Travel to North Coast, Sri Lanka

The North Coast lies mostly within the Jaffna Peninsula which is a dry and flat part of the island. Having experienced the worst of the conflict in the North, Jaffna has seen very little development over the last 30 years or so. Despite this, it has remained the seat of Hinduism in the country mostly due to its proximity to South India just across the Palk Strait. Jaffna displays a strange mix of both colonial and South Indian architecture and is a wonderful experience for those interested in exploring the fusion of cultures.

Must Do List

  • Dutch Fort in Jaffna
  • The historic Nallur Kandasamy Kovil
  • Buddhist Vihara at Nagadeepa (Nainativu Island)
  • Portuguese and Dutch churches
  • Keeramalai bathing pond

North Coast – In Focus

Jaffna has a recorded history of over two thousand years with it being mentioned in the Mahavamsa that Lord Buddha used his yogic powers to travel by air to Jaffna and resolve a dispute over a jewel between the Naga chieftains, and in the process introduced Buddhism to them. Later, in the 13th Century the Jaffna Kingdom was established with the invasion of Magha from India and went on to become the ascending power in Sri Lanka in the early and mid-14th Century with the other kingdoms of Sri Lanka becoming its tributaries. This however ended with the conquering of it by the Kotte Kingdom in the 1450s. The Dravidian Kingdom finally lost its seat of power to the invading Portuguese armies in 1621, which in turn lost the territory to the Dutch. When the British conquered the Dutch, the Treaty of Amiens ceded all of the land held by the Dutch in the Maritime Provinces, including Jaffna which became a Crown Colony. The now defeated but once fearsome terrorist organisation the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam also had its roots in Jaffna.

The North Coast displays a tropical monsoonal climate with temperatures ranging from 26°C to 33°C. Relative humidity is less than other coastal regions with an average of 65%, and the region experiences heavy rains during the North-East monsoon period from November to February.

Jaffna is traditionally accessed through Vavuniya on the A9 road is the Kandy-Jaffna, although the security situation has made the journey both tedious and unreliable. The best option is to fly to the Palaly military air base on the outskirts of Jaffna and take a taxi into the town, with the flying time being just under an hour. Train services are only available up to Vavuniya but again very unreliable. Travel times by road cannot be estimated this is dependent on the prevailing security situation and the associated checkpoints.

The conflict in the North of Sri Lanka which lasted close to three decades severely impacted the development of good accommodation facilities in Jaffna. As a result nothing more than a few guesthouses and lodges are available and the facilities in them are minimal.

During the ongoing conflict in the North, Jaffna had severe restrictions placed on the items entering the area due to security concerns. With the military campaign now over, things are easing up a bit and goods and services are more freely available. But still, items like fuel, pharmaceuticals, batteries and sometimes even food are in short supply. If you are travelling to Jaffna carry with you all that you need as supplies are unreliable at best. Jaffna is however renowned for its products made from the palmyrah palm and these homemade products are available freely. Around the kovils trinket stalls and good collections of Hindu statues can be found.

Attractions & Events

Jaffna Fort
The Fort in Jaffna was originally built by the Portuguese colonists and this was their last stronghold when the Dutch overran Colombo. The Dutch captured Jaffna from the Portuguese in 1658 after a three month siege and further fortified the existing fort. The Dutch Church inside the Fort was built in 1706. Another fort was built on the Kayts Island located just off the coast of Jaffna by the Dutch and called Fort Hammenhiel and lies at the entrance to the Kayts Harbour. It remains in good condition but is a garrison of the Sri Lanka Navy.

Jaffna is full of Hindu Kovils and the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil and Vallipuram Kovil at Point Pedro are two of the biggest Kovils in the region and hold colourful festivals every year.

Temple at Nagadeepa
The Buddhist Vihara at Nagadeepa (Nainativu Island) is a place sanctified by the visit of the Buddha and the dagoba is said to date back to ancient times. The large numbers of dagobas at the Kantharodai site are dated from between the 2nd and 10th Centuries.

Dutch & Portuguese Churches
The Dutch and Portuguese were prolific church builders in their attempt to spread Christianity in their colonies. A number of ruined Portuguese Churches can be found at Myliddi and Chankanai and a ruined Dutch Church at Atchuveli.

Keeramalai Bathing Pond
At Keeramalai is a freshwater bathing pond on the beach which is said to possess therapeutic properties.

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