Day Fifteen – Trip to Mullaitivu

Sunday 14 Feb 2016

Today we have a full day trip to Mullaitivu. I was keen to see this area as it was the LTTE stronghold and where the  made their last stand in the civil war.  The lagoon area called Nanthikadal was site of alleged massacre of civilians who were cornered and had no where to go during the final stages of the war.  Along the way, there will be various sites from the war years that would be interesting, including a museum holding captured LTTE weapons.  Prabhakaran’s bunker (apparently 4 stories underground), Sea Tiger training centre and other LTTE command centres are also in this area.  We learnt from later from our van driver that most of these sites have been demolished by the government.  We were also recommended to visit the famed Vattapallai Kannaki Amman Temple in Mullaitivu.  Following Mullaitivu, we will make a trip to Vavuniya to visit Susie’s uncle.


From Jaffna we drove through Elephant Pass and to Kilinochchi.  First stop was the Water Tower that was blown up by the LTTE during the final stages of the war.

Blown up water tank

Next stop was the Iranamadu Tank.  This reservoir was built in 1902.

Dam at Iranamadu Tank

After more than an hours drive, we arrived in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu which is home to a war museum that houses LTTE weapons and hardware.  It was interesting to walk through this place and look at the various captured weapons on display.  A lot of these weapons and equipment are improvised but have proven somewhat effective during the civil war.

Artillery pieces and shells on display

Torpedoes and launcher

Small sea craft at museum

Large sea craft

Logan beside a speedboat

After the war museum we headed towards Nanthikadal.  To my disappointment, the contentious beach area was fenced off by the army with sentry posts at regular intervals.  There were alleged human rights abuses here and the government was keen to keep the evidence away from prying eyes.

Nanthikadal Lagoon

Beach at Mullaitivu

Going around the Nanthikadal lagoon we came to the famed Vattapallai Kannaki Amman Temple.  Vattapallai is the area in which the temple is located.  I am unsure about the history of this temple.

Vattapallai Kannaki Amman Temple

Inside of temple

The temple cow

After the temple visit we made our way to Vavuniya to have a meal at Susie’s uncle’s place.  We had a great meal and Susie’s uncle and aunt were warm and welcoming.

The drive back to Jaffna was about 2.5 hours and we arrived at the hotel at night.

Day Fourteen – Lazy Day

Saturday 13 Feb 2016

Today we decided to do nothing but go shopping and hang loose.  Most of my other relatives were leaving today, mostly to Malaysia and Melbourne.  They were catching the 1:45 train back to Colombo.  We went to see my granduncle again this morning.  He lived down the road.  He is a treasure of information.  Even though he is 84, he is pretty sharp.  Having worked at the Central Bank in Colombo all his working life, our conversation is in English.  This is a welcome relief to us as our Tamil is well below local standards.

We returned to the hotel to bid farewell to the departing group.  At this point the sun was really belting down and so we decided to wait a while before hitting the shops.  At about 2pm we decided to make our move.  Our group split up at the shopping area.  Susie and I went separately.  I had to get a few things, including spices and some clothes for my nieces in Singapore.  We then went to a restaurant to have some refreshments.  It is hot here, quite similar to Sydney but slightly humid.  We returned to the hotel after the drinkl.  We later went to a supermarket for a second round of shopping.

That evening Logan had organised a feast at the hotel.  Jaffna crab curry was prepared in 3 versions.  Due to my allergy, I had fish curry.  We had some vegetable curry and rice to go.  It was a wonderful feast and seemed to have gone for hours.  An American couple in the next table were looking at us enviously.  As they were leaving, they greeted us and commented on our feast.

Day Thirteen – Temple Consecreation

Friday 12 Feb 2016

Today was an early start.  Consecration ceremonies at temple was beginning at 6am.  It should be finished by 7:30am.  Timing is important for Hindus who look to astrologers for auspicious times.  The temple is known as the Sri Katpaga Vinayagar Temple in the village of  Varivalavu.

