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Lahugala Forest and the Magul Maha Vihara

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The Lahugala Reserve, occupying a mere six square miles in the jungle east of Arugam Bay, is one of Sri Lanka’s smallest national parks. We combined a short tuk-tuk excursion to the reserve with a visit to the remains of a legendary queen’s palace.

Magul-Maha-Vihara

It may be small in size, but a tremendous variety of animals prowl the grounds of the Lahugala Reserve, including leopards, sloths, barking deer and the rare Rusty-spotted Cat. But we were most likely to see elephants — a herd of up 150 lives in the park.

Our visit was timed to coincide with the elephants’ meal time, but unfortunately also coincided with darkening skies and a late afternoon storm. A solitary elephant had ventured out to the feeding grounds, where there are usually up to fifty (elephants are apparently as lazy as humans when it comes to rain). Oh well. We had recently gotten lucky with the big guys in Habarana, and hadn’t paid anything to visit Lahugala — the highway cuts through the reserve and passes the elephants’ favorite stomping ground, making a ticket to the park’s interior unnecessary.

So Lahugala wasn’t a resounding success but it was only part of the excursion. Our next stop was the ruins of the Magul Maha Vihara, which date to the 5th century AD and are said to have been the palace for one of Sri Lanka’s most famous queens.

According to legend, good King Kelanie-Tissa had been tricked by his wicked brother into murdering an innocent holy man, whose body was then tossed into the ocean. Furious at the injustice, wrathful sea gods unleashed a storm whose waves surged over the land and killed many people. In order to appease the gods, the king was advised to make a terrible sacrifice: that of his only daughter, Devi.

The king was grief-stricken, but the lovely and pious Princess Devi bravely accepted her fate. Content that her death might save countless lives, she allowed herself to be strapped down in a golden ship, then pushed out into the storm. The sea gods were impressed by her courage, and decided to spare the princess, re-routing her ship to the nearby realm of King Kavan-Tissa.

The soldiers of Kavan-Tissa who had been patrolling the shore were astounded by the arrival of the golden ship, but even more so by the beautiful maiden they found unconscious within. They carried her to the royal palace, where Devi finally opened her eyes. Dazzled by the opulence of the King’s court, she assumed that her sacrifice had been accepted, and that she was in heaven. When Kavan-Tissa (who had fallen in love with her at first sight) explained the situation and asked Devi to be his bride, she immediately accepted.

The ruins at Magul Maha Vihara were the palace of this fortunate Queen, who was much beloved by her subjects, and who eventually gave birth to King Duttugemunu: one of the island’s greatest heroes. It was just recently that had I heard the story of the princess, and I had assumed it to be nothing more than a legend. But Princess Devi existed… and here was her palace as proof! So how much of the story was true? Her father’s crime? The floods? The terrible sacrifice? The golden boat? The love-struck king? It’s impossible to say where fiction ends and fact begins.

Although we didn’t have much luck with the elephants, this was a great day trip, easy to arrange with any tuk-tuk driver in Arugam Bay. Definitely worth your time, if you find yourself with a free afternoon.

Location of the Magul Maha Vihara on our Map
Poisonous Snakes

Temple Near Arugam Bay
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Rotten Flowers
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Weird Monster
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April 17, 2012 at 11:10 am Comment (1)

The Danish Villa at Arugam Bay

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The bulk of our stay in Arugam Bay was spent in the comfortable confines of The Danish Villa. Tucked back far off the town’s main road, this small hotel has just five rooms, all with attached bathrooms and most with air conditioning.

Danish-Villa-Arugam-Bay

With capacity for fifteen guests, the place feels more like an aristocrat’s tropical escape than a traditional hotel, and the staff are always accessible, hovering about somewhere, in case you need anything. During our stay, we were the only ones there, apart from the house dog who walked us up to the gates every morning. (Well, there was one night when a loud Sri Lankan family booked three rooms and really got into the spirit of place — by which I mean, they felt like they owned it. At 5am, the father woke up in a boisterous mood and yelled up and down the hall to rouse his slumbering family for their day’s excursion. I opened our door to glare at him, but he either didn’t recognize the hatred burning in my eyes, or didn’t care).

The Villa — which proves its Danish credentials with a website in the “.dk” domain — organizes competitively-priced tours around Arugam Bay. Our trip through the Pottuvil Lagoon was actually cheaper through them than when we asked on the street. The villa doesn’t do dinner, which is something we actually appreciated. Guesthouse meals are usually too expensive, and we were free to bring home take-away kottu from one of the nearby restaurants.

