I thought it'd be cool to share one of my favorite road trips taken three months after the war ended in Sri Lanka in 2009. It was along the east coast from Yala to Trincomalee.
Previously, it had not been possible to travel to most of these areas for obvious reasons. I was particularly excited to visit having heard amazing things. Also, a part of me wanted to see these places before development plans were put into place, and to see it "raw" and "untouched". Some of the places I visited have since been developed and the natural quality has changed.
We kicked off after staying a few nights near Yala National Park. Yala was magnificent as usual and we took a jeep safari over two days. I can never get tired of visiting the place!
We also made an impromptu visit to Kudimbigala where there's an ancient cave monastery. It was totally "wow" for me. At the time it wasn't fully inhabited. I think there was one old monk staying as well as two soldiers and a wild bear. Yes, I said a wild bear. Exploring Kudimbigala you discover many different caves that have previously been used by meditating monks, areas for walking meditation, taking meals, drinking water and other "nooks". There was also evidence of wild animals, such as elephants, bears, snakes and other. It was quite a magical place!
The next day we set off north and had breakfast in Arugam Bay. It has a real surfy feel and plenty of places to stay catering to tourists. We weren't looking for that kind of thing, so after breakfast we kept travelling north.
Travelling with little or no expectations makes for little miracles to arise along the way. And when you don't book in advance or plan to finest detail, it leaves room for unexpected delights.
We drove along the A4 primary road taking in the landscape, the subtle changes and staying open to interesting stops. What struck me was the racial distinction between towns. At the time I noted plenty of army checkpoints and they were very obviously cautious about a foreigner travelling along the east coast and clearly heading north. It was an illuminating experience to take in the raw effects of war, the military presence and yet, the kindness of local people towards me.
We had an emergency pitstop in Akkaraipattu to fill up the gas tank, but also to find me some facilities. It was an experience I'll never forget. One, because of the generosity of strangers towards me. Two, the state of the loo I had to use!
We kept driving after that heading towards Kalmunai, where we had a meal and decided it was a good a place as any to stay the night. The town was bustling with activity in comparison to other towns we had passed.
The sun rising on the east the next morning from Kalmunai was delicious.
Moving on from Kalmunai we still headed north along the A4, which kept us pretty much along the coast. The terrain was pretty undeveloped and more than a little run down in parts. Housing, roads and infrastructure seemed very basic. There was evidence of war, decay and ruins. And, military were always present. Transport seemed to be predominantly bicycles and motorbikes rather than cars.
We ended up in Batticaloa after consulting the map, where we did a little wandering around and then found a pleasant place to have lunch. I learnt that Batticaloa is a prominent commercial city on the east coast and its tamil name Matakkalappu translates to "muddy swamp". There are a number of lagoons in this region making it a very scenic place.
Travelling north from Batticaloa we found it very scenic. There seemed to be so much to see and absorb culturally and with the natural landscape.
We were more interested in Pasikudah and its reputation for having one of the most beautiful beaches with one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline and its popularity with both locals and foreigners. It had been devastated during the 2004 Tsunami and so we were keen to explore to find out more. There were local people enjoying the beach when we arrived, and more came while we were there. The water was quite shallow and calm, so you could see it being popular for being safe to swim. I couldn't say it was the best beach I'd visited in Sri Lanka, however, once we took a boat out onto the water and had a swim further out, it was quite an enjoyable experience taking in the coral below. The people taking us out on the boat had quite a tale to tell regarding the family they'd lost in the tsunami, as well as their anxiety mixed with anticipation with respect to tourism development in Pasikudah. Illuminating discussion!
Since our visit there has been keen interest from foreign and local investors who have shown interest in developing tourism along the beach. We were very lucky to have visited in its untouched state.
As there wasn't that much else to take in after our swim we decided to keep heading north towards Trincomalee. We eventually found ourselves visiting Nilaveli Beach which was amazeballs! It was early August and the water was so blue, calm and inviting in contrast to the pale sand and cloudy skies. And I couldn't resist a nap in a hammock after a frolic in the water and a leisurely lunch. Bliss!
There was one more stop before I end this particular road trip... Kanniya Hot Wells. This is a popular hot water spring near Trincomalee. People believe that the hot water from this natural spring is good for curing some skin deceases and it has healing power for arthritis and rheumatism. It cost us around Rs10 for admittance. There are seven wells located close together and are deep enough for you to see the bottom. People generally use a bucket to pour water from the wells onto their body. The temperature can be hot but it varies from well to well.
I wasn't too sure about the healing qualities of the hot wells, but I did pour water on my arms and legs for good measure. It seemed a nice end to an amazing leg of a long journey.