We started from Naula and bypassed Kandy as it is an utter waist of time to go through the city. So, we went via Katugasthota to Peradeniya, then to Nuwara Eliya via Gampola. The road was amazing and the vegetation was so green and beautiful. It was colder when we reached Nuwara Eliya, the paradise in Sri Lanka due to lapse rate. We spent the night at a small guest house opposite famous Lake Gregory in Nuwara Eliya. We also walked around the lake at night which was a beautiful experience.
Day one was not that difficult as we mostly rode on flat terrain. Both Meet and I took turns while riding. Meer did not have an Indian bike license with a Sri Lankan attestation by the Department of Motor Traffic in Sri Lanka but the police never stopped the bike while he was riding. They thought Meer was Sri Lankan.
We met a girl in Dambulla who could do nice painting and we took a few pictures of her paintings too. I thought I would write about her painting in my blog but she did not want it. We stopped at a guest house in Naula for the first night.
In August, 2016 I finished a 5-day-long motorcycle journey with Meer Ali, the first volunteer for Horizon Lanka from India. This was the longest sojourn I embarked on a bike so far. It was high fun riding the bike through all those cities, towns and villages with Meer Ali, my friend from India. We took turns while riding and after the long ride with Benjamin Pages from France who was an excellent rider, Meer was the next one to win my admiration for safe riding. It was very comfortable to be at the pillion of the bike when his turn came. I have never been comfortable like with Ben and Meer so far in the pillion of a bike.
We took the following routes.
Day 2 – From Naula to Nuwara Eliya via Katugasthota bypassing Kandy (129 km)
Day 3 – From Nuwara Eliya to Tissamaharama via Bandarawela, Ella, Wellawaya, Thanamalvila. (143)
Day 4 – From Tissamaharama to Yala National Park and back and to Thissamaharama. Then to Mount Lavinia through Hambanthota, Matara and Galle. (310 Km) – The longest distance I rode by bike within a single day.
Day 5 – From Mount Lavinia to Mahawilachchiya via Colombo, Ja Ela, Minuwangoda, Narammala, Kobeygane, Padeniya, Thambuththegama and Anuradhapura (263 km)
Total is 962 km within 5 days. It cost Meer only 2500 (LKR) worth petrol for the bike for the whole distance. It was close to 20 liters of petrol. Still half of the last 500 LKR remained in the tank after we returned home. This is a good advertisement for my Bajaj Pulsar 150.
Thanks to the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, all the main roads are completely renovated wherever we went. I think almost all roads are like this everywhere in Sri Lanka. Hope the Maithripala government also continue the good work of Mr. Rajapaksa and renovate the remaining by roads.
We never had any life-threatening moments while riding a distance close to 1000 km. Well, except for the scary moment when Meer lost the balance when he went over a pot hole which we traveled in Kobeygane – away from the main road to see a sick child. But Meer took the bike back in control before we fell and I don’t think it was his fault. Meer is an excellent, fast and mindful rider. In fact, if one has ridden a motorbike in a country like India where drivers’ discipline is hardly heard of, one can ride a bike even in Mars too.
I was surprised about the cleanliness of all the cities, towns and villages during this epic ride. I didn’t see much difference in the places of the developed world and in Sri Lanka. Drivers were also fairly disciplined despite the cliché of bad Sri Lankan drivers. Only problem was that some buses and trucks never dimmed the headlights when they saw we were coming from the front.
During all these 5 days my friend Meer had to tolerate my singing of Hindi, Sinhala, Tamil and English songs while riding. According to my son Abhilash, my voice is too deep that it comes close only to Fred Flintstone, supposed to be the world’s second worst voice. (Well, the worst voice is supposed to be Cacofonix. Meer must have been surprised of the huge number of Hindi songs I sang. I remember more than 500 song lyrics since my elder brother Nayanasena bought us a high-quality Akai cassette recorder in 1980s. With my deep voice, the only singer I can come anywhere close to must be Kishore Kumar. But I can never compare myself with the legend.
I am an avid bike hiker. Astride my bike, I have been to all the cities in all districts in Sri Lanka except Jaffna. The planned Jaffna trip had to be postponed after the freak bike accident I met with last September. But that accident won’t dampen my spirits and I will go on the much-awaited trip to Jaffna as soon as I get my bike repaired. At the moment it lies in a motorcycle workshop awaiting to devour 30,000 – 40,000 LKR (195 – 260 USD) for the repairs which I can ill-afford at the moment under the circumstances that prevail.
