Sunday, September 19, 2010

Journey to Jaffna - Part 2

Our next destination was at Chankanai to locate an Old Portuguese church built of coral in 1641 and described in the said handbook as architecturally the only one of its kind in the island. We found it crammed in a busy part of a town, desolate and almost choked by weeds with three of its sturdy walls still braving all odds and the main arch which may have been its altar.

Next, we followed the sign boards, which were surprisingly frequent and helpful in finding our way to Point Pedro passing the towns of Nirvelli, Puttur and the scenic landscapes of Achchuveli. We were able to visit the jetty which is the entry port for all goods into the peninsula by sea. Our next stop was at the Point Pedro lighthouse situated close to Sri Lanka's northernmost point, which is now non- operational and houses a small army camp. From there we proceeded on part of the coastal road towards the famous smuggling town of Valvettithurai, pausing to admire the quaint old church of St. Thomas and passing the humble homes of fishing communities with hauls of fish drying on the sides of the road and found our way back to Jaffna.

The last day, we travelled towards Keerimalai tank and we passed the ancient Maviddapuram Kandasamy temple on our way. The road towards Keerimalai was not in a good condition, but we reach the place in an hour of journey from Chunnakam. As we got more accustomed to the peninsula with its hot sun, rich red earth, blue lagoons and groves of palmyrah trees, we began to feel the tension of its people. 

All that at a first glance seemed normal harboured the suffering of a displaced people and was sometimes seen in the hopeless faces of the old and the angry stares of the young men as much like in the war scarred ruins of buildings which were once the homes of those close knit Jaffna families.Furthermore, we travelled to Kayts and I will never forget the awesome beauty on either side of the endless causeways cutting through dazzling blue seas reflecting the white clouds overhead and ending in pasture- like flat grass lands which were the islands of Kayts and Punkudutivu. 

Kayts as legend has it is the place from which one of the three Magi originated bearing gifts for the infant Jesus born in Bethlehem. Taking the road passing the remains of what once were an aluminium factory and many war scarred buildings, into the town of Velanai, we proceeded to travel along the sea side road and causeway into Punkuduthivu Island.

The 20 minute ferry crossing from Punkudutheevu to Nayinatheevu which otherwise is known as the “Nagadipa” is a memorable and exotic place. To our utmost discomfort, we had to use umbrellas to protect ourselves when it started to rain heavily due to the leakage on the rooftop of the ferry boat. However, as we watched the Nagadipa dagoba approaching in the distant horizon all our discomfort was gone and our mind became filled with a sense of joy for being able to set foot upon this hallowed place. 

The island of Nainatheevu is also home to the Naga Pooshani Amman Kovil famed for the blessing of the Naga goddess Mennakshi on new born infants who were carried by their faithful mothers decked in their finest saris and jewellery and their fathers in crisp new Vertis.

We spent an unforgettable three nights in the Northern peninsula and then came the time to say goodbye and start our journey back to Colombo. On our way, we once again passed the army check point in Elephant pass and entered the famous A9 route to Vavuniya. To our greatest astonishment, we were greeted by a group of young men on a rally in the shattered city of Kilinochi similar to that of a sports meet. Hence, some of them even waved and smiled back at us requesting us to join with them.


In overall, the journey to Jaffna was a remarkable trip whereby I got the opportunity to view many breath taking sceneries and experience the glimpses of its traditional lifestyle and the unique gastronomy. Even though, I reach safely back to Colombo, this fabulous trip would be something precious which would definitely remain on my mind forever especially the genuineness of the people and it’s strong never changing culture and customs among its citizens.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Journey to Jaffna – Part 1

