Jaffna - a town on the rise

The northern region of Jaffna isn’t on the itinerary of every tourist in Sri Lanka and I guess I can see why; Jaffna is perceived to be dangerous, difficult to reach and lacking in attractions for tourists. In my opinion these 3 assumptions are a load of rubbish...  The civil war only ended in Jaffna 3 years ago and until mid-2011 you still needed a government issued permit to pass the security checkpoints on route to Jaffna, now any tourist can travel to the far north of Sri Lanka with a normal visa, there is just one security checkpoint where your passport details are checked but it’s just a formality. While travelling around and walking the streets I never felt threatened or in danger at all. Reaching Jaffna from the capital is easy and cheap; an overnight AC bus takes around 10 hours and costs 1100 Rupees (£5.50) leaving at around 8pm and arriving in Jaffna at 6ish the next day – easy. Roads have improved over the last year so the journey is fairly smooth and comfortable. And providing you’re willing to travel by local bus, there is loads to see in Jaffna.

A typical street in Jaffna.

One of the many cool tuk tuks on Hospital Road.
The journey from Polonnaruwa got off to a confusing start, we were careering along the highway with that usual madness I’ve come to expect from Sri Lankan bus drivers, then the bus came to an abrupt halt. Everyone stood up and looked around, confused at what had happened, I obviously did the same but since I don’t speak Tamil or Sinhalese I was none the wiser. After a few minutes a man walks through the bus doors with a backpack, my backpack. Either someone threw it out or the bus driver’s ability to “catch air” on the corners caused it to go flying. Regardless, the cramped seats were amplified as I hugged my bag for the remainder of the journey, at the bus conductor’s request. 
Proud fisherman and his catch on Beach Road

Found a really nice restaurant where you eat your food on a banana leaf, then dispose throw your "plate" down a chute. 
Approaching the Hindu temple of Naga Pooshani Amman Kovil on Nainativu Island.

Hindu temple Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil in Jaffna
Jaffna is the cultural town of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Historically, Jaffna has been a disputed city. It was made into a colonial port town during the Portuguese occupation of the Jaffna peninsula in 1619. It changed hands to the Dutch, who lost it to the British in 1796 without a single shot being fired. After Sri Lanka gained independence 1948, the political relationship between the minority Sri Lankan Tamils and majority Sinhalese worsened and civil war erupted in 1983. As I understand it, the Tamil people were fighting for an independent state after feeling they were continuously mistreated by the Sinhalese and their government. If you want more information on the civil war read this.

Some remains on Jaffna fort. The library on the left in the distance and a monument to the Tamil Federation Party on the right.
Destroyed buildings on the Western outskirts of Jaffna town
I instantly liked Jaffna. I had been travelling for a total of 9 hours on 2 sweaty crammed buses only to be welcomed by the stifling heat of Jaffna. The last thing you want is to be accosted by annoying touts in your face, despite continuously turning a guide book 90 degrees trying to fathom which way was north and looking hopelessly lost, the line of tuk-tuk drivers left us alone and didn’t sell their brothers/uncles/mates guesthouse. A great start. Walking the 30 minutes to a mystery guesthouse a fellow traveller recommended, the damage of the recent civil war was evident in many of the buildings. However, I didn’t really have a chance to take it in, I was too busy saying hello to everyone passing by. Sri Lanka is a friendly place in general but Jaffna takes the biscuit, they are so curious and desperate to try every line of English they know.

Fisherman on Point Pedro.
Keerimalai spring in KKS. Legend has it this spring cured a horse-faced princess of her long face,  but you can't perfect perfection so I look just the same.

A dead turtle washed up on the beach, the locals looked upset as well. RIP dude.

The population in Jaffna is predominately Hindu and I didn’t realise Catholicism would still be so prevalent. On the first day of exploring our new surroundings I was drawn into one of these beautiful but slightly decrepit churches, we were greeted by a group of young aspiring priests who knew exactly what we were missing….. football. Each day we would turn up at 4 and run around like headless chickens until red in the face and drained of all our energy, then look forward to doing all again the next day. This was a real highlight of my time in Jaffna .

St Martin's Seminary - The theatre of dreams.

Football with the future priests.
Talking cricket tactics.

In Jaffna the 26 year civil war only ceased in 2009 and the recent scars can be seen all over the region. Out of the bus window on route to the north, I saw workers searching for landmines and many warnings along the road side. I was told around 100,000 mines were planted, many of these never detonated. On a day trip to the far north of the Jaffna peninsula, we noticed dagger shaped holes in the roof of our bus, curiosity got the better of us and we asked the conductor what happened. It turned out it was actually caused by a grenade. Point Pedro, the most northerly part of Sri Lanka, suffered greatly during the civil war and also during the 2004 tsunami. Rubble was strewn everywhere and half demolished buildings constantly in your line of sight, even after these years of development parts of the beach could be used as a set for a war film. It was such a humbling moment watching children set their kites to air while the sun was setting in such a macabre environment. 

Flying kites with the kids on Point Pedro.
Sunset, cloud and a kite in Point Pedro.

I told the security checkpoint officials I would be spending 4 days in Jaffna, I actually ended up staying for 8 and could quite easily have stayed for longer. Jaffna might not appeal to everyone but I loved the place. Oh, and the food was probably the best I've had in Sri Lanka.


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