In fact, if you knew about my childhood, nobody would have imagined that I would end up as a biker at all. The reason being that I could not ride a push cycle till I was almost 16. Kids in my village (both boys and girls) start riding regular bicycles even before they start going to school. But, poor me, had to tolerate the humiliation of not being able to ride a bicycle till I was 16!!! Kids rode bicycles and my younger brother rode bicycles and I was dead angry with the innovator who created this nonsensical device called the bicycle so much so that if I could get hold of him, I would have sent him to hell to be with his honorable ancestors. There was an old Raleigh bicycle at our home and it was a very prestigious brand those days and it still is. Anyway, I was so angry and frustrated that I could not ride a bicycle while everyone else could. The big question I had was how someone balances himself/herself on two wheels, against the universal truth the natural position of a two-wheeler is not vertical but horizontal or rather fallen down on the ground.
Anyway, Udara Mama (Uncle Udara) a close relative of ours came to the rescue when I was around 16. He taught me the art of cycling with a lot of patience. I kept total faith in him that he wouldn’t let me fall on two wheels and while I was riding I was under the impression that he was holding the bicycle from the back of the luggage not letting it fall. But Alas! It was much later I knew that he had already let me go on my own and was not holding the bicycle nor following me at all. This was the trick he used to teach me. I thank him even today for giving me this totally new experience at a later stage of my teenage years. Thank You Udara Mama.
Let’s come back to motorbike riding. My eldest brother bought a Honda C70 secondhand motorbike for our family. That was a hit bike those days as it was a versatile piece of machinery for all the work one needs to do at home or farm. Now that I was good at riding the regular bicycle, I wanted to learn riding the motorbike too. So, my eldest brother (Nayanasena Wanninayake) asked me to take the bike out to teach me and I pushed it to the road. And he asked me to get onto the seat and I thought he would be sitting behind me in the pillion till I was able to learn the basics. But, what he told was shocking to me. He told, “Look brother, there is no point in both you and I getting injured if something happens and now you are on your own! Luckily, I did not have a single fall and I mastered the game in no time. Besides, Honda C70 was a model that made riding easy as it did not have the clutch (C70 has the same clutch assembly inside the motor as its clutched counterpart CD70. In the former the clutch is semi-automatic. Besides, the ‘Postal or Mail model is a domestic production model and better-built than the export models. C70 is better than C/CD50 and C/CD90) to break the gear into different ones. It was all about smooth sailing.
My first experience with a bike with a clutch also was equally enthralling. I was living at my friend Pubudu’s house in Anuradhapura those days and a young couple (Ravi Ayya and his wife) lived in their annex. One day, Ravi Ayya came in a hurry and asked me to get a helmet and sit in the back of his bike. I complied. And then he rode fast to his office and told me that he was going to Kandy in an office vehicle and asked me to take the bike back home. Oops! I had never ridden a bike with a clutch. Besides, this was a pretty bigger bike. I was having butterflies in my stomach but Ravi Ayya had already vanished into thin air. So, I started the bike with a few hiccups and took the bike to the road slowly. And yard by yard the bike was on its way home. I changed the gears as I had seen other guys do it and the bike had terrible jerks every time I changed a gear. On top of that, Anuradhapura is a city where you get a large number of roundabouts in Sri Lanka. My bike stopped stubbornly in every roundabout I passed and other vehicle drivers were annoyed and they kept sounding their horns (a deplorable motoring trait in unruly countries) till I managed to get the machine started and leave peacefully. Anyway, by the time I reached Pubudu’s home, I had mastered the bike with a clutch too. And here I am still in one piece after riding motorbike for 30 long years!!!
Aleksandar Isailović from Serbia and I were woken up by Jayaweera Jayasundara in the morning of May 17, 2017 as we had asked him to do so to see how his “students” practiced physical exercises early hours of the day in the village playground. Jayaweera arranged a three wheeler for us and I felt bad as to why we can’t walk while others in the village just walk or jog to the playground. But he wanted us to be comfortable I guess.
I was ashamed of traveling to the playground by a vehicle as there were 50 odd people – young, middle aged and very old – were already there and they all had walked to the place before 5.00 am. How many things do we take for granted when there is an initiative like this? (I will write a lengthier blog post on this later to do the right justice to Jayaweera and his followers.)
Jayaweera’s wife took the pain of cooking us Kiribath and Katta Sambola for breakfast. She was very caring for us and arranged two lunch packets also for us to have on the way. We said goodbye to the family and Koradekumbura.
