When the alarm went off at 4.30 am I groaned, it could not be 4.30 already! However as we were traveling in a group, I got up somehow and stumbled down on time to go to the Kudumbigala Monastery and Kumana National Park near Ampara in Eastern Sri Lanka.
I am not a morning person. Given a choice I will never wake up early in the morning. I am grumpy to the core when I am out at an early hour. Even the elephant sighting right by the road at Kuamana National Park did not wake me up completely.
But it was the view from the Kudumbigala Monastery hillock that did the trick, suddenly the day turned magical. I was no longer grumpy. It was worth getting out at 5.00 am just for this view.
After returning from the small hike to the Kudumbigala Monastery we sat in our jeep in shade. A green bee eater gave us company. In the shade it was almost pleasant! As we had gone for the hike the day was getting hot. I was wondering about the sightings on our jeep safari. Wild animals do not like heat but there was no other way to fit in both, the monastery and the park, in the same morning.
I love going to the jungle, I love the feel of the jungle. If I get to see big game I consider it a bonus. Otherwise I am happy birding. Kumana National Park has a large number of water bodies, which adds to its bird population and its charm.
As the day was getting hot, big game went hiding. However, there was plenty to enjoy if you love the jungle. This monitor lizard was happily sitting in the sun, probably without a care in the world!
Kumana National Park is full of birds. I saw a lot more than I could capture and there were still more in the park which we couldn’t even see properly. I would see a flash of red or yellow but it would be gone before I could blink let alone ask my guide about it.
There is a watch tower within the park. It is a designated area where we could get out of our vehicles. By now a few of my group mates were dozing off, this break woke us all up!
Kumana National Park has large herds of wild buffaloes. Their horns and whole demeanor looks scary. In spite of seeing so many, I wonder why took this picture of the one standing alone and it has come out the best too!
A strange thing happened on this safari. Because of the early morning start, all my group mates were fast asleep when a group of wild boars crossed our jeep. I have hardly ever seen anyone falling asleep on a jeep safari in a jungle before!
My group mates slept through the antics of the crested hawk eagle too! I guess the guys went to check out a beach party after dinner, whereas I crashed as soon as possible.
I knew I would fall asleep later when we sat in the air-conditioned bus and headed to Batticaloa, our next stop!
PS. I was invited by Cinnamon Hotels Sri Lanka on this trip.
It was a 5.00 am start and if you ask me I am no fan of 5.00 am starts. Five in the morning is for being sound asleep but it was not to be because we had plan to catch up the sunrise at Kudumbigala Monastery in Eastern Sri Lanka. We were far away from the monastery when the sunrise happened and yet it was a beautiful place to be!
The Kudumbigala Monastery is close to Kumana National Park in Ampara. We were staying at Arugam Bay so it was about one hour drive to Kudumbigala Monastery.
Our first stop was an elephant stop! We spotted a wild elephant right from the bus. So the driver parked the bus and we got out of the door to catch a few pictures. Two of my group members were not content with the far away view. They started walking towards the elephant! It was their lucky day, the elephant decided to walk away rather than charge. They were called back before they decided to chase it further in the jungle!
After the eventful pit stop, we halted where the group was splitting into two. Some of the group members decided to head to the Kumana National Park directly. A few of us tried to change our mind, I was in that group, but we were told the vehicle arrangements were such that last minute changes were not possible!
So off we went to the foot of the Kudumbigala Monastery to start our hike. By now, even though it was still early in the morning, the sun felt strong.
Mid way we spotted a cave, with decorated doors. From what I gather on the internet the Monastery Complex is old, the caves as old as before common era. In the modern times, the whole Eastern Region of Sri Lanka has passed through difficulties during the unrest. Thankfully times are changing now.
The hike was a short one. Some of the hike is on stone and it is steep. There are steel fences on those stretches. While going I was sure there was no need for the fences. While coming down I was thankful they were there.
Dileep Mudadeniya, the big shot of marketing from the Cinnamon Hotels always maintained that the views from the top were fabulous. He was absolutely right. Just for the views from the top, the 5.00 am start was worth it. The first picture of the post gives you some idea of the views!
