Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part I: Trincomalee’s Koneswaram Hindu Temple » Lifestyle Strategies, Travel, Adventures--Todd's Wanderings

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Sri Lanka. For many people it conjures images of a strident Colombo with its pollution and bottleneck traffic, the relaxed idyllic beaches in the South and a suffocating civil war in the North and East. Quite a contrast and one that kept many people from visiting the country during the intense fighting that erupted from 2006-2009. Now that the war is over tourists are streaming into the country, filling up hotels and weighing down tour buses. Locals are also fanning out and visiting areas once considered too dangerous.

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Called Serendib by Arab traders (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four vastly different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part of any itinerary to the island of providence. I am leaving out the beaches and the south as I have covered them before (Southern Sri Lanka).

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Trincomalee Harbor

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka is a magical place. A small town atmosphere pervades this eastern coast haven as it clings to narrow strips of land reaching out into one of Asia’s best natural deep-water harbors. Perfect tropical beaches extend to the north of the small “city” tantalizing visitors with their turquoise blue waters and abundance of tropical fish. It is often described as the Maldives of Sri Lanka. Until recently the area has been under military lock-down and few tourists were brave enough to venture there. Now things are changing and the limited number of  hotels that were operating are preparing for an explosion of visitors by upgrading and adding rooms. Unfortunately, coastal land is also being parceled out in a very nontransparent and unethical way to developers from Colombo leaving lingering questions of how equitable the economic boom will be for the Tamil and Muslim majority in the area.

Koneswaram Temple

If you are looking to beat the crowds and experience Trincomalee (called “Trinco” by the locals) before it’s overrun with atmosphere choking tourism planning (yes, I am being cynical here) now is the time to visit. Besides the beaches, the cultural heritage of the town is extremely interesting. One of the best places to experience this is the Hindu  Koneswaram Temple, which clings to high cliff on Swarmi Rock off the edge of the Portuguese era Fort Frederick. The old fort is now occupied, fittingly so, by the Sri Lanka military, and you pass their barracks as you climb the steep hill to the promontory holding the temple.

The front door to the Temple. Don't forget to leave your shoes at the gate house below.

A view of the bay at sunset from the temple.

The path leading up to the temple was lined with stalls selling everything from dried fish to plastic Chinese figurines of the God of Fortune and Wealth. Usually quiet and deserted the area was teaming with devotees praying and helping to prepare the temple for its annual festival. Besides the temple the view from the cliff is amazing and you are rewarded of a view of the town and fishing boats below.

Hindu Deities on the corner.

Women leave these cribs to pray for an easy birth. Below, the sea hides the remains of the ancient temple.

The temple’s main deity is Lord Shiva and evidence suggests worshipers have been using the area for over 2,500 years. The original temple is long gone, pushed into the sea by the Portuguese in 1624 in their attempt to control the area. However, it was rebuilt 450 years later fueled by myths which associate the temple with the popular Indian epic the Ramayana, and its legendary hero-king Rama.

Leaving the temple a skinny young man grabbed my arm and directed me towards the bay. “When the tsunami came the whole bay below dried up as the water was sucked out into the ocean,” a local stall owner recalled. He pointed to the bay’s opening, drawing a line from the cliff top temple to another temple across the way. “With the water gone we saw huge square stone slabs placed on the ocean floor in a straight line leading from this temple to the one across the way.”

The other stall owners crowded in, nodding away. “We were always told that God crossed the bridge in the past. Now we have proof,” another  man said. His face was deeply lined from a life spent in the tropical sun. As quickly as they swarmed they dispersed as a new group of devotees approached and they returned to the business of selling.

The local feeling of Trinco is its real charm. Everything is built and used by locals. If you get there now you might still be able to experience it.

If you go

Safety:

Like all places in Sri Lanka there are still dangers associated with the recent civil war. However, security restrictions have been eased in Trincomalee and besides a few check points on the way into town I found the area to be very safe. Of course normal common sense should always be followed and you should probably not go out at night, not that anything is open after dark in this sleepy town.

