The northern region of Sri Lanka is rich in culture and beautiful landscapes. It is home to generations of the country’s Tamil population, who came over from South India at various points in time. With plenty to offer travellers, from mouthwatering cuisine to serene beaches, the north of Sri Lanka is just waiting to be explored.
Jaffna is located about 400 kilometres from Colombo and a train ride is perhaps the best way to start your adventure. Our ride from the capital took about six-and-a-half hours and we were afforded with stunning views of the Sri Lankan countryside – we even spotted a pride of peacocks!
Built in 1734, the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. One of Jaffna’s most popular landmarks, the temple boasts impressive murals and a large sacred pool. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside so we’re unable to show you how beautiful it actually is. The temple is busiest in July and August when a spectacular festival takes place over the course of 25 days with floats and processions.
The Jaffna Market is a must-visit for any visitor. From fresh fruits and vegetables to an array of local snacks, shoppers will be spoilt for choice at this chaotic and colourful fresh market. We visited the market in search of snacks at about 2pm and it was still bustling. After almost half an hour of indecision, I finally bought some local murukku (a crunchy savoury snack) as a souvenir.
This was my favourite dish of the trip. A signature Jaffnese preparation, koozh (pronounced kool) is a hearty stew consisting prawns, crabs, squid and grouper cooked with a range of Indian spices and thickened with a type of flour known as odiyal made from palmyrah sprout. The spicy stew is typically garnished with roasted coconut flakes and served with paan, a local version of sliced bread. There’s no elegant way of eating it! You have to get your hands dirty to fully enjoy this sumptuous stew.
Rio Ice Cream is a Jaffnese institution, having been around for more than 30 years. After a whole day of sightseeing, Rio was a great place to cool off. I had the kittul (a jaggery made from a local palm) ice cream, which was streaked with generous lashings of honey and topped with roasted cashew nuts. Yum! Apart from the usual suspects like chocolate and vanilla flavours, Rio also has more unique flavours like kittul and faluda (rose syrup, milk, basil seeds and vermicelli).
As we had never had palmyrah fruit before, our hosts took us to a roadside stall in the island of Punkudutivu, west of the Jaffna Peninsula. The flesh of the fruit was juicy and extremely sweet – a refreshing treat on a hot morning. The palmyrah tree is native to Sri Lanka and its fruit is widely used for cooking. The palmyrah sap is also used to make arrack, the local alcoholic beverage.
This is the ruins of the Church of St Anthony, which is believed to have been built in 1896. What’s left of this structure now lies buried in the sand dunes in Manalkaadu, a village located about 45 kilometres from Jaffna. Walking along the dunes was a challenge as our feet kept sinking into the sand but we managed to walk around the ruins of the church. In Tamil, which is widely spoken in the north, Manalkaadu means sand jungle, in reference to these dunes.
After a short walk from the sand dunes, we came to Manalkaadu Beach, where we saw this fisherman mending his net against the grotto of St Anthony, in preparation of the next day’s bounty. He was very obliging when we asked to take a photograph of him.
Point Pedro is a small town about 30 kilometres from Jaffna. At Point Pedro sits Sakkotai Cape, the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. It was a picture of calm as we watched fishermen chit chat by their boats while children flew their kites in the strong breeze.
Point Pedro vadai is a fried Jaffnese snack. Made of gram dhal, black gram, wheat flour, chillies, onions, curry leaves and cumin, this crispy and spicy snack is a simply irresistible treat at any time of the day.
This 400-year-old baobab tree in Delft, an island about 30 kilometres from the Jaffna Peninsula, is believed to have been planted by Arab traders from Central Africa to Sri Lanka. This is a popular stopover point for visitors. Needless to say, everyone in the group I was travelling with, took a photograph here, too!
When we visited the ruins of this Dutch stable in Delft, it had just stopped raining and the ground was muddy but we carried on further to see this stable up close. It is believed that the pillars on either side of the stable are where horses used to be tied to. When it was in operation, the stable is said to have been about 100 metres in length.
This was something I had never seen before and a feature unique to Delft is the extensive use of corals, which the locals have repurposed quite remarkably into barriers that can be seen all across the island.
Although it was raining, we pursued this horse for this photo. After all, it isn’t every day that one comes across a wild horse. These horses are believed to have been brought in by the Dutch but when they left, they left the horses behind. Today, these majestic creatures can be seen wandering about, grazing on the island’s lush plains.
On a clear day, from this part of Delft island, you will be able to see a temple in Rameswaram, some 40 kilometres away, in the southern part of India. Unfortunately, we had no such luck as it was rainy when we went. Another reason to go back then!
travel360.com would like to thank The Thinnai for hosting us in Jaffna.
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