Somewhere in the northeast of Sri Lanka, nestled along the coast where the Irakkandi lagoon meets the Indian Ocean lies the quiet fishing village of Irakkandi. Situated just 18km north of Trincomalee, a town of great importance, this village remains in the shadows, a world of its own, unknown to many and visited by few.
Trincomalee is known island-wide (perhaps even worldwide) for two main attractions. The first being the large natural harbour, also known as Koddiyar Bay, which was of great importance to the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British in the pre-independence era. As of recent, there have been plans to convert this beautiful harbour into a commercial port due to its advantageous location.
The second feature is the fort built on Swami rock upon the ruins of Koneswaram temple. It was originally built by the Portuguese, but reconstructed by the Dutch and renamed Fort Fredrick at a later date. The renovated Koneswaram temple now lies within the fort, after its underwater lands and sculptures were discovered and restored in the 1950s. Both Hindus and tourists frequent the temple and it’s peaceful atmosphere and historical and cultural importance entrances and awes devotees and explorers alike.
It is because the town of Trincomalee already stands out in all its fame and glory that I want the focus of this article to be on Irakkandi village. When my friends and I planned our road-trip to Trincomalee, I was ecstatic. Although I have explored many places in Sri Lanka, the North remains very much of a mystery to me. Unchartered territory, I would say. The furthest north I had traveled was Anuradhapura and hence a trip to the northeast was somewhat brand new and very exciting.
We took a bus at midnight, starting in Fort, Colombo and traveled 5+ hours north to the town of Trincomalee. Sleepy-eyed and travel-weary, we were greeted with a not-so-welcome surprise (at the time) upon reaching what we thought to be our destination. We had to take yet another bus to our accommodation which was situated outside the town. Wanting nothing but to crawl into bed and catch some shut-eye (the CTB bus, although highly economic was not the best when it came to sleeping; crowded, sweaty, and uncomfortable), the moment our feet hit the ground, we were wide-awake.
Walking across the road down a dusty path, amidst thatched cottages and cattle sheds we could see slivers of sky, cotton candy pink and streaked with orange. It was the break of dawn, first light. That had us dropping our bags at the doorsteps of our rooms and running further down the dusty pathway to the lagoon to catch the sunrise. This was Irakkandi, a hidden utopia.
My first thought was that I’d never seen an ocean so blue. Being an islander, born and bred, I love the ocean. The biggest pro of Irakkandi’s coast, it’s quiet, empty and shell-strewn. Being a rather small fishing village, and off-season too, we had the gorgeous blue ocean and it’s ivory sanded beach all to ourselves save for a few fisher boys.
With Trincomalee on one side and Pulmoddai on the other, the Irakkandi lagoon, filled with corals but easy to wade through, and the settlements and land areas along its banks are what make up Irakkandi village. Yes, it’s that small. It’s most famous attraction- the bridge that passes over the lagoon. The Irakkandi Bridge is the third longest bridge in Sri Lanka at 300 meters and was built in 2009 as part of the post-tsunami redevelopment. It is safe to say, this bridge and the main road it links to are the only modern features in this area. Excluding a few small rest houses, it is a complete rural setting, with its dusty clay paths and coconut palm thatched roofs, and although phone signals are strong, trust me, you wouldn’t need it, not with that gorgeous ocean to explore.
As it is with the Nilaveli coast, this beach too extends almost 1.5 km (approx.) into the sea. i.e, you can wade right in and still be able to paddle in shallow water that reaches just above your knees. As the lagoon and ocean blend together, it was rather like we were swimming in a large waveless salt-water swimming pool. When the tide was down we could wade across, quite deep into the ocean, to a cluster of large rocks, perfect for climbing and covered in crabs!
Finally, speaking of crabs, if you love seafood- this is the place to be. This is common to the entire northern coastline, but the seafood here is amazing (and cheap!). The fresh crabs in a northern-style spicy curry with crusty bread and coconut sambol is to die for.
Irakkandi may be small, and often forgotten on a map, but the beach, food, and ocean are completely worth the long and tiring road-trip, and almost worth the awful sunburn.
Travel Tip: sunscreen, lots of it!