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Hidden Treasures of Northern Sri Lanka

19th March 2015

Our tailor-made specialist for the Indian Subcontinent Sunita is currently on a recce in Sri Lanka. Below she talks about exploring Jaffna and the surrounding area in northern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is and always has been a fascinating destination. Apart from the cultural triangle, tea country and leopards, it is known for good weather all year round, delicious food and friendly people. There are parts of Sri Lanka that are only just opening up to people; an unexplored part of Sri Lanka with its own unique identity and culture.

Jaffna, the capital of the north. You can now travel there from Colombo by train, a quicker option. The Jaffna Queen train resumed service recently after a gap of 24 years. I chose to drive, breaking my journey overnight at Anuradhapura, the oldest Buddhist city and a must-see when in the country. Great roads and a smooth drive take you to Jaffna via Kilinochi, once the stronghold of LTTE. A military check post is still operational and you can visit a War Memorial at Kilinochi. Another 1.5 hour drive gets you into Jaffna town, a peaceful blend of part Dutch buildings, part modern buildings, south Indian style temples and people going about their daily lives on bicycles. I immediately wanted to discover more of this fascinating town.

And so the next day started with a trip to the clock tower and public library. It's a library well known for its enviable collection of books; the largest and the best in the country was destroyed in the 1980s. The Dutch fort is currently being restored too and should be open to visitors in a year or so. After this came a scenic journey to get to the boat jetty for a trip to Nainathivu island. The combination of blue sea and the surrounding greenery makes you wonder how a region of such beauty and tranquillity could ever face a war….what could have gone wrong? But things are moving in the right direction today.

The boat journey, although only about 20 minutes long, is definitely not for the faint-hearted. These tiny fishing trawler type boats work on improvised engines and it is quite an experience travelling on one of them. They serve their purpose and get you to Nainathivu island, a small island of great significance for both Buddhists and Hindus, which attracts people from all over the country.

This was followed by a visit to Point Pedro and the nearby northernmost point of the island. A must-see in town is the Nallur Kandaswamy temple, especially either during morning prayers or afternoon prayers – a truly unforgettable experience.

Whilst there are no national parks, tea plantations or large stretches of sandy beaches, Jaffna has a rich history and a blend of cultures on offer. On a different note, the history also includes their love of vintage cars!

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