Trincomalee is one of the many ancient living cities of Sri Lanka. It is not as famous as Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa with the tourists, but it is no less fascinating than them. Read more about the places to visit in Trincomalee.
During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I traveled through some of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka in its northern Tamil dominated belt. I discovered the wealth of ancient temples, ancient ports, salt panes, lagoons, islands, and lovely little villages. The fact that I could get south Indian food in most places made me feel at home. Only when someone asked for my passport, I realized I am out of India.
In colloquial lingo, the city is called Trinco.
Places to visit in Trincomalee
Kanniya Hot Springs
Kanniya Hot Springs are the natural wonders of the area. These are 7 square wells close to each other with hot water at different temperatures. They are located quite close to each other and are quite shallow – just about 3-4 feet deep. You can see the bottom right there when you stand next to them. It looks like an ocean bed with lots of coins thrown by visitors.
It is said that they have water at 7 different temperature levels, from lukewarm to very hot. I did touch the water in all the wells and it was hot. I could not figure out the difference in temperature between the wells. Not to forget that I was there when the sun was at its peak and any water would be hot water at that time of the day.
I saw people taking buckets of water and pouring it on themselves.
Do read – Manikaran Hot Springs
The story says that Ravana dug up these hot springs to do the last rites of his mother. Since then, Kanniya Hot Springs are used for performing last rights in Sri Lanka. Apparently, Ramayana mentions it as a part of Gokarna Tirth – another name of Trincomalee Bay.
There is a Buddhist monastery and a Shiva temple next to the Kanniya Hot Springs. In front of it are the ruins of an old Brick Stupa, the kinds you see in the Anuradhapura area.
Ticket for Sri Lankans – LKR 10/-
Ticket for Foreigners – LKR 50/-
Obviously, it is one of the places to visit in Trincomalee during your visit.
Trincomalee War Cemetery
A beautifully maintained cemetery announces its name on its iron gate along with the dates 1939-1945. The years indicate that it belongs to the World War II era. You see the cemetery as in the image above, I do not think it opens more than this for visitors.
Orr’s Hill Army Museum
This is the most basic but very well-presented museum I have seen. To a layperson, it is a great introduction to the wide range of weapons used by the Army, where they were invented and when were they procured by Sri Lanka. A room introduces to the army uniform, its ranks, insignias of various regiments, etc. Another room has a display of defense communications.
The interesting part of this museum is the display of items captured from terrorists and that includes suicide bombers.
You need 30-60 mins depending on your interest to see this museum. Located right next to the ocean, it is a pleasure to walk through this well-maintained museum. An army person will guide you, though the language may be a challenge.
You can practice shooting at a combat setup and get an experience of being an army person for a fee. I think it is a great idea to acquaint citizens about the life of army men in the country.
Ticket – Sri Lankans – LKR 20/-, Foreigners – LKR 250/-
Temples of Trincomalee
It is an ancient port city. It is also a pilgrimage site for Tamil Hindus. One of the Panch Ishwarams or the 5 prominent Shiva Temples is located at the edge of Swami rock here. There are many other temples that continue to live in the city. Let’s look at some of them:
Thirukoneswaram or Koneswaram temple is the most important temple in the city – one of the 5 Shiva temples in the country. The temple dates back to the time of Ramayana at least, as we hear many tales associated with Ravana and this temple.
The story goes that Parvati wanted a home like a normal woman and this is the place that she chose for her home. Ravana was called to perform the rituals for the new home, but he was so enticed by the grandeur of the palace that he asked it in Dakshina for performing the rituals. As soon as he got what he wanted, he realized his mistake and did severe penance to convince the Devi to stay here. Devi relented and stayed here as Shankari Devi. Shiva stays with here as Koneswara or lord of the hill. Some accounts also interpret the name as Trikon + Ishwara meaning the lord of three mountains.
