John Lyly said, “All is fair in love and war.” This is a saying that we have heard many many times throughout the course of history as well as in our lives. When you think about it, it is very true. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for what we love. Whether it’s a man, woman, wealth, power and even death, we would move mountains for what we love in our hearts. It is this same love of power, wealth and fame that also creates conflict. There are different kinds of love that we experience at each stage of our lives. Parents, pets, significant others, marital partners, friends who become family not tied by blood, places, things; the list is endless when it comes to that. Our lives as humans revolve around what we love and the love we crave for ourselves. I found my love rekindled. My burning passion was ignited like an inferno and my love glowed bright like the sun thanks to the Real Mannar.
Mannar in all its glory is very much its own island. A bubble of unity, incredible people, beautiful views of the coast line and much more. Wherever you find yourself exploring, you can bet that it’s going to be a surreal experience indeed. Many local legends speak of how Sri Lanka was the Garden of Eden that is mentioned in the Bible. Many believe it was from here that Adam and Eve were banished and Adam’s Bridge was the path they used to travel. However, at the time of their death, they were brought back to the Garden to be buried. Their graves are said to be located in the Urumale Village of Mannar which is near Talaimannar Beach. There lie two tombs, one for Adam (40 feet long) and one for Eve (38 feet long). It is a place of worship for the local Muslims who firmly believe that these are the tombs of the first man and woman on Earth.
From there on, we made our way to the Talaimannar Beach to embark on an adventure to see Adam’s Bridge. Adam’s Bridge is truly a geological marvel. It is known to be a haven for migratory and resident birds who turn the first sand dune of Adam’s Bridge into a nesting ground. So, it always good to proceed with caution in case there are eggs around. The parent birds are never too far off. A parent’s undying love for their offspring is clearly shown here as they tend to create a ruckus and chase you away angrily.
The sand dunes are constantly moving which is extraordinary. The path you took one day may not be what you see the next day and hence it is wise to know when the tide comes in. It is also fascinating that the southern corner of India is only 18 kilometres away. The Talaimannar Beach is beautiful, calm and just so relaxing. The sand is as soft as a feather gently brushing against you as if it were a caress. People and children are known to come there to relax and frolic around. The entire sky turns a fiery crimson which lights up the entire beach like an inferno. With the sun rays spreading, it is a majestic sight indeed.
When the bird watching season ends towards the latter part of April, the Kite Surfing season starts due to the strong winds that take over. Resorts around the area start offering packages for Kite Surfing and is definitely a dream come true for all the adrenaline junkies out there. Even if you are new to the sport, there are sections which are designated for beginners and for the pros that want an exciting extra challenge.
Next up was the Talaimannar Pier and Lighthouse. In the past this was used as a ferry point between Sri Lanka and India before its sad destruction in 1964 thanks to a cyclone. The railway line connects Talaimannar to the other major cities in Sri Lanka. Only a portion of it can be explored as the rest of it acts as the base of operations for the Sri Lanka Navy. The 62-foot lighthouse built in 1915, with its lantern and gallery, was a guiding light for British seamen to make sure they avoid scuttling their ship. It still stands tall in all its pomp and glory.
From there on our next stop was the Nadukkuda Beach. This has an enormous coastal stretch and is known to be the longest coastline in Mannar. It is a great place for a walk or jog while you enjoy the salty breeze of the sea. Even though it is close to a fishing village, it is very serene and quiet beach in comparison to some of the other beaches. The golden soft sand acts as a cushion as you watch the sun slowly disappear in the horizon. Our next stop was also a beach. The Pesalai Beach is a lively beach especially in the mornings and evenings due to the fishing village in close proximity. If you are an early bird, you will witness the fishing boats coming in after their nights fishing. The ‘Ma-Del’ which is a huge net that fishermen throw into the sea will also be dragged in by the fishermen which gives you a surreal experience. To really have an experience to treasure, the locals will gladly accept help to pull in the net with a smile on their face.
As we left Pesalai Beach, our next stop was obviously another beach. The Keeri Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Mannar even if it is unknown to the world. This beach is the perfect location for wedding photoshoots. Nothing like a beautiful scarlet sunset to give you the fairytale feeling as you embrace and celebrate the love of two people becoming one. It is also a safe place to take a dip in the cool, calm sea, especially from November to April.
Next, I visited the Mannar Fort which is right at the bottom of the little island right near the beginning of the highway. This fort was built by the Portuguese in 1560 and overlooks the Indian Ocean. This allowed it to provide protection for the trading port. While it was damaged during the war against the Dutch in 1658, the Dutch gradually rebuilt the fort. This same fort was passed on to the British when they took over Sri Lanka. With that I ended my exploration of the external little island of Mannar.
