There’s something so therapeutic about spending time near the water. Maybe it’s the sound of rushing waves or slow splashes against the rocks, maybe it’s the hypnotic way in which it flows or the peace with which it stands still; I’m not sure. All I know is that I have found no better place to be at peace that when close to or floating in the waves. And so, in a pattern that I almost didn’t notice till I finally sifted through a month’s worth of photographs, it seems I’ve spent close to an entire vacation running toward the water.
This was an escape. I was running, far from something I didn’t want to think about and hoping that a new change of scenery would distract me, ended up here. With the help of a friend, we drove through the crowded streets of the town and the sleeping fish market by a slew of fishermen casting their lines in the lagoon to end up somewhere I am not allowed to disclose.
No, really. Considering how Negombo is among one of the first beach destinations in the country, you’d be hard pressed to find a place not lined with tourist accommodation and travellers. There is this place, down winding roads past the homes of everyday Negombo folk, that has steered clear of the flashing lights and remains a haven for locals who want a day at the beach.
The breakwater is magical, layers of rock and moss spreading out in patterns that look unbelievable from every angle. Every little pool is a mystery and each oncoming wave drenches the surface in foams of white before receding into the angry sea beyond.
When a part of my family asked me to join them on a trip, no matter how many other people were involved, I said yes to a new destination. Sleepy morning drives past flashes of lagoon and salterns brought us to a remarkably blue stretch of beach bordering a fishing wadiya. The waves only lap at your toes on the golden sand, beckoning you for a warm swim. On the other side of the main road in the wide, still expanse of the lagoon, from whose waters the local fishermen bring crab, prawns and fish to sustain themselves and their families. Boats moored to the mangroves lap against the water in the lazy afternoon sun.
Oceanside on the west coast – the Westernmost point of Sri Lanka, to be precise, means that the sunset views must be out of this world, assuming that weather and science and necessary factors are aligned. As shouts from our uncle’s beach cricket game rose over the sound of the sea, a golden sunset spread across the sky, bathing us all in its resplendent glow.
Again, you wonder? This time I wasn’t running as much as I was guiding a few other friends around the city that had once [temporarily] eased my pain. We were wandering through the dusty traffic of the town when it broke into a flat dark blue expanse of water, one of the many inlets where the Negombo lagoon runs in to meet the land.
Once on a boat, the waters stretch endless under the shining sun, the stillness of the water cancelling out all sounds your ears and soul don’t want to hear. The shallows are close to the mangrove trees and the coolness of the water pleases your toes without threatening to drench you in a sudden wave.
Most people who haven’t been there in a while take a look at the exposed coral and reef shelf along the coastline and wish back to when Galle Face was a clear strip of sand and water, a relaxing stroll in the heart of the big city.
Personally these rugged, brash-looking beaches are the ones that I adore. They have so much character, in the way the water rushes into the many nooks and crannies left in the rock shelf, leaving behind pools of glass as it recedes, creating a storm every time it hits the coral on its way in.
Rumassala & Unawatuna
The winding hike up the jungle sanctuary at the crack of dawn was worth the jewel waiting for us at the end. From a lookout peak on the way, Jungle Beach sits in a little almost-cove, slow waves lapping at the sand and fringed by greenery for miles. My friend took a look at a photo I sent her from here and named it ‘Greece spot’ because it looks so much like this place. When you eventually descend the roughly-hewn steps, the emerald waters glimmer at your feet. Waking up early to arrive here is worth the few hours of solitude and complete disconnect on this beach that seems randomly stuck in the middle of the jungle. Cliffs rise to great heights around it and down the road, rock formations take the battering from thousands of deep-blue angry waves.
Perhaps it’s the grandeur of the wild or the serenity at Jungle Beach that makes the Unawatuna beach strip pale in comparison. However, as the rains start to fall and the waves rush faster at the sands of the bay, best just to let it overcome you and not fight getting soaked from all angles. The sun sets in a mellow tone beside the temple on the hill and as the light drops, the now-cold water carries us into near-dreams.
There is deception abound here. Where the further waters look serenely blue, they roll into thunderous waves as they make their way to shore. Thunderous to the point that the wave flung me to the ground, spun me head-over-heels so I whacked my head on the ground and left me covered in sand on the shore. But I went back in because as they bob and carry floating humans along like the flotsam we are, it is the closest thing to flying.
Flying like the wind in our hair as we perched ourselves at the top of Giragala rock, after a careful ascent up its rickety steps. Looking down over a mosaic of the coral reef and a kingdom of blue for miles, the storm began to brew and the waves bashing the rock turned monochrome – black waters and white foam rising ever closer to our feet. But when it stilled, in a miraculous sight that took our breaths away, two rainbows appeared – stretching over the green coconut palms and framing the blue bay in a perfect postcard memory.
Far from the busy beaches of the immediate south and a few minutes away from Matara is a town that tourism has yet to claw onto. Dikwella is small enough for you to meet the same tuk driver twice and the lack of extensive accommodation options compared to previous destinations is a blessing. Away from the pristine strip that borders the town, the sea is a million shades of blue at the Hiriketiya bay, where another rugged coastline is greeted by gentle waves under a warm sun.
The trees closest to the shore form little hidey-holes along the water, perfect for lying down or reading when we felt like relaxing. The shade is delightful and the waves across the bay, magical. Until high tide decides to almost wash your slippers away. And you almost let it, because you’re too busy soaking in the view and the salt as it settles deeper in your skin.
Negombo, one last time
We’d chased the sunset to a therapeutic beach only to get stuck in New Year’s Eve traffic and arrive there a minute after the sun had sunk below the horizon. But I’ve come to realise that the minutes after the sunset are terribly underrated and have a mystical beauty starkly different from the version that burns the sky but moments before.
Fishermen casting their lines for the last catch of the year and the rising tide enveloping the coral breakwater, the silent waves almost echoing into the still night.
Up hairpin bends through tea plantations – some abundant, some still lying in wait to blossom – we drove an hour out to watch this magnificent cascade of water down a steep rock face, the stunner that is the Hunnasgiriya falls. A trek took us across the face of the rapids and we crossed the freezing waters of the base pool as they rushed over the sharp mountain edge. Beads of spray settled around us in a cloud and a rainbow formed over the water close to our feet. The sun rays lingered over us even as the mountain mist fell steadily downward, wiping out half of the hilly forests.
An end to our water wanderings was an hour by the Kandy lake, shaded by branches of the ancient trees that have no doubt grown on its banks for years. The tiniest waves lapped at the edge gently, sparkling in the sun as we took stock of all the waters we’d sat by or been soaked by and took pride in our magical trail.