When I went to India after university, I was scheduled to go to Sri Lanka. I couldn’t wait to see its Buddhist culture, its elephants, its beaches. One of my best friends in college came from there and had told me so much about it.
But then sadly, the bombs came. The fighting between the Tamils coming down from the north and the Sinhalese from the south reached crazy proportions. So I had to cancel my trip.
Now, Sri Lanka has recovered from the war. This small tear drop island, once called Ceylon is Â open for business and for now seems far less dangerous than India. Its capital Jaffna is finally reborn and though signs of the war are everywhere the town is peaceful, residents are thrilled to see tourist coming back.
The downtown scene â€” with shoppers haggling for vegetables, passengers rushing to catch buses â€” was approaching what you might call a bustle. Women in flowing saris and kids in starched white school uniforms glided by on bicycles, while teenage girls walked along the street holding parasols on sunny days.
The streets are leafy, with Portuguese church steeplesÂ on almost every block. Old-fashioned cafes like the Malayan, in the market area, serve â€śrice and curryâ€ť (rice with lentil stew and several vegetable dishes) on banana leaves, along with South Indian snacks like vadai (savory doughnuts made from gram flour, potato and spices) with hot coconut chutney.
Check out the ancient fort in Jaffna, the second largest existing fort in the Island.
Originally built by the Portuguese in 1619 and re-built and expanded by the Dutch during the second half of the 17th and the 18th centuries.
The fort is the only surviving example in Sri Lanka, where its inner defenses has a geometrically regular pentagonal layout.
But venture out of Jaffna to see an altogether different landscape than what most people associate with the tropical coasts and hilly forests of Sri Lankaâ€™s south. Hire a driverâ€”again its cheap and far safer to do soâ€”mine removal is still in process, and most governments advise travelers avoid political rallies, military bases, military or police convoys, and closed areas of high security zones.
There are eight main islands and several little ones off Jaffnaâ€™s southwest coast that are so sparsely populated and so pristine that it will take you back to the fifties.Â The island of Analaitivu, for instance, has just 1,000 residents who fish or raise livestock, or work in Jaffna. Neduntivu, also known as Delft, is one of the larger islands at about 20 square miles. The ground is white coral rock and sand, the water is aquamarine water and people ride horses along the tranquil white-sand beach. Apparently wild ponies, descendants of Dutch mounts, roam alongside cows on sunny fields.
Here temples are very important in the lives of people. They are friendly, welcoming places where priests are kind and want nothing more than for you to enter. The hostility of religion seems far, far away.
They’ll hand you small cloths to tie onto prayer trees or guiding me through prayers. Women put kumkum powder on my forehead and showed me when to take holy water and when to put 10 rupees in the tray.
Keep in mind Americans need a visa which can be obtained easily for $20 online at .eta.gov.lk.
Places to Stay:
A restored 19th-century Jaffna home, has four rooms with antique furniture as well as some of the best traditional cuisine in the area. Keep in mind that most of the guesthouses in the Jaffna peninsula are literally Â houses.
But the most well-equipped place is the colonial-eraÂ Expo Pavilion
Jaffna is known for its Karuthakolamban mangoes; the market has piles of them in season, in July and August, as well as raw palmyra sugar that you can take home as well as traditional Jaffna cigars. And then, if time allows, travel south to Colombo. There are many houses to be rented on the beach, many of them owned by ex-pats. The feel is all beach town, the hostilities seen on the news in far away places. Like India.