During the British occupation of Sri Lanka, gems were traded, especially pearls. Sri Lanka is known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ due to the breathtaking pearls that were found off the shores of the island. The pearls found were traded world wide with the likes of Chinese and Arab traders and other international monarchs buying them. The first governor of Sri Lanka, Frederick North built his residence over looking the entire stretch of beach that was dedicated to the pearl industry
This residence earned the name Doric Bungalow due its use of Doric style designs that were of Greek Doric origin. It was built in 1804 to directly supervise the pearl industry. Sadly, part of the house has broken off and has been washed away by the waves as it’s near a cliff.
Right next to the bungalow is the Arippu Fort. The two-bastion fort was built by the Portuguese and it was then subsequently occupied by the Dutch and then the British. The Doric Bungalow was built later. This fort was used by Frederick North as a storage facility. Robert Knox who was captured by King Rajasinghe came to Arippu Fort and gained safe passage back to England. It was also used to store the pearls that were uncovered on the coast line. The Vankalai Sanctuary which is protected by RAMSAR was very close to the fort and hence that was our next stop. It was a beautiful sight of all shades of pink as the flamingos strutted around in all their grandeur. There are so many migratory and local birds which make this place a must-see for those interested in bird watching.
Up next was the Thiruketheeswaram Temple. Out of the 5 ancient Shivan kovils in Sri Lanka, Thiruketheeswaram is one of them, which was built to provide protection from invaders. Kings from the Pallava, Pandya and Chola dynasty have helped in the temple’s upkeep. It was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1575 and then rebuilt in its current location in 1903. It is also the largest Kovil in Mannar which is visited by numerous people from all over the island as well as from India.
On my way I decided I needed a different experience to truly open my heart. So, I found myself at the Adampan Farm. It is a cosy and beautiful agro farm where visitors can interact with the owners and even get involved in the farming process as well as livestock management. It was a real hands-on experience and is a great place to rest from your weary travels. Some travellers even use this place as accommodation while they explore Mannar.
When it was time to leave, I found myself in conflict with myself as to whether I should just stay at Adampan. However, the curious explorer in me did not given into complacency and I found my way on to the Madhu Church. This church is over 400 years old and is one of the oldest and most visited churches in the island. It was granted a canonical coronation in 1924 by Pope Pius XI. In the past it was said that close to a million people gather here for the August feast of the church. It is a beautiful church that towers high. It has such a peaceful and hopeful aura that comforts you and eases any conflict you have in your mind and heart
Our next stop was the Kunchikulam Suspension Bridge. This bridge is built across the Malwattu River and is about 100 metres long. It is a beautiful place to take a break before you go on. The cool wind, the rustle of the leaves and the gurgle of the gushing river all combine to form a cacophonous symphony. It is a wonderful place for photography enthusiasts. The Thekkam Bridge is a giant granite anicut that is about 200-meters long. It was built to provide transportation.
We trudged on towards the Giant’s Tank Sanctuary which completely took my breath away. The tank itself is a massive waterbody that keeps the vegetation in the sanctuary a lush green which attracts migratory birds here for feeding and breeding. Along with such beautiful flora and fauna, you can also catch an incredible sunset at this as well.
The largest national park in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu National Park is just a few kilometres away and I was hell bent on getting there. It is teeming with wildlife. From leopards to sloth bears, wild elephants to wild boar, different species of deer and so much more. It is a renowned place for leopard and bear watching. While we rocked back and forth in the 4×4 that made its way through dust roads, I could spot so many animals and beautiful flora as well. On our way we stopped at Kuveni’s Palace. This is said to be the ruins of the palace of Queen Kuveni, the wife of Prince Viyaja. Prince Vijaya was the prince who was banished from India. When he arrived in Sri Lanka, he took Kuveni to be his wife. However, at a later stage he married an Indian princess and cast Kuveni aside.
From there it was to our final stop, Kudirmalai Point. The first thing your eye goes to is how red the sand is. It is as if someone tossed bags of chilli powder on the ground. Even the ant hills are maroon which get highlighted because of the lush greenery around. There are some areas that have black sand like charcoal and many corals above sea level. It is a truly wondrous sight indeed.
As I neared the end of my journey, my thoughts kept going back to every place that I had visited. I could feel my heart beating slowly and calmly but with each breath I felt a pain to leave this beautiful place. It truly stole a piece of my heart. I suppose that’s also a form of love. The love for a place that changes you, and gives you hope. The smiles of the people and children, the harmony that exists between nature and people, the real emotions you see from the people in their daily routine, the incredible views and beautiful sunsets; they all truly come together to create a paradise that is truly authentic, diverse and untouched. This is what love is. This is what beauty is. This. Is. The Real Mannar.