Katchatheevu – Our unplanned trip

Our destination was yazhpanam, a weekend in jaffna visiting nainatheevu, jaffna fort, nallur temple and point pedro and return back to Colombo

On the night of 19th March, we left home around 8.15 pm and rushed in a tuk tuk to board the train a minute before it left the station. It was a drizzling when the train moved and when the rain stopped the moon started to shine bright in the cloudless sky. It was nearing the full moon day. The following Monday was a Poya day(full moon day) and a public holiday in Sri Lanka. There were a dozen of college goers who started singing and drumming near the restroom till 1 AM and later did sleep take over. The train reach Jaffna in time to catch the sun rise the moment we stepped down.

We reached the hotel after walking along the railway track and were informed that we have to wait till 10 AM to get the room. We had a tea and a slice of cake and left our bags in the hotel, heading to the bus station to catch 776 bus to Kirikaduvan and take a ferry to Nainatheevu – a 20 min ferry ride.

We reach the jetty around 9.30 AM and saw a huge line waiting and there was a also smaller line on the left. The name board called out ‘Katchatheevu’ .It was the 3 day festival in St Antonie’s shrine, which happens once a year. There was to be a boat at 10 AM and the ride to the island would be 3-4 hours. Excited, we got our token 113, which didn’t count much when we stood in the queue. It was a strange queue, with two columns of people sitting on parallel concrete benches. Time and again you had someone walking in between to stand in the front on a pretence of enquiring about the boat. No boat came in the next 4 hours. The young started standing on the bench to look, on the left of Nainatheevu, for boats that would take them to their destination.

We met Kumar here, who was standing in front of us with his young brother in law. He told us it was not a day trip and the boat from Katchatheevu will start after the morning prayers in the shrine. Everyone around us have planned for this trip, for some it was the second time, with food, blankets and water bottles. On a normal day, we would have quit and gone back to hotel. But katchatheevu was special. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to set foot on the island. Finally, a Vada Tharagai II came to the jetty around 1 PM, but soon the message spread that it was for the officials and the media personnel. There was another boat on the right at that time and we didn’t know whether it was also going to Katchatheevu. Everybody was eager and sweaty and wanted to desperately be on a boat. The guards started sending a few in the front, and most of them were the ones who had sneaked in earlier. While the few who had respected the queue stood watching them go out, feeling annoyed. We were also moving slowly forward and were the last and the guard finally asked as to board the boat. At the end,  we had also sneaked ahead of the old family who had token 112 and were trailing behind. It wasn’t fair. We didn’t see them later.

We rushed to the boat , but the door were closed. But, a friendly guard open it on hearing that we were waiting for 4 hours with 113.  It was here we met Kumar again, while we were standing in the queue he left to meet his friends and we didn’t see him again. He offered us his seat, we took turns and reach the island around 4 PM, having had no breakfast or lunch. Our first meal for the day was halwa, followed by groundnuts. There was a path cleared between bushes with shops on both sides leading to the Shrine. Both Indian and Sri Lankan currency would buy you goods. We had made it.

On arrival, we were given a token that was to be produced to get the free food that was arranged by the Sri Lankan Navy. Around 7 PM, a short stroll back towards the shop brought us to the food distribution point. It was rice, dal, bean and some soya curry. It was surreal. Now, it was time to occupy a small space were you would sleep the night. You needed something to mark your area,  you need a sheet to spread in the ground. Having brought nothing other than the cameras, I bought a 4 metre long bed sheet which we put in the floor and also covered us. The clouds were threatening at times, but it didn’t rain.

Well past midnight, we got up and visited the shrine. It was barely 10 meters from our resting place but required careful steps. The entire area was full of people occupying even the smallest of space. There were few devotee praying close to St Anotonie. It is a very small Shrine with 3 idols of the saint and Jesus.

In the dark, we walked back to the entrance to check the first boat that would take us to Jaffna mainland and to the hotel. There were no boats leaving until the morning prayer is completed. I resumed my sleep near the entrance with Parkavi keeping guard. Before the sunrise, a dozen people came to the entrance. They had hired their own boat and it was waiting to take them to delft. We were again lucky and joined them.

The boat took them to delft and we were supposed to find another boat to Kurikadduvan. But, the friendly boat owner took us all the way till kurikadduvan with a soda and biscuits for the journey. The guards on knowing that we are returning from Katchatheevu were surprised and asked “VIP”? We probably were the first to mark our return on the register where we got the token 113.

It was the best trip ever!!





Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)

15.30 We started our journey hopping on to the bus to Hatton. From Hatton, our plan was to take a bus to Maskeliya and then to Nallathaniya, to the base of the trail. The friendly conductor said he would point us to the Maskeliya bus once we reach Hatton.

