaffna. It was great to have someone who knew around the area, as we were eager to learn more about this place. Vattarappalai Amman Kovill which is one of the biggest Kovils we’ve visited, and is nestled right alongside a lovely lagoon which is also home to some beautiful migrant birds. There are many unique rituals and beliefs that are followed by the locals reflecting on this Kovil. During its dedicated ceremony, sea water is gathered and passed through 2 other Kovils in this area within a matter of a week before ending up at this significant Kovil. Once the lamp is lit with the aid of that sea water gathered, blessings are evoked on the 1000’s of pilgrims that gather for the ceremony.
After the visit to the Kovil we stumbled upon another fishing village, only to realize that this community was hailing from the very first place we visited – the coastal village of Udappu. These seasonal fishermen base themselves around the Mullaitivu area along with their families for around 6 – 8 months a year to capitalize on the bounty of the east coast during this time of the year. Once September kicks in, marking the end of the eastern fishing season, they move back to their native home town of Udappu & Chilaw. We kept thinking how difficult it must be for them to uproot themselves and travel across the island. Their families must be so grateful for the sacrifice and commitment made by these fishermen to provide a better life as well.
At 1120AM, we got on the local bus from Mullaitivu and it was a three-hour ride to Jaffna. The roads were dry and dusty and it was such relief that we had our masks on. The bus ride was not too bumpy and it was a great opportunity to have a quick snooze. Once we reached Jaffna, we stopped by a local fruit vendor and each enjoyed a refreshing thambili or king coconut – a remedy to battle any hangover!!
Our friend Nathan met us in the busy town in a rented van. We had a few visits in the outskirts of Jaffna today and if we took the local bus, we would have spent a lot of time on the road. Our first stop was St. Anthony’s Church or better known as the Sinking Church. This church has been named so because back in the 1990s it was entirely submerged by sand. With the changing seasons and wind patterns, the level of sand changes as well. This church, once would have been very glorious but now for the past few decades, it has been abandoned.
One of the most distinctive features about this area is the abundance of Casuarina trees. Planted in the 70’s, the purpose was to prevent the soil from erupting and secure the beach and the nearby settlements. The patch of trees is an unfamiliar sight in Jaffna especially because you won’t spot it in any other parts of the north.
After a 30-minute van ride, we reached the town of Point Pedro at about 4PM and we realized that we had completely forgotten to have lunch. As we were starving, we stopped at a restaurant nearby and we happily gourmandized on Mutton Fried Rice, Seafood Noodles, Beef Biriyani with a little paneer mixed into it. It was such a feast!
We were eager to explore further and we proceeded to the topmost tip of the gaping dragon’s mouth formed by the Jaffna peninsula. We took the obligatory picture under the big plaque with the national flag. It always feels like an accomplishment when you are standing at Point Pedro. We also visited the Point Pedro Lighthouse which is manned by the Sri Lankan Navy – a couple of kilometers away.
On our way towards our accommodation for the next few nights, we passed by the former LTTE Commander’s neighborhood. We immediately thought of our new friends from last night and the encounters they had meeting the leader of the organization – for example, at victory dinners!
For dinner, we decided we would be adventurous tonight. We plan to do a 10-minute walk to a nearby restaurant to enjoy some local food and hopefully it will not be anything dodgy. Nevertheless, we always have our handy bottle of Asamodagam.
Day 5: Wednesday, August 12, 2020
After yesterday’s heavy lunch, we were not too hungry by dinner time. We did a short walk to the restaurant called Rice & Spice and we all decided we would have a round of pittu. We ate this with some spicy mutton curry and coconut sambal. Once we got back to the hotel, we were quite tired so we were ready to get some sleep… that was when we suddenly realized that our tiny room had these flashing lights with different colours. It made us feel like we were in a dodgy club.
To our surprise, we were served pittu for breakfast as well, and we decided we would not have pittu again for a while during our stay in Jaffna. We had to try some authentic crab curry here before we left!
This morning at 9AM, we witnessed the ceremonial unveiling of a Baobab Tree in the village of Punkuduthivu. This beautiful tree stood alongside a Kovil against the emerald ocean. Back in the day, when the war was tearing up the north, most people fled the country and sought refuge overseas. Several villagers from Punkuduthivu found refuge in Switzerland, and now, there is a thriving community from Punkuduthivu there. Wanting to support their hometown and to see to its development, this community decided to have fundraisers in Switzerland and have collected donations too. These were then sent to their town for the upkeep of the Kovil as well as the rest of the village.
We then proceeded to visit a nonprofit organization in the area. The foundation aims to create job opportunities for the locals as well as providing fresh water for this village. After raising funds and collecting donations back in 2001, the foundation was able to purchase two water bowsers to provide fresh water for the village. The water to date is sold at LKR 1 per liter and that has been the price since the very beginning. This generous deed really helps the people in the village, especially when they are struggling to find fresh water which is a basic need.
By 1230PM, we stumbled upon a quaint juice shop about 4KM away from the Nallur Temple. We were amazed to see the variety of the juices that were available and some of the names were unheard of! The owner of the shop was an ex-LTTE soldier from the town of Mullaitivu who had travelled to Jaffna looking for work about four years ago. During the war, he had lost both his legs but he was determined to turn his life around. Through hard work and determination, he has developed this shop and now has about 15-20 staff working with him. We all decided to try soursop juice this time. The quantity as well as quality of the juices was fantastic and we definitely recommend this to anyone visiting Jaffna!
We then walked to the loud and vibrant Chunnakam Market which is housed in a building which dates back to the time of the Dutch occupation. The market was very busy and there were many stalls with almost everything – from vegetables, to fish, textiles and palmyrah products. Watching the people move around in the market looking for good deals and trying to haggle, was quite fulfilling especially after witnessing the country going through the recent pandemic.
Kadurugoda Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist settlement that is in the town of Chunnakam and it is located in a small hamlet called Kandarodai. It is one of the few Buddhist temples remaining in Jaffna. Kadurugoda is a Buddhist burial ground with over 36 different stupas in the area. It was an amazing sight to see all these various sized stupas all in one place.
Once we got back into the Jaffna town, we met with our friend Nathan. While we were waiting for him at the fort, we managed to sneak in our second tuk tuk lesson from a nearby tuk stand. Even though it is a common mode of transport in our country, driving one is quite complicated. The shifting of gears and managing the pedal, makes it a bit tough as it is a combination of a car and bike. Regardless, with this crash course, we sort of managed to get it right this time. There was also a tractor in the vicinity and we felt adventurous. We tried driving this as well! It is such a bulky piece of machinery and driving it for the first time was exhilarating!
Then we rented out 3 scooters and rode them around town. The roads were busy and the heat was impossible but overall it was a different and exciting experience. We ended up at the Archeological Museum of Jaffna. It contained different artifacts from the early settlements of Sri Lanka up till the British period.
