From stretches of pristine coastline, to an archaeological museum and several churches built by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, Jaffna has much to offer curious visitors. Below we have made note of the lesser known places of interest, which are located a short distance away from the main town and they can all be visited within a day’s travel.
1. St. James Church
Distance from Jaffna Town: 1.5 km along Hospital Street and 4th cross Street
St. James Church, Gurunagar, is a notable church of the Catholic faith in the Northern Peninsula. It is one of the oldest churches in the region, built during the Portuguese era. The suburb which the church is located in is known by the locals as the Small Bazaar, and before the outbreak of the civil war this area was home to a small settlement of Portuguese Burghers.
In the Catholic faith, Saint James is regarded as the patron saint of fishermen. As many families belonging to the fishing community, too, lived in this area for many generations, the church was dedicated to this saint. In the year 1993, Saint James church, Gurunagar, was partially destroyed by the LTTE through an aerial bomb attack and was slowly restored a few years later.
2. Kadurugoda Archaeological Site
Distance from Jaffna Town: 13.7 km along Jaffna-Kankesanturai Road
Kantharodai Viharei (in Tamil) or the Kadurugoda Raja Maha Viharaya in Sinhalese , is one of the oldest Buddhist archaeological sites in the Jaffna region. It is actually a burial ground found near a small town called Chunnakam. The burial site had sixty small stupas built over the remains of sixty Buddhist monks who lived centuries ago on the island of Pungudutivu, off the coast of the Northern peninsula. It dates back to the latter days of the Anuradhapura kingdom, but many of the stupas were destroyed in the 16th century by the king Sangiliyan. It was rediscovered in 1917 by Professor Paul E. Peiris. It is said that Lord Buddha too, visited Kadurugoda on his second trip to Sri Lanka.
3. Nilavarai Well
Distance from Jaffna Town: 14 km via Rajah Street
Located in the area of Putur, the Nilavarai well is an ancient waterhole featured in many local legends. Some locals and Hindu devotees say that the well was created by Lord Rama while returning to India with his wife Sita. Another version of the legend says that the well was created by Hanuman for Lord Rama to quench his thirst during his battle against Ravana.
The well was also believed to be bottomless, that is, until last year. A group of divers from Sri Lanka Navy conducted an expedition using an automated robot and other equipment, and discovered that the well was 52.5 meters deep, and contains fresh water upto a depth of eighteen meters. Several underwater tunnels located at different levels were also discovered, and it is believed that one of these tunnels may lead to the sacred pond of Keerimalai in Kankesanthurai.
4. Kankesanthurai Beach
Distance from Jaffna Town: 23.5 km along Jaffna-Palali Road
Kankesanthurai is one of the more famous coastal towns of the Northern peninsula, and it also one of the most ancient harbours in the island. The town features two ancient hindu temples—the Keerimalai Naguleswaram kovil and the Maviddapuram Kandaswamy kovil—and a quiet stretch of beach with views of a lighthouse, a colonial fort and an old cement factory. It takes around forty minutes to get from Jaffna town to Kankesanthurai by bus or vehicle, and half an hour by train.
5. Keerimalai Pond
Distance from Jaffna Town: 26.2 km along Jaffna-Palali Road
The sacred pond of Keerimalai is close to the Kankesanthurai town. The pond is a religious site for Hindu devotees and is fed by an ancient freshwater spring. It lies very close to the ocean, and its surrounding compound offers a spectacular view of the Palk strait and the landscape of the Northern coast.
It is believed that the pond has healing power, and the stone steps surrounding the pond allow pilgrims and visitors to climb down and bathe in the pond. One of the legends about this age old pond is about a Hindu priest from India, Nagula swami, who was healed of a skin condition on his face after bathing in this pond. The Naguleswaram kovil of Keerimalai is also located in close proximity to the pond.
6. Casuarina Beach
Distance from Jaffna Town: 23 km via Jaffna-Ponnalai-Point Pedro Road
It takes roughly forty five minutes to get from Jaffna Town to the island of Karainagar by bus or a private vehicle. The island features views of the Jaffna lagoon, a rough landscape filled with wild shrubs, mangrove saplings, palmyrah and casuarina trees, and a lovely stretch of beach with white sand and clear blue skies and ocean.
Named after the evergreen shrubs which can be found aplenty, this beach is a favourite among many of the locals of the peninsula. It is a secluded beachfront with very few small shops and outdoor eateries, and doesn’t get too crowded. All though it is open between 7.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. the best time to visit are the early morning hours, before the scorching heat of the day sets in.
Featured image: Casuarina beach, Karainagar island. Courtesy writer.