It has not been easy staying indoors and being deprived of travel. Lockdowns, locked in, quarantine, and safety protocols have taken a toll on most travel during 2020, though I’ve had the good fortune of racking up the miles, locally.
One of my last trips in 2020 is to Mannar. Ideally it should have been Myanmar but I had to settle for Mannar. I am returning after one year and looking for different experiences.
On the main Madawachchiya- Mannar road, just in front of the turnoff to the revered Madhu Church is a small road that leads to the Kunchukulam Hanging Bridge.
But first I pass a concrete five-arch bridge. Built in 2013, this is a flow control bridge which possibly carries the excess water back to the main tributary.
The CeyCat 53 has arrived at the coastline of Lanka Patuna, south of Trincomalee.
It took us almost six hours of sailing having seen the amazing whale shark and thousands of dolphins along the way. It is time to take a short ride in the dinghy and disembark on the sea shore because I have been told the temple here is worth visiting.
The beach is relatively deserted except for some fisherfolk mending their nets, and some curious village children, peering at us from their perch atop an upturned boat.
The catamaran bobs gently in the sea. The sky is overcast, the wind is dying down and the evening is pleasantly cooling.
We are anchored out at sea, at the foot of the Koneshwaran temple in Trincomalee. I am onboard the Emerald CeyCat 53, a custom built, six-cabin catamaran belonging to Sail Lanka. This is just day one of our three day cruise along Sri Lanka’s renowned east coast.
This afternoon, having traveled from Colombo, we arrive at the Dutch Bay Trincomalee by 3:45 p.m.
Three Sail Lanka vessels are anchored off site waiting for their next passengers.
Within the boundaries of the Kumana National Park are many ancient archeological sites that date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. In fact, the Kumana area has been the site of an ancient civilisation dating back to the 3rd century BC.
There is a cobbled path that leads through the thick jungle to the base of what was once a massive monastic complex. We climb a short distance, scaling the hot rocky façade until we reach the main cave.
It’s not authentic camping and neither does it have the trimmings of glamping. But it has got all the coolness of tented accommodation, the buzzing of insects, the sounds of guttural sawing of a lurking leopard, the caressing of warm breezes that waft across the riverbed and the thrill of burying my toes in the sand while eating my meals under the open canopied tent.
Having driven almost seven hours from Colombo (along the newly opened expressway), we reach the entrance of the Kumana National Park by 11 a.m. to be met by Chris, the man behind the Xtreme Nature Tours and Marlon, his “grounded” sidekick and a business partner.
We transfer our luggage into the two waiting safari jeeps and off we go on a bumpy, dusty ride to the campsite at Eda Kumbukkana Two.
A short drive up the road right next to the Belihuloya Rest House is a waterfall and natural pool that has been a must-see attraction on my bucket list for too long. I have managed to coax the rest to visit this site and we are finally en route. We park the vehicles at a nearby car park for a small fee.
Hat in hand I walk down a short distance from the car park to the entrance post where a solitary chap issues tickets and warns us of the dangers of bathing at this waterfall. A plaque, erected by a bereaved parent in memory of his young son who had lost his life here is a stark warning. “This waterfall has taken many lives. Stay out of the water!” the gatekeeper cautions us. I am also thankful that there is no one else here, except us, and glad to explore on our own.
Gammaduwa is a village located about 1h20m from the Matale town in the central province of Sri Lanka. The temperature today is a cool 24c probably because of the elevation of 930m above sea level.
Off the beaten track that even Google Maps could not quite navigate, we finally reach our destination, the Kudaoya Villa.
Originally built (probably in the early 1900’s) as a hospital, this building has been transformed into a delightful villa comprising five large bedrooms with en-suite baths, a large sitting area with a fireplace and an equally large dining area. A long open veranda, a perfect place to sit and watch the mist come rolling in every evening or sip a coffee while enjoying the dawn break over the Knuckles Mountain range, is reminiscent of an old hospital waiting area. For anyone who enjoys cold water, (not me!) there is a pool located at the end of the garden.
I would like to consider myself to be a somewhat-of-a-daredevil. I am up for a challenge and will try anything provided it will not disfigure, maim, or hurt me. At my age, I will also tend to be a bit more careful in what I do.
Back in 2016, I was on another one of my April escapades, and one of the countries on my itinerary was Slovenia. Here, I had a chauffeur cum guide named Drajan, who was showing me the sights and significance of this stunningly picturesque country.
One day, he drives me to Bovec, a mountain town in northwestern Slovenia, surrounded by the peaks of the Julian Alps. After a while he pulls up at a hangar and before I know it, I’m being introduced to the tandem operations manager, Andrej Kostanjevec at Xtreme Skydiving. Drajan thought that my visit to Slovenia would be incomplete if I didn’t see it from above. Together with Andrej , they try valiantly to coax me into a tandem jump.
It’s a sultry Sunday morning, and even at this early hour of the morning, the heat is rising from the parched earth. I have navigated myself from Mahiyanganaya (where I spent the night) to the Pollebadde Galaasha Road in Maha Oya, as per instructions given to me by Nayaka Aththo (Chieftain). He flags me down outside his home. As I get down from the vehicle, he hurries up to me, clasped my hands together and greets me. I reciprocate by giving him a sheaf of betel leaves.
Nayaka Aththo is going to be my guide and guardian for the next two days as he leads the way to the summit of the formidable Nuwaragala. He is one of the few remaining Veddhas from the Pollebedde indigenous clan, descendants of Danigala Mahabandarala – a different ancestry to that of the renowned Damabana clan in Mahiyanganaya. After the death of his father three months ago, he has taken on the role as head of the clan.
Ready with my backpack, topped up water bottles and sleeping bag, and he with his sack containing a few worn out pots and pans, pouch of betel firmly secured around his waist, and an axe over his shoulder, we set off on the 9km trek. It is 8 in the morning.
Steeped in history and home to one of Sri Lanka’s 16 sacred places (solosmasthana), Mahiyanagana, once a sleepy town, is now a bustling city. I am passing through Mahiyangana en route to Nuwaragala in Maha Oya.
One of the focal points of this city is the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Temple, which plays a significant role in the history of Buddhism in this country. On a Duruthu Full Moon Poya day in January, and nine months after attaining enlightenment, Buddha visited Mahiyanagana (1 BE. or 528 BC), his first visit to this island nation.