From 1989 onwards, I never got the opportunity to visit the Northern Peninsula even though I am a native Sri Lankan Born in Jaffna. During the war, the place was off limits whereby the area was controlled by the Tamil Tigers until May 2009. However, the A9 road to Jaffna, a city of lush landscapes, beautiful lagoons, and amazing Hindu Temples was opened first time after 30 years giving opportunity for Sri Lankans from the other parts of the island to plan their visit to the city. In fact, this as a result enabled many locals as well as foreigners to travel Jaffna to see what they’ve been missing.
Yet, many of my colleagues advised me not to travel Jaffna repeatedly mentioning that “It’s still not safe”. Where else, some told that “It’s perfectly fine “since many soldiers were been there all around the streets. From what I learnt, I found that both of the comments about Jaffna were totally wrong. In fact, it was a very fascinating town with its own unique charm, and full of people who are just trying to get back to a normal life after 30 years of strife. The marketplaces and restaurants were bustling with people. Based on these magnificent factors by keeping its politics situation aside, I decided to make arrangements to travel to the beautiful city of Jaffna.

The weather was extremely hot by the time we reached the Jaffna Town at 03:30 pm. amazingly, none of us showed any signs of tiredness although we had been travelling continuously for 09 hours from Vavuniya. The first Restaurant we came across was “Malayan Cafe”, where we enjoyed a Sprite served in stainless steel cups with crushed ice. For our stay, we booked three nights at the Green Grass Hotel which is known as one of the famous Jaffna hotel offering authentic Jaffna dishes prepared by the experienced chefs.

Basically, it was like a dream coming true to set foot upon at the Northern peninsula whose roads were closed for a long period for most of my generation. Hence, we made the best out of our vacation on the first evening itself by driving past the Chelvanayagam Memorial Column, the Jaffna library, the Duriappa stadium and the Dutch Fort. Nonetheless, walking around the active town packed with people like Colombo was interesting and entertaining and you will definitely notice that you would able to purchase similar goods and products available in the capital city , Colombo. Hence, it is obvious that Jaffna had nowadays become a common sight for tourists from other parts of the island and Tamil expats from foreign countries.

To celebrate our arrival, I decided to dine with my friends at a popular restaurant called “Rolex”. That night we enjoyed one of the best meals in our lives with traditional Jaffna cuisine consisting of string hoppers, prawn curry and coconut sambol. I recalled that when I inquired from a Jaffna Tamil friend living in Colombo asking him what he would like me to bring back for him from Jaffna, he had stated that anything from Jaffna would never taste the same outside Jaffna. In fact, he recommended me to taste the delicious prawn curry prepared with prawns caught around the Jaffna seas and cooked in Jaffna water and coconut milk. Our short stay in Jaffna hosted us to loads of appetizing sea foods like prawns and crabs done in the typical Jaffna preparation and the Jaffna milk hoppers and thosai along with the mouth watering Jaffna ice cream. 

We also visited the Cathedral of St. Mary which is the largest church in the Island. A plaque on the wall stated that construction of the present Cathedral had begun in 1939 and was completed in 1982. Except for the Bishop's throne made of delicate timber work which had been presented in 1921 by the Catholics of Jaffna residing in Colombo and a granite altar, the building was bare of the trappings befitting a cathedral. When we entered its holy precincts, the window panes which had stood shattered due to war were being replaced. However, the un-shattered spirit and faith of its congregation were evident at the Sunday morning mass, when young and old, dressed in their Sunday's best, joined as one voice in fervent prayer and the singing of lively hymns. We also visited the famous Nallur Temple which is said to commemorate the arrival of King Bhuvaneka Bahu VI of Kotte better known as Sapumal Kumaraya and here again we were aware of the same faith and holiness in the people taking part in the poojas. 

The following day, armed with maps and camera, we set out in search of the controversial Buddhist ruins at Kantharodai which have been identified as the Kadurugoda vihara mentioned in Sinhala historical literature. According to the said book, 2nd edition Pg. 391, upon excavation by the Archeological Department, the remains of 50 small votive dagobas were exposed. The earliest date that could be assigned to this site is circa 2nd century AD. A little sign board with a picture of a dagoba pointed towards this land mark. There are few humble homes in the vicinity and the nearest town is Chunnakam which is one of the big cities in Jaffna peninsula situated in the famous KKS Road.

