Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eight hours in Jaffna.

My daughter telephones me on Friday, August 5, 2011 inquiring if we could go to Jaffna in the weekend. Her cousin Prabudha a small time tour operator is sending a bus to Jaffna for the use of a party of tourist who are flying in to Jaffna. We only have to go in the bus and come back by SLAF flight to Colombo. We have just 8 hours in Jaffna for sightseeing.  My initial response was that I need more time to organize my work-setup and that she may proceed with the others. However she was not for it without me. I could feel the weight in her heart to  miss her maiden flying experience. Quick and out of the way requests to my colleagues, finds me in the trip as well. Twelve of us; fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, sons, daughters, cousins and in-laws were in Colombo in three cars; them parked on the wayside and everyone board a coach on the Kandy road at Peliyagoda, at 6.30 P.M Saturday, August 6, 2011.
The Coach to Jaffna
With a delay of about an hour to repair a faulty Wi-Fi equipment brings us to a wayside restaurant in Negambo large enough to accommodate six bus loads of passengers. We dine in the restaurant opposite this large facility as we could not find a table to accommodate all. Turning right at Chilaw we are on the Anuradapura road, fascinated by the cat’s eye reflectors on the newly rehabilitated road. A bit of bumpy and shakey travel brings us to Anuradapura the famous trip destination; we don’t stop here as we are heading up north to Jaffna.

Cat’s eyes in a shaking camera

Low light and shaking camera in a moving bus gave these amazing designs

A few security checks outside of Anuradapura and a few pitch-black, loo-stops for the ladies (yet to narrate their new experience) we are in Omanthai the  famous wartime last strong hold of the SL Army. A Large complex; yes a complex situation then, when the trucks were unloaded checked and reloaded, days in waiting queues to cross the border. We too had to stay on for about a half hour. ID’s checked, those with passport had a set of forms to fill and a session of question and answer. We proceed further and are now in Kankarayan-kulam  the then LTTE entry point for a cup of plain-tea and snack at a wayside restaurants run by a Moor family. They tell us they are from Anuradapura and came over here after May 19, 2009 (last day of the war) to do business. Moors have been traversing the whole country this way to do business right through the history of this land.

A9 is under rehabilitation, we cannot keep pace with the large luxury buses (better known as video buses) tooting from behind asking for way to overtake, we slow down for them. Rattling hood-racks vibrating seats we come into dawn passing Killinochchi and into Elepahan-pass with the first light. The monumental armor plated bulldozer into which the courageous Haslaka Veerya leaped and basted himself saving his platoon is seen in the gloom. The flat-land seen on the atlas in Elephant -pass is very much different to what is on ground.

We are been welcome into the Jaffna Peninsula says many boards and notices. The dawn lights-up and we keep passing places, Pullaville, Iyakachch, Pallai, Muhamalai and come to Muerusuvil. These places were very much in the news where  a tight war was fought. Many lives were laid…… in vain. The area is still barricaded with yellow tape, saying land to be cleared from mines. We traverse a very tight roadway with a long earthen mound on the left side which held the railway to KKS, and crammed housing plots and many army units all covered to the eye level with Palmyra fan-leaves and coconut palm frond cadjans. The security forces boundaries are also covered at eye level with corrugated tin sheets as if keeping to the culture of Jaffna.

Dawn breaks in the peninsular

Dawn breaking silhouetting the Palmyra Palms 

Water Management to a dry land is a priority

Its 6.30 A.M, Sunday, August 7, 2011 after 12 hours of travelling we are in the central part of Jaffna town, the Old Dutch Fort and the Durraiappa Stadium.

Hour 1
The coach driver asks us to visit the fort now under repair after heavy bombardment and shelling till he locates the hotel were he needs to report. We walk around recalling the running commentary the whole country listened to when the fort was besieged by the terrorists in the 80's. SLAF with the Army performed a dare devil rescue operation which became a success after many days. Food and ice slabs for water were dropped into the fort by helicopters braving the terrorist fire.

The driver has found the way to get to the hotel,  we are now in the Pilliar Hotel after a hours walk around the Jaffna Fort.

A crow welcome in the Fort

A devastated Church

Star Bastian under rehabilitation

Dressed sea coral in walls

Visitors in the Fort - A thriving local tourism

Old Belfry
Re-building the Fort

Animal life in the Fort

 Little Cormorant

Grey Heron

They are a sacred breed in the Peninsular

A fully grown Calotes versicolor

Hour 2

At the hotel we are welcome with the same honor that Prabudha would have got, for us being related to him. Washed and freshened-up we are in for a Jaffna breakfast of Thosai and Sambar with coconut chutney which took extra time for preparation. The thosai came hot from the pan four at a time and the wait was nervous and drooling. The thosai was scrumptious……. need I say of the thosai that we have over here.   

