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  • Cecilia Clark

Tangalle, Temples, and Turtles, Sri Lanka: April 1 - 3, 2024

Updated: May 13

We are staying at a beach hotel in Mawella Bay in Tangalle for two nights and one full day. When we arrived, both the wind and the surf were up. This protected shallow bay is normally calm. We took a beach walk, and incoming waves were pushing their way in to swamp the beach in low areas. Back at our hotel's beachfront, a group of young men were playing volleyball. The beach volleyball court was one of the swamped areas. They played on and we had a great time watching.

The next day, Indika took us to the bustling Tangalle Harbor fish market where you must bring your own bag, but the fisherman will cut your fish to your specifications. Some of the large fish caught here are Spanish Mackerel, Red Snapper, Grouper, and Tuna.

Indika suggested an off-itinerary activity for us that involved cave temples and a climb of 533 steps/676ft/206m. We were up for it! He took us to Mulkirigala Rock Temple a few kilometers north of Tangalle. The name was coined when a 2nd century BC King searching for a good spot to build a temple asked that question of a local guy. The local guy pointed to the top of a large rock. The King named the place "Mulkirigala" which loosely translates to "the rock the local guy pointed to."

At the base of the rock we were going to climb is a small school built by a Canadian group. The teacher invited us in to chat a little with the kids. Normally, there are more students, but today just four.

After stalling a little with the kids, we began working our way up the steps. The slope of Mulkirigala Rock rises up to 676ft/208m above seal level and the sides of the rock are almost vertical. The stairways did make it easier to climb.

There are seven caves on five terraces, and a stupa at the very top of the climb. While the caves themselves might be 2,000 years old, the paintings date from the Kandyan era (18th century) and are purely Sinhalese. The first cave terrace called Paduma Rahat Vihara has two painted caves each of which contain 46 foot/14 meter long reclining Buddhas in the state of parinirvana. The paintings in the second cave are fantastical show sinners paying for their sins with an afterlife of eternal torture. A cave on the third terrace has paintings of the life and times of Siddartha (before Siddartha became Buddha). One of the panels shows Siddartha in his ascetic phase plucking out his own eyes to give to a blind man. There is a lovely and somewhat unusual painting of women musicians. And, there are monsters.

Back at our hotel, we had lunch and took a swim in the ocean. The water was so very warm--maybe 85°F/30°C. The bay is shallow for quite a distance and the waves were much calmer this day. The swamped volleyball court was dry.

We ended the day with yet another off-itineray activity. Indika took us to Turtle Watch Rekawa. Five out of seven turtle species come to nest at Rekawa beach: Green turtle (most common, all year around), Olive Ridley turtle (common), Loggerhead Turtle (rare), Hawksbill Turtle (very rare), Leatherback Turtle (very rare). All are threatened. Female turtles come back to the beach they were born to lay their nests.

This night endangered Green Turtles were coming in. First some instructions were given: be silent, follow only the ranger's path, always stay at least 6.5 ft/2 m from the turtle, no flash. Flashlights must have red filters. The ranger guides and volunteers escorted smaller groups of people to where a turtle was laying eggs. Four or five people at a time were allowed to move closer to photograph without flash as the turtle laid her eggs. It is a slow process as she will lay 80 - 150 eggs, cover them with sand, rest for 30-60 minutes, and then work her way back to the ocean. The tractor-like tracks were made by her as she came up the beach and then returned to the water following the same track. She finally entered the water. She will return again days later to make another nest. A constant light show from a nearby storm added to the magic of the night.

Fees paid by the tourists go to support the Turtle Watch guides and beach patrol. They accept donations:

It was an amazing day and an amazing night. Tomorrow we arrive in Galle for our final two nights in Sri Lanka.


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