Wandering around the Uppuveli Beach | Sunday Observer
A trip to Trincomalee by train - Part 5

Wandering around the Uppuveli Beach

28 August, 2022

The beach was all mine to go and explore where I pleased along the long stretch of shoreline to my left and right. A long but uneven row of boats sat along the shore facing the sea, old and wise, their hulls painted with a whole palette of colours such as blue, yellow, red, green, orange and so on. Tangles of rust coloured fishing nets rested on one or two boats.

A few tangles of fishing nets of the same colour lay scattered on the beach. Some had been partially spread out on the sand. In the offing, the fishing boats were swaying on the waves that rose and fell, rose and fell, in an unceasing repetition with astonishing consistency.

Even beyond those boats, three ships with their hulls painted white at the top and black at the bottom stood on the horizon, almost motionless and so distant that each ship appeared to be even smaller than the diorama of a ship in a naval museum. I captured many snapshots of the sea and the surroundings on my mobile phone, blissfully smiling to myself every now and then.

Tangles of fishing nets

I took off my pair of sandals as they made it difficult for me to tread the waves and wade through the soggy and spongy sands and held them both on my left hand and sauntered barefoot along the shoreline parallel to the row of boats a little beyond the last boat.

Waves lapped at my feet before they hit the sloping wall of sand and washed my feet on their return to the sea, their ultimate origin, cradle and grave.

Then, I turned back at my unmarked destination and retraced my steps and sauntered further left on the beach away from the water’s edge, jumping over the tangles of fishing nets and sidestepping those being painstakingly untangled.

Twice or thrice, I had to take a detour skirting the fishers who were pulling their madals ashore. More fishermen were now on the beach and a few local and foreign tourists too were out there to take in the desolate glory of the sea in the impending dusk. The Uppuveli beach wasn’t as magnificent as the Nilaweli beach, which I hadn’t yet been to but had seen on numerous vlogs on YouTube. Maybe, it was the off-season in Uppuveli when I went there towards the end of August 2020.

A consummate metaphor for life

Although I’m a beach lover, I don’t dare to bathe in the sea. If I’m all by myself, I don’t even fancy it. The only time I bathed in the sea was when I went to the jungle beach at the foot of the Roomassala mountain on the South coast. It’s a popular and safe bathing spot, a sea bathers’ paradise in a sense.

But I love to tread on waves. When a big wave (not one so strong as to carry me almost away into the sea) wraps itself around my bare feet and legs momentarily, the inexplicable ticklish sensation it produces is pure bliss.

In a sense, it’s a consummate metaphor for life because we live but this moment; the moment before is gone forever and the next one is yet to arrive, neither being real with their false existence. Much like the waves themselves, our spirits rise and fall, and we change more or less every moment. If life is all about incessant change from this moment to the next, the waves echo it with astounding accuracy.

The sunset beach

I strolled around the beach and then sat immobile like a statue leaving the waves and sand to play around my feet looking back every few minutes to make sure that my sandals still lay where I left them to relieve my hands of the burden of holding them. I photographed the fiery orange ball of the Sun about to hide in the canopy of the night through the twisted trunks of the two tall coconut trees and just above a multi-storied hotel building on the littoral.

They were all fabulous snapshots by my private standards, and I’d share them on Facebook with grandiose captions. Like many people, I keep my sorrows private but would love to share my joy with others. As the dusk thickened into the night, I picked up my pair of sandals and retraced my steps to the hotel.

I didn’t put it back on because where my slipper straps brushed against my feet, the sticky sand would needle my feet. Going up the pebbly slope, I trod softly to avoid any craggy pebbles punching my bare soles.

The white-painted hotel glistened almost like marble bathed in the flood of illumination emanating from the yellow and white bulbs that hung from the ceiling along the L-shaped corridor from one end to the other. I stepped up the two steps and into the bathroom outside and washed away the grains of sand glued to my legs and feet and also my pair of sandals with the bidet shower with a maroon showerhead.

How the heart’s memory works

I walked down the two steps and went into my room and turned on the lights. Then I stripped myself and stepped under the shower. The hot water running down my body felt so good that I almost closed my eyes to savour the whole experience. Although it was such an unremarkable everyday experience it felt all the more satisfying now simply because of the change of location. Perhaps, it’s all in our mind because no matter how far one travels, one can’t get away from oneself.

When I soaped myself with the fragrant herbal cake of soap, it was icing on the cake. What pure bliss! Now that I want to recollect as many of those blissful moments as possible to write, I feel like I’m living it all again. Perhaps my sense of joy is a touch more exaggerated and I’m embellishing it.

The immortal lines of Gabriel Garcia Marquez from Love in the Time Cholera trespass my mind as I write this. “He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

Dinner time

No sooner had I returned from the shower and changed into a fresh pair of green shorts and black and white shirt than Prebha laid the dinner table on the corridor outside my room. It was a plate of some string hoppers along with coconut sambol, lentils curry and fish curry in white porcelain bowls. I helped myself to it and satisfied my ravenous appetite whetted by the long walks on the beach and the soothing hot water shower. It was so scrumptious. When we were having lunch the next day, the Dutch couple who shared the room next to mine told me Prebha was a talented chef too.

Under the spell of the sea at night

The call of the sea was still so irresistible that I walked back to the beach to take in the sea at night. I waded through the sand and stood as close to the water’s edge as possible, but distant enough so as not to drench my dress. A wedding reception, out on the beach, was taking place at the big hotel next door. Guests were hanging out in knots on the beach until the start of the function.

A few men were out smoking. Others were bantering with each other. Three fishermen were sharing a bottle of liquor sitting on the sand. So engrossed were they in their drinking and blabbering that the world outside was completely lost to them. In the offing, near the edge of my vision, ships and boats were tiny beams of yellow lights of every shade.

The round lights on the maadhals laid on the sea not too far from the beach were see-sawing on the waves as they rose and fell. A balmy sea breeze caressed my face and neck exposed to the elements. The cloudless sky above was a vast black dome studded with stars at random. It sloped down to the sea at the farthest edge of my vision.

It was all a grand spectacle that was made of the same stuff as dreams which I believe you too should witness, and an experience which you should savour, at least once in your life. I hung around the beach for about half an hour and went back to my room, the roar of the sea still reverberating in my ears and the caresses of waves tingling my naked legs.

Prabha had told me during one of the few brief moments I’d spoken with him that there were many attractions I shouldn’t miss. Since I didn’t have a private vehicle to travel around and the public transportation wouldn’t be of much help for me to visit many places during my brief stay, he offered to arrange a tuk-tuk for me.

A throwback to an older tip

I was more than a little sceptical and feared lest it would cost me a fortune to hire a taxi, but I said ‘Ok’ almost without thinking. I had plans to visit the Koneswaram Temple at the very least. About two years earlier, when I had gone on an excursion to Ella, the tuk-tuk driver whom my host arranged for me at my request asked for Rs. 800 to take me to the Ravana Falls from my homestay about 200 metres from the bus stand of Ella town. It’d have cost me less than Rs. 50 to get there on a bus bound for Wellawaya and return to the bus stand after seeing the Ravana Falls as much as I wanted. But I realised all this a little too late when I took this route to travel to Wellawaya. The Ravana Falls wasn’t that far from the bus stand in Ella. Whereas it could have been the standard taxi fare there, I couldn’t still shake off the feeling that I’d been ripped off.