After a war


 Re-erected Chelvanayagam the father of federalism of the Tamil people... youth took to  arms for a separate state thinking his policy of little now more later was   taking time. New statue...... same old policy?

Life in Jaffna

Tuk-tuk's not a very popular mode of transport yet

Bicycle the preferred mode of conveyance 

Fishing not banned anymore

Bus en-route to Nagadeepa

Hour 3
We hired a van with Anthony the driver who will take us around and keep us amused  until 2.30 when it is time to go in for check-in at the airport.

Anthony - the chauffeur guide

We start off to Nullur Kovil where the seasonal festivities are on. All males need to be with bare upper body when entering the Nallur kovil. I overheard Lionel trying to drive the point to Puppa that even the President removes his upper garment when here and it has nothing to do with not being a Hindu. We all males go in with the upper garment wrapped around our waste.  I was tapped on the shoulder by someone to remind me that no photography is allowed within. I could speak Tamil but not read?

Nallur Kovil - a landmark in the peninsula

Inside the Nallur Kovil  photography is not allowed - 'the display is only in Tamil'     a two way language problem?

My all time friend Amudesh who left Jaffna in early 70’s, now a Colombo Tamil calls me from Colombo to ask my where about and tells me look around for the “ Poo varasum maram” and do not miss the only place in Nallur for the ‘Made in Jaffna’ ice cream at “Rajah Cream House”. I locate the place; and ask in Tamil about the “ Poo varasum maram”  from the guy attending to the kovil premises. He shows me the tree Sooriya / Gan Sooriya – (Thespesia populnea) a tree which is abundant in the dry zone. Amudesh thought it was special to Jaffna. The ice cream at Rajah Cream House was most amazingly enjoyed. Every type is available from vanilla to chocolate flavor cones, popsicles and palams from pineapple, mango, orange and strawberry flavors, and chocolate coated icy chocks. Elephant House and Cargils will have a tough competitor even though you stand on bear ground inside the ice cream parlour. Hiruni my daughter who does some work in food science feels the gelatin content is slightly high. Someone wanted “Kotta-kilango” the boiled and sun dried shoot of the Palmira fruit. On inquires they brought a sack full and discussed among themselves in Tamil “munnoothy ambadhi sollunga” (say three hundred and fifty), and when I said a kilo for Rs 350 is high. They say in Tamil “Hey this man knows Tamil;"  however we buy a kilo for that price.

Rajah Ice-cream made in Jaffna

“ Poo varasum maram” - Sooriya (flower inset)

Hour 4
Nagadeepa at a distance and a timeline of half a day was supplemented with the visit to the Naga Vihara in the heart of Jaffna town. The Public library of Jaffna once a treasure-trove of knowledge was torched by political goons and thugs. This carnage then was a standing monument as a justification and cause to be warring with the state. Rebuilt to the old glory and architecture; but for the burnt books. The library is opened for visitors only in the evening. The junction at the library is a training ground for the motorcyclist to practice balance while gyrating in the shape of the figure eight; a test  to obtain a riding license. Motorcyclists  in Jaffna now need a riding license issued by the Commissioner of Motor Traffic?

Naga Vihara in the center of Town
Re constructed Jaffna Library

Gyrating in balance

"Coming Soon" - Run up to the  local gov: election was to much for R Sampanthan

Hour 5
We are now traversing towards Chunnakakam to the bottomless  Nilaawarai Well. The youth of Jaffna took the IPKF in the 80’s to a ride by saying that there is an arms cache hidden in the bottom of this well and the IPKF started the gigantic project to de-water it. Never to complete, the well is said to be connected to the sea. Geologically the peninsular is on lime stone and a coral stratum.

The bottomless Nilaawarai Well

Shy - but good business

Hour 6
Anthony has time and we ask him to take us to Keeramalai beach, he recommends  the Kadurugoda Vihara and Keerimalai if time permits. Kadurugoda was a delight. A cluster of small dagabas of dressed limestone thought to be tombs of 60 Arahath monks slain by a tyrant leader. Daya my archaeology interested in-law tells me no one knows for sure what they are. May be the author or Mahawansa forgot this site?

