Rata Wate – A Road Trip Around Sri Lanka

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Sunrise at Mullaitivu
Sunrise at Mullaitivu

A dream trip for most travel fans are to travel around Sri Lanka in a single trip using the coastal roads of Sri Lanka. The plan was to travel on roads closest to the coast around the country. Well, we finally managed to get 4 consecutive days off (including weekends) in November 2021. Initially we planned to cover the this route with 2 days and 3 nights and rest at home on the 4th day. But this was not to be as you will see below.

Planning

We planned to route on Google Map. Routes for each day was decided, mapped on Google, and timing checked. Colombo to Jaffna – approx 8 hours. Jaffna to Batticaloa – approx 11 hours and Batticaloa to Colombo (using the edge route) – approx 10 hours. We had few issues to sort out, The shoe-bridge at Eluwankulama was broken and no vehicle traffic was possible. Therefore we had to take Anuradhapura Road from Puttalam and take the Oyamaduwa – Thanthirimale road from Nochchiyagama. This road falls on to the Medawachchiya – Mannar road. Checking out this road on the Google map, we discovered another road from Mahawilachchiya to Silawathura cutting though Willpaththu northern boarder. After contacting few friends we discovered that this road is protected by the Sri Lanka Civil Security Force and not a opened to Tourists or travellers. Due this reason, the gravel road is not that well maintained with broken culverts. However in the spirit of adventure we decided to give it a try and contacted a friend in the forces and obtained approval to travel on this route. So our route changed to Nochchiyagama – Mahawilachchiya – Silawathura – Mannar.

Preparation

For a such trip where you would travel on off road routes with no human habitation for miles, two 4×4 vehicles are recommended. Some tow ropes, and a axe was recommend by one friend who had previously traveled on the inner Wilpattu road in case we had to clear the road of fellen trees.

Team
Two 4×4 vehicles and 5 guys

Day 1

Started off Colombo at 2.00 AM. Plan was to reach Mahawilachchiya Wilpattu Entrance point at about 7 AM. We took the Colombo – Katunayake highway and then the Negombo – Puttalam Road. We were in Puttalam junction at around 5 AM. Puttalam town was still sleeping and there was no place to eat. So we continued on the Anuradhapura road driving slowly until we found a small shop just opening around 5.45. So we had some hot hot Pol Roti with some hot hot chili sambol. It took us 2 plain teas each to subdue the burn in the moth. We arrived in Mahawilachchiya around 7.15 AM and using google maps we reached the Mahawilachchiya Entrance of the Wilpattu Park.


This road segment from Mahawilachchiya to Silawathura is not a public road of the park. It seems to be more or less used as a service road by the Sri Lanka Civil Security Force and the Army. Once they allow past this point, they become responsible for your safety thus are not very happy take this unnecessary burden. Also at least 2 vehicle have to go for the safety of the passengers and act as an recovery vehicle for the other. Even with permission, they were not encouraging this road as some culverts may be broken due to the recent heavy rains. After a little deliberation between us we decided to go anyway and in the worst situation, we may have to turn back and continue our journey through Thanthirimale.

This road has been cut in a straight line between Mahawilachchiya and Silawathura across the jungle. Its a gravel road which seems to have received little maintenance. The landscape is flat dry with thorny trees. You will not see many animals others than a peacock, Ceylon junglefowl or a mongoose. The road is rough requiring 4 wheel drive in may segments and with the recent rains the situation was even worse. Since this is a rarely used road, thorny bushes lean towards the road on both sides and expect some scratches on the vehicles.

Luckily the culverts had been repaired recently but one was already partly washed away thanks to the quality of workmanship.

This stretch of road is 32.5 km long. A large area of land on both sides of the road in Silawathura side has been cleared for Cashew cultivation. Therefore this is known as the Kaju Watte Road in Silawathura area. Travelling 22km across this wilderness, we came to the last unexpected hurdle, a shoe bridge (a low-water crossing) over Kal Aru river. With the heavy rains the river was rough and flowing fast over the bridge. After inspecting the depth and the flow of water, we crossed the shoe bridge (a low-water crossing) which was the final hurdle on this road.