Lunch was vegetarian again today. We stopped by a small restaurant called Akshathai at about 4PM and we had dosai (rice pancakes) with sambar (vegetable stew with lentils) and some ulundu vadey (special lentil donuts). Dinner definitely needed to have some meat tonight and we were all looking forward to it.
Afterwards, we did an extensive walk of the Jaffna Fort. During the walk, we noticed that the Fort Bastions were very well preserved, even though the interiors were in ruin – mainly because of the conflict. This fort is beautifully shaped into a pentagon, a view only visible with an aerial shot. We ended the walk with a drink of local toddy (palm wine). This popular white drink is quite sour in taste, and we enjoyed small snacks of masala vadey (small spicy cakes made out of chickpeas) with it.
We returned to the hotel pretty knackered and decided to have a light dinner of some egg paratas from Rice & Spice as we have an early start tomorrow. We go to sleep tonight excited about our visit to Delft island in the morning!
Day 6: Thursday, August 13, 2020
We had to be at the Kurikattuwan Pier early this morning as we had to take the public ferry to Delft Island. We left the hotel by 6AM and took the bus from Jaffna to the pier. We reached the pier by 0730AM. Our stomachs were rumbling but we were determined to get to the local ferry on time. We patiently waited in line to board the ferry.
As we boarded the crowded ferry, we secured our face masks a bit tighter. The ferry was packed with people all wearing their facemasks and life vests. As we all sat on the floor, we realized that it would not be a very comfortable ride. An adventure nevertheless. Not for the faint heart as it gets extremely uncomfortable with tightly packed bodies of humans and sometimes animals that invokes a mix of strong odor. We departed sharp at 8AM. The seas were not rough so we reached Delft island in about 50 minutes. During the journey we cracked up a conversation with a Navy serviceman who was on his way back after his entitled leave. He gave us some valid information about the island, its residents and the neighbouring islands. The skies were clear and the sun was out. It was a perfect day for exploring!
When we got off the ferry, the local authorities were there to take down our ID details and to check our body temperature. We were impressed that a small island like this has good health and safety precautions. Before we started off, we quickly had a bit of breakfast. We enjoyed some hot rotis with spicy omelettes and lunu miris.
We then met with our local contact in Delft. He was born on the island and used to be an English Teacher. He had also worked overseas in Singapore and Saudi Arabia. He went on to tell us about his family and how he had six sons. During the first few minutes of our conversation we heard a different perception of the war compared to what we heard in Mullaitivu where his son was abducted by the terrorist organization against his will. There must have been so many more instances during the war, where innocent lives were just lost and families torn. It is always so heartbreaking to hear these stories. As the civil war continued, his children were not able to proceed with their studies. Therefore, they ended up working as fishermen and daily wage laborers.
Delft, originally known as Nadunthivu, is the biggest island (48sq Km) compared to the neighboring plots. We travelled around in a truck with benches fixed to it at the back. The roads were quite bumpy and the terrain was quite tough. We just wished that the road network around the island could have been better to make logistical sense. There are many places to see on this island. We stopped at the Delft Fort first. It was constructed by the Portuguese with limestone and coral. It sits under many Palmyra trees and we stroll around the ruins.
There is a huge Baobab tree on this island that was planted in the 16th Century by the Arab traders. The base of the tree trunk has an opening that is big enough to fit a few people inside. We also did a quick stop at the Old Dutch Hospital which was
obviously built by the Dutch and then later it was converted into an administrative center in the 1900’s. The British coat-of-arms is also visible here. In the gardens, there are some unique units built for messenger pigeons that were used back then to carry messages between Delft and Jaffna. There is a huge human-like footprint embedded in a rock, and the locals believe that it belongs to Hanuman. We drove by plain grasslands where we saw wild ponies in their numbers. Even though they always ran away from us it was such a delightful sight!
By 1PM, we had visited the main sites of the island and we were ready to head back, as we finished ahead of time and the local ferry wasn’t departing anytime soon. Our host was very helpful and he asked his sons to drop us off in their “plastic” boat. We reached Nagadeepa and visited the Hindu Kovil there. We also had a quick vegetarian meal at the Kovil of red rice, dahl, pumpkin curry & sambar. We quickly headed back to the boat and made our way back to the pier. This kind gesture saved us about 1.5 hours and we were able to reach the Kurikattuwan pier earlier than expected.
After the bus ride back to Jaffna, we stopped to buy some cold beers. We are currently sipping the cold brew and pondering what to do for dinner. Do we visit Rice & Spice like every night or do we venture elsewhere…
Day 7: Friday, August 14, 2020
Today we were going to explore Jaffna in depth. We were not planning on visiting any main attractions, but were looking to meet interesting people in the community with exciting stories.
We had had string hoppers for dinner the previous night and we were served string hoppers for breakfast too. How disappointing! It was unbelievable how this kept happening to us! Just like the pittu earlier this week, we agreed that we would not have string hoppers again for a while. We hoped lunch would be better.
We left the hotel by 9AM today in our friend Nathan’s car. We enjoyed the late start. Our first stop was very close to the Nallur Kovil. Here we met up with some wooden artisans and were able to witness the carving of beautiful statues and images. This entire village specializes in wooden crafts and they are the master of carving out the chariots that have been used for the Kovil processions. They carved the wood with such precision and confidence. It was very fascinating to watch this.
Next, we had a short stop at the Jaffna Railway Station where we purchased our train tickets to Colombo. Today was our final day in Jaffna. It was difficult to believe that seven nights went by so quickly.
Moving on, we met a Palmyrah Craftsman in the suburbs of Jaffna. He is a retired CTB (Ceylon Transport Board) Bus conductor who is turning 70. He started working with Palmyrah as a hobby and turned it into a small thriving business. Within 10 minutes he was able to make us a small souvenir. It was remarkable to see this trinket being made. We continued our drive to Casuarina Beach which is a popular place to enjoy a sea bath. However, our stars were not aligned to offer us a dip in this calm, cooling waters…
By 2:30PM, we reached the Cattumaran Bungalow which is about 30 mins away from Casuarina Beach. It is a three-bedroom villa that has been beautifully restored according to the brilliant design concept of none other than Channa Daswatte. We were thrilled to have lunch here. We were served a delicious rice and curry with prawn, crab, dahl, brinjal and long beans curries along with a carrot sambal. Needless to say, we polished our plates after several servings. And the fact that Ajantha (who was the owner of this bungalow) was there, it added a bubbly flavour as she shared her many stories during lunch!
Along with Nathan, we then moved on to visit another foundation that worked with children around 3:15PM. We met with the Director and he came across as a very passionate person that seemed genuinely keen to help the needy children. This foundation is made up of 12 houses, each with about 8-10 children. Each house has a foster mother that takes care of the children. Each foster mother is given an allowance which she then spends on food and other needs the kids may have. Seven of the foster mothers were ex-LTTE soldiers during the civil war. They have now been rehabilitated and trained in child care. Nine of the houses are of the Hindu faith while two are Christian.