20.30 Reached Hatton The conductor recommended us to take a tuk tuk or a cab directly to Nallathaniya as it would be difficult to find transport to Nallathaniya from Maskeliya even if we manage to make it there. After some haggling, we managed to get a cab for LKR 3300 definitely more than the norm.

Having finished the dinner near bus station and started towards the base in the van. The very confident driver didn’t take his foot off the pedal even around corners all the way to Nallathani (Dalhousie). The cab driver had advised us not to venture out at 0200 hrs warning about the leopards he had seen on the road and the possibility of down pour.

22.30 – We reached our stay and slept after agreeing that we would get up around 02.30 and see if fellow hikers are around. If yes, we would start otherwise, we might have to settle for a early morning hike.


02:30 We got up sleepy and not wanting to start yet. But the moonlit sky and the bright stars looked promising and in a couple of minutes, we saw a group of four walking past followed by a couple with a small bag and a headlamp. It took us another 30 mins to pack our bags and start.

[Photo: Entrance in night and the gate]

With the forest around casting dark shadows on the path, the torch was on most of the way. The moon still shone bright lighting up the clear patches. We realized soon there was a well laid concrete path with few puddles directly leading us to the top.

We passed a buddhist monk sitting with a register near the small iron bridge over the ravine. He greeted us friendly and assured us that we just have to follow the path.

Crossing the bridge, the path forked ahead and we got back to the monk for the right direction. He recommended us to take the left.  It might probably have been a little shorter than the right. On our return, we would come from the right enjoying the best view of all.

We ended up walking along the unlit lamp posts that might have put the torches off if we had started after 24th December. The season starts on the Poya day and ends on the vesak in May.  Had it not been for the unlit trail we would have been ever mentally tired of the long hike. It is always better not to know the length of the journey.

There were few tea shops along the trail. We reached the first after an hour of excited walking. We started our first meal swallowing small bananas. The shop was probably the mid point in our journey. A group of four who joined us took the remaining banana bunch and left before us. We still had a two hour hike remaining to catch the sun rise and the real ascend would begin shortly.

With a little sugar in the body and water to quench our thirst we resumed. Even with the drop in temperature, the sweat inside made it difficult to continue wearing the jacket.

Along the way friendly monks from Cambodia greeted, helping their older members of family ascend the holy mountain. One monk advised us not to sit down as it would make it not help the leg muscles to continue. We followed his advice and continued for another hour climbing up the stairs occasionally feeling thankful to walk over the patches of flat land on the long trail.

The peak was finally visible and the orange sky towards the east was telling us the we need to hurry to catch the sun rise from the top. We were 20 minutes away. We all made it to the top with fellow travellers lined up with their to frame the sunrise. It wasn’t a easy hike and it started to feel cold again.

The sun hid himself behind the beautiful clouds that day.

The prayers had started inside the temple. There was a small palanquin being lifted inside the temple and the worshippers hymned a familiar tune and circled around the ‘Sri Pada’ bare footed.

After spending an hour clicking at all sides. We started our descend hoping that it is always easier getting down.

We didn’t notice her when we were climbing in the dark. As we came down, We met a happy 80 year old lady slowing making to the top.Gran

The sun still wasn’t out and it was comfortable for us to slowly got down after a tea and some pol roti. As the day started getting brighter you start seeing regular hikers without any gear, slowly moving up the hill in a strange climbing pattern. With their 20-30 kg load on head they take each step sideways climbing diagonally. While it definitely increase the time of ascend it reduces the tool on the knees. They are not slow in their descend, trotting easily in their simple bathroom slippers.

After passing ‘buddhist temple’ on our left, the path forked on the right steeply disappearing upwards and a gradual slope straight ahead. We took went straight ahead after guiding fellow hikers coming from the right towards the peak. We were rewarded. It was not just the walk through the tea plantation, seeing the streams circling the range but also the flat path was easy on the tired legs.

We were still not close to the end. It took another 20 mins to reach the hotel passing through the preparation for the season starting on 24 of december – the full moon day.











Kalkiyudan Payanam (Sri Lanka with Kalki)

Kandean llangaiyai – is a travelogue of Kalki’s visit to Sri lanka which appeared in Ananda Viketan magazine between 5-6-1938 to 2-10-1938. Kalki and Mali started their journey on 15 may 1938, and the pages in this book takes you through the beautiful places and the people they met along.

Starting tomorrow I will follow their foot steps.

It’s been a month in Colombo now and I’m slowly settling in. This is my second time to this beautiful country and i would be here for a good time now. The first trip last Oct was short and I spend sometime in Colombo and Nuwara Eliya. Athat time I didn’t read the book.Tomorrow i’m heading to sirigiya and thanks to Kalki i can already see the place; I’m travelling alone but i have a great company, Kalki’s words.

Thank you sir for your creations.

Train to Anuradhapura 17 Jan 2015