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Sri Lanka Holidays: Sunken Treasure, Golden Pearl Island and Swaymbhu lingum

Sri Lanka Holidays: Sunken Treasure, Golden Pearl Island and Ravana’s Swaymbhu lingum by bunpeiris

If a sheer single word could bring about the most divine joy, the word “treasure” would take the pole position to race against the most precious of all words: father, mother, son, daughter and lover. Of course, you may re-order the words, for your lover would hardly approve the sequence. Of course, you may hold the sequence at your peril but nobody would twitch a muscle nor bat an eye. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for there’s more to swing low and final thrust of the argument is still ahead. If such is the magic of the single word, the ultimate magic could perhaps be encapsulated in a pair of words: sunken treasure.

The Great Basses Lighthouse off Kirinda

The Great Basses Lighthouse off Kirinda

In the year1958, Mike Wilson discovered a hitherto unknown spectacular underwater territory that sparked interest in snorkling, scuba diving (skin diving), wreck diving and submarine photography (underwater photography) in the southern coast of Sri Lanka Holidays. The location was the Great Basses Reef, 6 miles away (as the crow flies) from Kirinda in the mainland (island of Sri Lanka). Great Basses Ridge and Little Basses Ridge run almost parallel to the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The wave-swept line of submerged rocks of Great Basses is home to Great Basses Light house while the Little Bases Ridge houses Little Basses Light house. Both light houses were then run by Imperial Light House Service of Great Britain. Close to the location of Little Basses light house is Daedalus Rock the site where Her Majesty’s ship Daedalus had been wrecked upon.

In the year 1959, Arthur C. Clarke and Rodney Johnklass joined Mike Wilson on an expedition. Arthur narrates: around the lighthouse was a fantastic submarine fairyland of caves, grottoes, coral-encrusted valleys-and fish in numbers such as I have never seen anywhere else in the world. Sometimes they crowded round us so closely that we could see nothing but a solid wall of scales and had literarily to push our way through. They were inquisitive and completely unafraid. During our visit we met eagle rays, turtles, angelfish, jacks, tuna (up to three hundred pounds!), groupers, and sharks, especially the latter. Arthur C. Clarke: The Indian Ocean Treasure (1972)

The Great Basses Reef and The Little Basses Reef

The Great Basses Reef and The Little Basses Reef

In the year 1961 Mike Wilson was once again at the Great Basses Reef. Arthur C, Clarke and Rodney Johnklass missed him. But then Mike managed pretty well without them, for he was accompanied by a couple of first class divers, members of the official U.S. community. They were young fellows. Arthur C. Clarke had no idea how his buddy Mike had managed to persuade the parents of Boby Kriegal and Mark Smith. They were only fourteen and thirteen years of age respectively.

Travel to Kirinda from Colombo (175 miles)

Quote Arthur C. Clarke: Mark Smith’s (14) diary, March 12, 1961 “Arrived.” That one word covers a 175-mile drive down the beautiful, palm-fringed, southwest coast of Ceylon-surely one of the loveliest in the world-past dozens of fishing villages with their picturesque outrigger boats drawn up on the beaches. The journey goes through the ancient port of Galle-which, say some historians, may be the Tarshish of the Bible–and beyond that into a lonely landscape of still lagoons and patches of jungle. You may meet wild elephants here, but they seldom bother motorists. Unquote

The tricky rope trip from boat to the Lighthouse

The tricky rope trip from boat to the Lighthouse

The seaport of Galle is home to VOC Galle Dutch Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Galle is a conveniently located to make visits to Sri Lanka Holidays Wild life sanctuaries Udawalave, Ruhuna Yala as well as to Sri Lanka Holidays ancient cities of Kataragama and Tissmaharama of Ruhuna, the cradle of the heroes of then Lanka and now Sri Lanka.

Boat ride from Kirinda to Light house of Imperial Light house Service at Great Basses Ridge (10 miles, as you sail)

Sri Lanka Holidays Kirinda, a small fishing village is home to the boat house built by the imperial Light house Service of the colonial ruler, Great Britain. The boat “Pharos” leaves for the Light house at the Great Basses at 4 a.m. in the morning, a god damn it hour to wake up and most of all, to get up. But that is when the sea put up its best behavior: calmest. Think of the boat ride calm instead of the blanket warm and get up and double up. Viola! Mike and the boys would take the ten mile boat ride to the Great basses Reef.

The tricky rope trip from the boat at Great Basses Ridge to the light house (height of the light house)

Having taken the 10 mile boat ride to the Great Basses Reef, with no place for landing, the boat would be anchored about fifty feet away from the rocks. The only way up to the light house is by means of a thick rope slung across and down to the boat from a crane on the light house. They were hauled up it, swinging back and forth. The equipment- Aqua Lungs, air compressor, underwater cameras, files, food too were hauled up to the light house by the same rope.