We had a great stay at the Danish Villa. The internet, although over a 3G dongle, was surprisingly fast and our afternoons were largely spent working on the terrace, over a pot of tea. If you’re looking for an agreeable spot to snooze, away from the noise of the town’s main drag, you could definitely do worse.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
Link: The Danish Villa Arugam Bay

Arugam-Bay-Villa
Places To Stay in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay Blog
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April 17, 2012 at 4:07 am Comments (0)

A Boat Tour of Pottuvil Lagoon

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Birding For Beginners

There’s more to do in Arugam Bay than just surfing and chilling out in beachside bars. The village is surrounded by some amazing and largely undeveloped nature. One sunny morning, we took a tour of the Pottuvil Lagoon, just to the north, hoping to see the elephants and crocodiles which make their home there.

Bird Paradise

Bright and early at 6am, we piled into a tuk-tuk and set off for Pottuvil, where a boat and its conductor were waiting for us. The vessel looked rather homemade, a wooden pallet tied to two skinny canoes, and if we had been venturing into deeper water, I’d have been nervous. But this water was merely crocodile-infested, so I happily clambered on.

We glided silently out into the water, with the rising sun slowly bringing color to the sleepy scene in front of us. Thick forests of mangroves line the lagoon, their roots providing shelter for fish and their branches for birds. Our guide navigated us around the lagoon, alternating between pushing and rowing, depending on the depth of the water.

Along with diving birds, eagles and water buffaloes, the only other living creatures we saw were fishermen, returning home after a long night of work. They were moving as silently as us, cutting quickly across the surface of the still water, and waved hello instead of shouting. We didn’t see any crocodiles or elephants, but that was fine by us. It was as if everybody — animal, nature and man — had conspired to make this as serene an experience as possible.

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Scared Birdy
Arugam Bay Lagoon
Crab Fishing
Fishermen Sri Lanka
Water Buffalo
Magroves Sri Lanka
Eagle Morning
Dry Bird
Brid Watching Sri Lanka
Best Bird Friends Forever
Eagle Nests
Eagle Kick Start
Lagoon Eagle
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April 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm Comments (0)

Let’s Go Surfin’ Now at Arugam Bay

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Hostels in Sri Lanka

A laid-back village on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is one of the best places in the world for surfing, and has been a favorite of the long-term community for decades. Thanks to the steady presence of chilled-out expats, the town has a cool, low-key vibe which we’ve not seen anywhere else on the island. Great restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, comfy beach-side lodging, hip lounges, a happy mix of foreigners and locals… and of course, incredible waves.

Surfing Together

Although we’re not surfers, we enjoyed the way of life here so much that we stayed for five days. The restaurants alone were worth the extended stopover. Our favorite was the Siam Lounge, owned by a Dutch guy who’s been here since 1977 (and looks exactly like a Dutch guy who’s lived in a Sri Lankan surf town for 34 years) and his Thai wife. The upper-floor lounge area serves potent German-style brews and delicious Thai cuisine, while a 60s-heavy soundtrack accompanies surf-dude highlights playing in a loop on a projection screen. After so many nights spent scarfing down rice and curry in dingy restaurants while Sinhalese pop squealed from cheap speakers, the Siam Lounge was paradise.

Our last couple nights were spent in a beach-side cabin, complete with hammock and deck mattress. We should have tried surfing, but this was our vacation. After two months spent running around Sri Lanka, we didn’t want to do anything except turn our brains off and lounge around.

But although we couldn’t be bothered to get on boards, we did take a trip to Whiskey Point to watch surfers ply their trade. This was during the off-season, but the waves were still decent — they come all the way from Antarctica to crash on Arugam Bay’s shores, with no other landmass to impede them. We had fun watching the guys and girls catch the waves, and I felt a pinch of envy. Next time I’m at Arugam Bay, I’ll try it out.

Location of Arugam Bay on our Map
Learn To Surf

Arugam Bay Happy Place
Dream Beach
How To Surf
Surfing in Arugam Bay
Camel Toe
Beach Hut Sri Lanka
Beach Arugam Bay
Dog Beach
Dream Beach Sri Lanka
Green Sand Banks
Dead Coral Sri Lanka
Over Fishing Sri Lanka
I love Arugam Bay
Happy Panda Arugam Bay
Tropicana Beach Hotel Arugam Bay
Tsunami Hotel Arugam Bay
Rock View Arugam Bay
Rock-View-Cabanas
Arugam Bay Blog
Shell Shop Sri Lanka
Hippie Beach Sri Lanka
Samanthas-Arugam-Bay-Sri-Lanka
Alternative-Lifestyle-Sri-Lanka
Beach Hut Sri Lanka
Wild Wild West Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Breakfast we had in Arugam Bay:

Sri Lanka Breakfast
Sri Lankan Breakfast
Sri Lankan Surfer
Surf Design
Surf Culture Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Art
Sunset Watch Dog
Siam-Lounge-Arugam-Bay
Smoking Weed Arugam Bay
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April 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm Comments (3)
Lahugala Forest and the Magul Maha Vihara The Lahugala Reserve, occupying a mere six square miles in the jungle east of Arugam Bay, is one of Sri Lanka's smallest national parks. We combined a short tuk-tuk excursion to the reserve with a visit to the remains of a legendary queen's palace.
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