Hikkaduwa is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest and best-known west-coast beach and watersports resorts, mainly thanks to great surfing and the abundant coral reefs found just offshore.

But while sea, sand and surf are the fun face of Hikkaduwa’s friendly and engaging personae, there is a somber story of tragedy and heartbreak just below the surface.

In December 2004, the full force of the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the town just as the Queen of the Sea train from Colombo passed along the track, which runs just yards from the beach.

At least 1,700 passengers died in what became the world’s worst rail disaster, and even today the people of Hikkaduwa will stop and point out the various landmarks that commemorate the tragedy.

The most notable of these is the Tsunami Memorial, a 60ft (18m) standing Buddha on an island surrounded by a lake that was was unveiled exactly two years later.

A more human landmark are the many tailors and dressmakers in the town, courtesy of the hundreds of sewing machines that were provided by aid donors to the many families left destitute in the tsunami’s aftermath.

On a much happier note, a resurgent Hikkaduwa is now thriving thanks to the increasing number of sun-seeking tourists taking the ‘gold coast’ road south from the capital Colombo.

Many visitors come for the chance to view the coral reef’s teeming marine life from glass-bottomed boats or up close through a diving mask as wind-surfers skim the surface just meters above their heads.

Others are happy to just relax and unwind at the many beach-side hotels and bar-restaurants, while still others prefer to explore the many other attractions that Hikkaduwa has to offer.

But later, as the setting sun casts its lingering shadows, all will raise a glass or three to health, hope and happiness and give fond thanks for another memorable day in paradise.

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