A lesser-known gem of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, Mannar town, not to be confused with Kerala's Mannar, sits on a peninsula of the same name. Known for its beaches, churches, temples, baobab trees and a historical tryst with the Arabs, Dutch and Portuguese, it promises to be a treat for travellers.
Getting There: Daily buses connect the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to Mannar. The journey is around 8 hours long and is quite inexpensive at 500 Rupees.
Best Places To See:
Dutch Fort: Constructed by the Portuguese in 1560 AD, the beautiful Mannar Fort, also known as the Dutch Fort is the drawcard of the town. It was actually taken over by the Dutch in 1658 who added four parapets to the square structure and got it ready by 1695. Apart from an intricately carved entrance, visitors can also see the remains of a dungeon, a chapel and a bell tower.
Ketheeswaram Temple: A splendid ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Ketheeswaram Temple is a place of worship for both Sri Lankans and Tamils. It is known to have fallen into ruins on several occasions and was finally rebuilt in 1903. Interestingly, this temple finds an important mention in the Ramayana, one of the many reasons behind its popularity.
Our Lady Of Madhu Church: This is a Roman Catholic shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is more than 400 years old and is an epitome of the existing harmony between the Sinhalese and the Tamils as both communities call it their house of worship. It is also known to have bore the brunt of the Sri Lankan Civil War as it was shelled in 1999, an attack that led to the deaths of around 50 people. The portico and central columns of the shrine are very impressive.
Keeri Beach: The most ideal spot for swimming in Mannar, Keeri Beach is quite tourist-friendly despite being a tad bit dirty. The adjacent palm forest is yet another delight for explorers.
The Baobab Tree: If legends are to be believed, this massive Baobab tree was planted by Arab traders and is more than 700 years old. The locals fondly refer to it as the 'elephant tree' owing to the resemblance the exterior bears to an elephant's skin. The width of this tree is a whopping 20 metres.
Best Places To Stay:
Shell Coast Resort (Rs. 5000 onwards)