The enchanting Uppuveli beach | Sunday Observer
A trip to Trincomalee – Parts 6

The enchanting Uppuveli beach

4 September, 2022

Niyaz stopped the tuk-tuk by the roadside in the shade of a row of trees that lined the road. I vaguely remember there was an intersection of four roads near where we stood.

He pointed to a nondescript white-painted two-storied building with rows of columns on all three sides visible to me. I crossed the road as gingerly as a cat and walked across the lawn and then down the path that led to the naval museum. It was practically isolated. One or two Navy officers manned the counter.

I don’t remember whether I had to pay and buy an entrance ticket. And then I was on my own. I walked around the ground floor taking in the exhibits there. Because it was such a lonely place, I thought it must be haunted by ghosts. It had a musty old smell to it and it was all murky except at the entrance.

I was so uncomfortable that I hurried through my exploration. Upstairs, there were two or three visitors, and one navy officer was explaining some dioramas of old Sri Lankan ports and I fell right behind them and pricked up my ears like a rabbit to catch what he was saying.

Now that I was feeling less alone, I took in the exhibits upstairs more slowly than I’d done just a little earlier. The imposing wooden staircase was burnished to a gleam. I soon exited from the museum building and crossed the road to where the tuk-tuk was parked. We resumed the journey.

No mask, no entrance

This time we were headed for the Orr’s Hill Army Museum. I’d never even heard of this fantastic army museum. It was a recommendation from Niyaz, my good guide cum driver. When we got there, I was denied entrance as I’d forgotten to take a mask with me. Since there was no pharmacy on hand to buy a mask from, we decided to turn back and get back there the next day.

Walking down a jetty

The narrow winding road to the Orr’s Hill army museum lies by the sea on one side. It’s lined on the other side by the hillock where an army camp sits. In the offing, Niyaz pointed to Prima Ceylon’s massive flour mill which appeared afloat on the turquoise sea.

On our way back, Niyaz led me down one jetty manned by the marines and where all kinds of boats had been secured to both sides and also to its farther sea end with thick off-white ropes.

The boats sported large stripes of a riot of colours such as blue, green, white, yellow, orange, and red. I cautiously climbed down into two or three boats that were gently rocked by the twin forces of wind and waves. It’s a novel experience for me since I’d never walked down a jetty. If I remember right, there were one or two more jetties like that, all granite and concrete and as sturdy as a rock to resist the ravages of the sea and the sun and the occasional rains.

Visiting another big Hindu temple

Before he dropped me back at the hotel, Niyaz took me to another big Hindu temple a little off the city centre. It was around 12.45 pm now. I got out of the tuk-tuk and felt the scalding heat outside. I walked in barefoot and toured it fast since some rites were being officiated as devotees sat on the floor in a worshipful posture with their each open palm aloft resting symmetrically on the other against the bridge of their nose.

I took in the temple’s interiors, statues and paintings in one sweeping glance before I returned to the tuk-tuk. Niyaz then dropped me at the hotel.

Still enchanted by the beach

I stepped under the shower and had a thorough bath. The curtains of soapy cold water careening down my body felt so good and left few traces of the scorching heat I’d suffered outside. I mopped up and put on a pair of deep blue shorts and sky blue t-shirt. Prabha had laid my dinner on the table just outside my room. I don’t clearly remember what I’d been served for lunch, but it was delicious. After lunch, I laid down a little on the king-sized bed. Then around 3.30 pm, I walked over to the Uppuveli beach. The white sand was shimmering in the scorching sunshine. The fisherfolk were busy pulling their giant fishing nets ashore here and there despite the sweltering heat.

I took off my T-shirt and ventured a little into the sea to tread on the waves better and was trying to take a dip in the sea. Prabha had assured me a few times that this strip of beach was quite safe to bathe in. One big wave, however, took me by surprise and toppled me right next to the shoreline, which deterred my seabath. Still, I hung about letting waves wash over my bare feet.

There were fishing boats and one or two ships around the skyline. Strangely, I’m never tired of looking at the same sea for so long, for the sea never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps, I’m enthralled by the sea. I hung out at the beach until dusk taking photographs on my mobile phone. It looked even better in the photos. I showered and returned to the beach again after dinner. The balmy sea wind that caressed me was laden with the characteristic malodour of fish. It was all just like it’d been the night before. Even after I went back to my room, the roar of the sea still reached me there and I still felt the waves licking at my feet before they crashed against the sandwall and again on their return. Having set the alarm on my phone for 4.30 in the pre-dawn, I went to sleep. I’ll have a long day tomorrow. I slept, however, only by snatches that night too.

Wilgam Rajamaha Vihara

I was awake even before the alarm rang and brushed my teeth and had a cursory wash. Niyaz came to pick me up around 5.00 in the morning. Soon, we were en route to Kanniya hot water springs, another popular tourist attraction in Trinco.

When we reached the barred entrance to the Kanniya hot water springs it was around 5.30, and the dawn was beginning to break. But, contrary to Niyaz’s initial calculations the day before, we realised it’d take a little longer to open. So, we turned back and Niyaz rode me to Wilgam Raja Maha Viharaya, an ancient temple in ruins. At my request, Niyaz pulled over at a temple on our way there. I couldn’t find its name or now I’ve forgotten it. I picked some flowers from the bushes that lined the road just beyond the wall that marked one boundary of the temple compound and offered them to the sitting statue of the Exalted One. Soon, we left for the Wilgam Raja Maha Viharaya. I spotted a peacock dancing an amorous dance to seduce a peahen on the other side of the road.

The ruins

If I’d heard about the Wilgam Raja Maha Vihara before, I didn’t quite remember anything about it even when we’d reached the temple compound. Like all the other temples in ruins, it was desolate in the semi-dark dawn. The withered grass was short but I still trod gingerly on it lest there should be cobras or any other venomous snakes.

I had an almost superstitious fear that since it was too old and too desolate, there’d be snakes. Still, I sauntered up to every building or what’s left of it there and took many photos of them. This was entrusted to the care of the Department of Archaeology in Sri Lanka. Mainly, it was the granite structures and statues that still stood.

The ravages of time could be seen all over the sprawling compound. Even the sturdiest buildings erected by the devout would fall into ruins in a matter of time. Impermanence is the nature of everything material as taught in Buddhist philosophy.

There’re no exceptions. It’s a timeless truth that holds true for the whole universe for all living beings and even inanimate objects. The Wilgam Raja Maha Viharaya must have been an awe-inspiring monument in its heyday but now it barely retained a semblance of its pristine glory. The museum with some exhibits including some stone inscriptions outside was yet to be opened since we’d been early birds. In fact, we were the only visitors there at that time.


Next, Niyaz rode me to the Periyakulam wewa. In Tamil, periya means big and kulam means tank or ‘wewa’. The unpaved sandy road that led to the Periyakulam wewa was narrow, and bumpy here and eroded there. But Niyaz faced little trouble as he was pretty much used to riding on it.

The main attraction of the sprawling tank was the crocodile that inhabited it. Even though Niyaz descended the tall steep bank and searched around, the crocodile was out of sight.

Since it didn’t know it was so badly wanted for such an important photo session, it could have decided to sleep late assuming the crocodiles do sleep like us at night and then like most of us they too sleep late. Some langurs were performing acrobatics on the leafy branches on the other side of the causeway. Every now and then they’d scream shrilly. I thought I described the tail of some fat snake whisking into the anthill at the base of the tall amorphous stone structure overlooking the embankment. I guessed it must be part of its floodgate. It stood out like a giant spectre on that lonesome causeway. [email protected]