This organization currently looks after about 147 orphaned children who are victims of the post war and of parents who are physically or mentally unable to care for their families. While visiting the foundation, we felt so grateful for these people that were dedicating their lives to ensure that these deprived children were integrated into society. The program also features a vocational centre which helps the older students to sharpen their language and practical skills in the fields of beauty culture, IT, A/C and refrigerator repairs. An experience truly worth taking part during a visit to Jaffna!
Nathan was kind enough to drop us off at our guesthouse by 5PM. From here we took a quick tuk tuk ride to the Nallur Kovil. By the time we reached, the procession had already started and there was loud Hindu music. There were more than 500 worshippers and it was an overwhelming sight. To enter, men have to remove their shirts and walk in topless. This is a special requirement.
The pooja is a glamorous event. Bursting of bright robed devotees and colourful decorations, to take part in this holiest of ceremonies, one might commit to being a vegetarian for a period of time. The flamboyant and eye-catching gold jewelry is a common sight that goes with their attire and said to draw out negative energy and only attract positive.
About 200 meters away from the Nallur Kovil, is the popular ice cream parlor – Rio. A trip to Jaffna is not complete without having had some delicious ice cream from this parlor. We indulged in different ice cream flavors and we were quite content.
We agreed that the three of us were craving chicken for dinner. We realized that Jaffna had a KFC in town. Therefore, for our last supper, we got burgers to go, and on our way back to the hotel, we bought a bottle of Vodka for a last round of drinks!
We have an early start tomorrow. Our train leaves the Jaffna Station at 4AM and we have arranged a tuk tuk to take us to the station around 3:30AM. We anticipate it to be an exhausting day tomorrow as the train journey is about 6.5hrs. However, we truly appreciated these past days traveling and mingling with the local community. It was such a beautiful experience backpacking through the north to see different attractions and meet wonderful human beings with different personalities and characters. This is indeed a trip that will be hard to forget!
Day 8: Saturday, August 15, 2020
We arrived at the Jaffna train station by 0340AM. Our train was not due to leave until 4AM but we really did not want to be late for it. We were eager to return home after this great adventure we had. The train left the station sharp at 4AM and we were glad to be comfortable in our seats. We were definitely planning on having a long nap as the journey was approximately 6.5 hours. The train rocked us gently and we fell into a semi-deep sleep…
Outside our window, we saw the vegetation changing as we left the Northern Province. The now familiar view of barren lands and Palmyrah trees slowly changed to lush green paddy fields and coconut estates.
We had visited more or less all the places we had planned to see and met incredible personalities and most of all, learnt so much about our magical island. We could not wait to share this with the rest of our team back in office. We had visited humble homes, tasted simple meals, traveled in loud buses, had a bit of diarrhea and made new friends. The past seven days have truly been – life changing!
Roads less travelledhttps://authenticitiessrilanka.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/1.jpg420281useruserhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b58996c504c5638798eb6b511e6f49af?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Expedition: “The Lankan Trail Troop” – Exploring hidden trails of the mid-Eastern region
Expedition members: Akitha, Nuran, Suranga, Tharuka, Ushani and Donovan.
While the world around us shifts and adapts, a challenge was set in motion to keep ourselves inspired and optimistic. A reminder that travel is all about seeking experiences, making memories, self-healing, learning and sharing knowledge from the people and places we visit.
During these trying times, it’s become even more important to look beyond the familiar comforts to keep our interests alive and motivated. Thus began the journey of searching for undiscovered treasures of the island. An entire week away from the hubbub of the metropolitan to go exploring the unknown. Sure enough, the thought of it was intimidating but exciting at the same time! It was the perfect recipe for an impromptu trip!
There’s a saying “He who would travel happily must travel light” and we couldn’t have agreed more! With enough essentials loaded in our backpacks, we only travelled using public transportation. At times when we couldn’t count on it, tuk-tuks and private jeep hires came to our aid. There were also a few occasions when we couldn’t find a decent mode of transport, hitch-hiking was the only way we could reach our next destination. Undoubtedly, the whole experience taught us about resilience, hope, humility and emotion. An excellent seeding ground to build character.
Most parts of this small island have been explored repeatedly over hundreds of years of the country’s rich and vibrant history. Spanning back as far as 993 AD, when the armies of the Chola Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka, through the colonization at the hands of the Portuguese, (1505-1658) the Dutch (1664-1795) & the British, (1815-1948) and coming up to present day with the boom in local and international tourism, almost every nook and cranny of the island has been visited by both local and foreign travellers. Since the end of the 30-year Civil war in 2009, it is safe to say that we now know where all birds and the bees flock together. Or do we?
In the light of mass tourism, yes, but one could say that there are still quite a few areas in Sri Lanka which are yet to be ‘discovered’. The main reasons for this could be that some areas may not fit into an itinerary logistically (and fortunately so), or that the area in question is not infrastructurally equipped to cater to tourists, or may not have many things to do for tourists. Whatever the reasons, believe that some of these hidden riches have tremendous cultural, historical and religious value but are only waiting to be discovered.
It took us about 30 days to do our fair share of research before dive in headfirst. With hopes of finding the hidden gems on the roads less travelled, starting in the Ancient Kingdom of Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province, we would work our way down to the central highlands and end in the Tea country.
July 02nd: Night mail Train to Polonnaruwa
To get an early start from Polonnaruwa on the morning of Day 01, we chose to take the night mail train which leaves from Colombo at 7.00pm on the previous evening, scheduled to arrive in Polonnaruwa by around 1.30am. We met at the Colombo Fort Railway Station at around 6.30pm – Old iconic station built in 1877 under the British Ceylon similar to the Manchester Victoria station.
Reading a comment in “Trip advisor” on Colombo Fort Railway station ….
Important advice – get here with plenty of time to spare! There are people everywhere, trains coming and going, bewildered tourists wandering around, locals cramming on top carriages and no signs or announcements which platform your train departs from. You need to find someone official looking in a uniform and ask which platform your train leaves from and then probably get a second opinion! As I said, a great travel experience.
What’s said above couldn’t be anymore true, after a while and worthy effort, we were finally seated in the correct train & ready to embark on our much-awaited journey.
The train took off at 7.00pm as scheduled and started making its way towards the North Central Province, passing through hustling towns and suburbs. Train was packed to capacity with locals going for weekend breaks to the East coast while some were visiting friends & family. We arrived at the Polonnaruwa Railway Station at around 2.00am, 20 minutes later than scheduled. We later found out that the delay had been due to a passenger who had got off the train a few stops earlier, leaving their bag on the train mistakenly. Oh well!
Our guesthouse for the night was a 10-minute walk from the Polonnaruwa Railway Station. A little tired after the long journey, we continued walking down the street when all of a sudden we got a rousing welcome from a friendly pack of stray dogs (in double digits!!) in the area waking up the entire neighborhood at 2.30am. This was a good enough signal for our guest house owner to greet us at the entrance. He knew we were approaching the guest house upon hearing the dogs bark!!!
After a quick round of introductions, we walked towards our respective rooms to freshen up quickly and have a couple of hours of rest before heading out.
