delivering Claus to the airport, I now head for the northern part.
1/1 2014. To pickup the trail, I have quite some driving to do. First, I follow the coast up to Puttalam - all known territory. Then cross country to the rather large city of Anuradhapura, in total around 175 km. I'm advised to start before 6;30, but figures that only important on a non-after-new-year-evening. To judge form the state of the hotel staff, and the amount of fireworks outside my room, it ought to be a quiet morning.
The sand-filled madras inspires me to leave 5;30, and I have the road pretty much to my self through Ngombo. Finding breakfast is quite challenging, but around seven, I find a bakery selling tea as well. The butch Tata- and Lanka Ashok Leyland bussed are dressed in colourful balloons well up the morning.
I do a single stop at a floweriest along the road, but as expected, little of interest to me. Several rather large rivers make me pull-over. Huge grasses, palms and massive trees lines the rivers, and the surface in the more slack areas are covered in the invasive water lily.
I do several stops during the morning, to try the local tea. At one place, the fishmonger, driving on a moped, make house-calls. The tiny sheds are family-run, and offers little more than sodas and small meals, but the spirit is high. I get to talk to the youngest, supposed to speak English.
More and more lagoons and wet-lands aligns the road. Most are man-made, and the road follows the dike. Signs along the road warns about elephants, but they are invisible to me, even when I reach the huge Wilpattu National Park. I do the 15 km de-tour, just to get confirmed I will NOT be aloud to drive within the park in my 2x4WD'er. The park is known for its undisturbed nature - even by animals. That, and the noon-time of the day make me skip the park for now.
I do get to take a walk, probably because they don't see me. Besides from the usual water birds, some of the more rare pelicans are fishing here. One large lake is covered with white flowering water lilies, another with white Lotus'. They have the largest leaves I have seen on Lotus': around 70 centimetres
I make a stop in Nochchyagama, which is a cosy little town. Not much to see, but I get a cup of tea anyway. Outside the village, a little road-side temple is devoted to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. The traffic have been light, and I make it to Anuradhapura around one in the afternoon.
I find the cheapest hotel so far, but not the worse. Then I head out to the enormous secret city. It was a capital around 380 BC, and since, numerous temples, degobas and other holy sights have been build here. Monasteries with room for 1000s of monks, 100 meter tall degobas, dams and temples are scattered around 6-8 square kilometres.
I have a hard time figuring what is what, and end up walking several kilometres in-between the massive degobas. The first site I find is the secret bodhi tree; Sri Maha Bodhi. The oldest part of the tree is a cutting made from the Bodhgaya tree in India, 2000 years ago. This is one of the most holy items in the Sinhalese religion, and the whole area is packed with praying Sri Lankans.
Next to it, is the Brazen Palace - or at least its 1600 columns of granite. A good walk away, the bright white Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba dominates the horizon with its present 55 meters. It was way higher back in 140 BC, but the Indians destroyed it during the invasion, and this is a small scale replica.
From here, I follow the silhouette of Abhayagiri Dagoba, a natural brick finish, lined with a colourful ribbon like the others. Thuparama Dagoba is a must: It is the oldest dagoba, dating back to 300 BC. It is only 19 meters high, flanked with some astonishing pillars, giving it an characteristic look.
The last of the large degobas is Ratna Prasada Dagoba, which has a broken top, but is impressive anyway. Another one in brick-finish and an impressive size. Jetavanarama Degoba is with its 70 one of the largest religious buildings in the world, only two of the pyramids was higher, when it was build in 300 AC. I might have mixed those degobas up, and I can see on Google; I'm not alone!
At one point, when I try to find my way back to the car, I'm asked to show a ticket. That happen quite frequent afterwards, and I end up paying 3250 LKR for the last hour of the day. A fast walk through the museums collection of pearls, ceramic and rocks, then I get the car, and rush to the Moonstones. Turns out to be some half-moon shaped carvings, around 150 centimetres vide. Nice, but overrated, I think.