On the way to Nuwara Eliya we stopped at Seetha Amman Temple to take few pictures. This is a temple which the Indians value and respect more than the Sri Lankans. The temple is situated in Sita Eliya and is believed to be the place where the King Ravana, the all-powerful ancient Sri Lankan king kept the Indian princess Sita imprisoned to take revenge from her husband Rama who insulted Ravana’s sister Shurpanakha . Read Ramayana to learn more details. This is just a legend than history.
We went to Nuwara Eliya and spent some time at the Lake Gregory which was a very picturesque site. Water level was low as Nuwara Eliya does not get sufficient rain in the summer. I wanted to ride a horse here but we did not have enough time for it as we had a long way to go back to Mahawilachchiya.
We spent some time to take pictures of spectacular extensive tea estates. The greenery and the intermittent fog with the mist made the place very romantic. I was lucky to spend the whole year 2006 surrounded by this type of stunning environment. I want to return to the hills for good. In fact, I was planning this since I was a kid and saw the beauty of Nuwara Eliya in Sarath Madhu’s comic ඉතිං ඊට පස්සේ (Ithin Eeta Passe) in the comic weekly සිත්තර (Siththara) where the story was wound around the hills in Sri Lanka. The only thing which prevented me settling down in here was my commitments to Horizon Lanka at Mahawilachchiya. But now I am planning to transfer the project to the safe hands of the youths in Mahawilachchiya who are being given responsibilities to run the place on their own. It will take time, but I am confident about them.
We had some tea at a small tea shop in Pussellawa and it was not hot enough. I complained the shop keeper and he apologized and waved off the price of the two tea cups. We paid for bananas we had there though.
We did not want to go via Kandy City as Aleksandar had already visited Kandy the previous week. Kandy is a congested city with a lot of traffic and I didn’t like to get stuck in there. The only time I loved Kandy was when I was in love, a long time ago. I loved to walk along the Lake Nuwara Wewa holding hands with my sweet ex-girlfriend. Those were the days….. Aah….
We bypassed Kandy and directly reached Katugastota via Gannoruwa. Had our lunch by the roadside and proceeded to Anuradhapura. We had some delicious jackfruits in a small village between Matale and Dambulla. Aleks loved jackfruits. He had earlier eaten cooked raw jackfruit as a curry and it was here he ate the ripe ones first.
We reached Anuradhapura by the evening and had tea at my sister’s house. Then we proceeded to Mahawilachchiya around 6.30 pm. The whole journey was a fascinating ride for me. But my friend was exhausted as he had to be on the pillion of the bike throughout the whole bike hike as he was not comfortable riding my bike model (Bajaj Pulsar 150) despite having an international driving license. Thus we ended 630 km – 3 day- bike hike. The whole ride was a “chanceless” one. There was not a single බුදු අම්මෝ! (Oh My God!) moment throughout the ride. At least not for me. I don’t know about Aleks though.
In the morning of May 16, 2017, Aleksandar Isailović from Serbia and I went to Devananda Public School (Sri Devananda Madya Maha Vidyalaya) in Mirahawatta with Nimal Gunarathna, the ICT teacher of the school and did a presentation on how the school can be benefitted with foreign volunteers as teachers.
In the afternoon we had a similar presentation at a private tuition class at Bandarawela town to the students and the parents that had gathered there. The problem with the students there is that, despite attending to some of the best public schools in the town, still their English knowledge is not satisfactory. I don’t know why the big monies spent by the Ministry of Education on teacher training do not reflect in the students’ English knowledge.
In the evening, we went to Koradekumbura to meet a retired Physical Health Inspector (PHI) who was introduced to me by a friend of mine called Daya Wijesinghe from Kandana. The PHI’s name is Jayaweera Jayasundara and he runs this wonderful program where he teaches martial arts (mainly karate) to the villagers. You will be surprised to hear that men and women who are even over 80 years of age practice karate with him. (I will write a comprehensive story about him in the coming days.)
The road to Koradekumbura is not carpeted still it is decent and travelable. (Now that most of the roads are nicely carpeted by the former government, we expect them everywhere we go.) We reached the village around 7.00 pm and had a good shower at the bathroom of Jayaweera’s massive house. His wife is a sweet lady and she cooked a huge feast with a lot of delicious dishes. We were treated like princes there. I can never forget the kind of hospitality they extended to Aleks and me.
