JAFFNA and the NORTH is a place like no other in Sri Lanka. You could even be forgiven for thinking that you were in South India – except that Jaffna is way cleaner than India. Through the ages it has endured wars and occupation, from Tamil kings, to the Portuguese and the Dutch and, finally, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. Today the area is being reborn with a travel friendly straight road replacing the narrow one that meandered through small villages, new hotels and restaurants have been built to entice visitors to come and explore this last frontier.

The islands close off shore beckon intrepid explorers looking for a different experience of this small, but surprising, island.

The Jaffna peninsula is now attracting a growing number of foreign visitors keen to explore this very different part of the country. While the new road north, the A9, from Kandy to Jaffna gives a comfortable and faster than usual trip for Sri Lanka, many tourists find the trains from Colombo convenient and interesting. Women, with or without a male companion, should not take the last two trains of the day as all or part of the journey is at night. Buses offer a far less comfortable trip than trains but are easy enough to get from Dambulla and Anuradhapura. You won’t find these timetables online so just ask locally or visit the main bus station a day or so before travel day to check the departure times.

However you travel, once you pass Vauvuniya you will notice the rebuilding and repopulating of this part of the country where the people and the land suffered for so long during the civil war. If you are being really adventurous and perhaps exploring the areas away from the more populated parts by bike, it would be best to get local advice about safety. The peninsula was heavily mined and, while a lot of work, often by female workers, has been done to clear these you don’t want to suddenly become another statistic.

It’s not only the dry, flat and often almost naked land that makes this part of the country so different. This is where women are highly visible at the front of the businesses as owners and managers, mostly because of the absence of a husband, father or brother as a consequence of war. On my recent but brief visit I took many photos of war smashed buildings and stagnating half finished new reconstructions and makeshift homes. Life is slowly but thankfully being regained and renewed with tourism being an important agent for this recovery.

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Nagapooshani Amman Temple Nainativu

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