When we arrived in Jaffna, it was already dark and we stayed at the Cosy Hotel, a clean modest place with marvelous food.
The next morning we visited Delft one of the five coral islands surrounding Jaffna. We went there on some quite adventurous dams, through large lagoons, and finally, on a not less adventurous ferry that took us there in an hour. A close friend of Roy’s was staying in Delft where he was working for the government on the new harbor project and along with the round trip, he organized a great rice and curry lunch for us.
We made the round trip in the back of a little pickup where they had put two wooden benches, a racy adventure and nothing for the faint of heart. As there were not too many points of interest in Delft, we were back after only a bit more than an hour.
First, we looked at an old Fort that had been built out of coral. Also, all boundaries on the island had been built that way, an unfamiliar sight in Sri Lanka. Further there was a broken Pagoda that had been erected to honor an Indian princess who supposedly had landed there; a footprint of an evil ghost (the other one was supposed to be in India); a huge Baobab tree; and a growing rock. Really!! A piece of dead coral but obviously there was something still alive underneath which made the rock grow.
And there were the famous horses from Delft that had originally been brought to the island by the Dutch. Still purebred horses, they grew smaller and smaller over the decades and have become the size of ponies in the meantime. Also the cows of Delft were unusually small. There are supposed to be sheep, which have lost their fur over the generations to adjust to the climate, and therefore, look more like goats. We only saw goats but maybe the furless sheep were among them and we did not recognize them.
It was unbearably hot and we were covered with dust when we made it back. Roy`s friend assured us that we had picked the best season for a visit to Delft, as only weeks ago the heat had been terrible! The worst time would be in August, as a lot of animals would perish during the drought and the stench would be unspeakable. But only at the beginning, as each cadaver would wither within three days …….. like dried fish.
Most of the 5,000 residents make their living as fishers and as the war would be over now, they would like to promote tourism. Being 12 hours on bumpy roads from the airport, it might take a while to achieve this and even with a better infrastructure it would remain a destination only for the hard boiled ones.
On the way back to Jaffna, we had a bigger and more comfortable ferry which is provided by the government free of charge and as soon as we landed, at least half of the passengers rushed on to another ferry to Nagadipa. There is one of the most important pilgrim sites with a famous Buddhist Temple – we will never know! It was a mere wooden skiff with a roof on which they loaded motorbikes next to other goods. Dozens of people with most decorative life jackets were sandwiched in there and a trip on that ferry would have not been manageable for westerners.
Roy`s friend showed us around in Jaffna. There was a most impressive huge Hindu Temple and I was the only one that saw it from the inside! There were many pictograms at the entrance with do’s and don’ts: for example, you were only allowed to go inside with bare chest. I was about to turn away when I saw women dressed in shalwars inside. The rule only applied to men! There was a ceremony taking place and I enjoyed it very much – the men refused to take off their shirts and they sure missed something.
In Jaffna, there was an old Fort almost as big as the one in Galle, but sadly had been severely damaged during war. They were about to restore it. The famous Library was set on fire before the outbreak of the war. Rumors say that it had been done by the opposition party of the time to spark the war. It had been one of the richest libraries of Asia. Burning books never leads to something good in history.
The building had been restored but the assortment of books was poor to say the least. I even saw a paperback copy of the “Swiss Family Robinson”!
With tips for the best ice cream in town (Rio ice cream with a little factory next to the restaurant) and the best food (Mangos Restaurant), Roy`s friend left and we ended the day as always, sweaty and with too much food!
Message of the day : you look like a jeep
Jaffna was not much different from other big cities in Sri Lanka with its buzzing activities and the colorful markets. There was large scale trade with India without the involvement of the government in Colombo.
Eye catchers were the big number of old time cars; and a lot of girls and women on bicycles and motorbikes, either riding them on their own or sitting side saddle in the back. After dark fell, there was hardly anybody in the streets.
We travelled back to Colombo via the so called Elephant Pass in the direction of the A9, the main road from Vavuniya to Colombo. Also, on this route the war had left its traces and the road at times was in terrible condition. The overall driving time from Vavuniya to Colombo was 12 hours!
At our stop in Vavuniya, we attracted quite some attention. Hardly any tourists travel in that area and we had met in all those days, only three fellow long noses.
The Tamil people were very humble and friendly and always had a smile for us. Rice and curry was at its finest; most of the time served on a square piece of a palm leaf. Used to eating with their fingers themselves, they added spoons for the long noses that were served head down in a tea glass with boiling water. (We love to eat with our fingers and have mastered that task over the years.) Everything was spotless clean and we even drank water out of jars like the locals and never had the slightest problems.
We will definitely visit the North again and dearly hope that the government in Colombo will seize the chance to make commitments to the Tamil people and support them by getting back to a working infrastructure.
So far people on both sides do not believe in long lasting peace.