Jaffna is a beautiful little city in the northern province of Sri Lanka. Prior to the civil war, the Tamil tigers saw Jaffna as the unofficial capital of their independent state. That was until 10,000 Sri Lankan army troops reclaimed the city in 1995, killing around 2,500 people from both sides in the process.
A couple decades in and there is a very calm and peaceful atmosphere about the city, despite the very obvious damage to infrastructure. It is something that is unlike any other city I’ve seen. Most of the city centre has been rebuilt, but the affect of the war still lingers prominently in the suburban areas.
I cycled around the outskirts of the city one afternoon and it was confronting yet amazing to see that every second house has been bombed, only the exoskeleton remained while exterior walls had been painted with bullet holes. In sharp contrast, the people are so warm and friendly, children are excited to see a westerner and will giggle among their friends as they ask; “What is your country?”
There is something profoundly confusing about the city; with such a violent and traumatic history, how did social tensions alleviate before infrastructure was rebuilt? It really shattered my understanding of the capacity to rebuild social and ethnic divides in a post-war society.
With India so close to the north, it’s no surprise they have many cultural similarities. Hinduism is the main faith practiced in Jaffna, although Buddhism is for the rest of the country. There are countless temples in the city and the areas surrounding.
The public library is absolutely stunning and its exterior resembles the Taj Mahal. Inside there is a no shoes policy, and reading halls are flooded with natural light thanks to several giant windows on the surrounding walls. They are left open as well and a cool breeze wafts through to give you a brief hiatus from the searing outside temperatures. The study areas are still segregated by gender and thousands upon thousands of red leather bound books pile behind study desks and on wooden shelves throughout the two story building.
Restaurants and hotels are cheaper than some Southern and Central province cities, given there is much less of a tourist trade. This makes Jaffna both a unique cultural experience and an affordable travel destination for anyone!