A bodhi sapling coming up for worship

Kadurugoda Vihara

Hour 7
We ask Anthony to show us the general life style of the Jaffna people. Every now and then we pass kovils depicted to Murugan, Ganapathy, Laxmi and Kali etc. Life here is bonded with religious worship. Each junction has a small shrine for Ganapathi, Laxmi or Kali.

Jaffna has an age old culture which is built on a very strong cast base. They worship the same Hindu gods while the temples are numerously divided on cast. Thus every street corner has a temple dedicated to a god. The modern infrastructural development expected will be slow and difficult with emotions taking precedence. The land area is under a special civil law “thesawalamai” where land could be purchased by residents of Jaffna only; fruits on branches reaching the adjoing property are not yours?

Blinds at eye level

Ganapathi the god with the elephant face at a cross-road

Ganapathy is allover...... this one a woody root in the shape of a elephant head and trunk supported on a old differential and axle housing is good enough for veneration 

Kali the fearsome

Nandi the faithful bull of Lord Shiva keeps guard on all domestic gateposts

Lever operated wells a symbol in the peninsular is fast being replaced with  fuel operated pumps

Weather beaten Jaffna peasant does not ask for the Sun & Moon;............ But the youth?

Hour 8
Anthony says there would not be sufficient time to return from Keerimalai beach to be at the Vasavilan entrance gate of the Palali High Security Zone by 2.30 P M. We decide to explore the agriculture in Jaffna; spring-onion, vegetables, banana, tobacco, grapes etc instead. A vineyard was visited to take some pictures and latter decided to compensate a lunch of rice and curry with a fruity one of grapes. My daughter needed some pictures of Jamnapari Goats to be inserted in her presentation of the final year project at the University. Anthony knew no Jamnapari; but on the description of them by Hiruni, he found three of them.

Fertile red earth of the peninsular 

Mango orchard



Grapes - sour until ripe
 Jamnapari Goats

The Long Eared- (Lambakarana?)

At 2.30 we said good-bye to Anthony; a true friendship that developed in 8 hours. Tipped generously and he even obliged to dispose the little garbage that we collected in the van. We boarded the bus of the SLAF to be taken to the Palali airstrip. Into the washrooms and freshened up we went through body and baggage checks, our bodies weighed we board the SLAF-Y12 with assistance from the very polite and helpful SLAF uniformed staff. Seat belted and ears muffled we take off at around 3.40 P M.

In the next hour I go in to thought of a memorable eight hours in Jaffna while the rest was spellbound with their maiden airlift. Seeing my daughter’s expression I am happy to be with her; I would be guilty of a misdoing if she missed this experience. However I missed the company of my wife who is out of the county babysitting our first grandson. I kept Daya my eldest in-law of our whereabouts in Jaffna; he carries nostalgic memories of KKS and Jaffna. He was employed there in the 60’s. This outing would have been a complete get-together in the company of Daya, Indrani, Aditha, Nishantha, Raditha Madhavi and the kids of our third generation.

Bliss has its limits;...... time, space, finances and  of being in the right place at the right time.

After an hour of flying to Katunayake, the SLAF officer asks if our vehicle is at the arrival lounge to take us home. I say that they are parked at Peliyagoda. He prompts that he could even drop us at the Averiwatte Bus Terminus. To this we obliged and board an A/C bus en-route to Colombo and was in Peliyagoda in less than an hour.

I came home with two plastic cans of Nelli Syrup (the drink of the 60’s from Jaffna) and two packs of Palmyra juggery to be shared with Daya.. to rouse his nostalgia, and a miniature casting of my favorite elephant-faced god Ganapathy as a remembrance of the Eight Hours in Jaffna.

What can I say to  Prabudha my nephew other than a big Thank You?.................... If only there was a better word to express our feeling towards you !!


  1. It was an unforgettable trip and this article will keep those memories alive forever.

    Good work dad, this is great.......

  2. Great words, great pics...what else can I say Bappa....

  3. Wow its amazing to see the beauty of our nature. Its awesome to see the beauty of Jaffna and how you have explained the 8 hour tour with beautiful wording,so that everybody can read and enjoy as I did.

    Keep it up !!!!

  4. Nice article. Well written with excellent photographs.

  5. Excellent work Mr Uditha

  6. Tharinda DissanayakeAugust 12, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    Harshness captured with a cool eye! hats off uditha mama!

  7. Excellent Photography, the best part is our guys taking the IPKF for a ride.

  8. thanks for sharing the pics and commentary ,had a feeling being there

  9. Excellent post and pics, you are very talented