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Jaffna Sri Lanka

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The history of the strategic maritime city of Jaffna goes back 2000 years spanning the Tamil rulers of India who invaded the Northern areas of Sri Lanka (separated from South India by under 27 kms at the narrowest point), Sinhala Kings to the Portuguese, dutch and lastly British Empires.

It is however in the post independence period after 1948 that Jaffna became known to the world. The ancient city of Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. For decades between 1983 – 2009, the North and East of Sri Lanka was the battleground of a long war between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE; an utterly ruthless terrorist organisation which wreaked havoc not only on the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka but also on the Tamil minority itself that it claimed to represent.

Jaffna was actually occupied for a short period by the LTTE. Even after its recapture in December 1995, Jaffna, remained physically isolated from the rest of Sri Lanka by a vast swathe of Northern territory under rebel control, including the strategic Elephant Pass which connects the Jaffna peninsula.. The total defeat of the LTTE, which was once considered invincible and which at its height controlled near 40% of the territory of Sri Lanka, by the Sri Lankan Army in 2009 effectively reunited Jaffna and the North of Sri Lanka with the rest of the country. After the end of the war, Jaffna along with Sri Lanka as a whole, is now economically booming (There is even a HSBC Premier bank there and an international exhibition in 2011) but its potential for international tourism remains, hitherto, largely undiscovered.

For the last decade, I, a British Citizen, have spent the British winter in Sri Lanka which has become my second home away from home. I have visited jaffna twice, once by air during the short lived ceasefire of 2003-2004 and in 2010 overland after the destruction of the LTTE. Inevitably on both journeys, the visits have been through areas ravaged by years of war.

The peninsular of Jaffna, which is almost an island connected with the rest of Sri Lanka by the narrow Elephant pass, has immense tourist potential. Unfortunately because of the earlier fighting, although Jaffna is by the sea and has beautiful beaches, there are no beach hotels. Jaffna, however, is an area of beautiful shallow lagoons ringed by beaches and is an area of stunning natural beauty. There are beautiful offshore islands. Its tourist potential would rival that of Kerala in India.

The main tourist attractions of Jaffna may be divided into the City of Jaffna, Jaffna Library, and those of the peninsular; Naga Deepa and KKS. Other areas of interest in Jaffna City are the Jaffna Market, the defunct Jaffna Railway Station – the Railway ceased functioning after the troubles started in 2003. There are plans to rebuild the Jaffna Railway.

Without beach hotels as such, The hotels in jaffna are City Hotels, in reality 1 -2 star guest houses. The most recent, and only tourist grade hotel to come up is the Jaffna Tilko City Hotel. This is in a 3-4 star category of its own, with luxury Air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms and even top floor suites which provide panoramic views over the city and the lagoon. Jaffna Tilko City hotel is the only hotel in Jaffna with a lift. Tilko Jaffna hotel is still under construction and although it has undergone a soft opening in December 2010 it is far from ready. The best place to eat is the Cosy Restaurant and if you are not in too much of a hurry the Green Grass Hotel. If your palate can stand hot food, do not forget to sample the Jaffna Prawn Curry.

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