Trincomalee

Situated 286 km from the metropolitan capital of the country, Trincomalee offers some of the best beaches in the east. From Trincomalee, through Uppuweli, Nilaweli to Kuchchaveli this coast is amply gifted with white sands and isolated clear shallow beaches. The town is relatively small and quiet, compared to other popular towns; but has its own maze of roads and by-lanes which can be a bit complicated if you are on your own. The area is equally populated by Sinhalese and Tamils. Since Trinco has one of the largest harbours in the region fishing is a common livelihood, but the hospitality sector is also booming.

The best time to visit Trinco is from April to October. Throughout this period there is absolutely perfect weather for plenty of sun-bathing as well as frolicking on the blue shores. Make sure to pack plenty of swimwear and your loudest pair of beach shorts, and if you have any space in your luggage, bring your snorkeling gear as well. Although you could hire snorkeling equipment from your hotel or guesthouse, it is better to be sure than sorry.

Places/Activities in Trincomalee

Built on the Swami Rock which overlooks the Trincomalee bay, this is said to be one of the five recognised Easwaramas of Siva. It is historically known as the Thirukonamamalai Konesar Kovil. This is likely to be one of your favorite places in Trincomalee as it is very tranquil and offers a spectacular view of the bay.

This was once considered one of the richest and most visited temple complexes in Asia. The original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese when they invaded Trincomalee, and the archeological remains of the Gokanna Temple as well as the kovil, which are submerged in the sea, are still visible. Over the centuries the temple has been restored and renovated by various royals and devotees.

The kovil is generally open to visitors throughout the day. As kovil rules dictate, one must enter its sacred precincts bare footed, therefore it is best to avoid sunny afternoons when visiting Konneswaram. Pooja times at the kovil are at 6.00 am, 12 noon and late evening.

Fort Frederick was built by the Portuguese in 1624 on Swami Rock overlooking the Dutch bay, using debris of the Konneswaram Temple, which they had destroyed. The fort has had a long colorful history over the centuries as it was taken over by many foreign colonial powers, and played a vital role in international trade for its location as a natural harbour.

According to history, the fort was captured in 1639 by a Dutch fleet under Admiral Westerworld and in 1665 they constructed a new fort to defend the advances made by the British and the French. In 1672 the Dutch Republic was attacked by France, Britain and two German states and thereafter the French captured Trincomalee and later Batticaloa. Eventually, the French were forced to leave but in the late 18th Century they recaptured the fort and handed it over to the Dutch East India Company. In 1795 it was taken over by the British and remained as their garrison till 1948.

At present, Fort Frederick is garrisoned by a detachment of the Gajaba regiment of the Sri Lanka Army. Although it is several centuries old it is still one of the most beautiful and most visited places in Trincomalee. Since you have to travel through the fort to reach the Konneswaram Temple, this gives you the opportunity to see the interior of the fort, which is well preserved. The structures and officers’ quarters have a colonial feel and little has changed in this part of town since the British left. A few deer live in an enclosure inside the fort. The deer are the decedents of a pair brought by the British as pets. A few years ago it was reported that they were dying as they were feeding on polythene left by visitors. If you are lucky you may see some of the deer in the fort or in the Trincomalee town.

Lover’s Leap is located in the temple premises. Legend has it that the daughter of a Dutch Civil Officer who was engaged to a Dutch Army Officer jumped off the Swami Rock when the young officer broke off the engagement and left for Holland when his period of service in Sri Lanka was completed.

Located about 15 minutes from Trincomalee, this is a popular site in the east. Most people believe that the water in these springs have healing powers. Therefore it attracts visitors from around the country. The temperatures of these seven wells vary.

According to legend, Vishnu, the Lord of the past and the present wanted to trick King Ravana and had told him that his mother Kannya had died. Believing Vishnu, Ravana frantically looked for a source of water to cleanse his mother’s body to make preparations for her last rites. Ravana then struck the earth with his sword in several spots and several fountains arose. Over the years, the springs were renovated into wells and preserved.

