The capital of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, Trincomalee is famous for its deep-water natural harbor. Said to be one of the finest in the world, the harbor was bitterly fought over for its strategic importance during the Colonial era. The town suffered greatly during the Civil War and also sustained damage when the tsunami hit the coast in 2004. Despite all this, “Trinco” is now firmly back on the tourist trail, with building and renovation work underway in most parts of the town. Although most tourists come to visit the beaches that lie to its north, the town has a charm of its own, with faded Colonial buildings, a picturesque seafront and vibrant kovils that come alive in the evening with the beating of drums for the puja ceremony.
The main the main attraction in Trincomalee is Fort Frederick, which sits on a strip of land that juts out into the Indian Ocean. Built by the Portuguese in 1623, the fort passed through Dutch and French hands before being finally taken over by the British in 1795.it remained under their control until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. During this period, its name was changed from Fort of Trincomalee to Fort Frederick, after the Duke of York, the second son of King George III.
The fort is still in military use, but can be visited. The entrance is through the main gate, which dates from 1675. Inside, there are several Colonial buildings interspersed with old, wide-canopied trees. Among these buildings is Wellesley Lodge, where Arthur Wellesley, who went on to become the Duke of Wellington, is said to have stayed in 1800. Two cannons, a howitzer and a mortar can be spotted near the lodge.
A left fort off the main road leads to the Gokana Temple with a beautiful standing Buddha and good views of the town. The main road continues north to Swami Rock, a steep cliff that drops about 130 m to the sea and affords breathtaking views along the coast and out to the sea. At the highest point of the rock is Koneswaram Kovil, one of the five most sacred Shaivite (dedicated to Lord Shiva) sites in Sri Lanka. A shrine is thought to have stood at this spot for about 2,500 years until it was destroyed by the Portuguese, and the remains pitched into the sea, in the 17th century. Today, a huge golden statue of Shiva, outside, dwarfs the brightly colored temple and goburam, which was built on the site of the original Shrine in 1952.
While most people walk up to the temple, it is possible to hire a three-wheeler to reach the place. The best time to visit the temple is on Friday in the late afternoon when the evening prayers are held. Note that shoes must be taken off and left at the temple complex.
A stroll around the side and back of the Koneswaram Kovil makes for a pleasant experience, with great views of the Indian Ocean. A number of modern statues of Hindu deities, as well as that of Ruwana standing on a platform overlooking the ocean can be seen around the temple. The bits of coconut scattered about are from the Hindu ritual of breaking the coconut against the rock- it is considered inauspicious if the coconut does not break.
To the right of the temple is a tree with wooden cradles hanging from its branches, left by families praying for children. Nearby is another tree that clings precariously to the cliff, its branches covered with prayer flags. This spot is known as Lover’s Leap. It marks a spot where a Dutch woman, Francina van Rhede, supposedly jumped off the cliff in 1687 when her lover abandoned her and sailed away. That government archives suggest she was alive and well when the memorial commemorating the legend was erected lends little credence to the tale.
West of the Fort Frederick lies the town’s commercial centre, which comprises three parallel streets: Main Street, Central Road and North Coast (NC) Road. At the confluence of NC Road and Central Road stands the clock tower, next to which is the busy fish market. The market is worth a quick visit, as is the fruit and vegetable market nearby.
A short distance south of the clock tower is the large Kali Kovil on Dockyard Road with a colorful goburam. The late afternoon pujahere is lively affair with drums and ringing of bells. Nearby is an abandoned Christian cemetery where Colonial-era tombstones from the 1820s, dedicated to those who died mainly from malaria and other tropical diseases, can be seen beneath the undergrowth. The cemetery is also said to be the final resting place of the soldiers who succumbed to their wounds during the various battles fought in the town. Jane Austen’s brother, Admiral Charles John Austen, who died of cholera, is thought to be buried here.
An atmospheric spot, the half moon-shaped Dutch Bay is a popular place at dusk when locals come to walk along the breezy seafront and relax in the sand. It is wise to seek local advice before going for a swim, as currents can be very dangerous at certain times of the year. more