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Weligama

Weligama possesses an expansive, all-embracing bay that welcomes long frothing rollers which spill onto the barrel-chest of a beach. An afternoon stroll the length of the bay to enjoy the panoramic vista while taking in the buzz of fishing activity is very enjoyable. The eastern end is a strategic place to be at sunset, the place the bay where the waves roll in to provide great opportunity for surfers. This is where the bulk of guesthouses are situated. At the western end, with islands just offshore, the water in season is miraculously still, calm and as blue as a Sri Lankan sapphire.

Weligama means “Sandy Village”, though it is also referred to as ‘Red Bay’ due to its rose-red cliffs. These red cliffs and rose-tinged islands do indeed characterize Weligama and can be viewed as far as the eye can see. Another famous aspect is stunning Taprobane Island, in wading distance from the shore, built by a fake French Count, lived on by American writer Paul Bowles, and now a hotel.

Hundreds of outrigger catamarans float in the expanse of Weligama Bay and dot the sandy beach. At the western end, with islands just offshore, the water in season is miraculously still, calm and as blue as a Sri Lankan sapphire. To the eastern end of the bay the waves roll in to provide great opportunity for surfers. This is where the bulk of guesthouses are situated.

Weligama town is pretty in parts – street to the west, for instance, hide houses decorated with mal lali (an elegant southern wooden fretwork) set amidst lush gardens. There are a handful of Buddhist dagobas and churches to the western part of town. However, the three-metre high megalith carved with a figure popularly thought to be Kustaraja or “Leper King” at Rasamukkanda is what Weligama is historically famed for.

There are several beliefs surrounding the identity of this figure, carved around the 8th or 9th century. Does it represent a leprous Sinhalese king who lived off the village’s coconut milk for three moons to cure his sickness. Or is it an Indian prince who introduced the coconut to the island? Another belief is that it is a Mahayana Bodhisattva (a being who assists all sentient beings achieve Buddhahood).

One famous visitor to Weligama was the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, who coined the word ecology but faked scientific evidence. Haeckel spent several weeks in Weligama at the rest-house, still much as it was then, collecting marine specimens.

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