July 03rd: Pedals, Landscapes and Jumbos
After 3 hours of sleep, we hit the road as early as 6.30am – our first day of adventure. Our host Luxman was gracious and welcoming, and greeted us with a strong cup of ‘black’ tea while sneaking a sleepy smile. We apologized for not letting him get proper sleep but he insisted that it was no trouble at all with such sincerity, so we had no choice but to believe him.
Raja – our longtime friend from the area, picked us up at 7.30am from our guest house and after a short ride on the back of his truck, we arrived at the banks of the picturesque “Parakrama Samudraya” manmade lake by most revered King Parakrambahu.
For the next 35 Km’s we were riding cycles through very rural roads, from dreamy rice fields to sprawling lush plantations, rural villages to nature preserves teeming with wildlife, the range of Sri Lanka’s geographical and cultural treasures is astounding—and there’s no better way to see it all than on two wheels.
We continued on the trail passing the reservoir, along rural roads which were lined with lush green farm lands, grasslands and waterways which originate from the Parakrama Samudraya. The landscapes were breathtaking, and there was always a light breeze to keep our bodies cool and energized. Thanks to the nearby waterways.
Our first stop on route was beside the lush paddy fields for Breakfast, with local favorites such as bread, dhal curry, Coconut Sambol and ‘Lawariya’, a local sweetmeat consisting of flour, coconut and treacle.
We mounted back on our bicycles and continued through a stunning road that runs between borders of two national parks (Wasgamuwa and Angamadilla). As we were passing through the quaint local villages, one of the most memorable things we encountered was the beautiful smiles of the village children who didn’t miss waving at every single one of us. Making sure that we are greeted with their innocent courtesy every step of the way. After enjoying a refreshing King Coconut from the roadside vendors, we reached the end of our journey by bidding farewell to our friend and our new friend Wasantha, who accompanied us on a bicycle to ensure that we were safe and hydrated.
Our onward Journey to Wasgamuwa was a couple of crowded public bus rides through the sleepy village of Hettipola – For most of us living in the capital, using public transport, local buses is not a common choice. Yet, this is the only budget friendly alternative to travelling by any other means. Despite Sri Lanka’s hot climate, buses don’t get too warm as the windows let in plenty of air to keep to a comfortable temperature – meaning you won’t need to pay extra for air conditioning!!
By this time it was evident that the villagers aren’t accustomed to seeing many tourists in this area. For this reason, we attracted quite a bit of attention to ourselves. With hearty smiles and curious eyefuls, many of the villagers offered us vacant seats to sit on. The bus conductor too was very helpful and accommodating, and even offered to hold the bus for us for a few minutes while we questioned about timings of the return buses (so that we could plan out our next day). The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off right in front of the access road to our guesthouse for the night.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Sri Lanka, being a dozen times its size compared to other countries, is blessed with so many wonderful qualities. The people, especially in interiors, possess a warm and friendly nature reflected in their smiling faces. Outside the big cities, this quality is better-defined. Villagers are known to be very accommodating and friendly, they would even invite a total stranger to their homes to have a hot cup of tea or a meal. However modest our lifestyle is, this is a quality all Sri Lankans take credit for.
We arrived at our guesthouse for the night and dropped off our bags quickly before walking down to a small stream nearby where we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the cool waters to recover from our travels. At the stream, we were joined by none other than our last bus driver and bus conductor who are actually from the area and wasted no time in plucking a fresh ‘Wela Waraka’ (a ripe version of Jack Fruit which is found in rural areas) for us to taste. Needless to say, the fruit was super fresh and delicious. Here we were also joined by two children from the village who frequent this stream in the afternoons to douse themselves in the cooling water. The experience was truly heartwarming. After drying ourselves, we returned to the guesthouse where a simple but delicious rice and curry lunch awaited us.
An afternoon well spent, next in line was a game drive on our schedule. We were greeted by our safari jeep driver who took us on a short drive to the entrance of the Wasgamuwa National Park. This National Park is less frequented by tourists as opposed to the other parks in the area, so is home to many herds of wild Elephants who sometimes are known to be territorial and aggressive as they are not accustomed to many visitors. Though we didn’t see much during the first half of the safari ,as evening approached, we spotted our first Elephant and it quickly became multiple sightings of herds and the occasional Serpent Eagle. The Elephants did not seem too different from ones we have spotted in other parks at first, but we could soon sense a more defensive and territorial behavior from them as we heard a few trumpets – something that some of us have never had a chance to hear before. Our jeep driver then took us to the banks of the Mahaweli River, the longest in the country, where we could enjoy uninterrupted views of the river. Sadly, we left for the park about an hour later than the recommended time. Somewhat a disappointment considering the park is said to have good animal sightings towards the latter part of the afternoon. Another time then!
Upon returning to the guest house, we could see the sleeping arrangements for the night were laid out quite interestingly. With beds arranged in an open area without walls, laid out in the dormitory style along with individual mosquito nets hanging overhead, we knew it was going to be rustic yet an authentic experience . In the evening, we were treated to a delicious ‘string hopper’ dinner accompanied by a green chili & coconut sambol and a spicy chicken curry – a dinner not to be forgotten.
As bedtime approached and we were gradually getting ready to rest from our long and very memorable day, a distraction came in the form of a phone call with the trekking guide who was due to guide us through our hiking the next day. In order to be able to complete everything we had planned out for the next day, we needed to start our trek at around 7.30am. However, our trekking guide cautioned us against it, as he had heard reports of wild Elephants being around the trekking path during the early hours of the morning. Therefore, he asked if we could start at 10.00am instead, which would delay our arrival at the next guesthouse by at least 2.5 hours meaning around 9.30pm. After frantically looking around for some other options and not being able to make any changes at such short notice, we had no choice but to grudgingly confirm to the trekking guide that we will start at 10.00am, and head to bed, to be refreshed for the next day of adventure into the unknown.
July 04th: A long day of trekking and travel
We had a late start this morning after last night’s events where we had to push back the start time of our trekking. Though we weren’t thrilled about it, at least we had an extra bit of sleep. After packing up and having a nice ‘Pol Roti’ (a local flat bread made with coconut) breakfast, we set off once again with a feeling at the back of our minds that this would be a long day.
We reached the place where we were set to meet with our trekking guide by around 9.30am, 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Though we had agreed to meet at 10.00am, we thought of calling the trekking guide’s home, just to check that he had left home and was on his way to meet us. All trekking guides live in the village of Meemure itself, so he would have had to leave home around 03 hours beforehand so that he can come across the path along the river to meet us. The trekking guide’s wife answers the phone, and says, to our immense shock, that the guide has not yet left home to come meet us! We did not know why he had not yet left home, we did not even ask, because we knew at that point – we had only two choices left to us: find someone else to guide us through the trek, or cancel the trek altogether and pursuer some other trekking options which we had researched and found in the area. We weighed our options quickly. On the one hand, we were in a place that none of us had been before and therefore knew nobody in the area to help us find a new and reliable guide. On the other hand, this was one of the most anticipated treks of the whole trip and we were all really looking forward to it. And so, we decided to try go ahead with the trek with a new guide, failing which we would go with the other options we had planned as an ‘Option B’.
