|Thursday, 2 October 2003|
Winds of peace blowing over beautiful Trincomalee
by Florence Wickramage
Trincomalee is tottering back to life after a lull of nearly twenty years. How long will it take to be what Trincomalee was as I saw it while a small schoolgirl? During those far-off days Trincomalee was a 'friendly' city where all communities lived in harmony, and the beautiful shores of the Trincomalee Bay were so inviting.
I was able to visit Trincomalee before the ceasefire three years ago. It was practically a dead city. Shops were permanently closed and there was destruction everywhere. The only familiar sight was the tranquil harbour, the Swami Rock and deer roaming about freely, despite the chaos all around.
My recent visit there a week ago presented a scene of slow recovery as if gradually rising up from the `ashes'. People were on the streets and shops were opening, but most small boutiques put up shutters around 6 p.m. A three-wheeler driver standing by the Guest House we were staying in said that permanent peace was their desire. He observed how they switched off lights in their houses by 6 p.m. on those troublesome days. There were no street lights either. A welcome change has come about and buses ply on the streets even late at night. The residents and shop keepers we spoke to said what they wanted most was to lead normal lives.
This beautiful stretch of beach too was unaccessible when I visited Trincomalee three years ago and I longed to visit this much spoken-about tourist destination. It was my first visit there. The blue waters of the sea which I expected to see was grey due to rain clouds gathering in the skies. I saw remnants of palm-tree huts lining the short walk to the beach with residents trickling into their houses of abode after the ceasefire.
Several buildings were mushrooming readying for the influx of tourists both local and foreign now that the ceasefire was here. I thought that our's may probably be among the first footprints of many others who would walk on the soft sands of this inviting coastline in the future. Despite the threatening skies, several members of my party waded shoulder-deep into the sea, swimming and frolicking gleefully - happy that they were able to do so in this 'hot-spot' which was out of reach for nearly two decades.
The palm-fringed Nilaveli beach stretches on for miles and miles, ideal for sunbathers or for quiet solitary sunset-walks.
A visit to the seven Hot-Wells at Kinniya was a worthwhile experience. The whole place is changed compared to what I saw over four decades ago.
A couple of dilapidated restrooms and changing rooms are located in close proximity to the wells. Visitors were there, either bathing or testing the temperature of the seven wells with their hands. An entrance fee is levied on visitors. By the sides of the approach road were temporary trade stalls selling a variety of things - 'kotta-kelangu and jaggery, reed-hats, young Palmyra fruit, trinkets, soft drinks, 'beli-mal', etc. Unchanged as ever was the Swami Rock and its famous kovil visited by devotees. When we reached the kovil a 'pooja' was on. The priest said that even during troubled times, the faithful never failed their support to the kovil.
The ancient temple of Seruwawila is back in the limelight as a famous pilgrim venue since the ceasefire. When we visited the temple a few buses had been parked in the temple compound which had brought in eager pilgrims after a twenty-year break. The roof of the structure which houses the massive Buddha statue had been dilapidated.
Heavy rains greeted our visit to this ancient temple. Exposed to these natural elements was this valuable Buddha statue. A dayaka who was in the vicinity said that it is high time relevant authorities concentrated on this ancient temple and initiate action to protect these valuable objects of worship.
The evening wore on while we were returning. Suddenly the rain stopped and evening lights lit up the darkening night. We witnessed farmers working in their fields until early nightfall which would not have been their practice a few years back.
A ferry ride to Mutur was on our schedule the next day after spending a restful night in Trincomalee. After a pleasant 45-minute ride covering a distance of 8 kms. with the waters lapping the sides of "SERUWILA II", we reached the shores of Mutur - a typical Muslim village. A welcome sight which greeted us were fishermen going out to sea, or mending or hauling their nets in after a night at sea. At one end of the shore were people curing dry fish, their main livelihood.
Villagers explained that on either side of Mutur were LTTE camps and cadres would venture into collect taxes. This was a real problem which they said the Government would have to look into. Their opinion was that this was pure harassment of innocent villagers by the LTTE. Muslim villagers said they had no problem with the Sinhala community and they were living side by side in perfect harmony.
Trincomalee is once again poised to become a tourism resort as in the olden days. At intervals were security posts manned by government troops, and the residents of Trincomalee whom we spoke to on the way said they were happy the troops were there in continuous vigil. Permanent peace was their ideal and said they hoped and prayed to be so.
(The educational tour was organised by the Upper Watershed Management Project for schoolchildren who won the "Environment Quiz Contest" and the media.)
Produced by Lake House