Here, like everywhere else in the waste area, endless ruins of brick and granite constructions are scatted all over. The pillars dominates, but some long granite stones also forms huge ponds and steps. I'm kicked out at five, and I have to admit: Half a day was way too little for this gigantic area. On the other hand, I'm not going to pay for one more day.
Back bye the hotel to freshen up, then down to the new part of town to find some dinner. I find some fried rice, allegedly with chicken, although it do look suspicious vegetarian to me. Back to the old town to do a dusk-walk along the shops, and find a cup of tea and some sweets.
Back at the hotel at seven to sort out the day's impressions and photos. It is a fairly large hotel, but I am all by my self - kind of spooky. Well, alone is not that correct: I am having a banquet for several hundred mosquitoes.
2/1. The plan for the day is quite disappointing: Just a real long transport stretch. To break it a bit up, I decides to do a de-tour to the "India ferry" on the Mannar island. It is close to 110 km, but it might bring some great views, and a 19 meter fat baobab tree from 1477. The plan was to go through Wilpattu National Park, but it is a 70 km roadwork, and I use the great A14 instead.
On the way out of town, I find a bakery which serves tea, and watch the endless stream of white dressed school kids passing by, despite the clock is only seven. As I enters the countryside, the traffic lightens significantly, and I enjoy the ride.
A marsh set in the low early morning sun draws me in. The area must have been flooded, because the grass is filled with new Lotus seedlings. Water birds from stilks to storks are scatted over the huge area, and to my big surprise, I find the few trees covered in orchids.
As I continues, more and more wetlands flanks the road. Every bridge offers new motives, and so does the tiny villages. The huge road-trees are sometimes completely covered in orchids, especially around Gangaramaya Rambawa. While climbing, I disturb a huge leaf-ant's nest - not that smart a move!
In Medawachchiya, I do a longer break to check the town and their tea. The shops are centred around the triangle with the clock tower, and it is a short walk. As I enters yet another wetland, some African-looking bulbs are flowering in the swamps. Bit strange, but here are so many invasive plants. Then again, it could be Crinum asiaticum.
As I continues north-west, the landscape gradually dries out a bit, and transforms into savannah. Even some Acacia-like Fabaceaes ad to the feeling. Along with the drying, the houses turns worse. From brick-houses, it is now huts made out of palm-leaves.
On the entire way from Anuradhapura, and into the island, the military is a ever present factor. I'm pulled over at a single check-point, but only till they see my pale face. Barracks, police offices and military installations flanks the entire road, but in a rather relaxed manner, despite the high number of uniforms.
I make an additionally de-tour in Murunkan, just to check the Wilpattu road's northern end: Worse, and I can't be bothered. Back on track, I drive the causeway connecting the Mannar island to the mainland. Mannar is dominated by sandy planes with huge palms on. Donkeys are found everywhere along with tiny zebu cattle. I find the most posh hotel in town, and are willing to pay the 2500 LKR - mainly because he promises warm water.
I continues up the western road to see the island. I stop at a tiny fishing village, and find a lot of conchs and other marine life on the perfect sandy beach. In some of the palm-huts, fishermen and -women are sorting fish for salting. I returns to the city of Mannar to find the baobab tree. On the way in to town, I passes several. Each have their own little, white wall around them, but neither seems to be from 1477, although impressing they are.
I got a strange feeling I'm on the wrong road, and seek into town. A cup of tea later, I'm on to something. A walk through a bazaar-like alley, and I got it. Once again, this iconic African baobab tree amazes me. The fat stem is really 20 metres around, and it seems to do just great here.
As I drive back through town, I'm stopped by a policeman. He want to see my documents, but I can only show him my hotel-key, and explain I have left my bag there. Luckily, I got the posh hotel with a brass key-sign, and I get to collect my papers. I hold back the expired temporally driving license, and he don't ask for it. An hour ago, I asked at a driving school for an extension, and they referred me to Colombo. As if....