Crossing Kal Aru River

Through an army checkpoint, we crossed the Cashew Farm and arrived at Kondachchi, a junction little below Silawathura on the old Mannar road. The Doric Bungalow in Arippu was our next stop. This is a massive bungalow built by governor Fedric North (1798 -1805).  The governor himself laid the foundation stone of the Doric building on March 18, 1802, and it took almost two years to complete the construction. There are official records such as letters and minutes to suggest that this was almost completed by early 1804. Governor North was probably able to stay in this bungalow for the first time during the fishery of 1804, as he was at Arippu from early February to early April.

The mansion lies close to the beach on a elevated ground. Part of the building has been already collapsed to the sea due to erosion. Thick walls of the main building up to 2 stories and remains of 2 other support buildings can be seen. The Tower at Arippu, (Arippu Tower, Doric Tower)  lying few hundred meters way from the mansion is a strange cement tower with no apparent use.  Top of this square tower tapers off in to a pyramid shape. Despite the lack of wany visible signs, this tower is believed to be a sort of a light house which had a fire burning at the top guiding the pearl vessels to land.

The route from Kondachchi up to Mannar was the most terrible. We were stopped at every check point and were subjected to questions and inspections. One reason is probably that since Eluwankulama bridge was non operational, they probably wondered from where were coming from. We had to explain our route to each checkpoint and our vehicles inspected. One one checkpoint they found our Jungle Sickle (කැලෑ කැත්ත) inside a vehicle and started inquiring on that. However the intensity of the check points reduced after Mannar but there are number of checkpoints which you need to go through up to Jaffna.

Then we got hint from a friend that there is a small lighthouse like structure at Devil’s Point (යක් තුඩුව). Devil’s Point lies on the edge of a large land mass jutting out to the Indian Ocean between Mannar and Pooneryn. Few decades ago, Devil’s Point was a strategic stronghold of the Tamil terrorists group, LTTE. Due to its location, You can observer a large area of the western coastal line from this point, even up to Poonaryn cost as well as Mandativu islands. The LTTE used this as base to launch attacks on Sri Lankan Navy boats as they could observe any activities over a large shoreline. Due to the remoteness of this area, the seas off Devil’s Point as one of the main smuggling routes of the terrorists as well. From drugs and weapons to humans were continuously flowing from India on this route. Devil’s Point is a remote fishing village as well, fisherman reach this point over the sea and setup temporary huts. The LTTE terrorists used them as well, hiding among civilian fishing boats. However on the final liberation war with the terrorists, the Devil’s Point fell in the Sri Lankan forces in November 2008, freeing the civilians of the area after decades of terrorist control.

Devil’s Point lies about 15 km away from the Poonaryn road. There is nothing but bush jungle and sandy land in between. There are are large water bodies closer to the sea and small roads similar to causeways. Using Google Maps we navigated through vast bare land covered in shallow pools of water. Due to the sporadic heavy rains, some tracks had gone under water and we couldn’t figure out whether they are tracks being used or abandoned many years ago. With all challenges we reached the coastal line only to realize that these roads had lead us to point about 3km below our destination. This was a small fishing village with a navy detachment guarding the area.

Now the time was about 3.30PM and we didn’t have the time to go finding the exact point. The drive would have been worse that we went though to reach this point as we are now close to the sea and the only pools of water could be seen all around us. parts of roads were appearing at distance points and we would have to drive very slowly inspecting each segment which was under water. Therefore we decided to turn back and move towards Jaffna.

Our target was to reach Jaffna before 5.30 to view the Sunset. The Sunset from the Jaffna – Mandathivu causeway is one of the best and unique sunset views in the country. We managed to reach Jaffna at about 5.30 and the sun was just setting. We drove on to the Mandathivu causeway spent about an hour enjoying the sunset over palm trees.

