Spent the long weekend in Anuradhapura and Tricomalee. I am usually involved in planning most trips but this particular one was organised by a friend and I just tagged along.
To begin with I was a reluctant participant. When he sent an email around suggesting a trip to Trinco I did not reply. I am a fairly cautious man and I don't take unnecessary risks. Most people say that Trinco is safe, there is only a small risk but but I suggested that we go down south instead.
Anyway after checking with various friends I decided that it was safe enough to go and I'm glad I did.
The journey itself was a bit of a mess. We keep only only one road map in the house and my brother had taken that for a trip he was going on and since none of the friends I was traveling with owned a map we were map-less for the journey. One chap owned a GPS but due to the security situation decided to leave that at home, along with the bigger camera lenses.
The start was late so one car containing myself and a couple of friends who were on time went ahead, with vague directions to meet at Jaela and turn off. We we making fair time and reached Jaela early, could not locate a turnoff so decided to go through Puttalam. The run to Puttalam was uneventful but after the turnoff to Anuradhapura at the town the road deterioratde steadily. Reached Anuradhapura at 8am, a drive of three hours.
While waiting for the second car to join us, visited the Tissa Weva Resthouse, a nice colonial building set back from the road with a lot of greenery surrounding it. The rooms have been done up a la Bawa and were clean and nice. Rates by the way were Rs.4950 for twin sharing B & B.
When the second car caught up, went to where we were supposed to stay, the Nuwara Weva Resthouse which was not in great shape. The plaque at the entrance proclaimed that it had been opened in 1957 by SWRD. The building was quite hideous, built in a style that I imagine was supposed to be futuristic and ultra modern in 1957. The rooms were comfortable and clean the, food fairly good and the price (some Rs.3800 for half board twin sharing) was reasonable but the atmosphere was lousy.
The colonial masters knew a thing or two about siting a resthouse and the majority, especially upcountry occupy very scenic spots. This factor combined with the charm of the building and the simple but cheerful traditional cooking make these places some of my favourite getaways. Unfortunately not a lot of it was true of the Nuwara Weva Resthouse with its dark and dreary public areas.
Then came the second mistake. We had decided to go to Habarana for lunch and not having looked at the map, assumed it was fairly close by. Only when driving did we discover just how far it was, and to make matters worse, we used a road that was shorter (but only by half a kilometre we later found out) but greatly worse than the main road for about a third of the distance. Got back to Anuradhapura using the normal road by about 4pm had some tea and visited the Jetawana Dagoba which was very impressive.
I saw Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in 1992 but this was with a large group and we went around the sites in the morning and early afternoon. The baking heat and the dust of the place not to mention the crowd soon robs one of much of the initial enthusiasm. This time around visiting in the late afternoon, it was beautiful. Peaceful, quiet, bathed in soft sunlight the first glimpse of the majestic Jetwana Dagoba is very impressive.
The usual problem with Sri Lankan sites prevailed - a lack of information except for one small engraved plate with part of the writing obscured at the entrance. Made a note to read a bit about the ruined cities of Ceylon, does any one have a book that might be recommended ?
The next day we left at 6.15am to Trincomalee, after a couple of navigational mishaps reached Nilaweli Beach Hotel by about 11.20 in the morning. The beach is as every bit as good as the people say it is. Wide, clean (but not pristine:there was a small amount of litter) with a very white sands. The sea was not very deep, allowing wading quite far from the shore. Food was good but the range was a little limited given that the hotel, although full, was catering to a fairly small number of visitors, almost all from Colombo.
The real adventure started when we left. We were given a form by the hotel that needed to be filled and given at a checkpoint. Details included NIC nos, car engine and chassis nos and contents of baggage.
One vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint and the vehicle and ID cards examined. A few hundred yards away, around a bend was another checkpoint. When we, who had been stopped at the first checkpoint arrived we found our friends stopped at the secopnd one, but since we wer'nt stopped we drove on. After about 20-25 minutes, with no sign of our friends we turned back, since it was impossible to contact them - the mobile netword was dead in the area. It turns out the checkpoint we shot past was the one where we had to give our form in. When we came and asked to give the form in we were sent back to the very first checkpoint to get a chit from the officer there.
The driver then had to stand in two queues, I think one was to register the passengers, the other to register the car. Original car registration books or certified copies were required. After about 40 minutes we were given a document in triplicate called a Permit to Leave Trincomalee.
An hour or so later we were stopped at another checkpoint and directed to a building on the right that looked and felt exactly like the passport control section of an airport. Our bags were taken out and searched while the car was sent for examination to another area. The driver has to take it up a ramp and they check it there. Fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to Colombo.
The drive to Colombo was a nightmare beyond Habarana, it was like playing dodgem cars with hand tractors, bicycles, motorcycles, three wheelers and a great mass of humanity, a good part of it drunk, out celebrating Vesak.