Another story says Trincomalee is located on the piece of Kailasa Parvat, that was brought here by Ravana. In fact, Koneswaram temple shares the same longitude with Kailasa Parvat, earning it the name of Dakshin Kailasa. It finds mention in Dakshin Kailasa Mahatyam in Skanda Puran.
Do read – Ramayana Places to See in Sri Lanka
It is described as the 1000 pillared temple with many small shrines surrounding it. Like most other major temples in the region was destroyed by the Portuguese army. Fort Fredrick stands at the place that was once the temple premises. This means it was a huge temple complex. The chronicles say that they used to canons to demolish the temple. Some of the Murtis were buried underground by the fleeing priests. Some of these have been recovered and are now part of the temple complex.
At the Vasant Mandapa, you can see some recovered Bronze idols. In another small shrine, you see a large Lakshmi & Narayana sculpture in black stone. An old Nandi finds itself in another niche around the temple.
The present temple is a small temple located right at the far end of the rock from where you can see the ocean all around you. The main temple houses a Shivalinga and the Devi temple next door houses a standing image of the goddess.
The temple walls inside the temple tell the story of the temple. The original temple covered the whole hill as per the description here. Outside walls tell the stories of the temple from the Puranas.
A huge Shiva Murti welcomes you as you approach the temple from the parking, passing by the small temple shops.
The Ravana Abyss or Vetta refers to the cut in the Swami Rock on which the Koneswaram temple stands. It is believed that this cut was made by the Ravana with his sword.
Ravana standing with his folded hands, with his Veena next to him, on a platform hanging out of the Swami rock is an interesting sculpture. It commemorates the moment when Ravana created a veena from one of his own heads to please Shiva and Parvati.
It seems ironic that the king of the golden Lanka stands on a hanging platform with folded hands. People offer him coins and you see his feet surrounded by coins.
At the back wall of Thirukoneswaram temple is a series of miniature wooden cradles tied to the railings. It is believed that couples who want children tie a cradle to this temple wall. I also saw coins wrapped in clothes tied to the cradles.
The sunrise is just beautiful from the temple ramparts.
Interestingly, you see deer roaming around the temple premises.
Shankari Devi Shakti Peeth
Shankari Devi Temple is located within the premises of Koneswara temple. It has Adi Shakti as Shankari or the consort of Shankar. The Murti is in standing position with four arms. A two-dimensional Sri Chakra on copper stands next to her legs. Another 3 dimensional Sri Chakra stands in front of her image.
It is believed that the leg of Sati fell here when Shiva was taking her body around.
This is the first Shakti Peeth mentioned by Adi Shankaracharya in his Stotra describing the 18 Shakti Peethas in Indian Subcontinent. This makes it a very important site for the followers of both the Shiva and Shakti.
Bhadrakali or Pathirakali Amman temple
This temple is located in the middle of the city. From a distance, it looks like any other south Indian temple in Dravidian architecture with colorful Gopurams full of storytelling sculptures.
However, as soon as I entered the temple from a side door, I was stunned to see the three-dimensional sculptures all around. The sculptures were calling from the ceiling, from the brackets surrounding the pillars and from the walls. They had a million stories of the different manifestations of the Devi to tell. The loud colors and powerful images in larger than life sizes are overwhelming.
The presiding deity of this temple is Mahakali as Bhadrakali or the benevolent form of Kali. Along with her, there are Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati.
An inscription at the temple tells us that this temple predates Chola period, which means it existed in 11th CE, making it more than 1000 years old at least.
Salli Muthumariamman Kovil
Located right next to the Uppuveli beach where a small stream joins the ocean, this is one of the oldest temples in the city. This is the third important temple dedicated to Devi in the region.
Temple standing on the narrow land between backwaters and the sea has rugged rocks for company. There is a natural barrier created between the sea and the temple by the rocks. When I visited, the temple was closed but I could see that it a very venerated temple and visited by many from the signs of worship all around. The temple gives a lovely view of the Indian ocean.
I saw a strange yantra standing in front of the temple in Copper. Any idea what this is?
