Jaffna. One of the most vibrant and important cogs that move the Northern Province. Everyone says that they have gone to Jaffna. That they’ve seen the sights and met the people. But have you really experienced it? Have you felt the raw, captivating emotions that resonate in your heart as you explore an untouched paradise of its own? No? Well I did. I didn’t just get on a bus and walk around with a camera. I lived each and every moment of it, from start to finish. Now let me show you exactly what living in the real Jaffna is like.
What is real? What do I mean by the term ‘The Real Jaffna’? Well the real stems down from the raw emotions and the genuineness of the people. Every single person in Jaffna contributes to a society that is built on the foundation of unity and respect. Regardless of who you address, terms of respect are always used. This profound respect comes easily and genuinely to the people of Jaffna.
Hawks circled the docks of Punkudutivu as we waited to embark on to one of the ferries that would take us to the island of Delft. Their magnificent wings flap gently before they glide around in circles, so close that I could touch them if I had just stretched my hand out. To witness the world through their eyes would be breathtaking and yet there is beauty in the eyes of the mortal beholders whose feet are planted firmly on the ground. You are also greeted with a wonderful sight of fishermen hauling their nets with vigour and separating the fish from the crustaceans by the side of the road.
As I embarked on to the ferry, I was provided with a life vest as per the regulations. I was not prepared for what was to be one bumpy roller coaster ride on water. The sea gods slapped against the vessel with brutal hands as the boat rocked back and forth, the sea spraying like mist, gently cooling you. You are even greeted with a very unusual sight of ferries transporting people, goats and even vehicles from one point to the other. The closer you get to the Island of Delft, the calmer the sea gets. After an hour-long ride, we disembarked and went through a thorough sanitization process, after which you are free to explore the island.
The tour guide who helped us explore the island was organized by the Navy themselves. He was a very friendly chap, always with a smile and very hospitable. He showed us around and the fact that he was quite fluent in both Sinhala and English made it a lot more convenient for us to gain more knowledge of the place. He, out of his own accord, took us to locations that we hadn’t even thought of in our own list.
One of the first things you notice as you walk around is the presence of walls made out of corals. These 4-5 feet tall walls are just stacked atop each other with only the weather to bind them together. It is an ingenious creation even if it’s commonplace.
We trudged on to witness the grazing area of the famous Delft wild horses. These horses were left behind when the Dutch left Sri Lanka in 1796 and have grown to quite a number all on their own. We witnessed some having a drink of water while the others played around in the shallow waves.
From there we moved onto the Seven Wells and the Seven Wells beach. The Seven Wells provide an abundance of fresh water and at the Seven Wells beach, the comforting sounds of the waves lapped at the shores, awakening a sense of serenity within you. The beach was so clean and you could see it for miles and miles down the coast.
The Hanuman’s Foot Print was truly an archaeological marvel. Seeing the massive footprint imprinted onto the hard rock was amazing. It is truly a wonder and the local legend is that it was imprinted by the great god Hanuman, hence the name. As we were exploring, we certainly met another marvel in the form of a lady and her little son. They had the most beautiful eyes that I have ever seen. With tints of blue and clear green, it was truly like staring into the great expanse of the universe. Their eyes seemed to be a magnificent galaxy of its own. They were very friendly and let us capture a few photos of them. We also got to know that the island of Delft runs on generators that utilize the power of water as well as through using windmills which means it is very eco-friendly.
From there, it was on to the Sacred Bo Sanctuary temple, where the fabled Sangamitta, sister of Mihindu Maha Thero, was known to have taken rest, while on her journey to bring the sacred bo sapling to Sri Lanka. The temple was built later and this point is considered the highest point in the island. The Delft Dutch Fort provided a more colonial experience to our journey. It was a stronghold built by the Dutch and presented us with a wonderful experience of Dutch architecture. This also included the Pigeon’s Nest which was the form of communication used during the Dutch rule. Pigeons nested here before the message was wrapped to their leg and released. The structure is made entirely out of coral.