The Great Basses Reef to the sunken treasure (30 feet down in the bottom of the sea)

Boby Kriegal lifts one of the silver coin masses

Boby Kriegal lifts one of the silver coin masses

Date: 17th March 1961: Mike Wilson, Boby Kriegal and Mark Smith, seabed of the Indian Ocean, around the Great Basses Light House, Great Basses Ridge, 10 miles off the Historical beach of Kirinda, Sri Lanka Holidays; skin diving with a single cylinder aqua lung.

Boby Kriegal (14) speaks to the tape recorder of Arthur C. Clarke: Mike told us, he thought he saw a cannonball. Then we saw a small cannon, about two and a half feet long. Mike dived down-no, Mile didn’t dive down to it. He showed it to me and pointed. I dived down and tried to pull it up. I couldn’t do it. So then Mike dived and lifted it free, then put it back down. Mike said that the wreck might have hit on one side of the reef and some more might be on the other side; so we swam around the edge of it. After we got to the other side, the first thing we saw a shiny cannon, about two and a half feet long, sitting on the edge of a big canyon; and it was worn smooth by the water, and shining as though someone had put it there the other day.

Arthur C. Clarke narrates: and when I weighed the big lumps that Mike and the boys had brought back, I found that each contained almost exactly one thousand silver coins. There could be no doubt they were the remains of 1000 rupee bags that had been counted and sealed-just as bags of coins are handled by banks today. When the ship had gone down, the material of the bags had lasted long enough for the outer layers of rupees to become cemented together by the action of the sea. Thus inside the lump were perfectly preserved, while the whole mass retained the shape of the original bag. The coins had been minted in the reign of the Emperor Aurangzeb, who was the last of the great Mogul rulers of India for almost half a century, from 1658 to 1701, but when he died, his empire broke up in civil wars which paved the way for the Western invaders-the Portuguese, the French, and finally the British.

The Great Basses light house to the location of the sunken treasure (more than a thousand feet, a tremendous distance to cover even for a good swimmer)

Boby Kriegal and Mark Smith

Boby Kriegal and Mark Smith

At the end of mere 2 days of diving on the wreck, without proper equipment and with no boat, the three musketeers had brought back some two hundred pounds of material, including two little swivel guns (30 pounds each). Swimming to the Great Basses light house the location of the sunken treasure often took more than an hour. In the words of Arthur C. Clarke himself it was an astonishing performance.

A wall of solid silver

Quote Boby Kriegel (14) as tape recorded: Well, the coins are in the bottom, next to the cannon-about five feet long, say up to two feet wide. Then if you went along a side of the wall, I’d say it could have got down to six feet long and still about two and a half feet wide. But this was perpendicular to the bottom of the sand, so if it is laid over flat, it would probably be three feet wide. Knocked three or four hunks off this wall; I mean by hunks about a thousand coins stuck together. Unquote

Now that’s the mother load: the hunt is on; the search is on for a boat and equipment.

One good thing leads to another: Golden Pearl Island

Arthur C. Clarke suggested his buddy Mike to rent a boat. Mike Wilson harbored another idea: their own boat. That was an ambitious one: a boat that would cost about USD10,000 (1961). The road to a seaworthy boat shook up indomitable Clarke himself. Mike Wilson was determined to make it in local movie business: a 2 and a half hour adventure movie in color on a sunken treasure.

Mike Wilson films PeterThrockmorton

Mike Wilson films PeterThrockmorton

A sunken treasure, the most fortunate discovery and then the Herculean recovery would make everybody call you “our captain Marvel” and greet you “what a daring darling you are!” And that’s how we would call and greet Mike Wilson the diver, cameraman, the accidental treasure hunter of cultured and sophisticated variety. As if such a rarity wouldn’t immortalize him in the history of marine treasure hunts, Mike Wilson also earned eternal glory in the general populace of Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon too by dream producing and venture directing the adventure movie, the first color film of Sri Lanka, Ran Muthu Duwa which meant Golden Pearl Island in Sinhala.

And at that point of time, it was a pretty ambitious project in view of Mike Wilson’s not so impressive experience being confined to single 25-minute, 16-millimeter Kodachrome film titled “Beneath the Seas of Ceylon”. Then again just a few years ago his time at Kitulgala of Sri Lanka Holidays helping David Lean to direct the Second World War epic “The Bridge on the River Kwai” must have done a world of good for his confidence. Mike Wilson wasted no time and at a brisk pace went about writing the script, assembling his unit, chasing bankers and film distributors, and doing all the thousand that would make everything in ship shape about the movie with underwater scenes at beautiful beaches of Trincomalee. That is what bunpeiris would call dream producing and venture directing a movie.