Did you know Trincomalee Bay is also known as Gokarna?
Laxmi Narayan Temple
This is a giant temple in blue and gold color. You can see it from a distance. It was closed when I visited and the thick moat around it prevented me from taking a good picture of it. I am told this temple is very popular with travelers to Trincomalee.
This is a fairly new temple dedicated to Vishnu as Lakshmi Narayana. I guess the blue and yellow colors were chosen for the temple also denote the blue color of Vishnu who always wears golden yellow clothes.
Here and there you see Buddhist Viharas, usually identifiable with their white stupas. I stopped a couple of them and mostly found a school like an environment there with young students roaming around.
Beaches of Trincomalee
Coming from Goa, beaches in Sri Lanka were at the bottom of my list to explore. However, in the evenings, they are the best option to explore the place. Beaches can also help you relax after a tiring day exploring the destination.
I visited Uppuveli beach twice during my stay. First was when I visited the temple. I stood on the rocks jutting out of the sea as the sun went down, soaking the tree-lined beach in its twilight.
Second, I visited on the backwater ride from my hotel. It was a nice 40 minutes slow boat ride from the hotel to the beach and back. I saw the trees standing in the middle of salt water, birds flying here and there and a vast landscape full of silence. This is one of the important places to visit in Trincomalee that I would definitely recommend anyone visiting.
Located to the North of Uppuveli beach, this is a quieter beach, away from the city.
This island can be reached by boat from Nilaveli beach. It is most popular who whale and dolphin watching, snorkeling and diving.
It gets its name from the rock pigeon breeding grounds it has.
This beach is supposed to have the clearest water. I missed visiting this beach this time.
This fort was built by destroying the temple and using its stone by the Portuguese in the April of 1622 CE on the Tamil New year day by deceit. The soldiers dressed as priests as the main Murti was taken to town in a procession and bombed the temple into the sea.
Their reign was short lived and the Dutch destroyed what they had built and rebuilt the fort in 1665 CE.
As of now, you can only see the arch leading to the temple here. Being an army installation, tourists are not encouraged here but it is accessible.
Places to visit near Trincomalee
Aathi Koneswaram Temple
This is a simple but large temple located in a village called Tamapalakamam, about 25 km from the city. This was built in 1632 CE and houses the original idols of the Koneswarar temple.
It is one of the most peaceful temples I visited in Sri Lanka. Its huge corridors with almost no crowd let you walk and admire the temple peacefully. As per the priest, the Utsav Murti in Bronze is the only ancient idol. However, my limitation with language was a barrier. He was kind enough to allow me to take the picture of this ancient idol.
Like most temples, this temple also lay abandoned during the Sri Lankan civil war.
Elephant Pass Memorial
The Elephant Pass Memorial is a memorial built to commemorate the end of civil war in Sri Lanka. Through its two semi-circles, it signifies the coming together of North and South Sri Lanka and free flow of people across the country. Hands hold up the Map of Sri Lanka. It was inaugurated by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2009.
It is lovely little sculpture, that allows you to walk up on the ramp that goes around it. Walls around the memorial show the stressful scenes of war days. You can probably see it in a few minutes but the meaning and symbolism of it will stay with you.
From the top of Elephant Pass memorial so get to see the Elephant Pass Salterns. Shining white lines of salt glitter in the sun, left on the shore why visiting waves of the ocean.
Trincomalee Backwaters Boat Ride Video
Watch the video clip in HD mode for the best view.
- The city is well connected to Colombo by train and bus.
- Cinnamon Air also connects the city by Air Taxi.
- Tuk Tuk or private car is the best way to get around the city.
- There are kinds of hotels, from basic to boutique ones. I stayed at Amaranthe Bay, which is close to Uppuveli beach.
- Photography is not allowed inside the temples, but most other places it is allowed.
- You need 2-3 days for the places to visit in Trincomalee comfortably. However, if you are rushed, you can do it in a day also.
- Do not forget to drink King Coconuts available anywhere in the city and the country.