Getting there:

Sri Lanka is a tropical country and is very hot during the dry season. Don't forget to drink plenty of water.

Travel by car or bus is your only real option. The road conditions are improving every day and a new road is being built from Habarana to Trincomalee along the A6 road. At the time of writing about half of the road has been completed and is beautiful wide, smooth road. The second half is still pot hole ridden, narrow and windy and still takes quite a bit of time to navigate.

If you don’t like long car rides, consider spending the night in Habarana (don’t forget to check out the sites nearby like Sygiria and the Dambula Cave Temples) which is a 5-6 hour drive from Colombo. The final drive to Trinco should take about 4 more hours.

When to Go:

April to September when the East Coast is the driest and the monsoon has shifted the West Coast leaving the waters and beaches in the East perfect for swimming.

Please leave a comment and share your stories, questions, or thoughts on the article.

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12 Responses to “Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part I: Trincomalee’s Koneswaram Hindu Temple”

  1. jeremieNo Gravatar says:

    Hi, Is it ok to go to pottuvil by the coast road ? because I’ve read in a guide that this road was close…
    and if it is the case what is the best way to do trinco – pottuvil ?? Thanks!

  2. KavinduNo Gravatar says:

    Great photos and story, Now the troubles are over, now you all are welcome to our beautiful country.

  3. SandyNo Gravatar says:

    I have travelled alone through the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and had no problems although it was a long time ago (1980-81).
    I stayed on a beach near Batticaloa with a family for a few weeks and it was simply divine although I did get rather fat eating that yummy buffalo milk curd every day.

  4. I’m planning to visit Sri Lanka as part of my RTW, but I’m a solo female traveler (60+) and Lonely Planet is really off-putting about travel in S.L. for women. Especially on trains, where they say sexual assault is a possibility. What’s your take? Should I be looking at a tour or a car and driver?

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for visiting the site. Lonely Planet is right that there can be some issues with women on very crowded buses (usually the none air conditioned in town ones) and crowded trains. Although this also happens in Japan, so it is just a matter of being aware.

      As for car and driver vs tour, it all just depends on your budget. Train travel can be a slightly less crowded option, or the intercity air conditioned buses that are smaller and thus not as easy for people to get frisky.

      Prices are relatively cheap in Sri Lanka so hiring a car and driver can be reasonable. Like I said, it all depends on your budget. Perhaps a car and driver to start and then more local transport the farther you get from Colombo.

      By the way, you are officailly this sites 300th commenter! Thanks a bunch and while I don’t have a prize for you, I’m happy to help with your Sri Lanka trip where I can. Cheers
      .-= Todd Wassel´s recent blog ..Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part 2: The Ancient Buddha Rock Statues of Polonnaruwa =-.

      • Thanks Todd – that’s cool. Since I travel solo I usually avoid having a car and driver just for me (plus I had a bad experience doing that in Romania), but I think it might be in-budget for Sri Lanka, or at least for part of the time.

        I’m really looking forward to SL – my father served on a battleship there during WWII, and sounds like good scenery and historic sights. I won’t get there until Jan 2011, so am planning for Japan and South Korea right now.
        .-= Kathy aka mytimetotravel´s recent blog ..Where Next? =-.

        • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

          No worries, you will love it there. I also lived in Japan for 5 years so if you want any advice let me know. Cheers, Todd

        • Kathy, I am in my 60s and now volunteering in Sri Lanka for 18 months. I am in a town in the tea country called Badulla. I have had no problems at all on any form of transportation. I now take the buses from place to place because they are shorter then the trains which take forever. Some of the night buses leaving around 11pm are great because they are air conditioned and require a reservation. Other buses just keep pouring people in so there is really no breathing room. Please email me when you get here if you like and I shall be happy to help you. Nancy

          • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

            Thanks for the advice Nancy. What type of work are you doing in Badulla? I love the area so you are really lucky to be living up there for so long.

  5. Lovely post. I last went to Trinco 8 years ago. It is the time I go there again!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks. Yes, Trinco is a lovely place. I just hope the city isn’t overrun with unsustainable development and that the planning is done well.

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