It is only three o'clock, and I figure I can reach the end of the island, 30 km from India. Marsh, donkeys and huge palms dominate the road, along with the construction of a new railroad. A couple of White Headed or Brahminy kites sit in a palm-tree, real close to the road, and don't seem to be bothered by my attention.
I reach the end of the road and railroad at Thalaimannar. At a tiny fishing village, the road ends in the sea. An old light tower from 1915, and the old train station bear witness of glory in the past, and the abrupt new line, of the coming. The local driver/guide of a German woman is real eager to fill me in on the areas history. He seems rather baffled about the fact; I do my own driving. Thinking about it, I have not seen any other pale do their own driving so far. I am where the crows returns - literally.
I make a stroll through the fishing village, catching the late afternoon sun. The beach is packed with several different types of conchs, and I gather a few for a photo. Then it is time for the return to Mannar city. I do several stops on the way, to explore the beach and some small villages.
Back in Mannar, I head down-town. Next to the bridge and harbour, some fishmongers have their stalls with dried and fresh fish. Donkeys are everywhere, sometimes joined by zeby, birds, hens and dogs. I look for dinner, but have in mind the hotel offered it. I take them up on their offer, and get a good fried noodles with chicken and some real tasty, but also rather spicy side-dish. A coke and a tea after the meal, and I'm down 370 LKR. As usual, the evening are spend working until late.
The fireworks from New Year Eve seems to last for yet another evening, and the promised warm water is on the other hand missing. Despite all that, I immediately fall asleep.
3/1. I drive by the costal road towards Pooneryn. The first 20 km is a perfect concrete road, leading through marsh and bush-land. Then I reach a military checkpoint, where eight different uniformed officers stops me. I have to wait in a very improvised shed for the English talking officer, to take down my information. In Denmark, the "shed" would have been a proper building, costing several millions, but it would be unattended, due to cut-backs.
The road turn bad or even real bad. Red dirt with huge holes and exposed rocks. I pass some pilgrims, warring traditional clothing. Black skirts for the men, colourful dressings for the women. Some are drumming, some sinning. I fail to figure where they are heading, on this rather isolated road.
Well, isolated is perhaps a bit off: I doubt I ever will be out of a soldier or police officers eyes the entire day! I pass several battalions' head offices along with other military installations. That kind of restrain me from exploring the surrounding nature in some degree, but it do come to me.
Different kingfishers, herons, storks, water bids, mongooses, coyotes, chipmunks, eagles, kites, bee-eaters, a giant squeal, swallows, terns and a lot of other animals, crosses the road. I do a few stops at swamps, and here are some strange bulbs, flowering with their bulb flooded. I guess it could be Crinum asiaticum?
I find a baker in a tiny village, and causes quite some commotion among the locals. I guess the tourists usually don't stop here - or even drive at this road? Tea and two stuffed bagels; 90 LKR. The landscape changes into dense forest. I try to penetrate it a few places, but unsuccessful. Then some cattle ranches appears with numerous zebus.
The road is being upgraded several places, but that only make it even worse to drive. Fighting with the huge trucks for the only semi-passable track, at the same time watching out for the traps in body of holes and rocks. A single temple sits in one of the appearing rice fields.
Then I reach what appears to be a brackish river. I spot some large Euphorbias, and no military, and go for a walk about. The Crinum asiaticum is flowering, so are the two species of Vitaceae, the Cucurbitaceae and the Asparagus, while the Araceae have strange fruits, the Dioscorea only buds and air-bulbs, the parasitic Convulvaceae grow on what looks like a Portulaceae, the Pater Notre beans; Abrus precatorius are ripen, but the most significantly and dominating plant is actually the Vanilla orchid; Vanilla planifolia.
It is found in huge bundles in most of the trees. Some contains of 50 vines or more! Unfortunately it have just left dormancy, and the flowers are not present. The large Fabaceae bushes have huge clusters of bright yellow flowers, the Mimosa have white and pink brushes, the Convulvaceae of the morning glory type have huge pink flowers, while the Sansevierias keep a low profile underneath the dense bushes. A Apocynaceae, looking like a Vitaceae have the characteristic parachute- flowers, the Malvaceae is flowering with huge, yellow flowers, and in the brackish sand, a succulent plant is red from stress.
