Tamils called it Matakkalappu or Muddy Swamp. The Portuguese re-named it Batticaloa. But for many, it is the Land of the Singing Fish
Batticaloa, Batti for short, enjoys a spectacular position surrounded by lagoons with palm-filtered sunlight glancing off the water. There’s a mellow vibe to the town, and though there are no dramatic or must-see sights, a morning exploring the lagoon, the compact centre and its fortress is time well spent. One Sunday morning, we did just that.
The 28 metre lighthouse built in 1913 stands at the end of a sandbar, surrounded by lagoons and mangroves. It is a good spot to park your car and take a boat ride in the lagoon.
The 56 Km long lagoon, famous for its singing fish, has many small islands and is fed by a number of small rivers. It is linked to the sea by two narrow channels. The lagoon has extensive mangrove swamps and beds of sea grass and attracts a wide variety of aquatic birds. I saw Grey Herons, Cormorants, Terns, a Western Reef Heron and Brahminy Kites trying to scoop up Little Grebes from the water. There were no singing fish but the occasional flying fish took off and landed in a graceful arch. Local women, neck deep in water, harvest a kind of clam from the sandy bottom to sell to restaurants at Rs.50 (25 pence) per kilo.
Lagoon Park and the Light House Sports Club have motor boats for lagoon tours (Rs.3500, £17.50 per boat for 6) at the light house.
Built in 1924 during British colonial rule, Kallady bridge was named Lady Manning Bridge in honour of the wife of William Manning, the British Governor of Ceylon. At that time, it was the longest iron bridge in the country.
Batticaloa Gate on Puliyaanivu island marks the spot where small boats landed before British rule in Sri Lanka. In 1814 Rev. William Ault, the first Methodist missionary and the founder of Batticaloa Central College landed here. A statue of him also stands next to Batticaloa Gate in the Mahatma Gandhi Park.
Batticaloa Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1628 and was captured by the Dutch in 1638. The British used it from 1745 and today, houses a number of local government departments. The fort has four bastions and is protected by the lagoon on two sides and a canal on the other two sides.
Situated right next to the Fort, this is the place for a cracking lunch. The crab curry is exceptional.
“Batti is famous in Sri Lankan folklore for its singing fish. According to tradition, between April and September a strange noise – described variously as resembling a plucked guitar or violin string, or the sound produced by rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a glass – can be heard issuing from the depths of the lagoon. The “singing” is allegedly strongest on full moon nights, though no one knows exactly what causes it. The most popular explanation is that it’s produced by some form of marine life – anything from catfish to mussels – while another theory states that it’s made by water flowing between boulders on the lagoon floor. The best way to listen to the singing is apparently to dip one end of an oar in the water and hold the other end to your ear. Kallady Bridge is traditionally held to be a good place to tune in.” – Rough Guides
Here’s a recording of fish ‘singing’. (Credit Tharsan Sriranganathan)