On the way to Jaffna we had booked two rooms in a decent rest house based on the Google photos. We reached the destination around 7 PM. We had travelled about 390kms for 15.15 hours

Day 2

Our inital plan was to drive up to Batticaloa on day 2. However one of our friends arranged a Mulativu beach location for the our 2nd day night and our initial plan changed from 2 nights to 3 nights. Therefore the we were not in much of a hurry to leave very early in the morning. We went to town had some short-eats for breakfast, went to a supermarket and purchased some food and needs for the day. It was about 10AM when we had finished and started the tour. The plan was to drive all around Jaffna starting from the town and drive through the eastern edge of the Peninsula down to Chundikkulam Lagoon. We were told by some friends that it may be possible to cross the Chundikkulam lagoon during the low tide and continue on the coastal road up to Mulativu.

We started off from Jaffna town and drove again over the Mandathivu causeway and reached Mandathivu island. From this island we continued to the large island of Kayts. Known as Urathota (Uruthota) in the ancient times, Kayts was a major port in ancient Sri Lanka. According to the Nagadeepa Tamil inscription, during the reign of King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186), Urathota was a special port for Indian merchant ships and the king had paid special attention to ships carrying horses and elephants at this port.

Urathota got its name Kayts from the Portuguese. It’s a name derived from Caes dos Elefantes. The term means “elephant’s mouth”. The Portuguese came to call this port “Caes dos Elefantes” because Sri Lankan elephants were exported to India through this port. The name “Caes dos Elefantes” was simplified to “Cais“. After the expulsion of the Portuguese and the arrival of the Dutch in Jaffna, the name was further evolved in to “Kays” and later to “Kayts“.

Kayts and Karaitivu Island is connected by a ferry. This is free service operated by the government. The ferryman confirmed that it could carry vehicles. The notorious nature of the ferries in Sri Lanka worried us for some time but finally we decided to load the vehicles in to the ferry and cross the sea over to the Karaitivu Island.

The island of Karaitivu is rooted deep in the Buddhist history. It has been called Karadeepa (Kara Divaina)  in the ancient times. This island is mentioned in the Akeerthi Jataka (Akitti Jataka) of the 550 Jataka Stories of Buddha where a ascetic named Akeerthi who wanted be alone, left to a park in Kavirapattana and came to the county of Soli, where dwelling in a park over against Kavirapattana, he cultivated a mystic ecstasy and supernatural faculties. He then travelled through the air descended at the isle of Kara, which is over against the island of Naga. At that time, Karadipa was named Ahidipa, the Isle of Snakes.

We drove across Karainagar in Karaitivu Island and the causeway which connects the island to the mainland Jaffna. From Ponnalai in mainland, we took the most northern road, closest to the coastline and reached Dambakolapatuna, where the Theri Sangamitta arrived to the island with a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in India in 249BC. The temple Samudda-panasala ( Jambukola Viharaya) was built commemorating the arrival of the Bo sapling by King Devanampriya Tissa (250-210 BC). Later, the same king planted one of the first eight shoots of the Sri Maha Bodhi, on the same place where he kept the original tree before brining it to Anuradhapura. King Vijayabahu I (1070-1110) has restored this site. The remains of the vihara, such as the Buddha footprint stone and vatadage seen up to recent times no longer exist there.

Unfortunately today there is nothing on the temple which shows any antiquity. Most of the the structures in the temple including the stupa which has been completed in a record 65 days have been done by the Sri Lankan Navy after the defeat of the LTTE terrorists. Even the current bo tree was planted in 1998 by the Navy.

We continued on the same road passing Keerimale Naguleswaram Kovil, Keerimale (Keerimalai) Sirappar Madam (Ambalama), Kankesanthure lighthouse, Sakkotai Point, and Point Padro Lighthouse.

Keerimale Naguleswaram Kovil is considered the oldest Siva Temple in Sri Lanka and the popular Keerimale Natural Springs belongs to the same kovil. Near the car park lies the ruins of ancient “madam” (ambalama) of Keerimale. This is one of the largest if not the largest Ambalams in the Country. This is also one of the very few ambalams in the Jaffna peninsula. Kankesanthure lighthouse lies in the vicinity of the KKS harbor. Both the harbor and the lighthouse is surrounded by an ancient fortified wall built by the Portuguese and the Dutch. This lighthouse has been built in 1893 and is 22 meters in height.

