December 2012


Exciting Hambantota
December 2012




Rows of fishing boats at the harbour

Many visitors to Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka won't fail to miss the statue of Gajaman Nona - dressed in ankle length skirt and long sleeved blouse - at the end of the Nonagama junction on the Tangalle-Hambantota road.


Words Feizal Samath Photography M. A. Pushpa Kumara


Dona Isabella Koraneliya better known as - Gajaman Nona - was one of (then) Ceylon's most famous poets known particularly for her versatility to write and recite impromptu Sinhala ‘kavi' (poetry) in the late 18th to early 19th century in Hambantota.


Some 20 km away on the Hambantota-Tissa road lies the tomb of Andare, another famous resident of this bustling city. Andare was a court jester and practical joker employed by Kandyan kings.


The tales surrounding Andare and Gajaman Nona are legendary and to this day popular in local literature and prose.

its rapid development has led to the emergence of the country’s second international airport, the largest port besides Colombo and a giant cricket stadium
Hambantota district, with a population of over 570,000 and once one of Sri Lanka's most impoverished regions, has seen enormous change in the past decade. Not only is it steeped in history, culture and tradition, and coloured with legendary characters, endowed with sites of interest including an array of ancient temples, the famous hot wells and blow hole, but also its rapid development has led to the emergence of the country's second international airport, the largest port besides Colombo and a giant cricket stadium where international matches are played.

The range and diversity of attractions that the Deep South offers are much more than what one sees in brochures or travel guides
The range and diversity of attractions that the Deep South - as Hambantota is popularly known - offers are much more than what one sees in brochures or travel guides, as we discovered. With plenty of temples each with a historic past, a wide expanse of beach, animal and bird sanctuaries and mangroves, the district is fast becoming a popular site for visitors.


While Hambantota town and its immediate environs have developed in the form of the international airport - the first phase to open in early 2013, the Magam Ruhunupura Harbour, an International Convention Centre, the International Cricket Stadium and most of the historic sites are elsewhere.


The sacred city of Kataragama, which attracts Buddhist, Hindus and Muslims alike, is 40 km away. On the way there are other great places like the Bundala National Park, popular as a bird sanctuary, the village of Kirinda with rocky beaches and a unique temple (on a clear day, we are told, you could see the famous lighthouse at the Great Basses Reef), the Tissa tank and the Yala National Park, said to have the world's largest concentration of leopard.


Near Yala is the Situlpawwa Rock Temple which dates back to over 2,000 years and has paintings that are believed to be even older than the famous frescoes at the Sigiriya rock palace in the central parts of Sri Lanka.


There are several not-to-be-missed attractions in Hambantota. This includes the Hummanaya blow hole - a natural fountain caused when sea water rushes through a submerged cavern and is pushed upwards to reach as high as 25 metres. Scuba diving, turtle watching, the Mulkirigala rock temple with a series of natural caves and wall paintings, and the Angulmaduwa village of traditional brass workers is in the town of Tangalle, 37 km south of Hambantota are among other attractions.

At Ambalantota, the Walawe ‘ganga' (river) meets the sea while the town is also famous for the ancient ruins of the Kingdom of Ruhuna.Nearby lies the home of Renton de Alwis, an avid conservationist and environmentalist, who talks passionately about the sights and sounds of Hambantota and urges us to visit the Ramba Raja Maha Vihara (temple) with its ancient ruins. "There are two more excavations (of a lost city) taking place. Go and see it," he says. We discuss Ussangoda and its legend, where the King of Lanka Ravana landed with his kidnapped queen Sita from India on the ‘dandu monara' - the flying peacock-like machine.


At this site near the beach, the area is flat with red soil. Nothing can be grown there. Renton's home also adjoins the Kalametiya bird sanctuary and its 700 peacocks, some occasionally jumping over the wall into his compound. About 10-15 km from Renton's village of Quela lies the 200-acre Ramba Vihara which has a museum where the temple on the banks of Walawe river, according to Sri Lankan historians, is said to have been the Royal Temple of King Vijayabahu whose reign was during the 10th Century AD. Being excavated are the ruins of the ancient temple, some of which that can be seen include an assembly hall, a hermitage for Buddhist monks, and a shrine room.


Just 30 km away lies the new international airport with the longest runway in Sri Lanka that can accommodate the Airbus A380, a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet - the world's largest passenger airliner. Wide access roads are under construction while work at the airport site is at a feverish pace with the aim of completing the first phase in the first quarter of 2013.


The district has some 100 hotels and rest houses with over 1000 rooms to accommodate guests. Many more branded hotels like Shangri-La are coming up in Hambantota making it a tourist city in the next few years and has won the rights to host the third Asian Youth Games in 2017 in the city. We drive along the coastal roads passing the fisheries harbour in the town and the famous salterns nearby just before darkness hits Hambantota.


A full day, 350 km and 16 hours on the road is simply not enough to enjoy the splendour of this city. You need at least three days to visit the various attractions - at a leisurely pace of course!

 

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    Statue of Gajaman Nona at Nonagama Junction

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    Andare's grave site

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    Mattala Airport - terminal under construction

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    View of the airport from the Control Tower

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    Convention hall under construction

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    Ussangoda - where Ravana is said to have landed

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    Stone implement at Ramba Raja Maha Vihara museum

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    Ruins at Ramba Raja Maha Vihara museum

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    A sculptured artefact at Ramba Raja Maha Vihara museum

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    The Administrative complex

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    The fishing harbour with fishing boats abound is an apt depiction of the livelihoods of Hambantota

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    The new roads are long stretches of unobstructed tarmac

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