Fern-green forests full of exotic life. Warm smiles from welcoming villagers. Ancient treasures steeped in rich culture. There’s much more sandy beaches in Sri Lanka, and Sun Aqua Pasikudah believes that no visit is complete without time spent exploring the many wonders found on Sri Lanka’s shores. We start our special tours in nearby Valaichchenai – a little town that was famous for banana, coconut and paddy plantations, which provided the main income along with fishing – before heading off on a cultural journey that reveals the true essence of the ‘Resplendent Island’.
Located just 28km away, the lovely town of Batticaloa lies amongst blue lagoons painted in palm-filtered sunlight. Colonised first by the Portuguese in 1628, then the Dutch and finally the British, the town itself is steeped in a rich history. Romantic colonial architecture can be found at dozens of churches, Hindu temples and a once- mighty fort. Surrounded by 6m-thick walls, the Dutch fort is now a bustling kachcheri (administrative office), and a stroll along its eastern side, between the walls and the water, is a must-do. Be sure to take a photo of the famous Kallady Bridge. Another great place from which to view the fort is across the water, beside the tiny Auliya Mosque with its curious green minaret.
The charming town has enthralling ethnic enclaves full of Batticaloa’s most memorable feature – its friendly people. Always ready to welcome strangers from far away lands, the people are eager to share their culture. The street hospitality makes wandering around town exciting and enriching. The local market is awash in colours, selling tropical fruit, spoons made from coconut shells and Palmyra palm jaggery (raw sugar.)
Located further inland, close to Mahiyanganaya, is the jungle village of Dambana, home to the last remaining tribe of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people. The Veddahs were once hunters and gatherers who also practiced slash and burn agriculture. Today, like most aboriginal populations, their ancient way of life is quickly changing. While they still speak their own language, many also speak Sinhalese. Due to Sri Lankan laws that prohibit hunting in National Parks, so as to preserve the fragile ecosystem, the Veddahs have had to devise new ways to live while preserving their culture.
Originally living in caves, the Veddahs of today live in simple huts of wattle, daub and thatch. Dotted around the homes are intricately made ornaments, made according to traditional methods. Available for sale to tourists that visit, these crafts are the pride and joy of the Veddahs, containing the stories of their ancestors. When children are home for school holidays, they spend their time learning about their traditions and how to make the various crafts.
Visitors to this fascinating village have the opportunity to meet and chat with the people who live there, learn about their culture, and gain a unique insight into their way of life.
The return from Dambana takes us through Maduru Oya, a national park that is well known as an elephant habitat. Spread over an area of 58,849 hectares, it lies entirely in the dry zone and is made up of tropical dry evergreen forests. The foliage consists of buruta (Sinhala: satin), weera, palu, divul (Sinhala: woodapple) and ehela, while open plains are dominated by shrubs and grass. The park is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including endemic bird species and reptiles, as well as ancient ruins. The drive is very picturesque, and it’s quite likely that you’ll spot elephants as close as 500 metres away while traveling.
Fifteen per cent of the park is water – Maduru Oya, Ulhitiya, Ratkinda, NDK and Henanigala reservoirs and the tributaries of the Mahaweli and Maduru Oya river systems. And a top nearby attraction is the Maha Oya hot springs. This is said to be the hottest spring of all the hot springs on Sri Lanka. There are six wells of different temperatures, with the warmest about 56C (133F). The bottoms of the wells are formed of quartz, sand and gravel, which means the water is perfectly clear. Among the many tales surrounding these hot springs is the story of Lord Vishnu creating the wells so that King Ravana could perform the last rites for his mother upon hearing of her alleged demise. Good enough for the gods, they are the perfect place for travellers to soothe their bodies and minds in the warmth of water, which is said by some to cure ailments.