Main entrance and Gopuram (tower) of Temple

Temple procession team assembles

Main hall in temple

Corridor in temple

Temple drummers ready for proceedings

Early worshippers at temple

Beginning of temple procession

Procession entering temple

Priests blessing main Gopuram of temple during consecration

Worshippers on temple grounds

Even in a remote village in northern Sri Lanka, leading edge technology is being utilised. Notice drones in sky that are equipped with cameras

Minor Gopuram on side of temple

Male team at temple – the group is made up of people from Malaysia, Singapore, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney and Sri Lanka

Another view of Gopuram of temple

After the temple proceedings, we decided to do a tour of Karainagar, the island from which my ancestors came from.  First stop was the famous Casuarina Beach.  It is more relaxed here now.  The last I was here 3 years ago, there an army sentry stationed here.  This  was followed by a visit to my maternal ancestral homeland.

Temple devoted to Lord Shiva near Casuarina Beach

Cow on temple grounds

Casuarina Beach in Karainagar

Looking at the lighthouse in Kovalum from Casuarina Beach

After Casuarina Beach, it was time to head for Kovalum, the village my maternal grandmother came from.  It is rough road that is unsealed.  No many live in the village now except for a few.  Our van driver could not make the trip due to road conditions.  We decided to use a Tuk-tuk to make the journey.  Vijaya negotiated a price of 600 rupees with a Tuk-tuk driver for us to make the journey.  My cousin Sangaran, Palini a close family friend and myself decided to make the journey.  We went to the first property that belong to one of our relatives.  Then we made the trip to the beach front where the actual land is.  Part of the land, as we thought, was occupied by the navy.  We later realised upon surveying the land, it was not the case.  To our surprise, the navy personnel were friendly and helpful.  This really surprised me.  The end result is that we were able to inspect our ancestral land with great ease.  Paling who can speak Sinhalese facilitated this.  We were also advised by the navy personnel to register our interest in the land with the Grama Niladhari, who is local village level government official who is meant to keep track of land in his allotted area.  This way if others came to ask about the land or try to assume ownership, this official could advise them accordingly.

Maternal grandmother’s land looking from adjoining properties owned by her nephews

Lighthouse in Kovalum

View of lighthouse from up the beach

View from Grandmother’s land

Grandmother’s land looking away from the sea

Grandmother’s land looking towards the sea

We decided to end the day by relaxing and recovering from the events of the day back at the hotel.  We needed it especially because of the early start.  Needless to say, I had a nap which I most enjoyed.

Day Twelve – Around Jaffna Town

Thursday 11 Feb 2016

We had a late morning start at the temple on Karainagar island, our ancestral homeland.  There was a festival at the temple, a precursor to the consecration of the temple following some renovations.  We were annointing oils on the deities and this was the only time we were allowed to enter the inner chamber of the temple.  Following this we had lunch at the temple.

In the afternoon we decided to explore Jaffna town, slighter further from our hotel.  The first stop was Nallur Kandasamy Temple, the most famous temple in Jaffna.  The original temple was built between 1450 to 1467.  It was levelled to the ground by the Portuguese in 1620.  The present temple was built during the Dutch period, around 1807.  It was not rebuilt on the original site.  The original site is occupied by St James Church.

Main entrance to Nallur Temple

East Gopuram (tower) of temple

Street scene outside the temple

The next stop was Mandri Manai (Ministers House).  It was built in the fifteenth century.  It is deserted now but in has cellars and underground rooms where the inhabitants stored their valuables.

Front of Mandri Manai

Looking out of front entrance of Mandri Manai

Looking into one of the rooms of Mandri Manai

We then visited one of the largest church in Jaffna, St Patricks Catholic Church.

St Patricks Catholic Church

A round of cricket in the church yard. Most of the boys are also alter boys and live around the church

St James Church – purported location of the original Nallur Temple

Old Jaffna Prison

We finished with a visit to Rio Ice Creams, the most famous ice cream parlour in Jaffna.  Despite it’s popularity, the system within the parlour is chaotic.  We took some take-away to have it in the van.  The ice cream is very sweet and has inconsistent texture.  We enjoyed it though.  That evening Susie, Shantini and I had dinner at Susie’s uncle’s place.  He was an interesting man and kept us most amused with his stories.

Day Eleven – Trip to North of Jaffna

Wednesday 10 Feb 2016

The day started with an early morning walk with my cousin Sangaran and Charles.  We walked to Jaffna Fort.  It was built by the Portuguese first and then fortified by the Dutch.  The date on the entry way is 1690.  It was heavily damaged during the war but is slowly being repaired.  Not much has progressed since my last visit.

