In the recent history, the eastern coast of Sri Lanka has suffered the hot wrath of war and the cold rage of the Boxing Day Tsunami. Then, when all was looking up, like the sun that rises from the depths of the sea here tirelessly every morning, a few beach towns had to suffer reckless post-war development. Despite it all, this eastern coast, always the sunny side up, has managed to retain her claim on some of the best beaches of the world.
The tourists are out in full force between May to October, when the clouds travel to the west coast and let their hair down. In the east, it is time for skies to be painted a brilliant blue, waters to be laid back—gently lapping the shore like a sleepy puppy, and palms to be basking in their golden-rimmed glory. The first place we visited in the east was Trincomalee, many years back, in a brief spell of peace during the war. It was an earthy pocket of fishermen communities and stunning stretches of white sands.
After the bloody war, which left the beaches empty like the hearts of millions, we visited Passikudah. It sat like a desirable maiden, wary of the suiters who’ve suddenly discovered her untouched beauty.
The sickle-shaped Passikudah bay, home to tropical fishes of a thousand hues, fishermen with their colourful boats, dancing palm trees and crystal-clear waters is protected by an off-shore reef. We had oft heard that the mellow bay has one of the longest shallow coastlines in the world, with waters as calm as an examination hall. You can walk up to half a kilometre inside the waters with the waves rippling around your waist. It was only when we strolled into the sea that we realised how easy and beckoning it was. You could walk far and further into it, without getting alarmed. When we turned back and saw what a long way we were from the shore, we let out a nervous laugh and headed back from the deep blue sea to the land of known devils.
Unlike its neighbor Kalkudah, Passikudah has got un upmarket makeover with a smattering of luxury resorts standing guard to its beach front. Some of them sport stylishly designed villas with plunge pools and spacious rooms opening to the sea. You can have an afternoon beer on the sunbeds overlooking the ocean and wine in the evening by a quietly stunning infinity pool. While they smile at you warmly and empty your pocket with a courteous bow, the properties are worth the spend.
Our next visit to the east was to Nilaveli (literally moon-shine over the landscape) where my partner Aditya decided to take the plunge. No, nothing to do with getting hitched; it was to discover the underwater world. As he and his diving partner went through the grinding rounds of scuba lessons, I crunched sand between my toes, looked in awe at the live shell creatures getting washed on the shore, chased crabs, gazed at stars as they winked back flirtatiously from the void and let the salty waves bring the ocean to me…only to pull it back possessively in an instant.
Uga Jungle Beach, the resort where we stayed, has woodenvillas in a mangrove forest by the ocean. The first to greet us as we drove in the marshy retreat was a crocodile basking in the sun, probably wondering about the vagary of human vacation. It is a place to watch birds, sunbathe, spend some serious beach time, crack open a coconut, have a spiced-up meal and fall in love. Nilaveli is a beach baked to perfection in the tropical sun.
The eastern coastline of Sri Lanka and its sea-oriented culture has much and more to offer—scuba diving to the coral reefs, snorkeling around the Pigeon Island national park, the ruins of the ancient capital of Sri Lanka–Polonnuruwa, the surfing town of Arugam Bay famed for its rolling surf and point break, the historical town of Batticaloa with its languid lagoon and the natural harbour of Trincomalee with oodles of mythology, maritime history, old temples, colonial forts and bustling markets. When even the largest animal on earth, ever—the blue whale—pays Trinco a yearly homage, the lesser mortals won’t be disappointed by this eclectic mix of a town.
The ever-blushing eastern coast of ‘the pearl of Indian Ocean’ is distinctly different from the bold, pulsating west and the south. While the east is dominated by Moors, west is predominantly Singhalese. While the west is lush green, the east is arid and dry. When rains and stormy weather rage in the west, sun is up and blazing in the east. While crushing crowds of tourists toddle on the beachside towns in the west with boutiques toting hippie-esque dresses, cafes with happy hours, dubious tattoo parlours and bike-on-hire shops, in the east it requires some effort to find a local joint outside the resort to have a decent Sri Lankan rice and curry. While the west is the daring darling of visitors, the east is the boy that smiles and shies away.
Rudyard Kipling had said, “Oh, the east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” It brings to mind Khalil Gibran’s classic quote: “We measure time according to the movement of countless suns; and they measure time by little machines in their little pockets. Now tell me, how could we ever meet at the same place and the same time?”
About the writer
Arefa Tehsin is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, both for children and adults, and contributes articles to various publications like The Indian Express, The Hindu, Deccan Herald and Outlook Money. Her book Amra and the Witch was shortlisted for FICCI Best Book of the Year Award 2019. She was shortlisted for The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Best Author Award 2017 for her book Wild in the Backyard. Her picture book The Elephant Bird was read at 3200+ locations in India from the slums to the Presidential library on the International Literacy Day, 2016 and translated in more than 30 languages. A few schools in India and Sri Lanka are using her books as textbooks and supplementary readers. Arefa has spent her childhood days treading jungles with her naturalist father Raza H. Tehsin, exploring caves and chasing snakes. She was appointed the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur district for a term and has pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns. More info on www.arefatehsin.com.
* All the Photographs in the story have been taken by Adityavikram More *