Sakkotai Point is the most northern point of Sri Lanka. However there is still a misconception that Point Padro to be be the most northern point. But this is not so. Point Pedro lighthouse lies in the North Eastern corner of Sri Lanka. Built in 1916, this is 32 m (105 ft) tall. It was past 1 PM by the time we reached Point Padro.

We continued on the way to over the eastern edge of Jaffna Peninsula on the Point Padro – Maruthankrny road. This is a recently carpeted road. Halfway down this road, google showed a parallel beach road running close to the shore line. We turned towards this road at the first instance we got. This is a sandy road running past few fishing huts. After traveling about 15km down the beach road we reached Chundikkulam.

Chundikkulam Lagoon and its surrounding area was designated as a bird sanctuary on 25 February 1938 under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (No. 2) of 1937 but remained inaccessible due to terrorist activities from 1980-2010 period. Following the defeat of the terrorists in 2009, Chundikkulam sanctuary was extended westwards towards Elephant Pass and south-eastwards towards Chalai and Pallamatalan and became a National Park on 22 June 2015 with an area of 19,565 ha (48,347 acres). Chundikkulam Lagoon is partly surrounded by mangrove swamps and sea grass beds. The surrounding area includes palmyra palm plantations, scrub forests and a variety of dry zone flora.

The sandy road through Chundikulam is surrounded by Sand dunes. The road is motorable. Sometimes its possible to cross this lagoon during the low tide and cross over to Mullaitivu side. Unfortunately the water level was high and it was not possible to cross the lagoon and our only option was to drive back halfway and return to A2 highway and exit Jaffna through Elephant Pass. So we drove back to mainland through Elephant pass and drove passing Paranthan – Vishvamadu – Puthukkudiyiruppu and our final destination for the day, Mullaitivu. It was around 7.30 PM when we reached our destination after traveling about 275 km.

The night was spent close to the eastern beach amidst Palmyra trees and a bonfire lit on the beach.

Day 3

We woke up to the sun rise on the eastern coast on day 3 and had a sea bath before Breakfast was on the way to Panama around 9.30 AM.

Due to time constraints we could not make it to Kokilai lagoon and continued our way to Trincomalee driving around the lagoon. We were planning to stay at a place in Peanut Farm Beach in Panama. We reached Panama around 5.45 PM to see a beautiful sunset over golden paddy fields.

beautiful sunset over golden paddy fields
Beautiful sunset over golden paddy fields of Panama

Right after the sunset, we came across a large herd of elephants and spent some time there. By the time we left the elephants it was pitch dark with nobody around. We drove up and down Panama in pitch dark in search of the road which leads to the Peanut Farm Beach. After about an 30-40 minutes, we gave up and came back to Arugambay and booked two small but cozy rooms near the beach to spend the night. We had driven 285 kms on the 3rd day.

Elephants at Panama
Elephants at Panama

Day 4

We started early on day 4, about 7AM with intention of going to Okanda Devalaya, last eastern coastline before turning back. We drove again through Panana and reached the Okanda Devalaya around 9.30 AM and had a Polroti breakfast. After visiting the Devalaya we drove through the jungles up to the Kumana National Park entrance. Then we turned back and drove towards Pottuvil. On the way back we found the turn off to Peanut Beach with greatest difficulty which takes you through winding roads through thick jungle to the Beach. It was around 12.30PM when we left the beach.

We had skipped visiting the most eastern point in the island in Sangaman Kanda due to time constrains and decided to go further upto Sangaman Kanda lighthouse as our final stop. The route to this point lies though narrow roads through plantations and small villages. Vehicles can be driven almost to the lighthouse and the vast unpolluted beach. After rescuing one vehicle which got stuck in the beach, we left the lighthouse around 2.30 PM. We drove back to Pottuvil and took the Monaragala road and then the southern expressway to return home around 2 AM next day. Day 3 was the longest drive with 550 kms and the total trip was about 1600 kms.

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