We took a lot of time to move from the top. By now the sun was getting hot, I was in the group which went straight to the bottom to our waiting vehicles. Others were taking a lot of time. I didn’t realize it but there was another complex which they went to see.
I was happy to sit in the vehicle, click bee eaters and watch a large group of locals who were on a pilgrimage to the region. It felt like home, buses full of people, cooking on open fire, someone was fetching water from the hand pump, others grating coconut for the meal!
Gradually the group got together again and we headed to the Kumana National Park, but it is a separate tale!
PS. I was part of select bunch of global bloggers who were invited to attend Cinnamon TBC Asia 2016.
I got only a fleeting glimpse, much of it from a moving bus, but it has been an unforgettable journey to Eastern Sri Lanka. I have but briefly touched upon the cities of Batticaloa, Kattankudy and Trinclomalee but the impressions I am going to carry back are lasting.
The Grand Old Tree
As a tourist I crave for scenic beauty and I got it in plenty. But it were the fleeting glimpses that made me pause. It all started when I was rushing by this grand, old tree. I thought the old tree could tell me stories if only I had time to listen. It could be the story of the vehicle parked or the dreams of the man standing beneath it, but I had to move on. Maybe my sub-conscience registered it, because never before I tried to document the fleeting scenes I encounter on my trips!
As They Went Past the Bus- The Places of Worship
As the bus moved from Kandy to Batticaloa and reached eventually Trincomalee, I could see bits and pieces of places of worship. Sometimes it would be a corner sometimes I got electric wires in the frame but they were there! The Church I saw from the window seat, had many visitors.
We overshot our destination, Trincomalee by a few kilometers. The driver was trying to compensate by driving a little faster than his usual! And yet, I could spot the mosque, it was all serene there!
I also caught the corner of a Hindu temple while the bus roared towards the Trinco Blu, our destination for the day.
My first impression was that people seem to co-exist peacefully in the region. And yet I know the Eastern Province has seen a lot of conflict during the civil war! But now I find no traces of it, I see only serenity.
The Friendly People
We stopped our bus near a beautiful rice field while we were traveling from Batticaloa to Trincomalee. The farmer was happy to pose, the blogger was happy to click! And I was happy to stretch my legs too!
While we were on our break, he passed by on the bicycle carrying something. He knew I was pointing my camera at him and yet calmly he went on! He might have been mildly curious about the commotion near his peaceful fields but he did not pause!
If you have not tried Sri Lankan Hoppers yet, you are missing out on good food! And if you find yourself in the main market at Kattankudy look out for this genial man who runs a cart shop on the streets.
You know what happens when 15 bloggers converge on such a place! All of us want pictures and videos as soon as we arrive. This gentleman worked at fast pace, we were continuously in his way. Yet he went on without a frown, making amazing hoppers! Lesser mortals would have told us to get to the other side of the shop and stick there. But not him. I have to admit I ate two coconut hoppers, his sambhal was so amazing!
And if you are still hungry in Kattankudy go buy some bananas from a local fruit shop. Once again there was a mild curiosity about our big group but they were cool customers when it came to posing for the camera!
The Village Scenes
As I took a lot of pictures from they moving bus, they are not carefully composed, they are not sharp either. But I believe if I did not take them, I would have missed out on an essential part of my journey to Eastern Sri Lanka! I could so identify with the village scene, it could have been a country road in India! And they were chilling in their village!
From my moving bus I saw a lot of cows too. I have visited a cow farm only once in my life, and a herd like this brings me immense cheer. These animals are part of households, they will probably have names unlike their factory counterparts!
The Scenic Eastern Sri Lanka
Eastern Sri Lanka is picture postcard beautiful, it looks like a painting more than a place! I would say visit now, before it firmly gets established on the tourism map! You know what happens to places then.
You could come for the scenes to Eastern Sri Lanka, but I would say come for the smiles!
PS. I was part of a group of bloggers participating in TBC Asia sponsored by Cinnamon Hotels. The trip to the Eastern Sri Lanka was a joint initiative with Market Development Facility. I feel immensely privileged to be a part of it!