… A whole village stretched before us… Swallowed up by the encroaching sand and jungle, the village was completely deserted apart from a colony of monkeys . The air was thick and humid as we followed a path in the sand down to a hauntingly deserted beach with a perfect point break unloading 5 foot waves across the bay… A group of monkeys sits under the shade of a Banyan Tree and as we sit and watch the surf in this empty village, we cannot escape the end of the world feel of the place…
We made our way out of Arugam Bay on the road south towards Kumana National Park and the Kudumbigala Buddhist Hermitage. As we worked our way south past the village of Panama, the traffic slowly disappeared and the Tuk Tuks’ carrying surfboards were increasingly replaced by ever more wild jungle scenery. We watch as monkeys run across the road in front of us as its concrete surface starts to be replaced by gravel and sand.
Our first stop is Wawe Tank, where our walk through the jungle alongside the tank is disturbed by the snapping jaw of a Crocodile… Taking a step back we see watch as the mighty beast sinks back into the murky water until just a few air bubbles rise to the surface.
We continue south towards the Kudumbigala Sanctuary. The actual hermitage consists of around 225 caves that were first occupied by Buddhist Monks in the 1st century BCE and is still home to several monks and considered one of the most important ancient sacred lands in the country.
Walking first along a sand track flanked by thick jungle as grey macaques bound along the path in front of us, we soon begin climbing an un-interrupted solid slab of granite rising several hundred metres above us. At the top sits a Buddhist Stupa and several flags, but its from this vantage point that you can really take in the stunning beauty of this land.
The view extends south across Kumana and Yala National Park as far as Kataragama… To the east the jungle stretches for several kilometres until it is replaced by the endless horizon of blue that is the Indian Ocean that stretches onwards towards Indonesia and Malaysia. To the north and west, the Sri Lankan hinterland comprises several smaller slabs of granite rising from the jungle below until eventually it is replaced on the horizon by the towering mountains that make up the core of this magical island.
Sat looking over the south east of the island, we sit and contemplate the mysteries and magic that resides in the jungle surrounding us. Who are the people who live here… What sort of lives do the lead… What creatures are hiding in the undergrowth… How many temples are hidden within the jungle…
However we cannot stay here forever and we continue on heading south until the road has completely vanished and we find ourselves at ‘the end of the world’. The village is completely deserted except for a horde of monkeys sat watching us from the shade. Half buried in the sand, empty buildings stand empty… A village of memories lost to the passage of time and the encroaching sands. As we walk back from the coast and into the jungle, our eyes are suddenly drawn to the colour of a nearby temple… A juxtaposition of every colour imaginable and glorious ornate wood carvings, stood among the jungle and sand as they wrestle with one another to take over this landscape.
While for the most of the year, Okanda sits completely empty, for several days each year the village pays host to thousands of Hindu pilgrims as they walk southwards towards Kataragama. As they pass through the village, they pay worship at the Temple of Lord Murugan and the village explodes into life.
Sadly our odyssey southwards is ending and we must return north back to Arugam Bay.
We sit and quietly contemplate this land that time forgot… The thick unforgiving jungle, the ghostly empty beaches with perfect surf and the mighty monuments that rise high above the ground. This is Sri Lanka as it used to be. While time starts to race ahead in other parts of the island, there are thankfully no resort hotels here, nor crowds or busy roads… Only sand, jungle, nature and the monuments of spirituality.
As the sun sinks low in the sky, I watch lazily as a lone Elephant walks across the plain under the growing light of the moon…