Rata Wate – A Road Trip Around Sri Lanka

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A dream trip for most travel fans is 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 this route with 3 days and 2 nights and rest at home on the 4th day. But this was not to be as you will see below.


We planned to route on Google Maps. Routes for each day were 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 a 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 onto the Medawachchiya – Mannar road.

Checking out this road on Google map, we discovered another road from Mahawilachchiya to Silawathura cutting through Willpaththu’s northern border. After contacting a few friends we discovered that this road is protected by the Sri Lanka Civil Security Force and is not open to tourists or travellers. Due to this reason, the gravel road is not that well maintained and has 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.


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 an axe were recommended by one friend who had previously travelled on the inner Wilpattu road in case we had to clear the road of fallen trees.

Two 4×4 vehicles and 5 guys

Day 1

Started from Colombo at 2.00 AM. The plan was to reach the 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 Pol Roti with some hot chilli sambal. It took us 2 plain teas each to subdue the burn in the mouth. 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 in 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 are allowed past this point, they become responsible for your safety and thus are not very happy to take this unnecessary burden. Also, at least 2 vehicles have to go for the safety of the passengers and act as a recovery vehicle for the other. Even with permission, they were not encouraging using 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. It’s a gravel road which seems to have received little maintenance. The landscape is flat and dry with thorny trees. You will not see many animals other than a peacock, Ceylon junglefowl or a mongoose. The road is rough requiring 4-wheel drive in many 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 the 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 a 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 an elevated ground. Part of the building has already collapsed to the sea due to sea 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 a few hundred meters away from the mansion is a strange cement tower with no apparent use.  The top of this square tower tapers off into a pyramid shape. Despite the lack of any visible signs, this tower is believed to be a sort of lighthouse 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 checkpoint and were subjected to questions and inspections. One reason is probably that since the Eluwankulama bridge was non-operational, they probably wondered where we 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 about that. However the intensity of the checkpoints reduced after Mannar but there are a number of checkpoints which you need to go through up to Jaffna.

Then we got a 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. A few decades ago, Devil’s Point was a strategic stronghold of the Tamil terrorist group, LTTE. Due to its location, You can observe 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 a 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 set up 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 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 underwater and we couldn’t figure out whether they were tracks being used or abandoned many years ago. With all the challenges we reached the coastal line only to realize that these roads had led us to a point about 3km below our destination. This was a small fishing village with a navy detachment guarding the area.

Now the time was about 3.30 PM and we didn’t have the time to go finding the exact point. The drive would have been worse than we went through 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 distant points and we would have to drive very slowly inspecting each underwater segment. 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 most unique sunset views in the country. We managed to reach Jaffna at about 5.30 and the sun was just setting. We drove to the Mandathivu causeway and spent about an hour enjoying the sunset over palm trees.

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

Day 2

Our initial plan was to drive up to Batticaloa on day 2. However one of our friends arranged a Mulativu beach location for our 2nd day night and our initial plan changed from 2 nights to 3 nights. Therefore 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 10 AM when we had finished and started the tour. The plan was to drive all around Jaffna starting from the town and driving 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 from Jaffna town, drove over the Mandathivu causeway again, and reached Mandathivu island. From this island, we continued to the large island of Kayts. Known as Urathota (Uruthota) in 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 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 into “Kays” and later to “Kayts“.

Kayts and Karaitivu Island is connected by a ferry. This is a 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 into the ferry and cross the sea over to the Karaitivu Island.

The island of Karaitivu is rooted deep in the Buddhist history. It was 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 an ascetic named Akeerthi who wanted to 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 and 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 on the mainland, we took the most northern road, closest to the coastline and reached Dambakolapatuna, where the Theri Sangamitta arrived on the island with a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in India in 249BC. The temple Samudda-panasala (Jambukola Viharaya) was built to commemorate 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, in the same place where he kept the original tree before bringing 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 harbour. Both the harbour and the lighthouse is surrounded by an ancient fortified wall built by the Portuguese and the Dutch. This lighthouse was 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 is 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 shoreline. We turned towards this road at the first instant we got. This is a sandy road running past a few fishing huts. After travelling 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.

Dunes surround the sandy road through Chundikulam. The road is motorable. Sometimes it’s possible to cross this lagoon during the low tide and cross over to the Mullaitivu side. Unfortunately, the water level was high and it was not possible to cross the lagoon our only option was to drive back halfway and return to the A2 highway and exit Jaffna through Elephant Pass. So we drove back to the mainland through Elephant Pass and passed Paranthan – Vishvamadu – Puthukkudiyiruppu and our final destination for the day, Mullaitivu. It was around 7.30 PM when we reached our destination after travelling 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 sunrise 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 on Peanut Farm Beach in Panama. We reached Panama around 5.45 PM to glimpse a beautiful sunset over golden paddy fields.

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 30-40 minutes, we gave up and came back to Arugambay and booked two small but cosy rooms near the beach to spend the night. We had driven 285 km on the 3rd day.

Day 4

We started early on day 4, about 7 AM to go to Okanda Devalaya, the last eastern coastline before turning back. We drove again through Panama 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 the greatest difficulty which takes you through winding roads through thick jungle to the Beach. It was around 12.30 PM when we left the beach.

We had skipped visiting the most eastern point on the island in Sangaman Kanda due to time constraints on the previous day and decided to go further up to Sangaman Kanda lighthouse as our final stop. The route to this point lies through narrow roads across plantations and small villages. Vehicles can be driven almost to the lighthouse and the vast unpolluted beach. After rescuing one vehicle which got stuck on 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 the next day. Day 3 was the longest drive with 550 kms and the total trip was about 1600 kms.

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