                                                                               To be Continued....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tourism Master Plan for Kuchchaweli

Kuchchaweli is one of the Sri Lanka’s very famous natural place in Eastern Sri Lanka.Preparation of a Master Plan for Tourism Development in Kuchchaweli Area was handed over to U.D.A. on  August 2009 by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.The field visit of U.D.A., Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Divisional Secretary of Kuchcaweli, Land Officer of Kuchchaweli Pradeshiya Sabha was held on August, 2009 and the Interviews were also held with the Divisional Forest Officer, Director of Wild Life Department, Water Supply & Drainage Board, Archaeology Department, Pradeshiya Sabha, Dept. of Census & Statistics and other relevant key organizations.There are number of investors awaiting for immediate implementation of their hotel projects.
Presentation kuchchaweli

My sincere thanks to SLTDA & BOI for the Slides.

Tourism Master Plan for Passikudha

Prior to 1983 Passikudha was a popular resort among tourists both foreign and local. It was located by the bay on a land 150 acres in extent. The resort at the time was planned to accommodate 500 rooms in several stages and by 1983 there were 171 rooms in operation in three hotels and necessary infrastructure facilities were in place. Water was supplied from Valachchanai Paper Mills sources which are about 10 km from the resort. Operation of the resort came to a grinding halt after the riots in 1983.
SLTDA is now planning to revive this resort as there are no restrictions to the movement of tourist traffic. With the dawn of peace in the eastern region the private sector was anxious in taking part in development activities. The prospective hoteliers have been allotted with land for construction of hotels.
SLTDA has already finalized the conceptual design plan of the resort with the association of Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) and initial action have taken to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the whole resort.
Passekudah presentation Sri Lanka

My sincere thanks to SLTDA & BOI for the Slides.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A glimpse at Jaffna's Gastronomy

Jaffna's cuisine primarily embraces the peninsula's limitations and evolves in glorious isolation from the Indian subcontinent and the rest of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, Jaffna food is very different from the rest of Sri Lanka's and it is unique style of culinary dishes is one of the most important thing which a visitor should not miss when they visit Sri Lanka. Moreover, Jaffna cuisine is above all famous for its use of the fresh seafood that abounds along the coasts. 

Likewise, the soup known as “Kool” is among the region’s signature dishes. Thus, it is quite famous among both Jaffna people and foreigners. In fact, its unique flavour results from a slew of mouth watering ingredients such as Crab, fish, cuttlefish, prawns and crayfish creating  a seafood broth with the addition of long beans, jak seeds, manioc and spinach . Hence, with hints of tamarind, the entire dish is practically thickened with the help of palmyrah root flour.

Another famous authentic Jaffna dish is “Jaffna crab curry” which is a juicy sweet meat and spicy curry prepared using special Jaffna curry powder and aromatic herbs. Hence, it can be considered as one of the best treat to try on a rainy afternoon. Other curries such as “fish sothi” (fragrant coconut milk curry with turmeric) tender and tasty mutton “paal poriyal”(mutton cooked in dry gravy with cumin, chilli and curry leaves), and “brinjol poriyal” are also some of the notable dishes specially dedicated to Jaffna.

As for the dessert, the “Sweet Apam” is one of the famous dishes which a tourist who visits Jaffna definitely needs to try. It is a unique style of dessert with a soft centre made of sweet coconut milk giving it a mouth watering smooth texture. Thus, it can also be prepared plain or with brown sugar sprinkled on top upon request.

One of the most common layouts of meal for lunch is red rice which accompanies a set of curries that appear to conform to the standard rice and curry menu.  A side dish which looks like clear liquid known as “Bone Rasam” is also very famous in Jaffna. It is a light, peppery broth prepared from mutton bones which goes excellently with rice and fried fish and is often drunk plain to clear the nose and the sinuses. Hence, the broth can also be prepared using chicken. In fact, many Jaffna chefs prefer to use boneless chicken to prepare spicy chicken rasam by giving it an aromatic flavour. The consistency often decides the category of the dish. Likewise, a curry is typically thicker than a kulambu, and a kulambu is thicker than a sodhi. 

