On the way to Trincomalee in the east, it was a “must” to stop halfway at Dambulla to visit the cave temples. We had been there before but the cave temples are not without reason one of the main tourist attractions of the country. We were under the impression that Roy had passed the place as the small road that he took uphill was in terrible state.
We talked about the fact that a road leading to a UNESCO world heritage site should be in better condition, when we realized after parking the car that Roy had taken the “staff entrance” route. That meant that ¾ of the steep stairs leading to the temple were behind us, but stupidly, also the ticket counter! So we stood soaked in sweat in the baking sun asking where to buy tickets and the finger of the man pointed downhill!
A fruit vendor did us the favor of getting the tickets and we were allowed to look at the cave temples and produce the tickets later. A monkey had ripped the lotus flowers out of my hand and had eaten them up. But it is possible at any temple to get the blessing of Lord Buddha with some cash instead!
The road to Trincomalee was repaired and in excellent condition. It was a special feeling to travel in Sri Lanka at 70–80 km/hr. During the war the army had cleared 100 meter wide strips on both sides of the streets to deprive the Tamil Tigers of cover. Three years after the end of the war the vegetation was growing back but it will take many more years for it to return to dense jungle.
We spent two nights in Trincomalee in a beautiful bungalow at China Bay, sharing the garden with the monkeys and the bathroom with little frogs. The caretaker spoiled us with curries for breakfast and we went to the markets for fruits and food for a BBQ. We could have stayed there forever!
In Trincomalee one has to make a trip to the Nilaveli Beach, in the opinion of many, the most beautiful stretch of beach in the country; take a bath at the nearby hot wells; and visit Fort Frederick and the Kovil that are built picturesquely on top of a cliff that steeply drops 100 meters down to the sea.
There was a festival going on in the temple and we mingled with hundreds of devotees. I wrapped a coin into a piece of fabric and knotted it to the holy tree to wish for a granddaughter. And as a precaution I used a Swiss coin, instead of a rupee.
During these festivals there are dozens of vendors. Among all kind of goods, they mostly sell sweets and one hour after breakfast we were munching again. It was the same routine every day: after a rich local breakfast, we all agreed to not even think of food until dinner, only to find ourselves one hour later at some roadside stall munching on local specialties or exotic fruit.
We tried at least a dozen new fruits that we would not have touched without the guidance of our friends. We would have classified them as uneatable flowers or vegetables that had to be cooked. Very interesting was the fruit of the cashew nut, the only fruit where the seed (nut) grows on the outside of the fruit. We were a bit puzzled as Roy told us that we had to eat the pear shaped fruit right there and then. After a bite into the sponge-like texture of the fruit the juice splashed all over the place. Of course, we also feasted on the better known exotic fruits and Humaid and I shared a durian of considerable size. While texture and taste of this fruit are out of this world, its odour is very much known. Michel and Roy turned the offer down to get their share.
At the hot springs some locals told us that there was a dead elephant being burned nearby. It was not a very pretty sight as they had started the fire with the help of gasoline and old tires. The living space for those animals is getting smaller and smaller and that particular elephant had injured himself on the electrical wire protecting the settlement and had died.
The people told us that a herd of elephants gathered every evening close by and it goes without words that we went there. There was a small and bumpy road we had to take and my mind is always focused on where and how the vehicle could be turned when undertaking that kind of adventure! We found the herd at a smoking garbage dump. Even more breathtaking was the sight of about three dozen eagles circling in the air. To see those majestic animals in such an environment was also very saddening.
On our previous trip, we had to turn further inland in order to get to Batticaloa as all the car ferries over the lagoons had been destroyed during the war. These days, four impressive bridges cross the lagoons and a brand new road led through extensive rice paddies along the coast. We stopped at Passekudah with the memory from our earlier trip of a beautiful bay with a lovely beach, the ruins of two tourist hotels and a handful of cows.
The change could have not been more dramatic: 14 resorts had been developed side-by-side. Two were already operating. Whether this is the right way to attract tourists to the east coast, the future will only tell.
Batticaloa is not a tourist destination, although the busy commercial town surrounds a beautiful huge lagoon. Of course, we went for a boat ride, visited a small island off-shore and looked at the light tower. While there, we ate the hottest curry of the entire trip and admired a huge well – in the middle of the kitchen of the restaurant.
We stayed at the comfortable White Doe Rest with a roof top balcony of the style: “we will add another story if we have the money…….”. We had a front row seat up there at five thirty in the morning to enjoy the sunrise.
On the way to Arugam Bay we visited a Mosque in Kattukudy where 103 boys and men were shot in a Tamil Tiger attack back in 1990. In memory of the lost lives the bullet holes were kept unrepaired. In contrast, to the north there was hardly any damage from the war left visible. Also, most of the damage of the tsunami had been cleared.
In Arugam Bay we stayed at the Tsunami Hotel that was operated under that name years before the disaster in 2004. They had 10 beautiful cabana style rooms and we had our tea served at the beach at six in the morning where we watched the sunrise. There is not one big hotel in Arugam Bay, but a large number of little Guest Houses. The vegetation is much more dense and exotic than farther north and as soon as one gets behind the surf, there is a feeling of bathing in a bathtub. It is a hotspot for surfers from all over the world during the European summer but even then one can find spots for a sea bath. For a longer stay on the east coast it would be my first choice.
The road to Kataragama was also in very good condition. Shortly after Pottuvil, we spotted elephants close to the road. Again, the vegetation on the cleared strips on both sides of the road was growing back. After a stop in Kirinda on the south coast, we proceeded to Hambantota where we stayed at a house of a friend of Humaid. It was nicely situated at the Lagoon and would be coming up for sale………..