December 2017


Charming Koggala
December 2017




A mesmerising view of the Koggala beach at dusk

Koggala is the landscape against which Martin Wickremesinghe, greatest of the modern Sinhala writers, set his stories. We visited the attractions of this coastal town, among them the oldest press in Ceylon - an unique work of art in its own right.


Words: Yomal Senerath-Yapa
Photographs: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


The Sandy Shores

Koggala is the longest beach in Sri Lanka, and also one of the most beautiful. In the evening before the dusk coconut palms bend towards the sea and groves of spiny-edged pandanus glow against the golden twilight that bathes the shore. The stilt fishermen are a traditional element of this beach. They wade up to the forehead to reach the stilts, though the sea here can get rough without any notice. The stilt fishermen form perhaps the most iconic scene you would see in Koggala, especially when silhouetted against the sunset: a beautiful memory from Old Ceylon.


The Gift from the King of Siam

The Ranwella Temple in Giniwella is located to the inland, but from the temple grounds you can see the green-white waves of the sea. The temple has a simple charm and reflects the manner in which British colonial architecture blends seamlessly with segments of the traditional village temple. But many viharas along the southern coast built around the Victorian period look similar. What makes Ranwella Temple unique, is that it houses the first press in Ceylon, which printed the first Sinhala newspaper.


This printing press came as a gift from the King of Siam. Buddhist monks in the mid-19th century, sent the King a request for a press as a newspaper would be an effective way to communicate. The sovereign Maha Mongkut (Rama IV), responded and bequeathed on them this machine which, even at the time, cost a princely 400 pounds. The machine arrived in the year 1859. On August 18, 1860, Lankalokaya, a typical Victorian broadsheet, came out - a landmark in the history of Ceylon.

Koggala is the longest beach in Sri Lanka, and also one of the most beautiful.


The press, preserved in a room by the main temple hall, is a veritable work of art. It is made beautiful with carvings that have a Celtic or Roman appearance. On the crown of the machine is an imperial eagle, rampant, looking to a side majestically.


The Lake

Koggala is made scenic by its lake closely fringed by mangroves. We hired a boat for a ride through green waters. The central attraction is Madol Duwa - the island made famous by the adventure novel by Martin Wickremesinghe. Madol Duwa, according to official census as well as unanimous public enthusiasm, is the most-read as well as the favourite book written in Sinhalese in modern times. We glimpsed the green shores of the island, enshrined in minds of readers throughout seventy years, imbued with the magic of the adventures of Upali and Jinna.

Koggala is made scenic by its lake closely fringed by mangroves. We hired a boat for a ride through green waters.


There is a smaller islet, neighbour to Madol Duwa, where a cinnamon peeler demonstrates his art to any visitor. He cuts cinnamon sticks from his island verdant with the spice plant, and with deft skill rubs off the green skin, makes an incision with a special tool, and neatly peels off the sienna brown bark, which should then be dried before being tied together in bales. The cinnamon peelers, in the old Sinhalese feudal hierarchy, were a separate caste. This process of curing cinnamon was their special preserve, and they had to take care that the other castes would not learn their art. It is only in a few places such as these that you can see, today, a genuine peeler plying the trade practiced by his ancestors for many long centuries.


Koggala is indeed a scenic place to visit on a holiday in Sri Lanka.

 

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    Take a bike ride to the nearest surfing point

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    Koggala is one of the best places to spot stilt fishermen on the southern coastline

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    Yakinige Duuwa passing Koggala towards Matara

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    The first press in Ceylon at the Ranwella Temple

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    Koggala Lake is ideal for freshwater fishing

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    Southern railway line running across the Koggala River

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