A second visit to Mannar island

On my second trip to Mannar, I made a lucky find one afternoon when I stumbled across a temporary fishing village on a beach a few kilometers from town. The blue and white ribbons draped over the only lane of the village, and the relaxed atmosphere hinted that a special occasion was nearing. A friendly young Sri Lankan with good English explained that the inauguration of their first local church was to take place the following morning. They firmly invited me to come back and join the celebrations.


Looking towards the causeway linking Mannar island to the mainland from Bar road. 

Although advised the day would start with a procession around 7:30am, I got there at 9:00am, which turned out to be perfect time as they were running late. 


The procession started at a small shrine at the entrance of the village. 

The locals gathered around a shrine at the entrance of the village before heading for the newly-built and very modest church - a small hut with a tin roof. 


Despite a lack of means and funds, the locals managed to add a festive touch to their village.

After the inaugural mass, the fishermen pushed their boats out to sea, gearing up for a race. It took them a while to get themselves organised which allowed me to ask my improvised guide about the community.

He explained that they were all here on a temporary basis, many of them coming from around Negombo and Kalpitiya. They come to Mannar once a year for a maximum of 6 months, and fish as they can make more money off these shores than those around Negombo where competition is fierce. However, recently business has gotten much harder for fishermen as they recently saw a 33% hike in kerosene prices in the past year. The price of fish however doesn’t increase and catching the more valuable fish is increasingly difficult. These fishermen travel 13 kms from the coast to catch their fish and occasionally have to compete with larger Indian trawlers from Tamil Nadu who encroach in Sri Lankan waters. This has led to disputes between governments and even arrests. 

After a while, they eventually got going and the race started. There was a 2000 rupee fee to enter the race (about £10) and the first three would collect the prize money. The race lasted about 15 minutes with a clear winner. All villagers watched and cheered on. 

It was then time for lunch after which the drinking would commence. My young guide who very rarely drinks advised me to make a move as he said most weren’t used to drinking and these occasions often turned into a mess with the occasional dispute or even fight. I followed his advice and made an exit before a stiff drink or two was forced upon me. 

Boat race amongst fishermen, Mannar

Children move with their families to the village. They particularly enjoyed the eventful day, especially the boat race. 


As I was leaving the village, an early drinker stopped me, demanding I take a picture of his baby. Not the portrait he would’ve wanted, but one I was quite pleased with. 

Rear view, Mannar island

On the way back along bar road, the skies darkened and I briefly stopped near the liquor shop to see if there was a good scene to shoot. The locals were already too drunk though so I made a move, taking this shot just before hoping back onto the scooter. 

Lake Shore Street, Puttalam

View of the jetty from the lighthouse, Puttalam

The view of the jetty from atop Puttalam’s abandoned lighthouse.

Picturesque Lake Shore Street runs along Puttalam’s lagoon. It’s a long, narrow and quiet street, with very little traffic. It runs from near the main round-about in town all the way down one of Sri Lanka’s (only?) wind farms.

I went for a few strolls here during my stay, meeting some very friendly, talkative and opinionated locals. Despite many Sri Lankan’s being able to speak basic English, conversations rarely go beyond the ‘your name?’, 'what country?’ and 'what do you think about Sri Lanka?’ questions; the latter is practically rhetorical, asked by locals eager to hear some positive feedback on their country, may it be sincere or not. However, when off the tourist trail, Sri Lankan’s seem much more willing to speak about their government and the hardships they face on a daily basis. 

fish nets

Fishermen check their nets for holes before heading out for the evening.


The lagoon is saline or brackish depending on places. Locals don’t swim or wash in it, although it is used for fishing.


This was taken inside a small library right on the shore of the lagoon. There were a few English books, mostly by L. Ron Hubbard. Just what Sri Lanka needs: another religion.

Jungle gym by the lagoon - Puttalam

Fishermen row out, pictured through the frame of a jungle gym.


There are a couple of Mosques along Lake Shore street. There is a large Muslim community in Puttalam, quite a few of whom came from Mannar during the war.


Looking west across the lagoon from Puttalam, one can see Kalpitiya, a 20km strip of beach land (actually 14 islands) that runs parallel to the coast. 


These colourfully-painted doors along the lagoon’s shore are used as store rooms for fishing equipment.

On the banks of the lagoon, Puttalam

Two boys sit under the umbrage of trees and watch two fishermen cast their net in the lagoon. 

Mannar island


Broken glass 

Mannar island lies just off the north west of Sri Lanka and is connected to mainland by a causeway. The most western tip of the island is only 30kms from India to which it was once connected.

The landscape is flat and barren bar some palmyra palm plantations, most of which seem unattended. Mannar is also famous for its donkeys, which aren’t originally native to the country. It is believed that they were brought over by Arab traders a few centuries back, as the smell of their dung kept insects away from the palmyra palm plantations. More modern methods are used nowadays and the donkeys are now mostly wild and often found roaming around Mannar town.

Mannar, Mannar island

Donkeys and the shadow of a palmyra palm

Nowadays fishing is the main industry of the island.

Fishermen, Mannar island

Fishermen from the small town of Pesalai clearing the nets of all fish

Mannar, at dusk

Mannar port just after sunset

Mannar island

Pesalai beach

Mannar has had a large Muslim population since the 9th century with the arrival of Arab traders. It was also once a safe haven for Tamil Muslims expelled from the Indian Portuguese Territory in the 16th century. However, during the civil war it was long occupied by the LTTE who drove the Muslim population out in 1990, most of which walked the 50 kms to the safety of Puttalam through Wilpattu National Park.