I started the trip to Bandarawela from Mahawilachchiya around 7.00 am on May 15, 2017 with Aleksandar Isailović from Serbia and reached Mirahawatta (off Bandarawela) via Mahiyanganaya the first day. Despite having an international license, Aleksander could not ride the bike as my Bajaj Pulsar 150 is not a model he had any experience with. In fact, it was my fault that I did not give him enough time to get accustomed to my bike during his stay in Mahawilachchiya.
We had breakfast at my sister’s house in Anuradhapura and proceeded to Dambulla first. From Dambulla, we took the road via Kandalama – Bakamuna – Laggala up to Mahiyanganaya. The road from Dambulla to Bakamuna was not carpeted as yet but it was still a pretty good road and we never had any problems with the road condition. We had lunch at a small place at Girandurukotte. It was a delicious lunch with fresh vegetables and freshwater fish.
After lunch, we proceeded to Mahiyanganaya then to Dambana where the Vedda (a Sri Lankan aboriginal ingenious tribe) people live. I have been to this place several times and hence I personally know Vedda tribal chief, Mr. Uruwarige Waniyaleththo. The houses in Dambana are very eco-friendly. They are made with mud walls and hay stacks roof. You don’t feel the heat that thrust upon the village by the hot sun. We had a chat with the chief and then came back to Mahiyanganaya and then proceeded to Bandarawela. Roads are very well done, thanks to the previous government.
We took some pictures at beautiful Loggaloya Lake. This place is so beautiful and even if you spend hours here you won’t feel enough.
We resumed the journey to Badulla and spent some time in Badulla, the small town where I spent honeymoon for year!!! Badulla is a very peaceful and beautiful small town. I love this place.
We left for Bandarawela and met my friend Nimal Gunarathna there. He is a computer teacher in Devananda School, Mirahawatta. He also conducts some private tuition classes in Bandarawela town. We spent night at his house and had a delicious dinner cooked by Nimal’s wife. We had a wonderful tight sleep as the weather was cool and there was not a single mosquito to disturb with their buzz.
Riding was extremely fun as the road was so straight that you can virtually see Anuradhapura from Trincomalee J. Such straight roads usually bring the death to the bikers as we tend to forget our speed limits. This was the road I rode my fastest ever speed. Don’t ask the speed as I don’t want to be fined for my confession.
The last leg of the journey. We left Trincomalee around 11. 00 a.m. on April 22, 2016. We spent some time taking photographs of Bay of Trincomalee. We took some pictures of Kantale Reservoir.
“The Kanntale reservoir dam breached on April 20, 1986, killing more than 120 people (exactly 30 years ago.) It has since been reconstructed. The dam impounds the Per Aru, a small river discharging into the Koddiyar Bay, at Trincomalee Harbour.
According to Mahavamsa, the tank was built by king Aggabodhi II of Anuradhapura and further developed by King Parakramabahu the Great. It was also known as Gangathala Vapi at the time. The reservoir has a catchment area of 216 km2 (83 sq mi) and a capacity of 135 million cubic metres (4.8×109 cu ft).
On April 20, 1986 at 03:00AM, the dam breached, sending a wall of water over the villages downstream. The floods killed approximately 120-180 people, destroyed over 1,600 houses and 2,000 acres of paddy, affecting over 8,000 families. One of the main causes of the breach was said to be due to extra-heavy vehicles being driven over the dam.” Wikipedia.’
We passed Horowpathana and then Kahatagasdigiliya on the way. My heart almost stopped when I passed Seeppukulama Junction as it is the place where road to Seeppukulama starts. It is my ex-girlfriend’s village and I get very emotional when I pass this area.
Riding with Benjamin was fun as we both enjoyed riding the bike. I wish I had a bigger bike than my Bajaj Pulsar 150. I was a damn fool to sell my Bajaj Pulsar 200 for a song. The company discontinued assembling this model and it has become a rare model since then.
Ben and I reached Mahawilachchiya around 5.30 pm (after ending almost 900 km/4 day trip) and had what they call “a well-earned rest.”
We said goodbye to our friend from Batticaloa, Mr. Roshan Pratheepan and started our ride to Trincomalee in the afternoon on April 21, 2016. Benjamin Pages (the first French volunteer at Horizon Lanka) and I took turns in riding the bike as it was comfortable for both of us.