There was a local tea shack where we were, with a few locals in patronage. We spoke to the tea-maker, asking if he knew of any locals on this side of the trekking path who would be willing to guide travelers to the village of Meemure along the river path. He put us in touch with two tuk-tuk drivers from the village nearby who offered to take us to the village and try to find a local who was willing to take us over to the other side. As this was our best chance to do this trek at the moment, we agreed to go with them. After a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride through winding hills and rocky roads, we arrived at the village, which, coincidentally, is also the starting point of the trek. The tuk tuk drivers started looking for a villager who could accompany us on the trek. The village is very small and therefore very close knit, so everyone knew everyone. After close to 20 minutes of looking, we found a young villager who said he had no other plans for the day. He had gone on the river path before, but said he would not be able to go alone since he would have to walk back to this side of the path in the evening, after dropping us off at the other end. In a few more minutes, the tuk-tuk drivers spotted a villager who was sitting outside a house nearby, and although he had not been on the river path before, he was kind enough to agree to accompany us as well! So after a few more minutes during which our two new and unexpected trekking guides got some supplies together to carry on the trek with them, we were off on the river path.
‘Meemure’ is a somewhat isolated village with a very small population of just 400 or so, situated here in the Central Province of the country. In 2004, Meemure was the film location for a very popular Sri Lankan movie which featured some of the beautiful mountain ranges and rivers and waterfalls situated around the village and since then, it has become a very popular holiday attraction for locals from around the country. However, the route we were taking is still very rarely used, as it is a very small walking path winding along the river that runs through the village flowing East, and is only used by villagers who walk across on occasion. As we trekked along the path, we could hear the sound of the stream though we could not always see it, occasionally meeting the stream at openings which were breathtaking to see.
Our new trekking guides soon became our new friends, as we made our way along the path and started getting to know each other in conversation. Ranjith, the younger of the two, is 24 and works in Colombo as a laborer. As the country went on lockdown a few months ago due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Ranjith could not find work, and therefore decided to return to his village until things come back to normal. Nowadays, he engages in odd jobs and agriculture along with the other villagers. Lal, the older of the two, is a father of two and engages in farming. Since of late however, he says that farming too has become problematic to the villagers in the area, due to changes in weather patterns as well as adverse effects from the fertilizers and pesticides which are available at the local markets. The more we spoke, the happier and happier we felt that our original trekking guide had not showed up, because now we were able to meet Lal and Ranjith, and learn about the real life situations faced by rural villagers, and support them. Ranjith and Lal were ever so helpful to all of us along the way, and even helped carry some of our bags, when it became a little tough. As we got closer to the end, our stocks of drinking water ran out, so we had to drink from the stream, which thankfully has safe drinking water. Lal even ran down to the stream with our empty bottles of water and refilled them for us, which really showed us how hospitable the villagers in Sri Lanka can be.
We reached the end of our trek at around 4.30pm, which was around 5.5 hours in total. Arriving at the banks of the stream at the bottom of the village of Meemure, we bid goodbye to Lal and Ranjith who made us promise to come visit them again, and enjoyed a well-earned cup of tea along with some hot Pol Roti at a little tea shop nearby. After tea, we hopped on to a truck we had arranged to take us to the main road, since there are no public buses from Meemure. After a drive of around 1.5 hours, we arrived at the main road where we could take the bus which leads us to our next destination. Though we waited and waited, no bus showed up, steadily increasing our anxiety as the minutes passed. Finally, a bus showed up, but not the bus we need to get to our guesthouse, but one that takes us around halfway. We decided to take this bus and then try to find another bus from the halfway point. More bad news awaited us at the halfway point, as we were told by all those who asked that there are no other buses, meaning that we would have to wait around an hour further and take the last bus from Kandy which would reach our destination by around 12.15am. At long last, the bus arrived and we finally arrived at our guesthouse for the night by around 12.20am.
Our host at the guesthouse, ‘Indi’, was waiting for us with a hot rice and & curry dinner. We apologized for being so late and for him having to break rest, but Indi simply waved it away with a warm smile and said he was just glad to have us. Indi, it turned out, would end up being one of our most memorable hosts from our whole trip, and is a wealth of knowledge and an excellent host. We told him of our travels of the day while we enjoyed a sumptuous home cooked dinner, and mentioned that two of us had broken our shoes from our trekking. He immediately offered to fix our shoes for us, and took them and started gluing them together. While fixing our shoes, he gave us advice for the adventure we had planned for the next day, and shared his own experiences of the trek. Indi noticed how tired we were, and insisted that we get some rest and that he would have our shoes ready for us in the morning, so we bade him goodnight and retreated to our comfortable rooms. Getting to bed, we could not help but feel enjoy today’s adventures, even though it certainly did not go as planned. When faced with uncertainty, we decided to take the risk and plunge in to the unknown, and we had been rewarded with meeting amazing people like the tuk tuk drivers in the village, Lal and Ranjith, as well as a beautiful and memorable trek to Meemure.
July 5th & 6th: ‘the lonely cave’ – An undiscovered wonder
We woke up this morning, refreshed and ready for two days of true adventure in to the unknown – climbing what we affectionately call the ‘the Lonely Cave’. We were looking forward to these two days the most, but these two days were also the days about which we knew the least, as it wasn’t something many travelers have done before.
The Lonely Cave was said to be the location of a rock fortress planned by King Saddhathissa, brother of King Dutugemunu, one of the most famous olden Kings of Sri Lanka. Historical sources are quite vague about the exact history of King Saddhathissa, but some of the locals believe King Saddhathissa used this rock as his hiding place from his brother. On the other hand, some of the locals believe King Saddhathissa first came to this area as directed by his brother, to cultivate this area for agriculture. Still more theories suggest that this was all built not by King Saddhathissa, but by his son and successor, Lanjathissa. The rock is said to have been the intended site for the palace similar to what we see in Sigiriya, while some speculate the name which they had given in Sinhalese, literally translates to Capital Rock, which probably meant it to be the Capital city of the Kingdom, built on the rock along with the palace. Sadly, the construction was never completed, possibly ending with the death of King Saddhathissa, or his successor. However, ruins of the foundation of construction are still intact. Pathways paved by rocks can still be seen starting at the bottom of the rock, with evidence of drains being cut in to the rock itself visible in places as well, along with a large pond at the top of the rock, and a large cave near the top of the rock, which had been drip-ledged and used as the King’s chamber.
This was the very cave where we hoped to sleep in for the night, and yes, this was what we were most looking forward to. It was not going to be an easy trip though, as the rock is now in the middle of ‘Elephant country’, which means wild Elephants are known to roam the area regularly – not only around the rock but up to the top of the rock itself. In addition to this, we had to think about drinking water, food and other supplies for the overnight stay in the cave as well. To guide us through this adventure and to help us navigate the paths, we had the help of ‘The Chief Aththo’, the leader of a small ‘Veddha’ community in this area, the indigenous group of people in Sri Lanka. There are still a few clans of the Veddha community still in existence in Sri Lanka, most of which are scattered around this general area. After the death of his father a few months ago, Chief Aththo has taken on the role as head of the clan.
