Lord of the Sacred Hill

Deccan Herald: Lord of the Sacred Hill
Photographs and Co-authored by Adityavikram More
Monday 03 June 2013

Lord of the sacred hill

Arefa Tehsin and Adityavikram More
Lankan coast

Trincomalee, that literally means lord of the sacred hill, is a place overlooked by the ancient Koneswaram Temple as well as the human armies. This strategically located harbour on the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka has had a turbulent history, but has retained its beauty despite all that has befallen it, and remains one of the most beautiful beaches of Southeast Asia.

We had not been able to visit it for many years due to LTTE’s occupation of the eastern coast and the on-going civil war. The resorts had been destroyed and the routes closed. Once the war got over and rebuilding started, Trinco, located 257 km from Colombo, was the first place we visited in Sri Lanka. The newly constructed highway to Trinco is a pleasure to drive on. As you reach this beach town, which has been in news since the ancient times, you can sense the cultural change. Most women are dressed in saris, unlike in the southern and western parts of Sri Lanka, where you’d see young and old women in skirts and blouses.

For water lovers

One of the deepest natural harbours of the world, Trinco is flanked by terraced highlands and two hills stand as its guard. The crystal clear waters of the sea are sapphire blue at places and at others, they carry an emerald green tinge. The spotless beaches are dotted by fishing boats. In the evening, as the fishermen return, you can go to their nets and examine the catch. Some of it — like ray fish — are released again in the relentlessly sighing waves. If you manage to go in the morning, as the dawn breaks, you’ll find these fishermen casting their mandaala in a synchronised swaying of hands and foot. They sing to the sea gods to bless them with plentiful catch. Fishermen are quite friendly and are always ready to teach a newcomer their technique, and even graciously give them a part of their catch.

Trinco has many aquatic adventures to offer. It is the best spot not only in Sri Lanka, but the world over, to see the giants of the ocean — migrating blue whales from the African continent. If you go a bit further off-shore, there are chances of spotting sperm whales too. The best time to spot them is between December and April when several naturalists organise whale watching expeditions.

Apart from this, the harbour attracts divers and snorkellers from across the globe. Pigeon Island, which is easily reachable by boat, is one of the best places for swimming and snorkelling. This rocky outcrop is a national park and is the breeding ground of blue rock pigeons. It is surrounded by a rich, vibrant and diverse coral reef, with over 100 species of corals and 300 species of coral fish. An unbelievable mix of colours, forms and textures makes the reef a snorkeller’s paradise. The lucky might spot the Black Tip Reef Shark. Even if one can’t, there is solace in seeing the various turtles like the Hawsbill, Green and Olive Ridley.

Nilaveli and Uppaveli are other beaches in the vicinity, that have diving centres. These beaches were devastated in the tsunami of 2004. But nature has taken its course, healing the entire coastline. On a lazy evening, one can take a walk at the lagoon, surrounded by mountains, on the mouth of the harbour. Or go to the Swami Rock or Lover’s Leap to behold the brilliant view. The Koneswaram Temple, from where this natural deep-water harbour derives its name, stands on the top of a fortified hill overlooking the sea.

One has to pass the gate of Fort Fredrick, which was built by the Portuguese and captured by the Dutch, French and English in turns and is now under the Sri Lankan Army. The temple has witnessed many sea battles for the mastery of this strategic harbour during the colonial era. It was the chief naval base for the British for far-east and southeast Asia during the Second World War and has witnessed a failed Japanese suicide attack on the fuel tanks.

The classical ancient Shiva temple is known to have a recorded history dating back to 3rd century, and has Shaivite inscriptions from the medieval age. Even for non-believers, a trip through the fort to the temple gives a bird’s eye view of this ancient town and harbour. Visiting the temple in hot summer mornings and afternoons can be a trial for one’s feet, as you have to walk barefoot on the scorching rocks. However, the magnificent view more than makes up for the ordeal. The clear blue water lapping the flat rocks below have attracted seafarers like Marco Polo. Trinco is for those who love the sea, adventure, history, food and romance. When you walk on the beach on an idle evening, wavelets tickling your bare feet, fishermen pulling their nets at a distance, Fort Fredrick jutting from the sea with the ancient temple on its forehead, you feel like treading by the ocean of the past, on the sands of time.

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