After leaving Batticaloa, we passed an area where the landmines set up during the civil war were yet to be removed. These are the remnants of the futile war that dragged Sri Lanka backward for almost three decades. Hope these landmines will be demined when I next take this road.
We passed several rivers and I do not remember their names. If you can identify them, please help me so that I could add the captions to the photos I publish here. Despite the presence of a number of blue rivers, there were large areas like below that did not have easy access to water for drinking or cultivating.
The presence of 3G and 4G mobile coverage in the areas along the road was inspiring. The billboards along the road tell you the importance of communication as a large number of Tamil people in these villages had migrated to other parts of the world due to the prolonged civil war. At least one member of most of the families is abroad according to the people I talked to. So, they need decent mobile coverage and the telcos exploit the conditions. Can’t blame them. For them, it is a business and for the people, it is a luxury.
I met Ruwan Deepal Sooriyarachchi, a former colleague of mine at Trincomalee. He is a member of the Sri Lanka Air Force. He worked for Horizon Lanka Foundation a long time ago. He works hard, reads a lot and speaks good English. We had a delicious dinner at a Saiva Kade and said goodbye to each other.
Ben and I spent some time in the beach which was lit by the moon. Then we spent the night at a rest house in Dyke Street (:-)) in Trincomalee beach side.
We woke up early and started our ride to Trincomalee on April 21, 2016, Benjamin Pages (the first French volunteer at Horizon Lanka) and I started our bike ride to Trincomalee from Mahaoya.
Due to our folly in selecting an unrepaired route to Batticaloa from Bibila, we were still paying for that decision as we had to continue the same route up to Batticaloa. But it was still adventure. Thanks to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa government, it is hard to find an unrepaired main road in Sri Lanka anymore. If you accuse me of being a Rajapaksa loyalist, go ahead and do it. I admire the man for having the courage to end the war and develop the infrastructure in rural areas. Too bad he messed up his political future by trying to entertain his relatives too much. It is not your relatives that are count in an election. It is the people’s votes that decide your future chances. Being such an experienced and cunning leader, he messed up big time.
I don’t understand this. When you enter the North and the East of Sri Lanka, the lush greenery suddenly vanishes and you enter a semiarid climate. You feel this as soon as you pass Anuradhapura district boundary and enter Vavuniya from the North. It is the same when you enter the East from Ampara or Batticaloa. Is it due to natural reasons or due to the civil war that hampered any chance of enhancing of irrigation projects to the war ravaged North and East? I don’t know. I must ask my friend Mr. Weralupitiya, a retired civil servant who knows better.
From Chenkaladi, a small town in Batticaloa, the road was superbly carpeted. So, the ride became fun again. We were dog-tired and ate some bananas and gulped down several glasses of fruit juices here. Despite me not being able to speak in Tamil, the people were very amiable and helpful. This is a Muslim dominated area and there are a lot of Tamils too. But I did not see any of them being hostile to Sinhala people here. The psychological wounds of the long-drawn civil war are healing it seemed. What I believe is that the three main communities in Sri Lanka had more common things to unite than to divide. It is the dirty politics of our Big Brother, India that botched up the peaceful coexistence of the island. Local politicians rubbed salt into the wound.
We next went to see the much talked about Batticaloa Fort. According to Wikipedia, the Batticaloa Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1628 and was captured by the Dutch on 18 May 1638. Later, the fort was used by British from 1745. There is not much to see here except some remnants of the colonial times but if you are into colonial architecture, this is a good place I guess. Definitely not my cup of tea.
Next we entered Batticaloa city. I was surprised to see green trees in the middle of the city. Batticaloa does get a lot of rain but the temperature too is very hot. These green trees were a treat to the eye. In fact Batticaloa is an estuarine lagoon. The city is spread in the land masses in the lagoon. It is a very beautiful place with the azure Indian Ocean and the brackish lagoon. My only complaint is its extreme heat. You cannot expect everything to go with your tastes, can you?
There is no point in going to Batticaloa if you don’t spend some time in amazing Kallady Beach. Beach is cleaner when considering the number of people who visit it. But not to the standard you would like to. You could see kids flying kites here. The view of the blue sea is mesmerizing. I am not a much of a beach fan. Surely not after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 that devastated the coastal belt of Sri Lanka. I prefer the hills more. But here in Kallady, you sure will love the place.
As previously designed, we met Roshan Pratheepan, a young entrepreneurial English teacher, from Batticaloa. He runs some English classes in and around Batticaloa. Even though I wished to see him in action in one of his classes, we did not have time for it.