One good thing leads to another: Swayambhuwa Linga

While filming Golden Pearl Island, Mike went on to discover non other than Swayambhuwa Linga (self bodied regenerative organ, the symbol of Hindu God Shiva), one of the 69 authentic stone carved siva lingam artifacts whose antiquity runs into half a decade of millenniums, at the seabed of beautiful beaches of Trincomalee. Such discoveries would have made any other mortal content for the rest of his lifetime; but not indomitable Mike Wilson. Having restored Swayambhuwa Linga to where it belonged, Koneshwaram Kovil at Trincomalle, Mike Wilson settled down at the sacred city of Kataragama of Sri Lanka Holidays to become an ascetic in search of  God Skanda.

Golden Pearl Island takes Ceylon by storm

In the year 1962, the first Sinhala color film Ranmuthu Doowa (RMD as Mike and the gang called it) meaning Golden Pearl Island in Sinhala produced by Shesha Palihakkara and directed by Mike Wilson with Willie Blake behind the camera was released by Serendib Productions, Sri Lanka. Let me switch you over to my hero: my father.

Baminahennedige Donald Benedict Peiris {that’s my father,1930- 2005, Lakshapatiya, Moratuwa, western coastal belt of Sri Lanka; Prince of Wales’ College of Moratuwa, Ceylon Technical College, Moratuwa, which was decades later to be upgraded to University of Moratuwa where story teller of 2001 space odyssey, Sir Arthur C. Clarke was to become Dean; Welikada Wireless Station, Ceylon; Department of Meteorology, Colombo, Ceylon and Sri Lankan counterpart to WMO expert of World Meteorological Organization Project in Sri Lanka and Maldives, then Meteorological station, Midway Islands USA Naval Base – ITT. Read There’s a Kind of Hush} narrates: The movie took the little ancient tropical island of Sri Lanka by storm; the Ceylonese were held enthralled. Such was the popularity of the movie, it was recorded that every one in ten in Ceylon viewed the movie at one of the cinema theatres of the island. Mike Wilson, Rodney Johnklass and Willie Blake became household names in then (1962) populace of 10 million in the island of Sri Lanka.

The star studded cast from our western coastal belt of Sri Lanka consisted of dashing and daring Sembuge Gamini Shelton Fonseka (Bandu) of Hatari mould, Jeevarani Kuru Kula Sooriya, an exotic beauty called “the gorgeous one” (Kumari), Joe Abeywickrama (Sena), Anthony C. Perera (Bandu’s uncle), Joe Shane Gunaratne (Rajo), Austin Abeysekera (Danapala) and Vincent De Vaas (Muttusamy) & Thilakasiri Fernanado (Swami). Maestro W. D. Ameradeva (W. D. Albert) of our legendary hometown of Moratuwa (western coastal belt) composed enchanting music. The master musicians of Sri Lanka, Ms. Nanda Malini, Narada Disasekera and Milton Perera turned out melodious Sinhala songs titled “The world testifies that the human life is a flowing river” “Blooming flowers in the wild dancing to the scintillating breeze” and “Creepers of flowery Saman embracing flagrant Sadun tree”. The catchy tunes, the toe tingling beats broadcasted by Radio Ceylon (later named Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) were soon blaring out of every radio (then called wireless sets based on vacuum valve technology) and radio fusion (an elementary radio) of the island. If those were Sinhala hit songs then, today those are golden oldies; if it was everybody’s dream film then, today it is a vintage movie. One more round of  Champaign is served for all on the house. Photographs are taken by Mike Wilson, Rodney Johnklass, Arthur C. Clarke and Royal Ceylon Air Force. Copyright by Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson.
That wasn’t the end. That was only the beginning: the road to a seaworthy boat. Mike Wilson got his boat. You need to be careful what you wish for: if you work hard enough, in all probability, you would get it. Then it is all yours to ride the waves. Join Google wave. Episode 1 is presented to you by bunpeiris of Riolta Sri Lanka Holidays.


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One Response to “Sri Lanka Holidays: Sunken Treasure, Golden Pearl Island and Swaymbhu lingum”

  1. Chaaya Blu Trincomalee | Sri Lanka Hotel Guide Says:

    [...] later day. In the year 1962, while taking the underwater shots of the Sinhala movie Ran Muthu Duwa (Golden Pearl island), the revered Shiva Lingam was miraculously discovered in the sea bed off Trincomalee, by the [...]

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