Then a group of us decided we will visit North Jaffna.  We were going to Keerimalai Springs and then to Point Pedro, the northern most point in Sri Lanka.  I have been to these places before but it will be good for a return visit.

Ruins of old Keerimalai Temple

Our first stop was the Keerimalai Springs.  The Hindu temple besides it dates back from the BC era.  It was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1620.  It was rebuilt in 1894.  However, the civil war caused extensive damage to the temple.  Bullet holes and mortar damage was visible on my last visit.  A new temple was built.

Main entrance way of old temple

Inside Old Temple

New temple with old in foreground

Inside ruins of old temple

Some of us had a swim in the Keerimalai Springs.  It is meant to have some medicinal properties.  It was refreshing after the swim and a good relief from the heat.  After Keerimalai Springs, we headed down the road to Dambakola.  When Buddhism was came to Sri Lanka from India, it was reputed to have come through Dambakola.

Dambakola Buddhist Shrine

After Dambakola, we headed for Niravalai deep well.  It has a deep aquamarine colour and the depth of the well has never been determined.  Legend has it that this is where Rama from the Hindu epic Ramayana stopped to rest.

Stairs leading to well

Niravalai Deep Well

After a brief stop at Niravalai well, we headed for Point Pedro, the northern most point in Sri Lanka.  The 2004 Tsunami hit this place too and caused massive destruction.  A lot of the buildings here have not been repaired or replaced.

Distance marker at Point Pedro

Point Pedro fishing community

Point Pedro Jetty

Looking up the coast in Point Pedro

Building at Point Pedro jetty probably built in colonial era, damaged by Tsunami

Lighthouse at Point Pedro

After Point Pedro, we had lunch at a local shop and headed back to Jaffna.  There were some temple festivities later on our home island Karainagar.

Day Ten – Trip to Mannar

Tuesday 9 Feb 2016

I got up at 6am to do an early morning walk and also to take in the morning sights of Jaffna town.  Jaffna is a different picture in the morning without the mad traffic.

Jaffna Clock Tower – built to commemorate the visit to Ceylon by the Prince of Wales in 1875

A main road in Jaffna in the morning

After a shower and breakfast, we were ready for a trip to Mannar.  We were going to a well known Hindu temple, Ketheeswaram temple and Catholic church, Our Lady of Madhu Shrine Catholic church.  We also later decided to go to Talaimannar which is the closest point from Sri Lanka to India.  There is a series of islands and sand dunes called Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge.  Jeeva organised another van via the hotel.  It was a 10 seater, new and tidy. Ria the driver was proud of his vehicle and his service was impeccable.

Ave Maria Travels and Tours

The Gulf of Mannar was well known for valuable pearls.  This attracted the Portuguese and other Europeans.  Trade was foremost in the minds of the Portuguese however subsequently they were active in trying to convert the local population to Catholicism.  It can be said that Catholicism (or Christianity) established it’s beachhead on Sri Lanka in Mannar.  St Francis Xavier was active in Mannar around 1543.

Route to Mannar

Our first stop was Ketheeswaram temple.  This temple dates back from 300 BC and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.  In 1505 along with many Hindu and Buddhist temples around the island, this temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in their quest to spread Christianity.  Later, the temple stones were used to build Manner Fort, a church and Hammershield Fort at Kayts. The temple was rebuilt in 1903 following the unearthing of original deities in 1894 at the original site of the temple.

Front view of Ketheeswaram Temple

Temple Gopuram (tower)

Ketheeswaram temple surrounds

Our second stop was the Our Lady of Madhu Shrine Catholic Church.  This church dates back 400 years and is thought to be the holiest Catholic place on the island.  During the civil war, the shrine housed more than 10,000 refugees.  The area around the shrine was considered a ‘demilitarised zone’.  Unfortunately the area was shelled in late 1999, killing 44 refugees.

