A King, his Queen and all the lure of Kirinda

It’s time to hit the road again. My destination for the ‘long’ weekend is Kirinda and I am accompanied by 11 other die-hard adventurers. I know the weekend is going to be embellished with lots of fun, food and fabulous company.

As usual, we opted to leave the city at the crack of dawn and arrive at the Boulders Bungalow in Kirinda in time for breakfast. A round of strong black coffee and fruit juices, vehicles unloaded, beds and bunks sorted and we are ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the next three days!

The weather in Kirinda is just perfect. The Boulders Bungalow is situated in Nidangala wella along with many more quaint places along this off beaten road. The open concept of the Boulders allows the cool winds from the seas, not so far away to waft through the windows. Despite its budget accommodation, the Boulders is designed well to accommodate large numbers with ease.

The seas off Kirinda are not meant for swimming and frolicking in, and can be rough at most times. However, with a dire warning about the consequences, I had my bathers on, camera in hand, friends in tow, and we are off. Thankfully a shallow reef gives us a wonderful water pool where we soak up to one of the most wonderful feelings in the world… A warm sea water bath.

Kirinda is a small town comprising fisher families who depend on the sea for their livelihood. Along with the lure of wildlife at the Yala National Park located close by, Kirinda is enticement for divers who find the thrill of plunging off the Great Basses Reef. From my bunk bed at the bungalow, I can see the lighthouse on the Great Basses in the far distance.

In the 2nd century BC, King Devanampiyatissa who reigned over the west of the island from his capital at Kelaniya suspected a monk of being involved in a conspiracy between the Queen and his brother. In anger, and much to the horror of his Ministers and subjects, the King had this monk put to death in a cauldron of boiling oil. According to legend, the gods, angered by this deed, caused the ocean to flood the land. Overcome with remorse, the King decided to pay for this act by making a sacrifice that would impress his subjects and appease the gods. He built a boat of gold, filled it with provisions to last a month and placed his eldest daughter in it and set it adrift. An inscription on the boat indicated that the woman aboard was a princess.

Days later a lone fisherman spotted the boat as it drifted off Dovera, near Kirinda, and drawing closer he read the inscription and carried the news to the King of this southern region, Kavantissa. The princess was rescued, brought before the King, and given a warm welcome. Eventually Kavantissa married her and named her Vihara Maha Devi. She bore him two sons who were to become national heroes. The eldest, Gemunu, became King Duthugemunu (161 – 137BC), who united the Sinhalese for the first time after defeating the Tamil king Elara.

Several kilometres inland from Kirinda, at a place called Gotimbaragodella, there are traces of the ruins of a palace, where it is said that Kavantissa welcomed and later wed Vihara Maha Devi. There are also some ancient monuments at Magul Maha Vihara, near Palatupana, just within the Yala National Park, where the pair is said to have spent their honeymoon. The ancient ruins of the ‘poruwa’ (wedding stage) still remain.

This romantic legend still entices hoards of visitors to Kirinda to visit the statue of Vihara Maha Devi. Visitors make offerings at the dagoba built in the ancient ruins once erected to commemorate the safe conclusion of the princess’s voyage. Kavantissa’s royal coat of arms – featuring the sun and the moon – were carved on a boulder nearby to mark the landing.

Back in our camp, there is unanimous agreement to visit the Yala National Park. The dry spell of the recent drought has left most of the Park parched. Apart for a variety of migratory birds and a deviant tusker who insisted on blocking the path of vehicles and foraging inside for tit-bits, and lots of peacock showing off their elegant finery to disinterested peahens, the park seemed quiet of the maddening crowd that rush around in search of the Sri Lankan Leopard (Panther pardus kotiya).

The next day we drove to the Bundala National Park considered to be one of Sri Lanka’s foremost destinations for birdwatchers. This protected coastal wetland is famous for its abundant aquatic birdlife and stretches for almost 20 kilometers, enclosing five shallow, brackish lagoons. A total of 197 bird species have been recorded here, made up of 139 resident species and 58 seasonal visitors. The beauty of Bundala can be appreciated as every frame of the photograph is captured with a spectacular background. Colorful aquatic birds including the ibis, pelicans, painted storks, egrets and spoonbills are in abundance. Once famous for huge flocks of greater flamingos, this area is the flamingos’ last refuge in southern Sri Lanka, as they are known to migrate from the Rann of Kutch in northern India. We click endlessly.

Back at the Boulders, the evenings were aptly embellished with lots of tall tales and enjoyable camaraderie whilst the Chef and his assistant keep us well fed and sated. This weekend, truly did live up to my expectations… The fun was fabulous and the company was great. Thanks guys!

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