Bus to Trincomalee
I’ve always wanted to go to Trincomalee. It has a neat name, is far away from a lot of other places, and has been a port for thousands of years. From the Amanulawara Junction at Sigiriya in the Ancient Cities, the bus ride to Trinco was a relatively swift 2-hour journey.
I was greeted by a pair of deer lying on the lawn by the central market. Maybe it’s in the nature of a mostly Buddhist country to give them some leeway.
Trinco is an old port town with one of the world’s finest natural harbors – it’s current incarnation was built by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and then the British.
The 17th-century star-shaped fort that sits at the tip of the peninsular commanding the approaches was built by the Dutch. The British then occupied it, naming it Fort Frederick.
The Duke of Wellington stayed in the Fort, and allegedly an illness of fever and “Malabar Itch” prevented him sailing on a vessel later to be shipwrecked – or that may have been Chennai. Either way. The Sri Lankan Army now has a presence in the fort.
The Koneswaram Kovil Temple is located on an outcrop over the ocean and dates back to around 100 BC, Destroyed in the 17th century by the Portuguese, it was replaced in the 1950s.
The statue to Shiva dominates the entrance.
King Ravana and his 7-string veena by the sea still gets lots of small change.
Downtown Trinco is a pleasant, low-slung town that is flanked by ocean and lagoon side beaches. It was also as hot as blazes when I went, so much so that I failed to visit the naval museum inside what is Sri Lanka’s main naval base – it involves getting a permission and then an escorted tuktuk ride.
Sri Lanka hosts a diverse set of religions.
I stayed about 4 kilometers north of downtown Trinco in the Alles neighborhood, which has some good beachside hotels. It is also close to the Commonwealth Military Cemetery, where war graves from Commonwealth services in the WW2 and postwar period are still maintained. Colombo was never invaded by the Japanese, although Trinco was bombed, and the aircraft carrier Hermes was sunk in April 1942 off the city of Batticaloa in about 60m of water.
I stayed at the Anantanaa Hotel, which had great rooms, a nice layout, and a short walk to the beach. Fernando’s Beach Bar was a nice place to have a beer and watch the ocean, which was as warm as tea when I was there. From Trinco I took the bus to Batticaloa, about 4 hours south.
Batti is a smaller town without the tourism that the beaches of Trinco obtain, but with a lot of charm. The old town, and its attendant Dutch fort, sit inside a lagoon. The port was suitable for smaller vessels through the 19th century, but the 1924-era road bridge cut it off from anything other than small craft. There is a lively old town with a prominent mosque and trading area.
In Batticaloa I stayed at a couple of places – one the Avonlea Guesthouse which was a quiet set of rooms with a killer Sri Lankan breakfast courtesy of the knowledgeable and friendly Mr. Anthony, and the other was the Riviera Resort, a collection of cabanas facing the (crocodile filled) lagoon.
One thing the Riviera offered was a superb restaurant, and frankly the best South Asian meal I have ever put in my face – crab curry and cashew nut curry.
The east coast of Sri Lanka was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, and the lack of warning in a rural area increased casualties. Since then, the island has excellent cell coverage that provides connection through rural areas that don’t have much in the way of landline capacity. The Tiruchendur Murugan Alayam Temple is just back from the sea and a reminder of the force of the tsunami.
The local temples were active at all hours – this offering was happening at about 9pm at a temple to Ganesh. When I left Batti on a tuktuk at about 5:30am to catch an early bus, there was a loud chanting from across the lagoon – I couldn’t work out if it was Buddhist, Hindu or Christian (spoken in Malayalam, the Tamil language).
Leaving Batti for Ella via Badulla
From Batticaloa, there was the option of an 8-9 hour train or bus ride back to Colombo, via Pollunawara and circuiting north of the central highlands, or go via one of the highland towns; I took the bus to Badulla, one of the regional centers, and then connected to Ella, which took about 7 hours.
At Ella, which is a small roadside town that had had a lot of tourism growth in the past few years, there are good hikes out of the town. I took the mid-afternoon to go up Ella Rock, a promontory that overlooks Ella and its surrounding valleys.
The Ella Rock hike can be done in about 3 hours if you are reasonably fit. There are some steep sections to the path but running shoes work with some care relative to your level of coordination. You head south along (or on) the railroad track – trains are not frequent – and then after passing the first and only railway station, you take a left at this pass.
If you reach this mile marker you have gone too far.
For my part, I overshot the trail turnoff by 200 meters and someone from the nearby village pointed me up a set of deer trails that got me back on track, also assisted by his dog, Nemu, who hung out with me for the most part.
The path passes through a village and then the trails head up the hill. It is not signposted although the promontory is to the left side of the hill as you head up to it. Ask someone if it’s unclear, and if it gets frustrating they are keen to guide for a small fee. The trail is simple once you know it and signposting would be a good idea. The view from Ella Rock is very impressive, and the temperatures are moderate given the altitude.