Established in 1935 by a British national who loved the view of the bay from the hilly site, Welcombe Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the area. The pier, which was recently built, offers a spectacular view of the bay. The hotel serves good meals, including some great ice cream sundaes which are perfect for a hot day!

The east is all about beaches and since there are plenty of them, you have the freedom to choose or, you could just visit them all. Marble beach is arguably the best beach in Trincomalee. Located within the perimeters of the Air Force base, it is a must visit. As it is situated in a restricted area, visitors are limited, making this one of the cleanest and the clearest beaches in the area. The Air Force has recently set up a resort in marble beach as well.

This is one of the two marine national parks in the country. Located 1 km off the coast of Nilaveli, this park contains some of the best coral reefs in Sri Lanka.

Pigeon Island consists of two islands of different sizes. Accordingly, the island was named after the Rock Pigeons that live on it. It was declared a sanctuary in 2003. It is also believed that it was used by the British Army to practice shooting during World War II.

Most of the hotels and guesthouses in Nilaveli will organise boat rides to Pigeon Island. The island is under the purview of the Sri Lanka Navy and the Wild life Conservation Authority.

Located 20 km north of Trinco, Nilaveli is globally known for its lovely beaches, especially before the tsunami disaster in 2004. Several hotels are now built on and around the beach. Due to its popularity the beach tends to get crowded, particularly during weekends.

Girihandu Seya is considered the first dagaeba (Buddhist shrine) in Sri Lanka and was built by two merchants by the name of Thapassue and Balluka. The pagoda enshrines a lock of the Buddha’s hair.

According to historical scriptures, the two merchants had been the first to offer alms to the Buddha upon reaching enlightenment. Thereafter, the merchants requested a memento to preserve and worship, and were gifted with a lock of hair. They arrived in Sri Lanka during their travels to different parts of the region and had kept the hair relic container on a rock in this area before departing to a nearby location for trade. Upon their return the merchants realised that they could not move the container, and decided to build a pagoda enshrining the hair relic in that location.

The location of the dagaba offers a beautiful overview of Thiriyaya, even though it means climbing 296 steps, one must try it. It is best to avoid the scorching afternoon sun when visiting the temple

Situated close to the Nilaveli town, this is one of the six war cemeteries in the country. The site has a total 362 graves of which most are of commonwealth soldiers who died between 1939 and 1945, except for four graves which are of unknown civilians. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is frequently visited by relatives of war veterans. Although most of the graves at the cemetery belong to foreign soldiers there are a few that belong to local war veterans.

This cemetery was originally the Combined Services Cemetery but was later taken over by the Admiralty, from military authorities in April 1948 to be used as a permanent Naval Cemetery, as Trincomalee was formerly a Naval station. When the British forces withdrew from the country, it became the property of the Sri Lankan Government who granted the Commission security of tenure in perpetuity.

The best time to spot whales in Trincomalee is from May to August. Whale watching tours in Trincomalee are organised by the Sri Lanka Navy. The pickup point is at the Ashroff jetty in the Trincomlee harbour, and boats usually leave at 6.00 am.

History

Trincomalee has one of the largest natural harbours in South Asia. Historically known as Gokanna, (ox-ear), the earliest records go back to the 5th Century. Trincomalee was briefly occupied by Chola kings from South India who invaded the country and later by European colonisers such as the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. Many important bases held by the British such as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force bases were located in Trincomalee and China Bay. Even though Sri Lanka declared itself as an independent sovereign nation in 1948, the British had control of the Royal Navy base till 1957.

Travel Tips and Planning Information

  • You are advised to bring your own snorkeling gear.
  • Take plenty of sun block and mosquito repellent.
  • Visit temples in the evening to avoid the scorching sun.
  • Be mindful of what you wear to places of worship. Most places do not allow visitors to enter wearing skirts, shorts, strapless blouses etc.

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