A boat glides before a mangrove island
We sped along the waters of the lagoon towards the Northwestern sea, we were on a quest to seek the islands of Kalpitiya.
Words: Udeshi Amarasinghe | Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham
The 14 islands of the Kalpitiya lagoon spread out towards the ocean, looking like bright pebbles on a seashore. The early morning sun was reflecting on the land masses of various sizes. The first on our journey was Eramativu West, which consisted primarily of mangroves. Many quatic birds, such as terns and seagulls, flew in flocks. As the water surrounding the islet was nourished by the mangroves the water surrounding Eramativu West was said to be the ideal breeding grounds for crab and prawns.
We continued across the lagoon which was surrounded on both sides by land and its large mouth opening into the sea. The second island on our path was Eramativu which though large in size and consisting of 101.52 ha, was also uninhabited, and mainly consisted of mangroves and suchlike aquatic trees and plants. Fishing boats passed us giving a friendly nod or two. Sinna Eramativu was just beyond and was the third island in our row.
As we slowly approached Sinna Arachchalai, a few fishing huts were just visible and boats lined the shore. Just beyond was Periya Arachchalai (45.6 ha), which was also inhabited by a few migratory fisher folks.
Since the Kalpitiya lagoon is the largest one in this country and also its opening in to the ocean is the widest, many oceanic creatures reside and approach the lagoon as well. The boat glided in the waters bumpy at times.
From a distance we could glimpse the Ippantivu, another inhabited island, but decided to first venture towards the furthermost as well as one of the largest islands - Baththalangunduwa (145.53ha) first. Fishermen's boats lined the shores and cadjun roof huts (wadiyas) were seen far and wide. We disembarked, balancing ourselves to avoid falling into the water.
Fishermen had brought in their day's catch and were weighing and packaging for waiting buyers. In yet another hut fresh crabs were being sorted, weighed and then boiled. Steaming orange crabs were again sorted according to the quality and were packaged in boxes of ice ready to be transported to town.
We walked along the deep maze of pathways, passing rows of salted fish being dried in the hot sun - this was the famous Kalpitiya dried fish in the making. A village of its own, Baththalanganduwa is also the home of migratory fishermen, who travel with their families from areas such as Negombo and Western Provincial coastal belt to setup their homes for about ten months of the year.
The sand was beginning to heat up now, and all we could do was tip toe from one shady area to the next. We paused in respect for the two churches here that provide spiritual guidance to the community living in the island. We then ventured to the other side of the island, where we met a highly mesmerizing stretch of land that spread towards the sea. The gradual movement of the ocean was visible by the layers of land that had formed a sequence of age.
We walked along the maze of pathways, passing salted fish being dried in the hot sun – this was the famous Kalpitiya dried fish in the making.
We then hopped back into our boat and headed towards the Sinna Gunduwa, which is an extension of the Baththalangunduwa island itself, and with the changes in the tides a relatively new sand bank had emerged and stretched for as much as two kilometres, this had been named Karaduwa.
From here we entered the great ocean exiting the calm lagoon. The boat now dipped and dived and the journey was very exciting, making us gasp as we made it over a wave. We next reached Uchchamunai isle, which was the farthermost post of the Kalpitiya islands. The largest of all, Uchchamunai is connected to the mainland by a small land mass that many say was under water a few years ago, making Uchchamunai an island of its own. Making a brief stop to get some respite under the shade we headed back to sea to explore the remaining islands.
Palliyawatta is yet another large island that has been inhabited for many years. It is said that the Dutch occupied this island. Fishing hamlets spread across this land, with its main church visible to the distance.
Kalpitiya is a region renowned for kitesurfing though it is not the season as yet and Paramune is one of the hotspots for this sport. As on other islands, the fishermen's huts were scattered across the land and there were a couple of kitesurfing huts that had been closed till the season begins.
Ippantivu was our next stop, an inhabited island. It is said that at one time there were three communities living on the island. With time they migrated to the mainland. Those residing on Ippantivu island today are migratory fishermen from the west coast.
The sun was going down in the evening sky, and we headed towards Vellai I, II and III (known in Sinhala as Kimbul Bokka). Initially this had been one large island but had been split into three with the passage of time.
We then passed Sinna Arichchalai and Periya Arichchalai, halting for a moment to observe the mangrove growth and a few huts that were home to fishermen.
As we headed towards our port, holiday makers were kayaking on the waters of the lagoon and aquatic birds were taking flight for the night. As the day bid adieu and dusk reigned Kalpitiya illuminated in a reddish hue that enlivened the evening sky.