After breakfast, we left Indi’s guesthouse and went to the center of town nearby, where we got all the supplies we needed for the climb. Chief Aththo said we could cook over a woodfire in the cave if we liked, but we wanted to keep the cooking to a minimum so decided to take dry food for meals. We got some extra drinking water, some bread and a bottled sprats dry curry for dinner, crackers and cheese wedges for breakfast, and some more drinking water. There are no public buses going towards the Veddha village where the trek begins, so we hired a truck to take us there.
15 minutes later, we arrived at Chief Aththo’s home, where the Veddha chief himself sat outside, waiting for us. He greeted each of us with his hand joined together in prayer-like gesture, as is the traditional Sri Lankan greeting, and gave each of us a home cooked rice & curry lunch pack which we were to have mid-way through our climb. Ready with our backpacks and water bottles, and Chief Aththo with his own sack containing his own bottle of water and some supplies, pouch of betel firmly secured around his waist, and an axe over his shoulder, we set off on the trek which would take us to the top of the rock, approximately 9Km in all. The trek is mainly of two parts: 5Km-6Km of mostly flat land, through fields of cattle and Teak plantations, where we get to the base of the Rock. From here, the climb begins, winding around the rock and reaching up to the summit, where we would reach the cave and the pond.
The flat terrain is picturesque but tiring, thorny and tough in places, especially as we started a bit later than ideal, around 11.00am which meant we were under the scorching sun. Shoes are definitely needed to navigate through this trek so far, and at this point, we were so thankful to our host Indi from the guesthouse, who insisted that we needed shoes and repaired our broken ones for us. The thickets also made it very hard for us to see an Elephant approaching, but Chief Aththo was one step ahead, calling ahead with loud shouts and banging his axe on broken tree trunks, to ensure any Elephants or other wildlife nearby would be alerted of our presence and steered clear. After close to three hours of trekking, we finally were able to get our first glimpse of the Lonely Cave, which was cleverly hidden behind a few other hills and rocky mountains around this area. We could see why this was the place selected by King Saddhathissa to build his rock fortress. It was well guarded by nature itself, who did a good job of hiding it, and the surrounding hills and mountains made it impossible for a large force to mount a surprise attack.
Chief Aththo brought us to a point which is usually used for a pitstop, and we enjoyed our home-cooked lunch packs here and gave our shoulders some rest from carrying our backpacks. He was very keen on getting up to the summit as soon as possible, because Elephants tend to walk around these parts towards late afternoon. So after a quick lunch, we were back on the path, starting the last part of the trek, the climb to the summit. Though the climb is only 1/3 of the total trek, we soon came to learn that this was the toughest part of the trek. The slope is steep, the rocks are uneven and the grass is even taller which makes it very hard to keep track of the walking path unless someone is right in front of you. It was certainly getting tougher and tougher, but the views were also becoming more and more magnificent, seeing the hills and countryside and lakes which were steadily getting lower and lower beneath our feet. We also came across Elephant droppings, almost as regularly as the amount of rocks around here, some of them quite fresh too, a constant reminder that we may not be alone up here.
We finally arrived at the summit, where we had amazing views of the surrounding mountains, forests and lakes. We walked across the summit and were guided by Chief Aththo to a little path which descends slightly to the side of the rock where the cave lies, almost completely hidden from sight when looking up from the ground below. The drip-ledged cave is empty and bare now, but legends say it had brick partitioning, plastered walls and wall paintings in the ages past. Today, it is mostly barren except for a small pool of water retained on the left corner. We finally relieved our shoulders from our backpacks to catch our breath. We had made it! And it was around 5.00pm which was a good time to get here since it was not too warm and therefore the perfect time to check out the famous pool which is said to have been carved in to the rock, with only the wide open skies above it. This thought was distracted by Chief Aththo suddenly exclaiming there was an Elephant down in the fields below us. He tried to direct our eyes to what he could see, but, try as we might, we just could not spot it. Beginning to think the Chief Aththo may just be extra tired, some of us took out our camera and zoomed in to try spot the Elephant, and were amazed to see the Elephant, just as the Chief had said! We could not believe the Chief could spot the Elephant from so far away, but could understand why we had not spotted it – it was only the size of an ant from this high up, and our minds were expecting something bigger. Soon, Chief Aththo had spotted two, three, four more, moving together and feeding on the plains far below.
Soon after this, we made our way up to the summit where we would find the pool. The pool is around 70 feet x 50 feet in all, cut in to the rock itself, and somehow keeps the water from evaporating though it is completely unprotected from the sun which shines fiercely throughout most of the year. We did not plan on taking a bath up here, but, feeling the unexpected coolness of the water and how tired we were feeling, we could not help but have a soothing bath. The cool water energized us instantly, and we could feel the tiredness of our shoulders and legs slowly fade in to the background. Chief Veddha showed us the markings around the back of the pool, which proved there was more widening to be done in the pool but it was indeed unfinished. What an amazing thing to see, if it had been finished. Even as it is right now though, so far above the ground below, overlooking the countryside all around and almost perfectly mirroring the sky above it, the sight is breathtaking, even hundreds and hundreds of years after it was abandoned. Chief Veddha continued upwards to the middle of the summit, where the foundation stones of the palace could be seen. As we made our way towards the foundation stones, the Chief stopped abruptly, exclaiming he could see an Elephant on the very rock we were on, just over 200m away! We’ve been close to wild Elephants before, but never while being on foot. This made our experience all the more exciting, not to mention more scary. Chief Veddha was very calm, probably since he had been in similar situations many times. He called out to the Elephant, “Raja! we mean you no harm, go on your way..” in Sinhalese, and as if the Elephant understood perfectly, he walked away, down along a path to the other side of the summit. It was clear to us in that moment, how much closer the indigenous people are to animals and nature.
Taking a cue from the Elephant, we too made our way back down to the cave and settled in for the evening, picking the best spots to lay out our blankets and lay our down bags as makeshift pillows. We had also collected some water from a smaller pool on the summit, and brought it to a boil over a wood fire which the Chief Veddha arranged. He prepared some tea for us, and after a while, we enjoyed our dinner of bread with the dry sprats curry, while learning more about the Chief Veddha and the Veddha community. Most Veddhas believe in ‘Animism’, the belief that objects, places and creatures such as – animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, all possess their own distinct spiritual essence and are alive. Some Veddhas also follow beliefs of Buddhism while still others follow Hindu beliefs. The Chief Veddha’s beliefs seemed to be a combination of all of these, as he started chanting some folksongs of the Veddha People. He told us about his life, and his ancestors before him. As we settled in to our makeshift bedding for the night, it became steadily more windy, and we found ourselves wearing trousers and socks to keep warm, as well as using our towels as makeshift blankets. The Chief Veddha, who was also beginning to feel feeling made a few more chants, pleading with the skies for kind winds. With a stunning view of the surrounding valley illuminated, and the lakes glittering, underneath a full moon, we drifted off into well-deserved sleep.
