The dazzling trident of the East | Daily News


The dazzling trident of the East

Trincomalee beach
Trincomalee beach

A destination that offers pristine beaches, ancient maritime history, beautiful underwater dive sites and succulent seafood should motivate anyone to travel and experience the bliss of Trincomalee. This narrative is based on five visits made to this area over the past few years. Trincomalee has something to captivate everyone.

A kovil and a fort

The Koneshwaram Kovil is a popular Hindu landmark in this province. The kovil dates back to the 12th century. The edifice was originally built on Swami Rock overlooking the vast ocean. According to local legend, there was a turbulent storm which caused the waves to rise and crash on the rocks. Exposed to the powerful waves, the kovil is said to have been dislodged into the sea. As the years went by, a kovil was built on the site for a second time. The resilient devotees were pleased at the outcome of their new kovil. Decades later, the Portuguese invaders came ashore and attacked the kovil causing serious damage. It was a time of grief for the people who worshipped here.

Years later, the Dutch built Fort Frederick in 1665. The Fort is intact and we can see some of the old buildings. Fort Frederick has her ancient charm and her ramparts still stand proudly. One has to take a long walk uphill from the fort entrance to reach the kovil. You will encounter friendly monkeys along the path; these creatures have been resident here for decades and are used to people. However, it is best not to feed them. The present-day kovil has been beautifully refurbished and consolidated. The kovil and adjacent cliffs offer a panoramic view of the ocean.

There is a legend that a young British girl who was rejected by her lover had jumped from this cliff into the sea. Thankfully the kovil offers a very pleasant aura in comparison to this story of a broken heart. I was impressed with the statue of a cow, the goddess manifesting as Nandi. This large statue carved according to Chola design was said to have been buried by the devotees, during the raid of the Portuguese. In 2013, some construction workers were digging a site when this statue was discovered. The statue was cleaned and enshrined at the present kovil. Along the right side of the Koneshwaram Kovil many young women come and make vows desiring a safe pregnancy and their requests are written on paper and neatly tied in colourful ribbons.

Ostenburg Ridge

One of the historic sites loaded with maritime history is discovered when you visit the Hoods Tower Museum and Fort Ostenburg Ridge. Both sites are located within the Eastern Naval Command of the Sri Lanka Navy, and are accessible to civilians and schoolchildren. I began my adventure by 8.30 am. Amidst the thick foliage I spotted some monkeys and a herd of deer. You can witness lovely old buildings and road names from the British colonial era. A belfry made in 1821 is still standing with a clock in working condition, adjacent to a naval guard room. A few feet away is the first traffic light signal in Ceylon, installed by the British. It is still in operational condition.

The Ostenburg Ridge guards the approach way to the massive Trincomalee harbour and the area of Koddiyar Bay. In 1639 this area was captured by Dutch Admiral Westerwold. In 1716, the Dutch Governor Hedrick Becker had decided to build a fort here to enhance coastal defences (Fort Fredrick was already built by the Dutch in 1665). Thus, the Bay of Trincomalee could now be defended by the new Fort named Ostenburg (meaning eastern hill). The vantage point was empowered with 32 pieces of artillery. As our maritime history records in 1782, British Admiral Sir Edward Hughes sailed with his fleet and made a surprise attack on the Dutch garrison at Fort Fredrick, rendering it helpless. Six days later, Admiral Hughes stormed Ostenburg Fort and captured the location. We drove along the winding road to reach this vantage point where the old ramparts of Fort Ostenburg stand. The roof of the fort is no more and a few walls and steps remain. It is believed that the Ostenburg Ridge was fitted with almost 50 cannons making this the most powerfully gunned fort in Ceylon.

Shortly we began climbing the famous Hoods Tower which stands at 32 feet with a 360 degree view of the harbour. This observation and fire control tower was set up by Admiral Samuel Hood. The topmost floor has a massive search light, installed by Metropolitan Vickers Ltd, from Sheffield, England. The view from here is totally amazing as the forest gives way to hills and the ocean. Sri Lanka is truly blessed with such diverse natural beauty.

We walked down the steps towards the massive cannons. Each of these guns weighs 12 tons, and elephants had been used to haul them up this unforgiving hill. The guns will remind you of scenes from WWII movies such as The Guns of Navarone. On Ostenburg Ridge there are three such guns. We went down a flight of steps into the concrete bunker that once held the ammunition for the BL6 inch naval gun. The gun was fed with high explosive shells. During the Japanese air raid on April 9, 1942, this hill was targeted along with the harbour. This aerial assault left many people dead in Trincomalee. Records indicate that a Japanese pilot crashed his plane into an oil storage tank North of China Bay causing a massive inferno. If you get prior permission, you can still see the remains of his aircraft.

Great Sober Island

There are many islands around Trincomalee Harbour. The largest and most fortified island is named Great Sober Island, a tropical land mass rising 200 meters above sea level and covering an area of 175 acres. During the British occupation it is estimated that up to 1,000 soldiers and sailors were able to camp here on transit to the Mediterranean. We set out to explore this amazing place. We boarded a boat and cruised along. Prior permission from the Navy is required for this journey.

As we pulled alongside the pier, a few sailors helped secure the boat. The tropical aura was overwhelming. According to naval history Sober Island was first occupied by the French. The British took over the island after the Treaty of Paris in 1784. The place was named ‘Sober Island’ in memory of a young British Lieutenant S. Sober and has nothing to do with the other meaning. As Trincomalee became the home of the British Eastern Fleet, they fortified the island. We began our jungle trek in earnest. The dense foliage strewn with rocks in some places added to the feeling of adventure. The Navy officer pointed out that there were porcupines, rabbits and jungle fowl.

Just across is Little Sober Island with a land mass of about 60 acres. Then there is Powder Island, Round Island, York Island, Chapel Island, Norway Island, Elizabeth Island and Elephant Island. Apart from this, the British established some navigation points known as Foul Point (where there is a lighthouse), Flagstaff Point, Eagle Point and Clappenberg Point. We came across the first of many twin gun positions, the walls of the gun turrets almost three feet thick.

The brickwork and cement has stood for more than 300 years. The concrete bunkers showed the brilliance of British naval engineering.

The trees and creepers concealed the gun positions. It is believed the British had used elephants to drag the heavy gun parts up these hills. By now it was pretty hot, but there was shade from the trees. After trekking another 15 minutes we came across the remains of the largest gun on this island. The Main Gun turret is actually similar to a building. It had a circular concrete outer perimeter. The massive gun would have weighed about 10 tons. Today all that remains of the super gun on Great Sober Island are the 48 iron bolts that held it to the ground. Once the British were ready to leave Ceylon they had dismantled their guns, towed them to sea and sunk them.

Another place to visit is Orr’s Hill and the Marble Beach area. The serene atmosphere is almost celestial. The magnificent colours of the Sri Pathirakali Amman Kovil inspire veneration from all devotees. The intricate carvings and paintings are stunning. The sunsets in Trincomalee are world class and make for awesome photographs. This is a wonderful holiday destination bestowed with Nature’s best.

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