Jaffna, Sri Lanka’s Northern Soul, the capital city of the Northern Sri Lanka, is waking up from its 3 decades long sleep of civil war. Despite having a simple living, the location is rich in its history and culture. The people of Sri Lanka’s Jaffna District are a resilient lot. Post-civil war, they’re opening up their idyllic beaches, tiny isles and urging you to visit. Each house has a history of its own and every welcoming local has something to share with the tourists. Jaffna is in fact closer to India than Colombo but sadly there is no direct way. Though there are talks of starting the ferry rides again. Due to its proximity to India, you will see more influence of Indian culture. Jaffna boasts of various Hindu temples, traditions, festivals, beaches.
The past glory of the now war torn city:
The Tamil dynasty ruled this area for 400 years until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. During those times it was the financial hub of in Sri Lanka. However, post- independence from the British Empire in 1948 tensions sparked between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. From 1983 to 2009, war raged between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE), who were fighting for an independent state. More than 100,000 people lost their lives; many more were displaced.
A New Hope:
A lot has changed since those dark days. With the declaration of peace came hope and a new lease of life for the locals who’d abandoned their homes. The Northern Province has been reborn. Many people have returned, turning to tourism to rebuild their lives. Hotels and homestays are springing up, military bases have been transformed into wildlife parks and nature resorts, and former battlefields are now family-friendly seaside getaways. Individuals who once fired bullets are reveling in newfound careers as tour guides – a turn of events many never dared dream about.
Life in this historic city:
Wake up to mellifluous bells of Nallur temple chiming across the rooftops. Upon first glance it seems like any other city on the subcontinent: loud and proud, chaotic and exotic. The beating of drums and honking of horns added to the complex cacophony. Weaving through the traffic are holy men in billowing white robes and ladies in bright saris with plaits down to their waists.
But these streets are far from ordinary. Beyond the markets, the Technicolor temples and the striking 17th-century Jaffna fort (scene of a 107-day siege in 1990) stands the ruins of war. The buildings are scarred with bullet holes, walls blasted out, ceilings long since caved in.
Jaffna’s railway station is a shell of its former splendor. Built in 1902, after the bombing in 1990; the railway line was also destroyed, thus isolating Jaffna from the rest of the country. The tracks are now buried under a carpet of overgrown grass, and graffiti and mortar damage are etched onto the crumbling walls.
You will find all the stories here, enough to fill the Jaffna Public library.
However, Nallur Kandaswamy temple brings out the cultural side of this town. Nallur Kandasamy Kovil almost a month long festival in August is a must visit. You will find your ears ringing with ancient shlokas and in the middle of what seems like an enormous wedding party for Murugan. Tens and hundreds of ullulating women with flowers in their hand and veshticlad men carrying the lord and his consort emerge from a cloud of camphor to circle the temple tank at the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. The benign rituals are a shocking taste of faith you will witnesswith bizarre, itinerant tableaux featuring men strung on hooks.
There are ruins of Portuguese Churches at Myliddi and Chankanai and a ruined Dutch Church at Atchuveli. The Dutch Fort Hammenhiel, now turned into a resort is at the entrance to the Kayts Harbour and is located in an island of the sea. Today, the Fort has shed its rather chequered past and as the Hammenheil Resort and provides a sheer experience of living within a luxuriously appointed dungeon surrounded by the ocean.to the visitors.
The Buddhist Vihara at Nagadeepa (Nainativu) Island is a place sanctified by the visit of the Buddha is a place worth a visit.
Also, at the Keerimalai springs, beautiful little spot, has the men’s side with a picturesque stepped pool of bright aquamarine water set against the sea, while the women have a smaller pool nearby surrounded by tall walls (for the best, really). The waters are supposed to be healing, and there are changing rooms on-site; women should bathe in something modest. Legend has it that the sacred Keerimalai spring became famous after the 7th-century visit by a Chola princess: not only was her digestive disorder instantly healed when she bathed in the waters and prayed to Murugan, but so was her facial deformity, which, according to one source, had the ‘likeness of a horse’s head’.
You might also consider traveling in the local ferries amongst the lovely locals to the Island of wild horses and coral fences, The Neduntheevu or Neduntivu or as the Dutch called it the Delft island it is a journey to cherish. However, it is the sort of place you can visit if you have the stomach for it. If you do, it’ll reward you with it’s beautiful untouristed beaches, British hospital, some wild Portuguese Ponies strolling by the sea and the spectacular haze of barren, dramatic plains. If not, you’ll be stuck here until the next ferry arrives three hours later.
For the beach lovers, a visit to the Casaurina beach & Mannar island overlooking the Gulf of Mannar is a pleasant experience.
Jaffna is approximately 8hours drive from Colombo and is filled with scenic beauties of lush green grass and rice plantations. Though for the foreigners to visit Jaffna you have to take a written permission from the ministry of defense.
For now the accommodation at Jaffna is limited but it is a town that reveals its dark past but bright future. The thing about Jaffna is, in its ordinariness lies a more delicate charm, be it it’s lovely people or it’s untouristed naivete.
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