We woke up a little early the next morning, in time to see the beautiful sunrise from our cave. Chief Veddha was sitting at the edge of the cave, watching the ground below and plotting the course for our return journey. After a hot cup of tea and our breakfast of Crackers & cheese, we took one last sweeping look at the stunning view and made our way back down the rock. Veddha Chief soon spotted more Elephants far below us, but this time, in the path we had used yesterday to get to the base of the rock. We therefore decided to take a different route from the base of the rock. It was slightly longer, but the plains were more open which meant we could see if there were any Elephants close by. This path too was very beautiful, with lovely green landscapes and hills, everywhere you turn. Our descent was much faster, and we reached the village and main road in a little over 3.5 hours. Our last reserves of water had dried up some time back, so we were extremely grateful when some villagers invited us into their garden and offered us some water to drink. They assumed we were coming back from climbing the rock, as they had seen the lights up in the cave the previous evening. After thanking them profusely for the water, we finally arrived at the home of the Veddha Chief. He invited us in to his home while we waited for our truck to come get us, where he showed us pictures of his father, son and other family members. There were two other quick stops we had intended to make before getting to our guesthouse – a famous reservoir nearby, and ruins of ancient granite canals built by King Saddhathissa himself at the same time as the Lonely Cave. Veddha Chief offered to accompany us and tell us more about the history, so we set off from his home in our truck.
The Reservoir is a recent construction, but offers stunning views of the area. We especially wanted to see it since it was one of the reservoirs which we saw from up on the rock. Though the construction is new, it was built close to the old embankment which was used in the ancient times. It was the water from the old embankment which was supposed to be moved through the ancient granite canals which we visited next. Here we could see many rows of ancient granite stones, cut perfectly and in an almost inter-locking style, laid out on the ground, apparently unfinished, just as the Lonely Cave was unfinished by the same king. Though it was not finished, we could not help but be impressed with the level of technology used so long ago, both to cut the rock, as well as to lay them down perfectly, using the interlocking cuts made into the rock. We could only imagine how many workers, even large animals, would have been used to do this work. The reason for the works to be incomplete, remains a mystery, but makes the story all the more intriguing, as we can only use our imagination to fill in the spaces of history.
We thanked the Veddha Chief profusely for guiding us and protecting us as if we were his own, and finally returned to our guesthouse, to find another delicious home cooked rice & curry lunch waiting for us, courtesy our wonderful host. After a well-deserved lunch, we sat down with our host and told him all about our adventures at the Lonely Cave. It had certainly not been easy, but it had been worth every minute of it, and would be a treasured memory for a lifetime to come. One from our group, Tharuka, would leave us today and return to Colombo, as she had to get back home to her family. From here, she bade us goodbye and wished us a safe and enjoyable remainder of the trip, and hopped on to Kandy and then another one to Colombo, while the rest of us rested up for the next day that awaited us.
July 7th: A change of landscape
It was a slightly early start the next morning, as we bade goodbye to our host Indi, and boarded a bus which would take us to our next stop, the first and currently the only dedicated Ayurveda Museum in Sri Lanka.
“‘Ayurveda’ is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing and has its origins in the Vedic culture of India & Sri Lanka. Although suppressed during years and years of foreign occupation, Ayurveda has been enjoying a major resurgence in both its native lands and throughout the world too. Tibetan medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine both have their roots in Ayurveda while early Greek medicine also embraced many concepts originally described in the classical Ayurvedic medical texts dating back thousands of years. More than a mere system of treating illness, experts believe in Ayurveda as a science of life – ‘Ayur’ translates to ‘life’, while ‘Veda’ translates to ‘Knowledge or widsom’ in Sanskrit. Experts say Ayurveda offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vital, while realizing their own full human potential. Providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of the human senses, Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.” This is the philosophy of ‘Dr. Witha’, the founder of the Museum, whose mission is to share the wonders of Ayurveda with the world.
We had the pleasure of being met by Dr. Witha himself when we arrived at the Museum, and he guided us through the complex and enlightened us on the history and benefits of following Ayurveda in our day-to-day lives. We learned about the various types of treatments which cover everything from ailments such as certain types of cancer, Diabetes and high Cholesterol, as well as treatments for stress, depression and gastritis which are more and more commonly found in society currently. There are also many artefacts, mainly of ancient instruments used by Ayurveda Doctors in olden times. Bowls and knives used by doctors to collect the required plants and herbs, as well as walking sticks fashioned in the shape of serpents, to distract snakes and move them without having to hurt them to in defense when picking plants and herbs. Over a hot cup of tea, Dr. Witha spoke of his own history with Ayurveda, and how he plans to introduce Ayurveda treatments and products for daily use to not only Sri Lankans, but to the whole world so that they may benefit from the wonders of Ayurveda.
Thanking Dr. Witha for his time and for the very enlightening tour of the Museum, we bade him goodbye and made our way towards our next destination, Badulla, the starting point of the famous ‘Tea Train’ which winds through the picturesque hill country, to Kandy, home of the famous Temple of the Tooth, and continues down to Colombo. 15 minutes before Badulla town, we stopped over to visit the Dunhinda Falls. Dunhinda Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sri Lanka, and is very popular among locals as well as tourists. The waterfall is situated at the edge of a valley, so there is around a 15 minute walk down and around the valley’s edge, from the main road. All along the path, there are many little shacks selling fresh juices, fruits, sweet drinks and snacks, all run by locals in the area hoping to make a living. At the time which we were walking down however, most of the shops were already closed and the others were packing up for the day, unfortunately, as it would have been nice to have a fresh juice along the way. We made to the viewing point situated overlooking the waterfall, and were delighted to see we were the only ones there! The waterfall is stunning, at 64 metres in height, and gets its name from the smoky dewdrop kind of spray, (‘Dun’ in Sinhalese means mist or smoke) which surrounds the area at the foot of the waterfall. It’s also known to some as the ‘bridal falls’, as the shape of the water falling is similar to a bridal veil. The air around the falls is fresh and cool, and made us feel like we had just taken a dip in the waters of the falls.
Around 20 minutes later, we made our way up to the main road and hopped on the next bus to Badulla, where we got ‘Kotthu Roti’ (a Sri Lankan street food dish made from roti mixed with vegetables, egg and/or meat, and spices in a style similar to fried rice) and made our way to our guesthouse for the night. Our host for the night was Lasa, a construction equipment instructor by profession, but also a gracious and accommodating homestay owner. After a sumptuous dinner, it was time to settle in for the night and be rested and ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
July 8th & 9th: The ‘Tea Train’ and Hatton
Our Guesthouse was situated around 10 minutes away from the Badulla Railway Station on foot. We left our guesthouse by 7.30am, and made our way towards the Railway Station. We stopped at a small bakery on the way, where a local family was selling freshly baked goods. Here, we bought a few items which we could have for breakfast, while on the train. We arrived at the station and purchased our tickets, and made our way to our seats.
