Jaffna’s Punkudutivu Paradise

Road to Punkudutivu

I hang out in Jaffna’s cream parlours and discover the raw and beautiful Punkudutivu, where historic houses have intricate carvings.

Travelling to Jaffna whether it’s by bus through Elephant Pass or by plane, one is immediately struck by the incredible contrast of it to the rest of the country. Even without the heat wave, the area sports a parched, dry arid lunar landscape all year round with floating dunes, palmyra and baobab trees and buildings still in tatters, which are just a small reminder of the thirty year civil war. Jaffna’s landscape as one traveller put it looks like the land has taken its revenge on the place; the only relief is the popular ice cream bars like Rio outside the main temples and in the town centre.

Life is going to be different

Ice cream girl 

Sitting in one of Jaffna’s many ice cream parlours, I meet a local girl Jivitha, who is hidden behind seven scoops of ice cream with jelly and tells me that this is the place to be and looking at the people filling every seat it certainly was where the in crowd seemed to hang out. Her nickname, I discover from the waiter who knows her well is Dinks, and when not enjoying chocolate smothered choc tips, she goes to Nallur temple, because she lives on Temple Road.

Between more scoops of ice cream, Jivitha adds: “We see the Hindu Temple as the centre of our lives and a very special place to go and contemplate life. I give donations of plantain, beetle, arrack nut, coconuts and lights joss sticks as daily pujas and special offerings to the god Murugan.” She is so thankful that finally life is going to be different and feels that when she has children “They will grow up with peace.”

Jivitha’s people originally came from the South and North India, settling first in Mannar where they sewed animal skins and later traded materials with the other islanders. Over the years, Tamils moved into all sorts of high profile businesses. However, in Jivitha’s case she is only a second-generation family from India. “My father was in the fishing trade then he married and decided to stay in Jaffna.”

Retail therapy

“It’s hard to get together with other people of my age as there are no places to go out dancing like in Colombo and the only meeting spots are the ice cream shops like Palarmuthirsolai, a bit of mouthful when full of the creamy stuff dripping chocolate,” she says where they have just been for a quick snack. Jivitha made me try ice-cream, made up of a mix of jelly, fruits, ice-cream mixed together and served in glass bowls, sounds terrible, but in the hot sun really hit the spot. Another place to meet people is at the Raja Theater where Tamil action films show and for less back seat action a cozy night out can be enjoyed at Cosee restaurant, which is a real winner food wise.

Of course there is no shortage of shopping if you like sparkly Bollywood saris, a top Jaffna family it seems will spend as much as $10,000 US on a marriage outfit. For something a little cheaper CDs and DVDs with a romantic slant can be purchased from Vijei Recording Centre, 539 Point Pedro Road. The old colonial buildings even the ones with bullet holes, are amazing to wander around and the ones that remain empty have found a new leases of life and not just as delightful uber cool boutique hotels like Jetwing Jaffna.

Jaffna’s central bazaar is always a fun place to explore and discover the joys of Jaffna coffee, a kind of Arabic Sri Lankan blend. Here, you can hand pick woven palmyrah household items, try fruits such as the famous Jaffna mango (Karutha Kolumban),” sweets - in particular bolly are yummy - made from flour and coconut cream mixed with green gram and sugar. Jaffna is also famous for its own variety of spices used in curry and rice, and in particular a type of chili powder with fire in you can’t get anywhere else, which is unique to the town and the local specialty in the Jaffna crab curry. The fresh lagoon crabs are from the Kurunagar lagoon and can be found daily in the market and well worth a try. The most popular thing to buy as souvenirs are the Jaffna cigars, kind of Cuban Sri Lankan in style and then hire a classic car to complete the experience by exploring some of the sites around town.

Seven low-lying islands

Head out of the centre and go in search of a place called Punkudutivu, only a short distance from where the ferryboats dock to take people to three of Jaffna’s seven low-lying islands. Punkudutivu village is full of deserted beautiful old houses from the colonial period with hand carved ornate lattice stonework found above the doorways. These include elaborate peacock, elephant and floral designs in stone and wood painted over in white and in the case of one house on the main road there is a regal porch way with two elephants flanking it. Amazingly these sculptures have retained much of their original paintwork and are still holding up the porch and roof with the tip of their trunks.

It is well worth spending an afternoon here and having a look around at this hauntingly beautiful spot with trees growing through bombed and bullet covered historic buildings. Many have lost their roofs and yet retain arches and lots of their original features such as the lovely weather beaten shutters. The elephant house is a gem just before the town’s church of South India, behind a rickety old drift wood stick like fence.

Returning to town it is the original Catholic Church left over from the Portuguese time, Saint John’s church re-built in 1823 by the Dutch on Chundikuli Road that surely will make you realize just how many special historic buildings Jaffna has. It is just one of many reasons one should book Jetwing’s new hotel located on the historical Mahatma Gandhi Road in Jaffna town a perfect base to explore this time locked northern trinket. 

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