travel

Second stop: Kalpitiya, a big disappointment

Kalpitiya has been earmarked by the Sri Lankan government as the next big tourist destination. Grand plans to build an airport, an underwater theme park, a golf course and more are pencilled in. Nothing has been built yet though, and the main allure currently is dolphin-watching and kite surfing. 

I must say I really can’t see how this will all pan out. The accommodation is currently ridiculously over-priced (over £10 to sleep in a tent!), the beaches nondescript, dirty and lacking shade, and the sea nowhere near the turquoise blue shades westerners dream of from their office desk in the cold of winter. The town itself looks like one big construction site and the only nice building I saw, an old mosque, is abandoned and falling into disrepair. All in all, if you’re not into kite-surfing or dolphin-watching (which some say will be threatened by all the planned development), I struggle to spot the appeal of the place. Unsurprisingly, I only stayed one night before heading back to Colombo a day early for my partner’s birthday.  

Building site, Kalpitiya

One of the many building sites in Kalpitiya town. 

Adam's peak / Sri Pada

at the bottom

The view of Adam’s peak from the nearest town, Dalhousie. 

Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada, is a 2,243m-high mountain and a holy site for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Most pilgrims climb the 5000-plus steps in the month of April, when the weather is at its best. It’s far from an easy ascent, especially as most climb in the dark in order to see the sun rise and catch a glimpse of the mountain’s surprisingly triangular shadow cast on the surrounding hills. 

Despite the 1:30am alarm and the 5000 steps that followed (as well as having no religious motivation what-so-ever), I enjoyed the experience. The numerous shelters on the way selling tea and providing shelter from the cold winds - it was genuinely cold at times - were a blessing, and seeing old women and men, some weak, some overweight, tackle the steps, meant giving up was just not an option.  

At the top, it was busy, too busy for my liking. And this was on a week-day. Climbing on a full-moon / Poya day must be a nightmare and take for ever. I wasn’t up for fighting for a clear shot of yet another sunrise so I wandered round, taking in what I could.

waiting

It’s busy at the top and everyone wants a prime spot to get a clear view of the sunrise. 

Waiting for the sunrise at the top of Adam's Peak / Sri Pada

A young boy yawns, waiting for the sun to rise. 

shoot the sunrise

May it with their cheap smart phones or their expensive DSLRs, many visitors can’t resist to record the sunrise. 

Sun's up - Sri Pada

A pilgrim takes in the view of the sun rising over the Sri Lankan hill country.

messy view

The rooftop of the basic, overnight shelter for pilgrims. 

view

Very early views over a large water tank and the rolling hills. 

Adam Peak's shadow

The staggeringly-triangular shadow of Adam’s Peak is cast over the hills for a brief 30mins or so. 

at the top

Most people head down before 8am in order to avoid the heat. 

Jaffna

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The Sangupiddy Bridge on the new A32 which runs from Mannar to Jaffna.

Jaffna has, unfortunately, pretty much become synonymous with the Sri Lankan civil war which plagued the island for 26 years. There are many obvious links. For instance, Prabhakaran grew up in Valvettithurai, a town a few kilometers outside of Jaffna. It was also nearby that the LTTE ambushed a patrol of the Sri Lanka Army, killing 13, on 23 July 1983. This attack sparked ’Black July’; generally regarded as the start of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. And perhaps most notably, it was occupied by the LTTE on two occasions during the war, for a total of 6 years.

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One of the many abandoned houses on Jaffna peninsula. 

Traveling through Jaffna peninsula one can’t but notice the numerous abandoned houses, some of them shelled and bullet-ridden, others overtaken by the vegetation and many simply left to slowly decay. Despite these regular reminders of the war, Jaffna’s rich cultural heritage and diversity are still prevalent.

For over 300 years Jaffna was once a Kingdom until the Portuguese invaded in 1620. Not long after the Dutch took over, and the city became an important port in the region. The British came in at the tail-end of the 18th century and stayed till Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. It was during the British rule that more Tamils were brought over from India as they were considered more cooperative and hard-working than the Sinhalese. Before the war the population was still considerably mixed though, with Tamils, Moors and Sinhalese. During the fighting the Moors and Sinhalese were forced out and many Tamils also left, choosing to flee. In the span of 14 years the population nearly halved. Nevertheless, Jaffna remains Sri Lanka’s Hindu-Tamil cultural and religious centre and is now trying to rebuild a future after years of seeing progress being stifled by the war.

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This home belonged to this man’s parents and he grew up until the land became a High Security Zone and was occupied by the Sri Lankan Army in the eighties. 25,000 people were evacuated in total. 20 years later the house and surrounding land was handed back to him after he provided all the necessary documentation to prove his ownership. The house is in disrepair so he is forced to rent a place. He now uses the land to run a small timber mill.

Jaffna, downtown

A street cobbler waits for customers on the steps of Jaffna’s central market.

Beach road, Jaffna

Children play near a Church on Beach road, Jaffna.

Beach road, Jaffna

A young teen watches two fishermen bring a boat in, on Beach road, Jaffna.

Mannar island

Mannar

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.