Main entrance to shrine

View down the aisle inside church

Looking out into the courtyard from within the church

Main shrine in church

Front of church

Noticeboard on site

Mailbox on church site dating from the reign of King George VI

We had lunch at the church canteen and then decided to head for Talaimannar, the eastern most part of Mannar and the closest point to India.  Before the civil war, trade flowed freely between Sri Lanka and India for centuries.  We were also keen to see Adam’s Bridge, a collection of island and outcrops connecting Sri Lanka to India.  This area is heavily patrolled by the navy.  The point Adam’s Bridge starts on the Sri Lankan side is now a naval base.  We were directed by the guard to hire a fishing board to take as to Adam’s Bridge.  I was approached by a fisherman and was told the cost of the trip was LKR5000.  I checked that he had life jackets.  Then he realised we were not Sri Lankans and therefore could not take us.  Apparently only Sri Lankan citizens could hire a boat to take them to Adam’s Bridge.  This was later confirmed by a navy personnel who came over to investigate our presence.  The reason given was that the Sri Lankan Government did not want to be held responsible for the safety of foreigners.  This was a real disappointment.  Having come this far and this close and not being able to make the trip.  We spent some time on the beach and then boarded the van to head back to Jaffna.

Fishing boats on Talaimannar

Fishing boats lined up in Talaimannar

Waters off Talaimannar

Our group wading at waters edge

Adam’s Bridge seen from a distance

Beach at Talaimannar

Looking back inland from Talaimannar


Day Nine – Train Trip to Jaffna

Monday 8 Feb 2016

We got up at some insane hour to catch the 5:35am train to Jaffna.  Transport was organised to take us to Colombo Station.  The hotel made breakfast boxes for us to take on the trip.  We were ready and waiting for our transport in the hotel lobby.  The morning outside the hotel was eerily quiet.  The hotel is in a very busy part of Colombo during the day.

Front of Grand Oriental Hotel in the early morning

Side street beside the hotel in the early morning

Colombo Port Administration Building (opposite the hotel)

Transport came on time and we were at the station a little after 5am.  We booked first class seats for our trip to Jaffna.  This means we got slightly more comfortable seats and an air-conditioned carriage.  The heat can be oppressive at times.  After a 30 minute wait, the train arrived.  There were others we knew who were going to be on the train to Jaffna.  It was scramble, though not a mad one, to get onboard.  Our seats were close to the exit doors and so this made it easier to move our bags into position.  Most of the bags were place behind the first row of seats.  There was enough room to stack up the large ones.  The smaller ones were placed on the overhead rack.  We settled back on the train to have a bit of a breather.  Before long, the train was on its way.  Charles walked through the carriage into the next one and managed to tracked down Jeeva and Shanta.  Jeeva had organised transport at the Jaffna end to take us to the our hotel.  We will be staying at the same hotel as our 2013 trip.  The Pillaiyar Inn is not salubrious but adequate and in a convenient location in Jaffna.

The trip out of Colombo was a rocky one.  The tracks were in good need of a realignment.  The carriages were rocking from left to right and back again.  Looking down the carriage into the next carriage through the separating glass door, we could see the extend of the tilt from left to right in the next carriage.  The rocking was therapeutic I must say.  My back got a good massage.  However, if you needed to answer the call of nature, it could be tricky and quite ugly.

Nearer Jaffna, the ride was smoother.  The tracks were newly laid here after the war.  The project was sponsored by the Indian Government and the start of services to Jaffna was celebrated with huge fanfare.  The train arrived in Jaffna at midday and on time.  We waited for short while for our transport to arrive.  The van was not quite what Jeeva was expecting.  It was smaller and could not accomodate all of us.  Therefore, 2 trips were organised.  All of us got the hotel without much issues for lunch and a good rest.  The rooms were all meant to be of the same standard but they all had variable quality.  Some were granite tiled whereas others had old carpet.  The most important thing is that the air-conditioning worked and we had place to rest.  The hotel was reasonably clean the ‘butler’ attached to us is very helpful.  The same guys were here when I came 3 years ago.  It was nice to see familiar faces.  Sangaran, Charles and I were in one 5 person room, Susie and Shantini were in one 3 person room and Logan and Vasantha were in a double room.

Day Eight – Back to Colombo

Sunday 7 Feb 2016

We woke up at a leisurely time and had a relaxed breakfast at our hotel in Mirissa.  The food here is reasonable but we were spoilt at other places.  We were visited by some cute puppies that decided to sleep at our feet as we had breakfast.

After breakfast we packed up and were on the road again for a short trip to Galle.  I have been here before in 2013.  It was still interesting to visit this place again.  It is rich in history.

