My travel to Sri-Lanka had no real expectations. It wasn’t one of those journeys that I was undertaking to witness nature’s stupendous beauty. I was seeking to be at peace with myself. Colombo was suffocating at best. I made my way to the hills and tea country in Ella, and to the coast in Mirissa. I hiked in the Horton National Park to the World’s end. I was still anxious.
It was in Arugam bay that I found myself at peace. Arugam bay allowed me to slow down and explore the beautiful countryside – the backwater and the lagoons, and soak in the slow pace of the local lifestyle. When I learnt about the ruins of Okanda in the far east which had not been explored much owing to the restricted access, I was keen. I hired a scooter from the hostel that I was staying at and decided to set off to Panama and Okanda.
“With every military check-post, the countryside got all the more beautiful, the road narrower, and the the population sparser”
After a couple of hours of riding, the tar road gave way to gravel, and eventually a whole lot of sand – so much that I had to walk my scooter through multiple stretches. When I arrived at the Kudumbigala monastery, set amidst dense forest at the northern end of the Yala national park, it was absolutely quiet – free of visitors, as getting to the monastery was non-trivial.
“There was an air of timelessness about the ruins – the monks who lived there went about their daily chores unperturbed by my presence”
The young ones were curious about the new visitor – we exchanged a few smiles. It was a pity that we didn’t have a common language to interact in. The hill-top cylindrical stupa is accessible via the tone steps carved from the rocks and boulders, and provides an impressive view of the surrounding lush-green forest. The various cave houses that the monks practice and live in adds to the charm of the place. Kudumbigala is home to about 200 cave accommodations spread across 600 acre large hermitage built during second century BC by the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa. Over time, the monastery was abandoned and taken over by the forest, until it was restored in the 20th century by a devotee, Maithree, who lived and meditated at the restored premises until his death.
Today, spread over 47 sq. Km., it is home to practicing monks, away from the hustle and bustle, amidst some landscape long isolated by the remoteness of it, and more so by the civil war. If you are looking for an offbeat cultural experience, witness the quiet life of a monk, this is a great place to visit.