On Jaffna, the Long-Lost Home and the Sweetest Plain Tea at Karaitivu
The two here, they are dorks! No, I didn’t mean it the arrogant way. I meant the cute kind. The cute kind of dorks. That’s my sister. And Nathan. The two most precious people in the world to me.
A few days ago, Nathan, at our Habarana homestay, told me how I helped him to see the world. The world we live in. The same world he got tired of. The same would he once, twice attempted to escape from. We’ve been exploring together only this little island of ours. But to hear him say how I helped him to see and experience the world – that filled my heart with happiness. Or gratitude. I don’t exactly know what it is called but boy, it was when you feel that you are capable of genuinely and truly loving someone. That…that you’d do everything for them to be happy.
Two weeks ago, we traveled to Jaffna. Nathan’s mom’s birthplace. Aunty often tells him about how they grew up in Jaffna, and then moved to Colombo for school. She skips the parts where they had to leave the island. They flew to Saudi Arabia while rest of the family settled down in Canada. A few in Germany and Australia. And here is Nathan, finally seeing Jaffna. A place where his roots come from.
Needless to say, the journey began just as any other happy, beautiful journey can begin until the train shutter fell on N’s head. It hurt but obviously Nathan had to play it cool so the aunties next to him start laughing and love him a little more. He has this sort of charisma where strangers start loving him. And that’s one of my favourite things about this boy I love. (Also read: Two years down the line)
It obviously left a mark. It swelled. Reddened. Hurt. It hurt me, and my mom, too. But once we were in Jaffna, sorted out our plans for the next day, and had a goodnight’s sleep, everything was fine. Everything was back to normal.
My aunt told my mom a lot of things about Jaffna. All scary, frightening things. And it was Nathan’s first time here. The idea he had about the Northern Peninsula was very bleak. He didn’t exactly like the thought of going to Jaffna. But boy, this turned out to be one of the most memorable trips for him, and for all of us.
We wandered around the busy market searching for the best thal hakuru (palmyra jaggery) and bought thal pinatu only to throw it away after thirty minutes because our Westernized tongue didn’t like the taste of it. Well, sort of! We walked into the main fish market where an uncle tried his best to explain the price of one kilogram of prawns. He tried. I failed. My mom, too, failed. We all failed to understand. It reminded me of the time the boy at Clock Inn Colombo asked me a question I had no answer for. “Why is it us who have to learn both Sinhala and Tamil? Why don’t the Sinhalese feel the need that it’s mandatory for them to learn Tamil?” For some reason, that turned out to be the last time I talked to Aakash. He was nineteen.
We drove past lagoons, half-built housing schemes, and endless barren lands. Some filled with polythene. Some with herds of cow and sheep. Some filled with nothingness. Complete nothingness. It is as if these empty lands, dotted in green with the recent rains, spoke to us. It is as if they tried telling us a million little stories, all tangled with each other. We drove to Karaitivu.
The evening sun paints a beautiful picture at the Casuarina Beach. The grainy, powdery sand in light grey hues softly kisses your feet while you run on the shore like a little kid. My sister is seventeen. The kid in herself runs to the endless nothingness, the ocean. We treat ourselves a cup of plain tea. The tea tastes a little too sweet. We like to think that they like their tea with extra sugar. “60 rupees”, uncle tells us. We pay our bill while my sister treats herself to a scoop of chocolate ice-cream.
My mom’s favourite was our visit to Nallur Kovil. She loves everything that glitters. She loved the impeccable architecture, the statues of gods, and goddesses. Funnily though, Nathan never knew he had to remove his shirt before entering the temple. All men here follow the ritual. “The army guys are well-toned, I think I’d need to start doing push-ups again,” that was Nathan. My sister giggles.
Earlier in the morning, at The Dutch Fort, we kept looking at the shallow blue waters. Mom bought us fresh Jaffna mangoes and later, 500 grams of Jaffna grapes for just 150 rupees. Kids, 100 grams of grapes at a supermarket in Colombo costs 100 rupees or above. That’s sheer exploitation. Or capitalism. I’ve learned pretty big words in my sociology class.
When I look back, I don’t exactly know what I loved most about Jaffna. Maybe it was the Jaffna Crab Curry we had at Cosy Restaurant with Chicken Biryani while the bill for four was 3070 rupees. Maybe it was the all kinds of hoppers we got to eat at our homestay. We had plain hoppers, egg hoppers, milk hoppers and the rarest kind, the jaggery hoppers. Whenever I snack a jaggery hopper, it reminds me of my school days where we used to bunk our English period, go to the primary canteen and buy sixteen jaggery hoppers. Maybe what I loved most was the complete nothingness. The barren lands we drove past. The stories being told. The stories I, yet, could not understand. Maybe I loved nothing. Maybe I loved seeing the boy I love being happy. Because, at last, when he returned to his roots, he could live it. And he loved it. That, to me, was everything I ever asked for.
Where to stay in Jaffna
In Jaffna, we stayed at D’Villa Guest House, a lovely little homestay near Jaffna-Kandy Main Road. The guesthouse has bicycles, bikes to rent and they can also arrange tuk-tuks or a car if you need. They also have pre-organized tours, both half-day, and full-day Jaffna tour. The owner, Dilan was very responsive to our emails. However, he wasn’t there when we visited. Instead, the young boy Raj took good care of us, and he spoke beautiful English. He could communicate in all three languages which is a plus! You can get 10% OFF on Booking.com if you book via this link.
How to go to Jaffna
The fastest way to get to Jaffna or get back to Colombo from Jaffna, is, taking the Uttara Devi Intercity Express. The train leaves to Jaffna from Colombo Fort at 11.50am every day. It leaves back to Colombo at 6.10am from Jaffna, and reaches Colombo at around 1.30pm. The train only has 3rd and 2nd class compartments, that, too only 6 compartments. Second class tickets can be booked prior to your journey.
We took the Yal Devi Train to Jaffna from Wellawatta (train starts at Mount Lavinia) at 5.50am and it reached Jaffna at 4pm. It was quite a long journey, felt like we were forever sitting there. There are also air-conditioned intercity buses leaving from Colombo to Jaffna. Some start at Wellawatta while some of them leave from Fort. You can book those buses online here at busbooking.lk.
For a full travel guide on Jaffna, head to our friends’ blog Inguru Plain Tea.
LIKE IT? PIN IT!