Clock Tower at Galle Fort

Rampart at Galle Fort

Wall of fort towards the ocean

Wall of fort towards the ocean

Outside perimeter of fort

Zwart Bastion

Lighthouse at Point Utrecht Bastion

Tunnel underneath rampart

After Galle, we had lunch as a restaurant that was off the main road to Colombo and by the ocean.  It was a popular place and the food was good.  Following lunch, we dropped off two in the group to Bawa House, the residence of the late Geoffrey Bawa who was the most influential architect on the island.  His house is like a museum with long flowing gardens.  The rest of us went to Bentota Beach to relax and take in the views.  This beach has pristine white sands.

Hotel at Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach looking towards Colombo

Another view of hotel at Bentota Beach

We arrived in Colombo in the early part of the evening and checked into the Grand Oriental Hotel.  Our guide Jagath booked this hotel as it was close to the Colombo Railway Station.  Our train to Jaffna the next morning departs Colombo at 5:35am.  The hotel was once the residence of the Dutch Governor and also became military barracks.  It became a hotel in 1870.  That evening Susie and I met her friend whom we had missed in Batticaloa.  He ran the orphanage there.  We retired early as we had an even earlier start the next day.

Day Seven – Trip to Kataragama

Saturday 6 Feb 2016

We woke up in the morning at Tissa to the sounds of peacocks and other animals in the background.  The place we were staying at Tissa seemed like it was in the middle of the jungle.  It was a beautiful setting.

View from balcony outside room

View from hotel

After breakfast, we packed and were ready for our short trip to Kataragama.  Kataragama is a remote religious town that is sacred to the Buddhists,Hindus and Muslims.  Pilgrims come from all over Sri Lanka and beyond.  The shrines are dedicated to the god Kataragama.

Pilgrims on the way to the temple washing themselves in the river nearby

Main entrance into religious precinct

The monkeys in the area seem quite at home

The monkeys in the precinct area are quite tame and fed by the pilgrims.  We go past a mosque and a Shiva shrine.  A short distance later we come to the Maha Devale, the main shrine for Kataragama.

Maha Devale

Priest entering the Maha Devale for morning Pooja

Beyond Maha Devale, about 500m down the road is the Buddhist shrine, Kiri Vihara.

On the way to Kiri Vihara

Kiri Vihara

There were elephants with the mahouts along the roadway leading up to Kiri Vihara.  The pilgrims seek blessing from the elephants.

Elephant with her mahout

Majestic male elephant

Looking down the roadway filled with pilgrims from Kiri Vihara

Pilgrim going underneath elephant to seek blessing

The classic pose

After about 3 hours or so at Kataragama, we were back in our van on our way to our next overnight stop in Mirissa.  Mirissa is on the south coast of Sri Lanka and the area is unspoilt.

Beach outside hotel in Mirissa

View from front courtyard of hotel

View from balcony outside room

We lazed around for much of the afternoon.  Some of us went for a refreshing swim.

Day Six – Trip to Yala National Park

Friday 5 Feb 2016

We got up early today to check out the lively scene on the beach.  Fisherman had been fishing all night and have been gathering here to sell their fish on the beach.  There was an auction market on the beach for the day’s catch.  Fish here is quite cheap.

Dawn at Arugam Bay

Looking down the beach at Arugam Bay

Fishermen at Arugam Bay

Dawn waves crashing at Arugam Bay

Traditional fishing boat

Waiting for sunrise at Arugam Bay

Sunrise at Arugam Bay

Fisherman gathering their daily catch for auction

Not what you normally see

After breakfast we were on the road again to Tissamaharama or Tissa for short.  After a 2.5 hour drive we arrived at Tissa.  We checked into a lodge set in the middle of what seemed like a forest.  It was a very peaceful setting with sounds of animals in the background.  We had lunch and were booked to go on a safari to Yala National Park.

We were all in a 9 seater 4WD.  The trip to Yala from the lodge was about an hours drive.  We did not expect to see elephants here but among the other varied wildlife, a leopard sighting is prized.

Monkey on approach to Yala (Tufted gray langur)

Birds at a wetland (Gray Heron and Black Headed Ibis)

Lesser Adjutant?

Crocodile on the banks of a pond