What do you expect from a country that was gripped in a civil war for over half a century?
Since independence (i.e.1948), Sri Lanka had faced sporadic conflicts between Sinhali and Tamil speaking population. In 1980s, the country witnessed serious insurgency by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a focused group that demanded a separate state for Tamil speaking population. It was only in 2009 when Sri Lankan army crusaded LTTE and had put an end to the long saga of retaliation. Like any war, it was reported that in order to achieve peace a lot of civilians lost their lives and means of living.
After reading so much about the uprising and debacle of Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, I was more than intrigued to visit the country to see by myself the current state of the country. However, all my assumptions were washed away as soon as I saw the tarred roads and lush green bounty all around me. Oh! Did I mention it was difficult to spot a garbage bin there? But still the nooks and corner of the streets were devoid of filth.
I was still not contend and wanted to see the ‘real Sri Lanka’ and with that I mean I wanted to visit a Tamil town that I thought would portray a clear picture of the country and will give me an opportunity to condemn the merciless killings of Tamil civilians during the combat between Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tigers. Due to time constraints I couldn’t make it to Jaffna, used to be the hub of LTTE operations, and so I chose Trincomalee (“Trinco”).
Located in the east of the island and falls to the south of Jaffna, Trinco is primarily a Tamil-speaking town. My first take on Trinco was that it didn’t look dilapidated as I thought. It was very much a buzzing town with an array of fishing harbors and breathtaking sunset. I did see naval forces around the Trincomalee dockyard, which I came to know, is because the town serves as the major naval base to Sri Lankan Navy.
Slightly hotter than rest of the island, Trinco provides a great location to backpackers due to its non-touristy beaches and inexpensive water sports.
What should bring you to Trinco?
Beaches. Nowhere in Sri Lanka will you find pristine beaches like Nilaveli and Uppuveli. Nilaveli being more calm draws more tourist than Uppuveli. Stay beach side for the best experience.
Where to stay
Since Trinco opened for tourists only after end of the war, the place offers only fewer options of decent accommodation around Nilaveli. Though quite pricey by Sri Lankan standards, I stayed at Sea Lotus Park Hotel that was located right on the Nilaveli beach. If you are looking for an offbeat stay try Backpacker’s Cave next to Sea Lotus Park Hotel which is literally just a bed and costs no more than 500 SLR. Other good resort in the town is Pigeon Island Beach Resort.
Photo Credits: A. Mittal
Where to eat
People say being a vegetarian and backpacker is not very good combination, at least not economical. After quite a struggle, I found Annapoorani Vegetarian Restaurant on the dockyard road that serves a delicious vegetarian meal at very cheap prices. The place is run by Tamil females and offers local Sri Lankan/Tamilian food. It was difficult to communicate with them since they didn’t know a word of English. However, I was quite impressed with the efficiency of females managing the place. I ate there thrice and every time I saw a bevy of customers. It was by far the cheapest place I ate in my whole trip to Sri Lanka. There was no menu but display of 2-3 curries, stringhoppers, the famous kottu, roti, stuffed roti, Dosai etc. Try this, you won’t regret. Mind it, Sri Lankan food is very spicy.
What to do in Trinco
Since Mirissa down south is famous for whale watching, not many people know that Trinco in fact is also a good place to spot whales and at much cheaper price than Mirissa. I paid just 2,500 SLR as compared to 6,500 SLR that I would have paid in Mirissa. And I spotted 3 gigantic sperm whales.
The best time to take the tour is early morning, by 6 am. It can take about 3-4 hours depending on your chances to spot a whale.
Snorkel with sharks
If you are somebody who is not afraid of exploring sea life, then Pigeon Island National Park is just a place for you. Located just 15-20 mins away from Nilaveli beach, Pigeon Island National Park offers Coral Sea life and is a nest to blacktip reef shark. It is said to be a good place to swim with sharks and sea turtles.
Being a Tamil town, Trinco homes the famous Hindu temple of Lord Shiva known as Koneshwaram temple. The temple is located uphill the Dutch fort – Fort Frederick. Behind the temple is the peak that overlooks the Gokarna Bay and Indian Ocean.
According to Mythology, when Lord Shiva was mourning the death of his wife and carried her body all the way. It is believed that a piece of her body fell on this place and it is so considered holy. I learnt that there are other temples like this in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in context of this story.
Photo Credits: A. Mittal
Walk by the bays
As the sun starts setting, the gushing cool breeze not only gives respite from the heat but also provides good opportunity for an evening walk by the bays. Trinco has 3 famous bays – Back Bay, Dutch Bay and the Inner Harbor. You can also go for evening coffee to the colonial style Dutch Bank Cafe on Inner Harbor Road.
Photo Credits: A. Mittal
To all those who are planning to visit Sri Lanka, Trinco definitely deserves 1-2 days space in your itinerary.
I am sure there would be lot many things to do in Trincomalee which I missed out. It would be nice if you can add more about Trinco.