The ride to our next location,was through a dusty road which ran across parallel to the turquoise blue sea. On either side, there were baobab trees which are not so common in any other part of the country. These trees were believed to have been brought down by the Dutch, when they were active in the African slave trade.
We arrived at another beautiful Dutch architectural marvel, which is the Queen’s Tower. This 55-foot tower acted as a lighthouse to guide ships away from the rocky shore. This magnificent tower is still well guarded by the Navy. The Navy personnel were more than happy to speak to us and tell us about the tower’s rich history.
Next to the tower the water is a breath taking Aquamarine with pieces of white coral washing up on the shore with every new wave. After the conclusion of our Delft Island adventure, we decided to take a small break at one of the rest-stops that was at the entry point. After a short snack and a drink of water to energize ourselves we went back to recuperate for the next day’s adventure.
The next day, it was back to the docks of Punkudutivu; but this time, we had a different destination in mind. We went by ferry to the island of Nagadeepa. It was a very short ride; roughly about 15 to 20 minutes and a much calmer ride in comparison to that of the Island of Delft. We met a few ladies who wished to share the boat ride with us and they were nothing short of wonderful, friendly souls. They were extremely grateful for the lift. Nagadeepa Island is where many devotees come to fulfill their vows with regards to fertility. These vows are fulfilled at the Nagapooshani Amman Temple. Many young girls and their families come to conduct poojas for coming of age.
From there it was on to the Nagadeepa temple, it is said that Lord Buddha visited the Nagadeepa Island to settle a dispute between two kings – Chulodara and Mahodara over a gem-studded throne. We continued this journey on foot. There were many little children rushing for classes on their push-bicycles in brighly coloured dresses that fell short only to their bright friendly smiles and melodious laughter.
Delving deeper into the city of Jaffna itself, there are so many places to see and things to do that no matter how much time you spend there, you’ll always find something new to do or a new place to see.
One of the most beautiful places to see, is the Jaffna Fort. This 400-year-old fort built by the Portuguese during their tenure in Sri Lanka, dates back to being one of the oldest structures in Sri Lanka to have seen most battles; with its first battle being the Dutch capture of it in 1658.
That is not to say that Jaffna lacks vibrancy. The Jaffna Market is a very vibrant place filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and other items that may pique your interest. The food items and the place itself is incredibly clean, the fruits and veggies are as fresh as you could get and the market place itself is very inviting to everyone. Let us also not forget the ever-famous Rio Ice Cream which is definitely worth the try for everyone; regardless of whether you are a sweet tooth or not.
The Public Library of Jaffna was one of the top libraries in all of Asia. However, it fell to a fire in 1981 and most of the 97,000 plus books and manuscripts in it were destroyed. However, it has since been rebuilt and returned to its former glory. Some of these books were written on papyrus, long before paper was invented. The Jaffna Archaeological Museum is a great place to learn more and understand the lost culture of the Kingdom of Jaffna. It is home to a rare collection of Buddhist and Hindu antiquities that will help you understand more about this untouched paradise.
From the ruins in the Kingdom of Jaffna Kingdom to Muniyappar Kovil to the Keerimalai Tank, there is something for everyone to experience whether it is nature, historic, cultural or just plain relaxation and beauty. Places such as Dambakolapatuna Temple and Nallur Kovil have immense cultural value. Dambakolapatuna Temple is where Sangamiththa Thero landed in Sri Lanka with the sacred Bo sapling under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The Nallur Kovil is dedicated to Murugan, the Hindu God of War. This kovil is renowned all over the island and people visit it for its holy presence. A special ritual that males have to do, is enter topless as a sign of respect to God Murugan. This is a very obvious connotation as to the amount of respect the people of the island of Jaffna have as well as how deeply rooted the sense of religion and culture is, in their hearts.
The roots of the past run deep especially in places such as the Ruins in the KIngdom of Jaffna and Fort Hammenheil. While they are of two different descendance with the ruins being built by the kings of old and Fort Hammenheil being built by the Portuguese as a fort and later used as a prison.
