Travelling has inspired the human soul. A challenge of finding your way, the reward of meeting strangers. Tasting new cuisine. Making impressions and creating memories. I boarded an AC bus at Wellawatte with earnest anticipation. Destination Jaffna. The bus begins its journey. The driver turns the volume on the stereo as it belts out Tamil hits. After traversing the long dark roads we make our second stop at Murugandy. Time is 2.30 am. This venue is famous for peanuts. Many sweet and savoury variations combining peanuts were being sold.
Around 4.50 am the first rays of the sun alluringly paint the Northern skies, with such a display of hues. The obscure plamyrah trees begin to zoom into sight. This tree is a symbol of endurance, in this demanding terrain. We pass the arch welcoming visitors on the A9. The bus makes its final stop at the vibrant Jaffna town. The market building is prominent, painted in yellow. I meet Victor. Many vendors sell local produce. Our first stop is at Rolex Hotel. Breakfast consists of string hoppers; fish curry and a fiery sambol. We begin our drive to Vaddukodai.
We pass a serene beach. Boats and catamarans are returning.
Traders and pelicans both eagerly wait on shore. I pass a shop, its entrance guarded by sliding wooden planks. An old man smiles, revealing betel stained teeth. The car turns into a sand road. Goats are roaming. A bullock cart laden with clay pots passes us. The car halts at the residence. Two children greet me. My attention is diverted to the garden, where trees of murunga and chilli have grown in abundance. A wash at the well is refreshing. A duck prods about curiously. Shortly we begin our drive to the island of Karainagar.
The bridge is long. The sun shines proudly. Two naval sentries return our wave. The saltiness in the sea breeze is quite dominant. We arrive at Vincent’s residence. A glass of chilled nelli crush is gulped down. Lunch is served. Succulent curries of cuttle fish and crabs enhanced with spices. A luscious mango for dessert is a relish. As the sun begins to set, we head back to the mainland passing Casurina beach.
We make a brief stop at the Government licensed Toddy Tavern. Clusters of older men are discussing politics. The aroma of deep fried dry fish permeates the air. We reach home. My bedroom has been invaded by a large frog. I aim my flashlight. He grins defiantly and then bolts away!
The next day we are inspired by the magnificence of the Hindu kovil at Nallur. The aroma of incense is present. A stop at the famous Rio Ice cream parlour. The flavours are splendid. We drive towards the town of Marathanamadam to visit the Anglican monastery that has been a sanctuary of solace for decades. Fields cultivated with red onions stretch for hundreds of metres.
For the second phase of my travel I meet up with Solomon. We visit the Jaffna Fort which is being restored, a bastion that has withstood changing times. I respectfully walk into the Jaffna Library, a monument to the fact that knowledge has no compromise. I spot ancient manuscripts bound in leather covers.
By mid afternoon we begin the long ride to Kilinochchi. A drink of king coconut is a delight. After a brief rest the bike navigates toward the colossal reservoir of Iranamadu. We chat with some off duty soldiers. The next morning another long dusty ride to Elephant Pass where once a garrison stood. A bronze monument rises up to the blue sky. Lunch is at a wayside shop. Rice and rasam served on a banana leaf. The signature dish is goat meat simmered in a coriander stock infused with green chilli. Another glass of nelli crush.
As the moon dominates the night sky we chat with some neighbors. A tenacious scorpion decided to intrude. A sprinkling of some native oil dispatches the creature! We ride the next day to Navatkuli. Herds of cattle pass by. From here a daunting ride towards Mullaithivu. The road winds its way via thick patches of forest. We encounter peacocks. A robust man offers to sell us venison. On our return we pass a group of devotees engaged in a colourful Kavadi dance ritual with pulsating music, pious display of deity and the whole nine yards.
I board the night train to Colombo from the Kilinochchi station. As I look out the window I reflect on all I have witnessed. I received the love of a people who live with renewed hope. A resplendent land blessed with a rich and diverse heritage. A place with so much to offer. Alas I can but bring back only three bottles of nelli crush!