By Shafiya Nawzer
Situated on a peninsula on the North-East coast of Sri Lanka; the Eastern Province consists of three administrative districts namely Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.
Well known for its golden beaches and deep water natural harbour in Trinco, the largest lagoon in Sri Lanka in Batticaloa and Ampara being the surfer's haven. Recently, we took a road trip to the East and was surprised to find out more about the attractions and activities.
We all think of the Pasikuda Beach, Nilaveli Beach, Pigeon Island and Arugam Bay when planning on visiting the East; however, there is so much more to discover and experience. Speaking to the locals, we found that most places here weren't commercialised and were lesser known among Sri Lankans and foreigners.
The east possesses much potential for tourism due to the richness of history, nature and cultural diversity.
Tourism is considered as one of the industries that allow local communities to celebrate their culture and authenticity through meaningful employment. It provides high income earning jobs, flexible work hours and facilitates creativity through art, dance and music.
However, in order to ensure the region is on par with many of the potent business and lifestyle destinations in the world. Below are some unique activities to do during your next visit to the East.
Gal Oya Veddha walk
The Veddhas are Sri Lanka's indigenous population, linked closely to the aboriginal people of the island, who live in small forest communities away from urban life and the rest of the inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Whilst many have modernised and integrated into the local communities, a few remain who still live the separate traditional way of life.
The walk with Gal Oya's Veddhas is a unique experience, which offers travellers the chance to connect closely to a core part of Sri Lanka's history and culture, and gain an insight into this fascinating, fading community which is on the brink of extinction. One can learn about the forest through the eyes of the Veddha.
The Chief will explain the tribe's use of medicinal plants, their ancient hunting grounds and cave dwellings.
We can also discover their unique language as they chant songs during the walk, explore their ritual customs and unique religion, and see their traditional methods of hunting and storing food.
Corals watching and scuba diving
Sri Lanka's Western, Southern and Eastern coastal belts are prime spots for scuba diving. You can swim through the alluring turquoise water in the shallows and watch colourful tropical fish dart through the intricate corals.
The monsoon weather patterns in Sri Lanka ensure that one half of the island's coastal waters are always in season for diving, snorkelling, and swimming with good underwater visibility.
There is an opportunity to do scuba diving in Trincomalee, a coastal town in the North-East which boasts beautiful beaches of white sand and azure waves.
Kayankerni is located North of Batticaloa along the shoreline of Vakarai. The pristine beach, green environment, iconic marine resources, the location is close to the famous destination.
Kayankerni's has many healthy coral reefs and abundant underwater ecosystem, making it one of the best locations in the country for snorkelling excursions. More than 50 types of corals and 207 fish species are found here.
Wrecks of two ships plunged in this sea also adds value to the diving experiences.
The activity begins by a small ritual of the local fishermen that they usually do before entering the sea, a 15 minutes of boat ride and we reach the first spot of corals, which is in around 3-4 ft. deep. The spot is perfect for beginner snorkelling.
The boat ride then took us further towards the rocky area in the sea, which is known as Elephant Rock by the locals; this is a deeper place which has more mature white corals and lots of shoaling and schools of fishes. From the rocky area, the boat moves towards the natural pool, this looks like the shape of a half-moon with the rocky boundaries along a lonely beach.
Mathurankernikulam is located at the North of Batticaloa in the Vakarai division. The environment is filled with natural bushes, rocks, tanks and small homes amidst lots of trees.
Vakarai is famous for its wild honey, and the honey collection is still an important livelihood of the descendants of the indigenous Veddah community. The members from these community hosts the honey tour.
We first visit the home of the Vedda Chief to begin the tour. Then an introduction and demonstration is provided. A variety of honey-based food is served to provide the taste of real natural honey and know further about their food habits.
Afterwards, we are taken to the tank shore by walk, and from there reach the bush on a canoe crossing the tank. One can experience a bushwalk and watch the live honey collection activities.
The whole tour is informative and provides an opening to learn about the wild experiences, the way of life of their community and local flora and fauna; especially about the varieties of honey and bees.
Lankapatuna Samudragiri Viharaya
Lankapatuna Samudragiri Viharaya at Trincomalee is said to be situated in the exact location where the Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala landed in Sri Lanka with the Tooth Relic of the Buddha.
This is one of most ancient temples in Trincomalee. Buddhist ruins scatter in an area of about 50 acres which belong to the temple.
The ancient Buddhist ruins of the Lankapatuna Viharaya were destroyed by the LTTE terrorists in late 1990's or early 2000's and built a Hindu Kovil in 2003.
They used it for erecting a radio transmission tower for their operations. However, with the destruction of the LTTE in 2009, a new Stupa has been built and the temple is maintained with the support of the armed forces.
Today, the Sacred Relic of the Tooth of Buddha is one of the most treasured possessions of Sri Lanka. It is enshrined in Dalada Maligawa in Kandy.
The dageba is located on a charming little hillock. There is a beautiful golden statue of Buddha to admire here too. Ancient ruins of a pond as well as a flight of stairs can also be seen onsite.
Kattankudy is a densely populated unique area. It's a majority Muslim town and is the ideal place to indulge in some delicious cuisines.
You can also see many detailed Islamic architecture, the Kattankudy Heritage Museum, various mosques and Arabic traders that line the streets.
You can learn about the town's history through a visit to the grand mosque, and go even deeper by visiting the well-curated and informative museum.
Some of the best dishes that one must try are the samosas, kottu, dried beef, soup and babath (fried tripe). The streets come alive as the sun begins to set with the oil pan's sizzling and producing aromas of mouth watering food.
Fried or boiled cassava well known as manioc and one of the must try dishes in Kattankudy. Manioc is cooked in spices and topped with gravy, fried babath and beef chunks. You can also try a scrumptious ice cream sundae filled with various nuts and fruits at any of the street shops.