Starting over again in Jaffna

By Dr Kavan Ratnatunga

Anula Radalage
Anula Meier Radalage has the distinction of having been the last Sinhala to run a business in Jaffna before the civil War with the LTTE ended in May 2009. In my article published in the Sunday Times of 2003 July 20th, I wrote of my trip first trip in late May 2003 to Jaffna, when I stayed at her guest house in Urelu. Being back in USA in July, little did I know, that soon after, Anula would no longer able to run her Anouk Swiss Chalet. Her almost eleven month enterprise in Jaffna had sadly ended.

Anula's full story is a book she would publish some day. She has given me permission to tell part of her story. She had invested significantly in the venture in mid 2002, getting permission from the local LTTE office. However when she opened, the LTTE had visited and told her that she as a Sinhala, although she was now a Swiss citizen, did not have permission to run a guest house in Jaffna.

She then travelled to Killinochi, met late Thamilchelvam, Pulidevan and requested permission, which was declined. She then appealed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) who told the LTTE that it was politically useful to have even one Sinhala run a business in Jaffna. Her Guest book lists Mr Eric Solheim, Mr Akashi and many ambassodors, heads of missions and other creme de la creme of South, who had stayed at her place. Since 2002 September she operated under the protection of the Norwegian SLMM.

In early July 2003, SLMM lost favour of the LTTE for ruling against them on a disputed Kurankupanchan camp in government held territory near Trincomalee on the east coast of Sri Lanka. A few days later, Anula, while returning from showing Kantharodai, to a close friend and daughter she was stopped by a LTTE cadre and asked to identify herself. When she told she was the owner of the guest house at Urelu, she was coldly informed that he had orders to shoot her. Lucky for her an UN vehicle stopped behind her, and she was able to escape. The former Tamil manager of her Guest house had been killed the previous week for unknown reasons. The message was clear. She was forced to abandon the guest house and leave the country. That house is now occupied by the Human Rights Commission.

Seven years later, on 2010 October 15th, Anula opened a new Luxury Guest House "Margosa" in East Urelu (Tel 0773034532), about a mile from from her former location. The new location is a large white house on the right, about 3/4 km east towards Chunnakam from the Punnalaikkadduvan Junction which is just past the 9 km post on the Jaffna-Palali Road. Being exactly midway between Jaffna and Palali she is well situated for both who fly in as well as drive. If you come in like me on Bus then you can catch a TriShaw or the 764 bus which can however take a hour. Being at the center of the Jaffna peninsular it is close to many tourist sites.

Margosa Ancestral ManorMargosa Front Porch
Margosa CourtyardMargosa Kitchen

Margosa Rain Showers
She has leased this old ancestral manor, from a leading family of Jaffna. It has a central courtyard. She has currently converted 5 large rooms, each with two queen size beds and Air conditioning. The large attached bathrooms have no roof over the solar heated hot water rain showers. It is quiet, serene place for the whole family in the middle of a more than one acre land, on which she hopes to grow organic fruits and vegetables.

Meals from her cleanest kitchen and pantry, at her small Cafe "Olives" has the best of Jaffna Cuisine. Includes Vendai Kolumbo, Poriyals, Cools, Paal Appam, Pahasam,Thosai, Iddli, Uppam, Vaarai Prawns and Crab curry with Jaffna rice to name a few.

The Bus ride form Colombo starts just after 8 PM from Wellawatte. We booked seats on the Luxury "Bubble Bus" which cost Rs1000/- each way. I had expected a Volvo on which I had travelled in January, but what came was a Tata Leyland.

The ride was still bumpy in Short sections but lot better than I remember of January. The main annoyance was the loud Movie (Tamil subtitled in English) that they seemed to want to show on the TV in front, despite hardly anyone watching it. Maybe it was to keep the driver awake. I was able to get them to switch it off around midnight. Thermostat on the Bus also did not work and it was either too cold, and someone would insist that it be switched off. Sometime later with no circulation the Bus was to hot and stuffy and I would insist that they switch it back on.

The first rest stop was in Putthalam. The next was at Ikirigollawa in Medawachchiya. Although the bus is Luxury, the toilet at the rest stops are ones you don't want to go into unless you really need to. Someone should solve this problem, even if with clean Pay Toilets at these stops. At Omanthai the bus stopped again for a nominal security check. The expat Canadian Tamils who were travelling in the same bus, had however to deboard for clearance. We reached Jaffna by 5:30 AM, a 9 hour journey. The main drawback of travelling at night by public bus is that you miss seeing all the tourist stops on the A9 like Killinochi and Elephant Pass, which requires you to go in a private vehicle.

We wanted to visit Delft and see the Wild Ponies. It is a 32 km drive from Jaffna to the Ferry terminal. When we asked at 9 AM at the navy check point at the entrance to this read near Jaffna, we were told the ferry left at 10:30 AM and we had ample time to catch it. However when reaching the Ferry terminal at 10 AM we were informed the Ferry had already left at 9 AM. There was clearly a lack of communication. Hiring a boat privately cost Rs6500, which was more cash than we had with us. Plastic was of no use and there no ATM to get cash. We visited Nagadipa in a very stuffy and crowded ferry and returned to Jaffna. After Lunch we visited the Jaffna Public Library and the Archaeology Museum. The Museum has some interesting artifacts, but is in urgent need of funds for restoration of Building.

Next day we reached the Ferry terminal by 9 AM. The Ferry Ticket costs only Rs40 each way per person. This Ferry was not for tourists but for the 4500 local residents of the Delft Island. It carried all of the food and fuel needed for residents. There were large number of drums with diesel on board. Since there was only one bus, two trishaws and a few tractors to provide transport on Delft, two of the passengers were taking their Motor Cycles across. I was told that they restrict tourists to under 10 per day. There was under 50 passengers. Being on open deck it is best to have a sun shade and rub sun screen lotion on fair skin.

Delft Babob TreeDelft Wild Ponies
Delft Hand TractorDelft Fort

Delft Boat Return
In Delft we hired a hand tractor (Rs1000) with trailer which took us to see the Wild Ponies. We saw over 50 in small groups of about 10-15. The land was a coral reef, which had been also been exploited to make all the fences. We saw the Babob Tree and old Fort behind the Hospital. The return trip leaving Delft at 2 PM was far more crowded. Probably exceeded the 200 passengers I was told could go on that boat according to the Navy. With the excess load the return ride was however much smoother.

For the return to Colombo we were asked to report at 7:30 PM to the bus stand opposite the post office. There were a large number of buses and we had to find the bus on which we had booked and insist on the seats we had reserved. Bus only left at 8:20 PM. More tired we slept better on the return journey which was only interrupted at Omanthai where the security check required most to get off the bus with baggage and have it checked. Some of the more elderly passengers were allowd to remain in the bus. The bus reached Wellawatte at 5:30 AM.

Anula says there are a minimum of 50 famous places of interest to see, and that it will take at least 5 days to see Jaffna properly. Anula says her place is booked for some of the weekends for the rest of this year. Jaffna get very crowded during the weekends with of order a lakh of visitors. If you can visit Jaffna during the week you will find it a lot less crowded, and better enjoy the 250 square kilometers of the Peninsular.

An edited version of this article Starting over again in Jaffna By Kavan Ratnatunga appeared in the SundayTimes of Sri Lanka on 2010 October 31st.

See also She is a Symbol of Courage by Civil Military Coordination in Jaffna

Anula sold the Guest House she started to ExpoLanka in 2011 July.