Rising like a Phoenix, from the ashes of conflict – Celebrating the curiosities of Jaffna
Tours to the North of Sri Lanka
The North speaks again. Yes, you heard that right, the vibrant city of Jaffna is back in full form!
There’s little doubt that the infamous Northern capital of the Island-Nation, Sri Lanka, which was once the epicentre for nearly 3 decades of dark times has revived, and is a welcoming sight to tourists. The light at the end of the tunnel finally shone in 2009 when the armed conflict came to an end and all Sri Lankans, whether Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, flocked together to celebrate what was called a hard-fought battle. Today, as the bitterness of its dreadful years wears off, the city has undoubtedly transformed into a booming destination boasting a myriad of things to do and enjoy.
Jaffna has since been explored and discovered time and time again even though almost 3 decades of war took away some of its best-kept treasures. Gone with the conflict were places like the Jaffna Public Library and many other significant landmarks which were simply irreplaceable.
Today, the city sees high-rise buildings and many modern-day attractions flooding its lands attracting a solid base of travellers from across the globe.
Skimming through history texts, Jaffna could be marked as one of the most favoured areas by Indian invaders for many a reason, hence, the dense population of Tamils in the region. And as the city recovers from the physical and psychological wounds of conflict, hundreds or perhaps thousands of tourists make their way to the ancient city in hope of reliving and experiencing its unique culture.
A bit more about Jaffna
The city is governed by its very own traditional law known as the Tesawalamai Law, and was, in fact, the very first indigenous law to have been granted recognition in common law courts of the country. Jaffna consists very close-knit communities and follows traditions that are passed on from generations.
The people too are very hospitable and congenial and would take you right into their homes for a cup of tea. Apart from this, their dishes have run riot through the country with many restaurants in urban areas replicating its dishes. There is nothing as quite as pleasing as relishing an authentic ‘Jaffna Lamb Curry’ or the ‘Jaffna Crab Curry’, a flavour that will keep you coming back for more. But of course, if you aren’t in favour of spices then you might have to be just a bit careful!
The city is about 190 miles from its capital, Colombo. The most enjoyable way to get to Jaffna is by train. Though a reasonably long ride of about 6-6 ½ hours, the journey is promising with lots to explore on the way and much to anticipate once you are there. The night mail to Jaffna is definitely something more than an ordinary train ride; passing through picturesque landscapes and offering the quietude of night! You can also opt for a bus-ride which can be taken from the Pettah bus stand in Colombo. Unlike a train ride which takes you across beautiful scenes of unperturbed nature, the bus ride is relatively less enjoyable, as there’s little you can see and do.
The weather in Jaffna is usually quite warm with an average temperature of about 27 degrees. Donning casual clothing is ideal to beat the heat with some extra sunscreen of course. Don’t forget a pair of UV protection shades!
Though there’s much talk about the grim conflict that plagued the country, very little is spoken of a special event that kept going despite the escalating tensions between the North and South. This is the foot pilgrimage or ‘Pada Yatra’; a two-month long procession between two sacred sites; Jaffna and Kataragama. A typical walk or rally attended by over thousands of people, a Pada Yatra would usually symbolise public sovereignty, where a rally would be organized by political leaders who would gather citizens for a cause. But in this case the Pada Yatra from Jaffna to Kataragama was different, it was more or less a symbol of peace, co-existence and devotion.
The sacred city of Kataragama is located far South and has been intertwined with much myth and belief that it is the house of Lord Kataragama or ’Kataragama Deviyo’. The temple complex dedicated to Lord Katharagama consists many shrines and is one of the few places venerated by Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims alike.
The Muslims believe that it is here that Prophet Moses (PBUH) journeyed in seek of the teachings of al-Khadir, the servant of Allah (SWT) while the Buddhists are of the belief that an ardent devotee, King Mahasen’s spirit is still at large at its premises.
It is believed that the 2-month long foot-pilgrimage, which kicks-off in June every year is a tradition which was inherited from the Veddhas or the indigenous native tribes of the island. The origins of the Pada Yatra can be traced to the early 90’s and has grown over the years, with as much as a whopping 30,000 reported devotees taking embracing the challenge.
The journey on foot is not for the faint-hearted as it is spiritually and physically challenging. Back in Jaffna, devotees leave all their worldly belongings behind except for a satchel of essential things to keep them alive.
During the early days of the Pada Yatra, pilgrims would usually take the longer route via the East coast covering well over 520 kilometres on foot. Today, with many roads in place devotees are able to walk through relatively easier and safer routes.
Pilgrims would walk an average of 10-15 Kilometres per day while paying tribute to about 73 places of worship that they pass. When dusk would fall, they would sit around in their little groups and enjoy the night’s calm and share some laughter with one another. They would seek refuge in the humblest of places; under trees, in temples or shrines.
Many participants take on vows of self-denial and brave tough conditions like harsh weather, jungles packed with wild animals and poor sanitary conditions, all of which become non-existent in their quest for spirituality.
The pilgrimage grew almost extinct during civil unrest in 1983, but soon after revived with the establishment of the Kataragama Devotees Trust. Some pilgrims would even recall how they would stroll through regions in the wake of the active conflict, fearing for their lives.
Through the decades, the Pada Yatra has become a source of healing to both the Sinhala and Tamil communities.
‘Click, click, click’, the flashes would go off the cameras of many wonderstruck tourists accompanied by our very own team from Antiquity SL.
‘’I’ve never seen something like this before’’, says Roger, one of our clients posing for a picture with a pilgrim. The experience is too real, the experience brings you closer to communities you have never moved around with before.
As the pilgrimage starts off in Jaffna, it’s better to sort our accommodation in the city itself. Jaffna is abundant with as many celebrated establishments like the Tilko Jaffna City Hotel and Jetwing Jaffna.
Getting about Jaffna is no hassle thanks to our team at Antiquity who’ll have all of that well sorted.
Did You Know?
Did you know that Sri Lanka is home to the largest Ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia?
The site is known as the ‘Jathika Namal Uyana’ or National Blue Lotus Gardens and enjoys an enviable spot in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Archaeologists’ have found that the site is over 550 million years old. The garden teems with unique flora and is inhabited by a variety of animal species. The site was also used as a sanctuary for monks during the times of the kings.
The distinct pink quartz mountain is a must visit.
Who Are We?
We are Antiquity Sri Lanka. We offer bespoke tours to the tropical island where we craft experiences for the discerning traveller.
Speak to our team of friendly and warm customer agents who’ll make the very packages that fit your exact requirements.