I can't help wondering how much I would have found, if the military didn't keep it all to them self? The next place where I sneak in to the wild, is a savannah-like open forest. Huge palms and figs make the canopy, while some Cucurbitaceaes with delicate flowers, some Pedaliaceaes have light yellow flowers and another is pink. A purple Solanaceae have black thorns on both sides of the leaves.
I do a longer stop in the cosy village of Kodikamam. The old marketplace is pretty much warn down, but still teaming with life. In the central square, some small Jersey cows take care of the organic waste. Rosters are mixed with vegetables, while I mix a tea and a spiced roll.
Next stop is another little village, just as cosy; Chavakachchari. Another market, some more humble shops and a cup of tea - well; not. Strangely enough, I fail to get a cut at the seven places I try. I recon I'm out of tea country by now? Perhaps that happened, when I crossed the Elephant's Pass - a causeway leading to Jaffna island. I'm pulled over once again by a friendly policeman. This time, he actually mention the Danish driving license is invalid, and I have to find the printed Sri Lankan one.
I reach the large town of Jaffna at three, and find a hotel right away. The sun have never really broken through today, and now a light drizzle starts. Newer the less, I drive out the the huge, Dutch Vaubanesque star-formed fort, around 400x400 meters. It has just been drastically restored by mainly the Dutch government, but besides from a few cows, it is surprisingly vacant. I do the entire tour around, but besides from the ubiquitous crows, little activity is found.
The drizzle stops, and I head for the "particular dazzling" Miralliamman Kovil temple. I must admit; I'm slightly disappointed. I do a walk around and have a rather long chat with the guard. Then I head on towards the huge Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil temple.
That is one of the largest Hindu temples in Sri Lanka, and it is really huge. An old tower in gold rises in the front, and a new one, just as impressive, is being erect in the back. I strip the T-shirt, and sneak in - not that unnoticed. Inside, it is real big with several deep ponds, arcades and shrines. Photo is not aloud, but I would have loved to make quite a few! Masses are taking place, praying people are everywhere and the art on the walls and the statures are fantastic.
Back in the material world, I head down to the old centre. It is really worn down, but quite clean. Cows are found in every street and in the bus-station, but they only care about food. Several old buildings contains bazaars and markets along with small shops. Water taps are found most places, but other places, huge wells - with fish in - supply the water.
I do several tours around, and get to chat with quite a lot of the shop keepers. It is always the same questions; Where I'm from, where I'm going, my name and if I like Sri Lanka. I try to counter-ask to confuse them, and that works fine - especially because their extreme limited English!
I find some fried rice with chicken apart, in a "hotel", and they offers me tea afterwards! The first dissent cup for quite some time. It is pitch dark, when I returns to my car at the bus-station, and I'm pleased, I remembered to mark the hotel in the GPS.
4/1. Another greyish day, but I recon I can't expect anything else this time of year. The plan for the day is to do some island hopping on the Jaffna islands, then head east along the coast. Somewhere, a rather special orchid should be found on the stems of palm trees.
The entire area is marked by the war; here are still quite some buildings in ruins, the roads are fare from smooth and the military is ever present. I take the causeway to Velanai, which in many stretches is real narrow and bumpy. Along the road, numerous fishermen have the nets set up in the shallow waters.
A simple bridge leads to yet more causeway, and then some low mangrove. I end up in a tiny fishing village, just as the day's action takes place. It is just half to two kilos of fish each fisher have to sell, and it counts everything from squirts to tiny fish. I find a bun with sugar filling, and that will do for breakfast.
As I continues over the tiny island, I only see marsh and bush-land. Hardly any farming and only little cattle. I find a shallow well, which reveals the ground is made up by staghorn-corals. No orchids so fare, but here have only been low bushes.
