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  • Cecilia Clark

Jaffna, Sri Lanka: March 23 - 25, 2024

Updated: May 4

We arrived in Jaffna in the afternoon. At our hotel, the Jetwing Mahesh Bhawan, in Jaffna City we were welcomed with burning incense, and a little red spice dabbed on our foreheads (a tilak) for good luck and prosperity.

The first thing on the itinerary after meeting up with a local Jaffna guide was bicycle riding. We were given bikes, bikes older than dirt and in very bad repair; the brakes should have been better. We do not drive on the left side of the road, but the people of Sri Lanka do. The advice from our local guide was to always stay left. The left is crowded with other bicyclists, motorcycles, tuk-tuks parked or swerving over to pick up/let out passengers, walkers, and the occasional livestock. We needed all the luck we could acquire to escape injury. Our first stop was the market.

Although we never noticed anyone chewing betel nut (AKA paan), as evidenced by the betel nut chew sellers at the market, it must be popular in some places. Betel nut chew consists of four items: the betel leaves (piper betel vine), the areca nuts (seeds from the areca palm), slaked lime (hydrated calcium hydroxide), and sometimes dried tobacco leaf. Betel nut is chewed for its stimulant and narcotic effects. The buzz comes from the arecoline in the areca nut. The added tobacco leaf provides an addictive component.

Back on the crazy, crowded city streets of Jaffna, we criss-crossed roads to get to ruins of sites that didn't seem worth stopping at. We finally arrived at the lovely, leafy Old Park where the British Administrative Center (Old Kachcheri) dating from the late 18th century was in ruins. In the late 1970s the Sri Lanka Army was based at the Old Park and Old Kachcheri buildings. The militant organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seized the Old Kachcheri and used it as military and police headquarters in the late 1980s. The Sri Lankan Army regained control of Jaffna in 1995. In 2000, LTTE terrorists attacked Jaffna town and the roof of the building was blown off. The building was evacuated and abandoned after the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009 and Sri Lankan forces cleared a massive amount of mines from the buildings and the Old Park. The area has yet to be certified as mine free. Mother Nature has continued to further destroy the Old Kachcheri. The ruined structures and the roots and trees are quite photogenic. The tree is a Neem tree. The leaves of the Neem tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine as a mosquito repellant and more and by us as a natural pesticide.

Back on the bikes, we ended our bicycle sightseeing with a ride to Rio Ice Cream. The ice cream at Rio Ice Cream really hit the spot.

The next day we resumed sightseeing by car. Our first stop was at the oldest Hindu Temple in Jaffna and maybe Sri Lanka. Nallur Kovil was originally founded in 948 but the present temple at a slightly different location was constructed in 1734 during the Dutch colonial era. The original temple sites were replaced with Portuguese churches during the Portuguese Colonial era.

The presiding deity is Lord Murugan (son of Lord Siva). We shed our shoes and as shorts wearing tourists, we both had to wear sarongs. One of us had to remove the upper clothing as well. Now we were both properly dressed to enter the temple. Inside, the temple sounded a loud, continual Ohmmmmmm throughout the interior. Brilliant murals of the Hindu Gods' family tree stretched along one of the walls. There is a stepped down holy pool. No photographs are allowed inside so we had to be satisfied with the exterior only images. Not too far away we stopped at a neighborhood shrine to Lord Murugan riding atop a peacock as his vehicle. Lord Murugan is the Hindu God of War.

Leaving Jaffna we did kind of a circle the peninsula tour of the Northern Province. We stopped near Point Pedro at Valipura Aalvar Kovil established in the 13th century where Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity. We did not go inside. In Hinduism, Lord Vishnu is known to be the preserver and protector of the universe. We watched as people streamed in and out of the main entrance. Some people brought coconuts which they threw as hard as they could into a concrete container. We were told that smashing the coconut into small pieces removes one's negativity represented by the hard shell and brings out purity represented by the white coconut meat.

We switched over to Buddhism again with a stop at Dambakola Patuna Sangamitta Temple which memorializes the spot where in (250 BC - 210 BC) Indian Emperor Asoka's daughter, the Buddhist nun Sangamitta, landed in Sri Lanka carrying a sapling of the Bohdi tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. This sapling together with its golden vase was taken and planted at Anuradhapura.

On our last full day in Jaffna, we drove to Kurikkaduwan Jetty to take a boat to Delft Island. I wanted to go to Delft Island to see the wild horses. We watched as the boat ferry crew removed the life jackets from the ferry and the packed double level boat set off to Nainativu Island where both Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage sites are located. There is also a daily ferry from Kurikkaduwan Jetty to Delft Island, but the Jaffna guide arranged a private boat named Pearl Link to take us on the 30-40 minute ride across to Delft. We had life jackets on the way to Delft Island, but the life jackets were nowhere in sight for the trip back when the water was considerably rougher. The boat crew put their trust in both the Christian Jesus and a couple of Hindu Gods.

Our ride on Delft was an all purpose, open-bed Mazda truck. These vehicles are the taxis of the island. We didn't see any private vehicles. Only about 5,000 persons live on the island.

It didn't take too long before we spotted a few horses in the distance. The driver took us to a water hole that was just about to dry up. One group of horses was soon joined by a second group. They seemed quite wary of each other. The Northern Province is quite dry except for rain that falls only in a three month period which had just ended. Once the water is gone, conservation groups bring in water for the horses. Water must be brought in for people also as most wells are salty.

Most of the other sites are of the remnants of the Dutch and British Colonial eras. Sri Lanka, once named Ceylon, has been under the rule of Portuguese (1505-1658), Dutch (1658-1796), British (1796-1948). Only the coastal areas of Sri Lanka were colonized until the British conquered the whole island in 1815.

We stopped at the Dutch Hospital which was converted to an administrative center during the British period. The pigeon nest structure was built by the Dutch and the pigeons were use to communicate with government officials on and off the island. Behind the Dutch Hospital is the ruin of the British Justice Court building.

The walls around the Dutch Hospital and many other homes are made from harvested coral. We saw the ruined Dutch stables used to house the horses that remained when they took over from the Portuguese. The last building is the Dutch Fort and Dungeon which began its existence as a Portuguese Defensive Fort.

We had lunch at an up and coming beachfront guesthouse started by a young man and his sister. Presently there are two livable structures with beds and other guest necessities. It is a short walk to the facilities which have a flush toilet and a shower. The raised guesthouses benefit from the prevailing sea breeze. The sea here is protected by a coral reef despite all the coral mining 300-500 years ago. Our lunch, cooked by the sister, was quite good.

There were a few small grocery shops, but we didn't see any other tourist facilities on Delft. We did see nutritious palm shoots drying in yards, palm fronds drying for use as fences or roofing material, and pots hanging from palms to collect the sap from unopened flowers of the coconut palm. Each morning at dawn, toddy tappers, collect the sap from the pots. A single tree may contribute up to two liters per day. The captured liquid naturally and immediately ferments into a mildly alcoholic drink called "toddy". Within a few hours after collection, the toddy is poured into large wooden vats. The natural fermentation process is allowed to continue until the alcohol content reaches 5-7% and deemed ready for distillation into Arrak. Sri Lanka is the largest producer of Arrak.

Delft Island has a Baobab Tree. The Baobab Tree is a native of Africa. This tree may have been brought to Delft Island by Arab traders during the rule of the Portuguese (16th Century) to serve as a food source (Baobab fruits) for their camels.


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