The North east of Sri Lanka is the sort of place guide books recommend to visit before it changes. Hit by the long running civil war and also facing the full brunt of the 2004 tsunami it’s slowly getting back on the tourist radar.
I started my trip in the regional city of Trincomalee. Almost immediately the small differences are noticeable – more hindu temples and far fewer Buddha statues around the city are a nod to the change of the ethic mix.
Colonised by the Dutch and then the English the nods to marshal history were apparent to in Fort Frederick where the latest Sri Lankan army batch were jogging in the heat through arches still sporting the UK coat of arms.
Heading straight through the military area leads to a very elaborately decorated Hindu temple. In contrast to the Buddhist stupas or local mosques the Hindu temples are a riot of colour, statues, flames, smells & bells which resist the best intentioned following of outsiders.
I stayed at the Dyke Rest (no jokes please) hotel which is quite literally on the beach – out the back door is sand while the 1st floor veranda was perfect for watching sunset or the early morning labours of the men bringing in a great big arc of fishing net.
Further north are the resort beach towns of Nilaveli and Uppuveli which share the one white sandy beach which must stretch for 40km along this part of the coast.
The resort setup really favours family travellers and is a barrier to backpackers. There is dearth of reasonable accommodation in these parts. I opted for a mid-range hotel for $70 on one night and had a room on the top floor of what I nicknamed ‘the guard tower’.
One of the unusual sites in town was a Commonwealth cemetery, immaculately kept and maintained still. The rows of headstones mainly related to WW2 and Japanese attacks on shipping.
The range of religions and backgrounds ranged across the board but perhaps the most melancholy stones were the ones of unknown soldiers or the poor Indian labourers where no more details than their name or nickname was recorded. Some comfort in their graves are kept even though their families may never know where they lay.
Further north is Nilaveli – a more stretched out place but with the most beautiful beach which is completely empty. Getting around these parts really needs a scooter rental which gives so much more freedom.
The one popular thing to do is head for a snorkelling trip to pigeon island – and is it popular. There must have been hundreds of people snorkelling all arriving at the same time. In fairness the coral wasn’t that bad and Charlie, an English student just graduated who headed out with me, saw a shark but it wasn’t the most relaxing escape.
It seems that the entire coastline had been concentrated onto the island for a few hours. Heading back to a modern white spot, Anilana, for lunch and later with Charlie and Clara, a Lebanese woman from the hostel reverted to the beautiful white beach – completely to ourselves – pure perfection
Trip to pigeon island 3500 LKR
Scooter rental 1500 LKR
The Residence Hostel – dorm $10
Tuk tuk to Uppaveli from Trinco – 300 LKR
Tuk tuk to Nilaveli from Trinco – around 900