Unexplored shores of Kottukal | Daily News


Unexplored shores of Kottukal

Arugam people are at one with the rocks and the sea
Arugam people are at one with the rocks and the sea

Juliet Coombe discovers a place where the trees become more plentiful than houses, wild elephants meander across the road that has turned into a sandy track, sometimes a herd of fifteen at a time, stopping you from going anywhere for forty five minutes, and signage vanishes altogether, forcing one to go bush style to find your way, amusing my children by saying it must be three rocks past the big coconut tree.

Reaching Kottukal Beach House you realise you have left civilization behind as my boys throw off their shoes, searching out discarded sticks on the beach and use any old kitchen knife to scrape and sharpen them so they can spear fish for dinner, which the lovely staff at the villa will happily cook. The area is rugged and remote with drift wood scattered along the coast line and coconut shells stand guard to the property. The boys made bows strung with the old coconut pieces twisted together to make coir rope to hang them over their shoulders twigs as ammo, as they start to play cowboys and Indians between the trees on the front veranda. Then off they go in search of adventure the Kottukal beach house family dog, using big shells to collect water and rock pools to store shells that they assure me will make beautiful jewellery, but I persuade them to leave them behind and only take pictures home with them.

Vanishing behind rocks I discover Kottukal is the Tamil name for “Little Rocks”, which you can see on the left hand side of the beach house, where sea birds enjoy a sea bath, star fish hang out and crabs play fight before scuttling behind the rocks for shade. The stunning house is a surprising oasis in the middle of sea, sand dunes and soaring palm trees, dancing in the wind. Built by Mussah, under the direction of architectural designer Merete Scheller, it is a wonderful piece of contemporary architecture perfect for the terrain and for surfers that have outgrown home-stay style accommodation, nothing could be more perfect. The owners love the work of the late Geoffrey Bawa so much that they sourced most of the furniture from Thilak at the workshop in Bentota. This can be seen in the wheels of the signature Bawaesque lounge chairs on the main balcony deck overlooking what can only be described as a real surfer’s paradise and travellers describe as a place that “You are truly alive when your heart discovers a true treasure.” A nice way to start the day is, just before dawn, to go and ride the waves that have made Arugam Bay legendary in the world of surfing. For a bit of local life head into Pottuvil for a shop, or bop, or on a afternoon off from wave surfing take rice and curry cooking lesson from Nizan or just enjoy doing nothing in the lovely sea view lounge.

Kottukal Beach House by Jetwing is just that special gem in a sea of white sand, an out of the box place to stay that is both quirky and charming, but only for those looking for peace and relaxation and would enjoy nature in its rawest form. As one visitor put it “Roaring waves, azure waters, rock pools and white sparkling skies held up only by the palm trees, make this a raw paradise but a nightmare for those that can’t imagine unplugging their lives.” A place you can throw your phone away and remember it is the simple things in life, like taking a long walk on the beach, that really matter and maybe treating yourself to a cocktail and dinner at Jetwing Surf next door.

Early morning I weaved my way through the palm tree grove with the kids, went barefoot across the dunes having water fights, and built sand castles, while reminding myself and the kids of the importance of wildernesses. It is the seclusion that is needed every now and then to recharge your batteries, and to just become one with nature and spend some real time together off the grid.

For the more adventurous, who want to learn more about the local bird life and see troops of elephants up close and personal, a trip to Kumana ‘Yala East’ in a blue shaker of a jeep is more than worthwhile. However for me it is the serenity of a sunset safari boat trip on the lagoon with the local fisherman, a five to ten minute walk on foot from the house that will remain etched in my memory as being both rough and rustic. Here you will learn about village life first hand fishing by throwing nets, discover a magical watery world full of mysterious characters and a truly ethereal setting with its mysterious rocks, cave like mangroves in which one half expects King Arthur to appear. Just be careful of the crocodiles, not to be mistaken for the monitors, or you may end up being someone else’s dinner!

The area is famous for sea ruins on the seashore in the East of Arugam, particularly the three acres of the Muhudu Maha Viharaya. More excavations need to be made, as so much is partially buried beneath the sand dunes. Queen Vihara Maha Devi, from days yonder, is supposed to have washed up here at a time when the temple complex was in a sprawling 264 acres, according to its earliest survey plan. There remains a Buddha statue, two armless life-size Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara figures, an image house with a brick wall for a boundary, a stone culvert for water to flow, a open hall of pillars leading to the Buddha statue, and even a squatting urinal which somehow won’t be found replicated in a five star hotel soon, despite its supremely economical design. Elsewhere, a ruined weather-beaten yet stoic dagoba, looks over the green of the pond and on the sheer dunes the keeled over kohomba trees kiss the sand as the wind whizzes by, spitting up granules of sand particles.

After a day of Indiana Jones style exploring head back to the beach house and kick back and enjoy a homemade rice and curry, in particular eggplant, while enjoying the beautiful sea views from the open air dining area under the stars.

Whatever happens, you will leave with unforgettable memories and having discovered ruins as fascinating as the historic triangle and the kind of peace that only a lost wilderness provides. It is a place where you can still find treasures hidden beneath the sand dunes, maybe even the fabled El Dorado, a place where my sons imaginations ran wild with their bucket and spades, could easily dig up a historic gem by accident while building their very own castles in the dunes.

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