As a change of pace we decided to go up to the north of the island to see how ‘different’ it was. Everything we had read told us that it was nothing like the rest of Sri Lanka due to 30 years of civil war. The war only ended in 2009 with the government wiping out the Tamil Tiger separatist movement and until then there was no travel at all up to the north. A lot of the local population had fled during the conflict and were only now starting to return. Where previously check points and military standovers had been the norm, now that peace had returned we wanted to go and see for ourselves what the north had to offer.
Many of the southern local people that had spoken to us of the war times had horror stories to tell. Parents that lived in the south but commuted to Colombo to work would take separate modes of transport (one on the bus, one on the train) so that if there was a bombing at least one parent would survive to look after their kids. A few people had witnessed the violence first hand with truly terrible stories of bombings and death. For us there didn’t seem to be that much impact left from the war in the south but we wanted to see the whole country and to see if there would be much difference in the north so we headed up to Jaffna.
The countryside as we went further north certainly became a lot more desolate with large areas totally unpopulated and just scrubby bush covering the land. The city of Jaffna itself has been largely rebuilt and patched up from the damage caused by the war years but there were certainly still signs that the conflict had been widespread and violent. Many buildings still bore the scars of bullet holes and shrapnel wounds.
We hired a scooter (at prices that are now getting ridiculous – approx $20AUD a day) and headed out to do the ring of islands that top the country. They are mostly connected by causeways and can be driven as a circuit with one ferry ride to close the loop.
The islands showed the most obvious ravages of the war. A lot of people simply up and left their homes and got away when the war began. 30 years later and their once comfortable houses are now in ruin. Those that stayed behind stripped the roof tiles, doors and windows and anything else that was useable, leaving only shells behind. For the displaced people slowly returning to the north the sense of despair at seeing their homes ruined must be beyond belief. The towns certainly felt a lot quieter and less vigorous than those we had seen in the south.
We came across a series of wrecked boats all lined up against the shore and figured they must have been tsunami wreckage but upon talking to a local policeman it turns out they were Indian fishing boats that had been caught fishing illegally and towed to shore and scuttled. The fishermen were held for a couple of months then released. Politically India and Sri Lanka are not exactly friendly and I got the impression that talks on illegal fishing were a thorn in the side of both countries.
We only stayed in Jaffna 1 full day and I can’t say that it did much for me. The people are less friendly (which is not surprising) and we didn’t really find that much that interested us. Looking at the detritus of ruined lives is a sobering experience but I am not sure that it is something that we needed to spend more time with.
Below are a collection of photos that were all taken in the northern region. Jaffna was certainly different and an interesting way to finish our Sri Lankan epic.