Sri Lanka is an island nation in South East Asia that is popularly known as the Pearl of Asia. Ranked as the number 1 travel destination by Lonely Planet, this little island nation has a plethora of adventure and discovery.
Most travellers to the region come for the sand and surf in the South or for what is known as the cultural triangle in the centre of the country. However, there is so much more to this amazing country that just keeps rising through everything that is thrown at it. Like the history and myths of old, that are so intertwined it leaves the imagination free to roam, the people of this country are hardy and resilient with an indomitable spirit.
Colombo, the capital, is fast developing into a modern city with rising skyscrapers and trendy restaurants, pubs and clubs with some 5 star hotels that offer the warmest hospitality. If city life is what you are looking for this is the best place to visit.
However, right at the top of this island nation, in the North, lies a city that will transport you to a Sri Lanka that used to exist years ago. The magic and pace of a simpler life can be found here and you can experience the country as it used to be before technology and development fast paced everything. The reason for this frozen place in time is tragic - 25 years of Civil War. It made this area inaccessible to most and in turn left it untouched by the passing of time. Since the end of the war, development is slowly reaching the area, but at a pace that allows it to retain its place out of time.
The war was not kind to the region and you can still glimpse the evidence of it in some parts, but you can also see the beauty of an area that is at its heart rural, laid back, tranquil, and now a peaceful place to visit and discover rich culture, beautiful scenery and enduring people.
Wake up in the morning to the rising sun, fresh air, people travelling on bicycles with fields and gardens surrounding you and get the surreal feeling of being transported back in time to explore these top 5 places:
1. Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
This beautiful and large Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War, whose parents were Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is also the brother of Lord Ganesh. The temple is a testament to his many accomplishments and the myths and stories surrounding his life and a much-revered place by his devotees.
It is beautifully constructed and is considered one of the largest temples in Sri Lanka. My favourite part of the temple were the murals on the walls of one section re-telling Lord Murugan’s birth and deeds. It is a beautiful testament to a form of story-telling that is most notably found in Hindu temples. You can also say a prayer at the sacred tree or dip your feet in the holy pond.
Photography is prohibited inside which allows you to take in the peace, tranquillity and beauty without distraction. Dressing appropriately and respectfully is a must, and shoes and shirts (in the case of men) are removed prior to entering the temple.
The temple festival during midsummer is a crowded and colourful affair with devotees from all over the country and sometimes abroad coming for the festivities. If you visit at any other time, the pujas are at certain times of the day and it is best to visit at these times for the full experience.
2. Casuarina Beach
Known as the local’s beach, this is best visited on a weekday when it is less crowded. The drive to Casuarina Beach is a lovely experience. It takes you through saltpans and water on either side, a truly unique experience, only found in this area of Sri Lanka. The water is clear blue and the sands are white and last time I was there it was pretty clean. Like most things in Jaffna the beach is also a very ‘proper’ place. Swimwear of the revealing sort is not a good idea and no alcohol is allowed on the beach. With a bunch of friends though you can have a good time swimming, joking and posing for pictures which is exactly what we did.
3. Nainativu (Nagadeepa)
A site that is important to both Buddhists and Hindus, it is located in the Jaffna Peninsula. To reach it from the city you have to get to Kurikkaduwan Jetty and get onto a crowded ferry to either the Hindu Kovil or Buddhist Temple in about 15mins.
The Buddhist temple Nagadeepa Vihara is said to be where Buddha on his second visit to Sri Lanka in the 6th century B.C, preached about reconciliation. Thousands of Buddhist devotees visit the holy site.
The Hindu Kovil, Nagapooshani Amman, is the holy site for the Tamil Hindus in the area and is dedicated to an avatar of Goddess Durga. Parents usually bring their new born babies for blessings to this temple.
The Temple and Kovil are in close proximity and a street bazaar exists linking the two holy sites. Take a walk or a tuk and visit both places for an experience of history and myth intertwined.
4. Sangiliyan Statue, Sangili Thoppu & Mantri Manai
These are relics from the ancient kingdom of the North also known as the Kingdom of Nallur. King Sangiliyan also known as Cankili II was the last king of the North. With his death, the line of the kings that had ruled Jaffna for more than 300 years ended.
The Sangiliyan Statue is a dedication to Cankili the Second. The golden statue depicts the King atop a horse. It is located close to the Nallur Temple and is a landmark that is not to be missed.
The Sangili Thoppu is said to be the façade of the North king’s palace. Located on the Jaffna-Point Pedro road, you can easily stop by and see the protected monument and let your imagination turn back the hands of time to when a palace stood on the side of this then non-existent tar road.
Mantri Manai is the ‘Abode of Ministers’. This archaeological discovery is listed as a protected monument and is located close to the Sangili Thoppu. Explore this ancient structure and discover the secrets it holds.
5. Jaffna Fort
The Jaffna Fort was originally built by the Portuguese who colonized the area and then captured and added onto by the Dutch when they took over the region.
The fort, unlike the thriving one in Colombo, has been greatly affected by the civil war and large parts of the fort as well as the buildings within were destroyed. Still it is a great site to visit for a taste of ancient and modern history.
After a walk in the past what is the best place to spend the night, recharge, ponder and of course get some good sustenance? Jetwing Jaffna is where we stayed.
From the moment we stepped into this hotel located in the heart of the city, we were given a warm welcome and all the comforts we could have asked for after the long drive to Jaffna from Colombo. The amazing hospitality continued throughout our stay.
From the get go it is very obvious that the hotel stays true to the area’s culture. The furniture, ornaments and décor all speak to this. The rooms’ décor and comfort transports you in time and makes you feel like royalty. Every room has balconies that look out to the city or the lagoon.
The food at the Main Restaurant comprises of authentic dishes from the region such as pittu and dosai, as well as dishes made from fresh seafood. Don’t miss out on the Jaffna crab curry which is a famous dish even in Colombo, but in Jaffna you can find the original recipe in all its delicious and spicy splendour.
So check into the hotel, rest awhile, have a meal, set off on your adventures and come back to find warm hospitality waiting to help you rest your weary limbs and soothe your tired feet. In Jaffna you truly can be transported to those ancient, royal times and be treated like kings and queens too.