After the hot water wells at Madunagala that morning, we drove the fifty odd kilometres to Tissamaharama, or Tissa as the town is commonly called, stopping briefly to taste fresh yoghurt at the state run farm in the village of Wirawila.
Tissa was the capital of Sri Lanka’s Ruhuna Kingdom in the 3rd century B.C. Only a few buildings from that period can still be seen today apart from the restored Tissa Dagoba (with a circumference of 165m and 55.8m tall, it is one of the biggest Dagobas in the country and is thought to have held a tooth relic and a forehead bone relic of the Buddha) and the large artificial Tissa Wewa lake (they are called Tanks in Sri Lanka) which was part of a sophisticated ancient irrigation system. Water in the tank is retained at about 13 feet depth and there is a 5 foot gap between the water level and the top of the bank. The embankment is about 1.2 km long. A single flood escape section, about 100 meters in length, is located on the eastern side. From this, water flows to another Tank, Yodha Wewa down stream. The surface area of the tank is 652 acres and the capacity is 160 million cubic feet. The bund was built of large roughly-hewn blocks of stone, few of which were less than a ton in weight.
Our base in Tissa was the Lakeside Hotel – a big, noisy place overlooking the Lake. When we arrived there for lunch, a wedding reception was in progress with deafeningly loud music. Three or four men were dancing to baila tunes (of mixed Portuguese and Sri Lankan origin) and women in garish and brightly coloured sarees sat watching. “They will be gone by four in the afternoon” an old woman said as we ate our mediocre rice and curry in the hotel restaurant.
The canal in front of the hotel appeared to be a favourite bathing spot for both locals and visitors alike and a line of kiosks sold food and drink and freshly caught lake fish which is popular in Sri Lanka. Gypsy kids begged and their parents sat near their ramshackle huts chewing betel leaves with areca nut and lime, an addictive psycho-stimulating mixture which is a major cause of mouth cancer in the country. A traffic policeman stood watching.
Today, Tissa mainly serves as a starting point for visits to Yala National Park and the Hindu temple of Kataragama. We too came to Tissa to do exactly that but first visited the little known Ranminitenna Cinema Village just outside the city.
Sri Lanka’s first cinema village opened in 2010. It has an indoor studio, a rural section and an urban setup of cities and villages for the production of films and Tele-dramas together with accommodation and other facilities required for the crew and cast when a tele drama is shot on location.
The Cinema Village promised a lot but delivered little. It certainly is no Universal Studios and there was not much to do other than walk in the hot sun and look at decaying buildings. Women in bright pink sarees offered brief explanations in Sinhalese at three stratergic spots. At Rs. 50, the entrance ticket was modestly priced as far as locals were concerned but I felt sorry for hapless foreigners who were asked to pay Rs. 1500 each. Fortunately, there was none to be seen!