Located more than 10 hours away from Colombo, perched high in the northernmost peninsula of Sri Lanka, the town of Jaffna (or Yapanaya, as it is sometimes called) is a world away from your usual coastal town of Sri Lanka. Lined with Palmyra trees and even a mysterious African Baobab tree, Jaffna is riddled with history dating back to the 13th century, stretching from the dynastic times to the colonial times. More recently, the historic town of Jaffna experienced a three decade long civil unrest that eventually ended in 2009 and resulted in the destruction of a large part of the town’s history. However, the society’s defiant nature has resurrected the city from the ashes of conflict, reconciling with the past and building for the future.

Top Reason to Visit

Jaffna is imbued with great history and artifacts that tell you a great many things about the old town. Couple that with the prevailing Sri Lankan Tamil culture that is preserved, even after experiencing violent conflict for three decades, visiting this town has often been in the forefront of the minds of many a traveler; local or foreigner. Therefore the above is the top reason to visit Jaffna.

While You’re There

An ancient kingdom:

Some of the first settlers in the town of Jaffna were the Dravidians of South India. With the Dravidians proclaiming the land for themselves, the first of the Aryacakravarti dynasty came into being starting from the 13th century. The Yapa Patuna (Port of Yapanaya) is one example that shows how the monarchy at the time commanded the spice trade. It is amazing that even with Jaffna’s violent recent past, remnants of the ancient kingdom still exist for observation even today. One of the more notable monuments, apart from the port, being the Royal Palace complex that belonged to King Cankili II. Boasting of facades and even whole buildings like the ‘Mantri Manai’(Residence of the Ministers).

A colonial stronghold:

The 17th century saw the demise of the Aryacakravarti dynasty and the imposition of colonial rule by the Portuguese. The colonial powers realized the strategic location of the port and overtook the monopoly of the spice trade that was once dominated by the monarchs of old. Thus becoming one of the important colonial port towns in the country joining the likes of Colombo, Trincomalee and Galle to name but three. The colonial influence is further accentuated by the iconic Dutch Fort, which was interestingly built by the Portuguese first, but then captured by the Dutch. The Dutch expanded the fortifications to wade off any foreign invader, however this proved in vain since the British eventually took over the fortress. Built along the lines of a Vaubanesque star (a type of fortress designed with bastions), the Dutch Fort is filled with many more sights within itself that talk of the old world’s influence in the area.

Island hopping:

This town is quite a unique one, in that it also serves as an accessory point to some of the most remote islands that belong to Sri Lanka. The islands of Nainativu (sometimes called Nagadeepa) and Delft offer a surreal experience to any traveller due to its differing landscapes. One of the more notable being the wild ponies that are descendents of Dutch horses, along with a rather odd looking African Baobab tree that is still quite a mystery, as to how it grew there in the first place. It is quite an intriguing experience to jump on the short ferry ride to these islands as it gives a totally different perspective of the Paradise Island's landscapes.

Knowledge that cannot be destroyed:

Jaffna is a town that boasts of great literary works, even boasting of one of the best public libraries in South Asia. Once a hub for the academicians and recreational reader in the mid 20th century, the Jaffna Public Library was set ablaze during the 1980s as a result of civil unrest that lasted for three decades that destroyed more than 90,000 pieces of unique manuscripts. Even after being a victim of such terrorism, the centrality of the building still remains the same even today. Being rebuilt along the lines of Neo - Mughal architecture, the library has risen from the ashes of war to provide invaluable knowledge to the masses through the generous donations from other countries and locals. A simple browse through the various categories of manuscripts available will make you realise that knowledge is indeed indestructible.

Resilient society:

Jaffna's recent past of communal violence may make one wonder whether strands of it still linger on, however, ever since the end of the civil war in 2009, reconciliation has been quite swift. Jaffna is now a peaceful town that accommodates all people regardless of faith. Such reconciliation can be seen with the many religious places of worship that dates back to even before colonial times. Boasting of many sacred kovils like the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, including mosques, Buddhist temple and even a great many churches. Passing these places of worshiptruly does show the resiliency of the society that dwells within Jaffna's walls.

An iconic festival:

The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil which serves to be a domain for Lord Murugan (the Hindu god of war). The town of Jaffna has a strong following of the God so much so that a 25 day long festival is held during the months of July to August to showcase their devotion. The entire town comes to life during this time, making it all the more enticing to experience the unique festival.

Ice cream to cool you off:

One of the cooler things that the people of Jaffna possess is the very many ice cream parlours that are strung all around the town. Considering the fact that Jaffna experiences weather that leans on to the hot and humid side, the ice cream parlours prove to be a utilitarian element of the town. Amassing valuable experience over the years by cooling down the weary traveller and local alike, these ice cream parlours have diversified into creating some unique flavours. Some of them can be tried at the famous ‘Rio’ ice cream parlour. Go ahead and cool off with some unique ice cream flavours after a hard day of travelling.

Sunrise to sunset:

A few kilometres out of the town area, lies the Casuarina Beach, which provides some awe inspiring views of both, the sunrise and sunset (Just one of the few places in Sri Lanka to experience such a phenomenon). With its calm atmosphere, along white sands, the beach also serves as a place of zen for anyone looking for inner peace.

Off the beaten path:

It is quite hard to imagine a desert in the Sri Lanka due to its abundance of luscious greenery. However, the little island never ceases to amaze with its bountiful nature. The Manalkadu desert is an interesting sight for anyone as it boasts of 15 metre high sand dunes. Sometimes covering the remains of the church of St. Anthony, you might even wonder whether you have transported yourself to Egypt.

Insider Advice

Travel: Jaffna is not a large city and the central area is easily explored on foot or by bicycle. Tuk-tuks are very common and would charge around LKR 150 - LKR 300 for most trips. It is highly advised to select the former though.

Weather: Temperatures here can reach up to around 34°C, however, the months from January to April are considered milder as the temperature drops to the 20s.

Money: It is important to carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, LKR 50s and LKR 100s so to make life easier. Moreover, many shops do not accept credit and debit cards, apart from the supermarkets.

Clothing: It is best to be dressed conservatively, so as to adhere to the customs of the society in the area.

Safety: Jaffna is a very safe place now with a friendly neighbourhood, however, due to its recent liberation, in 2009, there are some places that are still quite unsafe. As always make sure you keep a watchful eye on your belongings.

Meals and refreshments: Jaffna is a good place to try South Indian style cuisine, along with a local twist. Scattered across the town, it would not be a hard thing to miss.

In conclusion, Jaffna may be just coming out of internal strife with many of its monuments destroyed or badly damaged. However, its rich heritage lingers on with the culturally diverse people of the area, thus making it a major tourist attraction for locals and foreigners alike.

Title image by: KNOWSL
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