The large, windswept island of Delft sits twenty miles off the mainland; about as far away from a city as you can get in densely-packed Sri Lanka. After an 80-minute bus ride to Kurikadduwan, we took a ferry to the island, and almost immediately upon disembarking from the ship, Jürgen realized with a cry that his camera battery was out of juice. I instinctively started backing away from him. A Jürgen who can’t take pictures at a wild, remote island is a dangerous, unpredictable Jürgen.
A collection of small stupas found a mile east of Chunnakam, Kadurugoda is a rare island of Buddhism in the Hindu-dominated peninsula of Jaffna. We hired a tuk-tuk to the site, shortly after visiting the Keerimalai water temple.
Set on the northern coast of the Jaffna Peninsula is one of the more entertaining places of worship we’ve ever visited. The Keerimalai Kovil, which overlooks the Palk Strait separating Sri Lanka from India, doubles as a popular pool and hang-out zone for people taking a break from their regular lives. My church’s attempts to combine fun and worship were like, Amy Grant Dance Party. Hindus have us beat.
The twenty-kilometer ride took over an hour to complete, and we were dropped off in a dusty town with one store and three people. Now, just an easy mile-long hike separated us from the crystal blue water and white sand of Casuarina Beach. On arriving, we were overjoyed — exactly as we had hoped for! A gorgeous stretch of sand extending for kilometers along the northern coast of the island, bordered by the shrubby Casuarina trees which lend the beach its name. We decided to escape local bathers, and walk towards the lighthouse on the northwestern tip of the island before sitting down: a plan that would be our undoing.
An enormous, 100-foot golden tower announces the presence of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, on the northern end of Jaffna. This is the largest and most important place of worship on the peninsula, and holds multiple daily ceremonies. Jürgen and I removed our shoes and shirts (oh quiet down, all you squealing tweens!), and stepped inside for an afternoon observance.
A string of small islands stretch out to the west of Jaffna, pointing the way to India, mostly connected to the mainland by roads built up out of the shallow water. One day, we rented rickety old bikes and rode out on the causeway which begins near the fort to the first of the islands.
In 1618, the Portuguese built an enormous fort in Jaffna, to help protect their hard-won property. Colonial-era forts are fairly common across the world, but Jaffna’s must be one of the very few which continued to see action until the late 20th century. Recently re-opened to visitors, it was one of the first things we checked out in Jaffna.
We’ve never visited a city with a vibe like Jaffna’s. The only town of any appreciable size in the whole of northern Sri Lanka, Jaffna is the vibrant de facto capital of the country’s Tamil population. But it’s also a tragic showpiece for the horrors of modern war. A walk through the streets of modern Jaffna offers both a heartbreaking look at the darkness of humanity, and an inspiring example of our stubborn perseverance.
Like a feather in Sri Lanka’s cap, the Jaffna Peninsula pokes out of the top of the island, pointing towards India. The long, narrow peninsula is separated from the rest of the country in about every way imaginable: culturally, ethnically, religiously, linguistically and geographically.