The train journey through the Tea country of Sri Lanka is known to be one of the most scenic journeys in the country, and is considered a highlight for any tourists travelling to Sri Lanka. The most popular parts of this journey are mainly between Ella to Hatton, where the track winds around tea covered hills, through tunnels and between hills, passing waterfalls and stunning views of the surrounding hill country due to the high altitude of the hills. One of the other most popular photo highlights of the train journey is the ‘Nine Arch Bridge’, where many tourists and locals come to and stand by the tracks, waiting for the train to pass by for the perfect picture moment. We decided to travel in the Second Class carriage, as we preferred to get a chance to mingle with more locals who also use the train for their daily commute. The tea covered hills were lush and green as we passed by, and the sky a bright blue, making all our pictures almost like they were taken from a postcard. Now we know why this is known as one of the most beautiful train journeys.
After around 4.5 hours, we arrived at Hatton, the final stop in our backpacking adventure. Hatton is one of the biggest towns in the hill country, and is one of the capitals of Tea production in Sri Lanka. Almost half of the population of the town is employed in the surrounding Tea estates in the area. The town is very loud and colorful, everywhere you go. From the shops aligned on either side of the street, to the fruit & vegetable markets, to the street vendors and the bus station, everything was twice as loud and almost three times as colorful as usual. Each shop had their own sound system with everything from music to the day’s news, blaring out in Sinhalese, Tamil and Hindi languages. The entrance to each shop has bright lights, bright electric sign boards, or colorful banners all around it. When you walk towards the markets, more colors await you in the form of many varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables, shoes, clothes, accessories and many other items, everywhere you turn. Compared to some other towns in the hill country where the grey skies sometimes is mirrored in the city below, the Hatton town shines like a beacon in the darkness, a must see if you are in the area.
We had lunch at a restaurant in town, again with loud music at the entrance, but with a gracious and welcoming team behind the counter. We tucked in to a plate of Roti and Egg Roti with delicious curries and a cup of hot Tea to end this delicious meal. Afterwards, we stopped over at a local salon near the markets, where we tried out a famous local head massage. The massage was great, save for one split second of surprise when the masseuse, unexpectedly and without warning, ‘cracked the neck’. It is not something that hurts and it does relax you, but as we were not expecting it, we did worry for that split second. It is all a part of the experience, right?
We also found a little make-shift stall where a couple of locals were repairing everything from shoes to handbags to umbrellas. As our shoes were really taking a strain from all the trekking, we were delighted when he offered to fix glue and stitch each pair of shoes in a mere 10 minutes! A good stop if you ever break your shoes halfway through your trip. After we got our shoes back almost as good as new, we hopped on a bus which would take us to Dickoya, a small town around 20 minutes away. Our final guesthouse of the trip awaited us here, overlooking the beautiful Castlereagh Reservoir, surrounded by tea covered hills. We arrived at the guesthouse close to evening, done with our travels for the day and looking forward to the next day.
We woke up for our last day of exploration and met for breakfast at the guesthouse, a delicious meal of Coconut Roti and String Hoppers, a local favorite. We set off soon after, travelling to Maskeliya, another Tea country town close by and well known for many waterfalls and streams. Here, we visited the Saman Temple, a shrine dedicated to deity Saman, who is the presiding deity of the Adam’s Peak Mountain. Traditionally, all pilgrims who visit Adam’s Peak for the first time will stop at the Saman Temple first to receive a blessing and to make a vow by tying a blessing thread around a monument there. We continued on to a Tea Estate nearby, from which we had a view of the Maskeliya Reservoir, and of two beautiful waterfalls situated very close to each other, flowed in to the reservoir itself. We trekked up the estate roads and eventually through tea fields, and then boarded tuk tuks to take us to the view point. When we finally reached the view point, we found the entire view of the reservoir and the waterfall shrouded in a thick covering of mist. As the minutes passed, the mist gradually passed and we had a stunning view of the reservoir, and of one of the beautiful waterfalls flowing into the reservoir. The view was especially enjoyable as the whole area seemed untouched by other travelers, and was just amazing to watch, all while we were surrounded by lush tea covered hills.
We made our way back to our guesthouse towards evening, and were waiting for the last bus of the day which would take us to our guesthouse in Dickoya. Though we waited for quite a while, there didn’t seem to be any sign of an approaching bus, Fortunately, there was a van passing by, and, when we asked if we could hitchhike with him up to Dickoya, was kind enough to agree to take us there. How fitting it was, that our last activity of the trip was to experience true Sri Lankan hospitality, as we chatted with the driver of the van, an estate worker in the area who was heading back to his home after a hard day’s work. We were back at our guesthouse soon after, and that was it for us for this trip. After another delicious dinner, we discussed all the highlights of our last week, each of us talking about our favorite moments, and all the lovely people we had met along the way.
Here’s what stood out to us:
Most memorable highlight of the trip: The Capital Rock trek
Most memorable local of the trip: The Veddha Chief
Most hospitable host: Indi from the guesthouse near Capital Rock
Best local meal: Dinner & Lunch at Indi’s guesthouse
Wildest moment: Two-way tie between the Elephant on top of Capital Rock, and the head massage in Hatton town!
Other honorable mentions: Bicycle ride from Polonnaruwa through the villages and countryside, Lal and Ranjith from the Meemure trek.
July 10th: Back to Base
Our last breakfast in Hatton was a delicious one yet again, but we were slightly subdued today as we sat together, reminiscing about our week of travels and realizing that it was suddenly all over now, feeling like the last week just flew by. After breakfast, we were back on the road, heading back to Hatton town where our happy band of travelers would be parting ways. Akitha and Nuran were taking the train back to Colombo with Suranga, who joined them on the train up to Kandy, where he would return home. Ushani and Donovan would take a bus from Hatton which would take them to the suburbs of Colombo where it was close to their homes.
In Hatton town, we found the bus stop where the bus to Hatton stood waiting, and this is where we said goodbye. It was true, we would see each other back at the office again in a few days, but it somehow felt like a sort of farewell for all of us. We had gone through a truly memorable and action-packed week together, and this was really the end of it. If this journey together had taught us anything at all, it was that one can never stop learning, as long as one never stops travelling. And it also taught us that we still have still so much more to discover and learn about Sri Lanka, so our journey is never really over, we are just taking a break. Until next time!
“Travel isn’t Always Pretty – It isn’t always comfortable. Some time it hurts, it even breaks your heart, but that’s ok. The journey changes you: it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your conciseness, on your heart, and on your body.
You take something with you, hopefully you will leave something good behind.”
Roads less travelled….https://authenticitiessrilanka.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/3-2.jpg420281useruserhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b58996c504c5638798eb6b511e6f49af?s=96&d=mm&r=g
“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.