Moreover, a more adventurous gourmands might be drawn to the range of dishes known as “Varai”.It is basically a mix of finely chopped or minced ingredients tossed with coconut, green chillies, mustard seeds, red onions, turmeric powder and curry leaves to create a distinctive dish. For instance, a perfect varai is usually light and flavourful, with each ingredient providing a distinct flavour. 

Though finely minced the primary meat or vegetable remains firm on the tongue and is never reduced to mush. Shark meat varai uses the tough, distinctive meat in a dry mix, but you can also use prawns, drumsticks, leeks, drumstick leaves and even plantain flowers to create the same dish.

Nonetheless, another dish known as “Pulich Canji” or sour porridge which is a refreshing drink made of mustard seeds, mint leaves, salt and a little of pinch chilli which is quite good for those burdened with a cough or cold.  Apart from this, the “fried brinjol” is a favourite among Jaffna schoolchildren which goes quite well with another signature dish called as “pittu”.  

It is traditionally made with rice flour and scraped coconut through steaming by separating the small flakes and nodules of the rice flour. Unlike the school children, the combination of brinjol and pittu does not seem to be common among Jaffna adults due to its dry combination. Hence, majority of them prefers to eat pittu with curry or perhaps laced with fish as in shark pittu. Pittu can also be made in several variations. For instance, it can be made like a sweet milk pittu.  

There are several restaurants in the island where a visitor can taste the traditional cuisines of Jaffna. Here are some places we found for real deal of Jaffna Foods, are Green Grass Hotel and Restaurant( off Hospital Rd),Cosy Restaurant (off Stanley Road),  Thinakkural Rest (Chetty Lane, Nallur) and Hotel Rolex (Hospital Road). Hence, most of the dishes are quite affordable with each dish offering a unique taste unique to Jaffna. For instance, Jaffna style crab curry is (RS. 200), kanawa (cuttlefish) curry (Rs.180), Odiyal Kool (Rs.200) and Thirukkal Pittu (Rs.150) which is made using the flying fish found in Jaffna. Hope you have a great time when you visit Jaffna.

Note: I have to thank my “Little Kokee”, who helps me a lot on this post.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nallur Festival

Historical Nallur Festival, also known as Nallur Kandaswamy temple annual festival, is the largest Hindu temple festival event in the Jaffna peninsula.The Nallur festival begins on August 15 and may last for 25 days. This year nearly two hundred thousand visitors visited the event and the Jaffna hotels were unable to cope with the influx, warm-hearted residents of Jaffna from all faiths opened their doors to the pilgrims. 

The Nallur is the major highlight of socio, cultural and religious spirit of Jaffna society, Sri Lanka. The festival in August would be the second to be held following the end of the war in May last year. The historic festival generally draws devotees from around the island as well as overseas particular from United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, India and Australia, most from the Tamil Diasporas who were unable to roam freely in the island during the thirty years of bloody civil war. 

Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the Jaffna District of Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It stands in the town of Nallur. The presiding Deity is Lord Muruga in the form of the holy Vel.
According to tradition, Nallur Kantha Swamy Temple is said to be one of the few temples in the Peninsula that all the festivals, rites and observances as found in the Tamil Saivasim traditions are practiced and reflected with regularity, splendor and pageantry. It is said to be one of the impressive temples dedicated to Lord Murugan.

The annual Nallur Temple festival, which had in Hindus pay homage to Lord Murugan by way of offering flowers, burning incenses and coconuts amidst continuous recital of "Haro Haraa".
Nallur festival, lasting for 25 days will conclude with ‘Theertham’ (Water Cutting ceremony) on September 10, followed by the ‘Poonkavanam’ (ceremony of Eternal Bliss) held on the next day. ‘Ther procession’ is to be held on September 9.