Covering the Northern Province

It was that time of the year when we get a long weekend to go on a long trip. Long (3-4 day) trips are becoming the norm lately within my group of close friends. 1st week of February was the first such in the year and we decided to cover the Northern Province, which many may not have covered completely. We decided to stay a night in Mannar which was our first stop, and two nights in Jaffna. Although three days were not quite enough to cover the whole region, we did our best.

Day 1 – Colombo -> Mannar

One group of five left early in the morning and were able to go through the ‘jungle’ – the old Mannar road as it was only (just) accessible by a vehicle with a high ground clearance. Thanks to the Toyota Hilux double cab they covered a few more attractions as a result. Two of us left Colombo close to noon, with the help of Google maps, found some connecting roads via Mirigama, Padeniya to reach Anuradhapura and headed to Mannar which was our first stop. The 5.5 hour – 328km drive was non-stop; the longest in terms of both distance and time I had driven at that time at a stretch. The drive was not uneventful as we encountered few errant drivers on the way with some close calls. The road leading to Mannar was under construction which took some time to negotiate. Most of the stretches of roads we used were calm and surrounded by green which gave a wonderful feeling. It already felt great to be on holiday away from the busy city.

The rest had set things up at the hotel (Hotel Akash) and we met them at the rendezvous point before exchanging greetings. It was the first time we had departed at different times for a trip. The giant tree which has the largest trunk was the first attraction.

The giant tree

Photo Courtesy: Malaka Gunasekara

With light fading, we returned to the hotel and set things up for our “dinner”. During this time the alarm of the Hilux went of thanks to Vikum trying to open it with the key (instead of the remote) and no one initially knew how to stop it and it was creating a huge commotion. When it settled we went ahead with our dinner and drinks made with special recipes. The hotel was nice and clean – which we would recommend to any traveler on a budget.

Day 2 – Mannar -> Jaffna

First attraction of Day 2 was Thalai Mannar. Though it sounds like a place close-by, it was a long drive. The roads had few potholes but the texture gave that rare nice feeling of driving along authentic Sri Lankan roads that we had before most of them were carpeted. I feel that the new generation expects all things nice and easy, including carpeted roads, but I get a nice feeling driving on some of these roads, which I have been used to from small days. These are not ‘damaged’ roads, but have some kind of unevenness to it.

The Thalai Mannar pier from where ferry services had taken place to Rameshwaram was in a dilapidated state.

Thalai Mannar pier

Photo Courtesy: Vikum Jayarathne

The new tracks for the railway line up to this place was nearing construction at the time of visit.

Next stop was the islands. Now that the boat service to the islands is no more, we decided to go as further as possible. Since the sandy beaches are not accessible by car, we cramped ourselved into the Hilux and had a grand drive along the long unknown beach to reach the edge of the place from where the islands were visible. This probably is the Western-most spot of Sri Lanka.

Screenshot on GPS

Tip of Thamai Mannar

Next was the Mannar fort, which is being guarded by a couple of military personnel. Tourists, both local and foreign, are allowed to have a look around with a guide but they are careful about locals who have apparently in the past tried to damage parts of it.

Then we headed to Jaffna on the A32. The Road had been newly done except for construction on a few bridges. the Route took us through Sangupiddy bridge which was indeed a nice sight. Again with the help of Google maps, we headed to Point Pedro to the Northern most point. Initially we landed at the pier and managed to find the ‘flag’. There were quite a few local tourists around and this place could have been maintained in a better way. Apart from the flag, the surroundings gave no real motivation to go there.

The lighthouse in the area was another attraction that caught our eye and we decided to give it a visit as well. Thereafter, we decided to take our time to explore the coastal roads before finding our way to the hotel. Armed with Google maps and with low on fuel with fading light which turned to darkness soon, we went where the roads took us with the hope that all of them would lead to Jaffna (also to explore as much area as possible). Well, the one we took turned out to be a dead end as we passed through jungles and the road suddenly disappeared. We only saw the fencing – which we thought was the border of the Palaly airport. Turned back, took the correct road and reached our hotel safely. After setting things up, went to town to pick a few things up and to fill up the tank from the ‘only shed that has 95-Octane petrol’. Earlier I had to pump regular as a temporary measure.

Day 3 – Around Jaffna

3rd day of the trip was to cover as many places as possible in Jaffna. We proceeded in the morning towards Kankesanthurai (where the well known thal-sevana is located) and turned left to go along the coastal road. We visited the Keerimalai temple and the pond, Dambakola/Jambukola patuna and proceeded to Karainagar to spend some time on Casurina beach. The beach was relatively nice and clean, which was worth the money paid for parking.

Once a few of us had a sea bath, Fort Hammenheil was our next place of attraction.

Courtesy: Vikum Jayarathne

Other places of attraction visited were the Nallur Kandasamy kovil, Jaffna Fort and the Library. Of course we didn’t forget the much talked about Rio ice-cream.

Day 4 – Nainathivu/Nagadeepa, Mullaithivu -> Colombo

With part of the group feeling tired by day 4 and wanting to return home as early as possible, only three of us were up for some more exploration. Got up early in the morning while the others were asleep and headed to Nainathivu/Nagadeepa along the road under construction, and managed to reach the ferry just on time. The boat looked good  (charge was 50/- per person) and was operated by the Navy. Although it started raining, it did not stop us from going on a ‘tour’ around the island in a 3wheeler. Visited both the Buddhist temple and the Hindu kovil and after some confusion came to the pier for departure which was different from the one we arrived at. The wooden boat looked scary (charge was 30/- per person) and perhaps would have been a decade old. Somehow reached the shore safely and back into Jaffna while the rest of the gang was ready for departure. We still went on to cover the bottomless well, which was the largest well I have ever seen, but not been maintained at all.

With the heavy rain, we went along the A9 highway towards Kilinochchi. We were slowly catching up on the other group which was around 1-2 hours ahead of us. Turned at Paranthan towards Mullathivu via the well known Puthukudiyiruppu (A35). Snapped a selfie at Mullathivu and back along A34 and joined the A9 at Mankulam. We reached Colombo via Anuradhapura, Puttalam and well before the other group.

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