I reach the large village of Kayts, and get a friendly chat with the local policeman. Then I make a stroll around the tiny town to find tea. One of the old houses are, as so many others, a ruin, and big fig tree is taking over. All the shops in use are pretty worn down as well, but the people are smiling and laughing. It seems like every people either go by buss or on a real old, black bicycle.
I reach the ferry, which is the most rusty piece of junk, I've ever seen. It sails every second hour, but the next three are booked. Well, it only take one car at a time, but I figure I can drive around way faster than 6,5 hours. I even get a brand new car on the tour: The odometer passes 00000, but it still feel pretty broken down. Can't say if it the second or fifth time is passes zero.
In Jaffna, I keep on the coastal road, passing the huge fort. I make a stop in the cosy village of Chankanal. Same worn down shops, same smiling people. I get a cup of tea from an English talking Tamil lady, before I head on. Another causeway leads to the tiny island of Karaitivu, and here, my perseverance is rewarded near Karainegar.
Here are significantly more trees and palms, and on quite a lot of the palms, the special orchid is found. I can imagine it will start near the top of a young palm, then end up on the bare and rather smooth stem, half way up the top, when the palm get older. The roots form a massive cluster, and despite it is fruit season, the plants seems pretty contempt with water.
Eventually, I make it the the harbour, and can spot the ferry around 300 meters away, on the other side. It have taken me two hours, including botanizing. Some big, but worn down fishing boats are anchored here, but there are now fisherman activity.
As I drive back, I once again passes the large Ponnalai Vishnu Kovil temple. I spot what seems to be an old carnage of some sort, and I get a guided tour. It is well over 500 years old, and was replaces by a new, just five years ago. It is pulled through the streets once a year, and both the old one, but very much the new one contains some astonishing craftworks.
I returns to Jeffna island, and try to stay close to the north coast. Here are several smaller temples, but their interior is not impressive at all. It is less than half the houses which are in use here, the rest are ruins. The next village of some size is Nelliady Karaveddy. It is somewhat more rich, probably due to the red, rich soil. Almost all land is farmed, the major part for vegetables.
I end up at a military post, and it turns out, I am not aloud to follow the coast. The entire area is under military control, and I have to find an alternative route inland. It does cause me quite some problems. The maps are short on information, and just like the small islands; the GPS was made for the army - the enemy's army that is. Many roads are in the sea, most don't exist.
I make through the rich farmland on narrow roads. Some are kind of sealed, but real bumpy. Others are ridges of asphalt with deep holes in-between. As I reach Jaffna island, it starts to drizzle, and I figure my 5L water-bottle have a leak. The mat have sucked up quite a lot, and that going to stink soon!
I make it out to the coast at Point Pedro at the most northern point of Sri Lanka. A nice beach, the ruin of the custom house and a girl pulling water up a well is all here is. As I make it back towards Elephant Pass, I spot a large number of kites. Some are lines of them, reaching very high.
The coastline is marsh and areas with large palm trees. If it wasn't for the warning about landmines, I would have defied the light rain, but not mines! I once again reach Elephant Pass, which must be the lowest pass in the world; 2,7 M above the sea. Elephants was brought this way to be shipped to India for war - long time ago. The sub-species of elephants on the little island of Sri Lanka was significantly larger than their Indian cousins.
My original plan of sticking to the coast is reviewed: I have not seen a single sign with "Room" the entire day, and it is getting late. The closest bigger town is Kilinochchi, and I play it safe. Then I can return to Chundikkulan Bird Sanctuary in the morning - and sun? I find a hotel in the start of town, featuring the most gay person I have encountered for years. He fixes me up with a good room, and hot water for once!
The rain picks up as I start to work, and I'm a bit reluctant to leave for dinner. Luckily, the hotel offers a huge plate of real tasty fried rice and Pepsi for 210 LKR. No tea though, but I guess I'll survive.
The evening's work include a slide-show of the photos from the northern Sri Lanka.
From here, I head down the north-eastern coast.