We can clearly see that the Jaffna area is rich in human experiences that will highlight and help you understand the past of its rich and vibrant culture. The Naguleshwaram Kovil built in honour of Lord Shiva, is another great cultural marvel that showcases the strong Hindu culture that presides in the Northern Region even after it being destroyed by the Portuguese.
One tradition that made me respect the culture of the North even more is the Pada Yatra or the Foot Pilgrimage. This is a 2-month long walking journey where devotees travel from one sacred place to another by foot in order to show respect to the Gods. This journey starts from the Selava Sanidhi Murugan Temple and ends at the Kataragama Temple. This pilgrimage shows just how true to their values and how strong the faith is within this wondrous community. If you are lucky, you may even find yourself in an explosion of colours on the Thai Pongal Day at the Kite Festival.
Kites of various shapes, forms, sizes and colours enrich this day and paint the sky in a plethora of colours like a painting. The natural marvels of the city of Jaffna are truly magnificent. The Keerimalai tank, Point Pedro Lighthouse and the Nilavarei Bottomless Well are truly, wonders of the earth. Beautiful lush greenery and sparkling turquoise water makes it so inviting for you to take a dip in. The Nilavarei Bottomless Well allows you to take a dip.
The Limestone Caves are another natural marvel of the Jaffna City. A very heart-warming story occurred during our journey to the Limestone Caves. We took the wrong turn and ended up on top of the Limestone Caves instead of the entrance to them. Luckily for us, there was a passer by and we hailed him over. When he learnt what we were asking for, he took his own time to go down and show us the correct footing to get down the hill safely. The beauty of this story is that this man, helped us out on his own accord and asked no compensation. Even when we insisted, he didn’t take a single penny. He said he just wanted to help out. That is a truly valuable lesson and is a quality that can be seen prevalent in all of the community of Jaffna.
The ever beautiful Sarasalai Mangrove Ecosystem is home to a plethora of different species of reptiles and amphibians. This is a very good spot to catch a few photos of the wildlife along with the luscious greenery that is provided by this wonderful ecosystem.
The Navatkuli bridge is another wonderful location for bird watching due to it being popular among migratory birds that feed in its waters. The bridge and the dam itself is a landmark of the level of development Jaffna has undergone.
Moving to the Manalkadu Sand Dunes, you are welcomed to a huge expanse of sand dunes that tower up to 16 metres at certain points. Many of the ruins are buried within the sand, one of them being a catholic church from the Dutch era, dedicated to St. Anthony.
Jaffna has its fair share of beautiful coast lines as well. The most famous beach in the Northern Province is the Casuarina Beach. This beach is widely known for the large expanse of shallow waters and beautiful white sand. The Kankasanthurai (KKS) beach is another beautiful beach with crystal clear waters. This is a famous fishing village where the harbour is located close by.
Wherever I go, the people remain the same; humble, down-to-earth, friendly and helpful. It astounds me how hard working, diligent and ingenious the people of Jaffna are. They are a community that believes heavily in the evil eye, to the point where their vineyards are covered in aluminium foil to keep jealousy and bad luck away. Not only do they stick to their ancient roots, but they do so while modifying these roots to suit the convenience of the modern day. They still incorporate the use of bellows and anvils in their blacksmith industry and yet it is in a sense, upgraded to be more modern and efficient.
The people are incredibly friendly and I don’t think I can stress enough on that fact. Not only are they friendly, but they are respectful to all. You can see some of them bow their heads in respect or say a small prayer of gratitude to the Gods that guard and protect them. They expect no monetary compensation for the humility and genuine human kindness. A beautiful, united and wonderful community that truly beats together as one heart regardless of where you are from. It is a magical place and that magic can’t be captured in an article, a blog post or a photograph.
It has to be lived. It has to be breathed. You have to physically be there to have your soul ignited like the very horizon that burns crimson in the evening sky. With this comes my reminiscence of this untouched paradise. This is an untouched paradise. This is raw experiences. This. Is. The REAL Jaffna