By Patricia Weismantel – Product Manager for SpiceRoads who joined the June 2016 tour of Sri Lanka’s Tip to Tip by Road Bike
Sri Lanka’s civil war officially ended in May, 2009. However it took years to clear the 1.6 million landmines and rebuild the infrastructure. Now that the north of the country formerly occupied by the LTTE is considered safe to visit it is the perfect time to take advantage of the many rebuilt roads with Sri Lanka’s Tip to Tip by Road Bike.
With the area being very flat it makes for a great start to the tour especially with the mountains looming ahead! The region is also dotted with wetlands, proving to be a perfect breeding ground for birds and bird sighting from the road was incredibly easy. A top highlight was counting to 11 the number of kingfishers in just one ride.
Before entering Jaffna a somber stop is at Elephant Pass, which controls access to the Jaffna Peninsula. There were three major battles played out here at this strategic point during the civil war, with many casualties on both sides. Still a military base, a memorial has now been constructed to honor the selfless actions of Corporal Gamini Kularatne who sacrificed himself by exploding grenades on an LTTE bulldozer laden with explosives, saving the camp.
Jaffna itself is still recovering from the extensive damage from the war There was a huge exodus of the population and they are only now slowly returning to their once abandoned homes. Signs of the war are still evident, from bombed out buildings to bullet holes to piles of rubble, however, there are also positive signs of renovations. Cycling through the fish market we saw fishermen and sellers actively plying their trade. Another stark reminder of the war is Jaffna Fort — built by the Portuguese, captured and expanded by the Dutch, taken over by the British, garrisoned as a detachment of the Ceylon Army, occupied by the LTTE and now a still active base for the Sri Lankan Army.
Rebuilding has resulted in an excellent new road built from Jaffna via a causeway to the Kayts, a series of low-lying islands connected by bridges and ferries. Cycling we were constantly spying cormorants, fish eagles, kites and pelicans, all from the road. Rebuilding also extends to schools and churches and the Hindu temples protected by their deities are a colourful splash in the landscape.
Also off-limits during the war were the many beaches and taking a break at one we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy the northern tip of Sri Lanka. Back in the spread out city of Jaffna we rewarded ourselves for our riding with a visit to one of the many new ice-cream parlours.
Leaving Jaffna we cycled to another peninsula and beach – Manar. This lonesome route was surrounded by military bases and reserves and with little human presence except for the occasional cow herder. Animals were in abundance from dusky langurs in the bushes, to a myriad of birds in the water and air, and of course the cows we had to divert around. Once on the peninsula there was a new animal, feral donkeys. These are the ancestors of donkeys brought to Sri Lanka by the Arabs to carry merchandise, mainly spices.
The potential for Manar to one day become a beach resort is there, but for now the beaches are raw and natural. A welcome respite. Cycling back on the mainland we returned to the interior of the country and were soon back to more popular places to visit such as Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Kandy. After spending days with no other tourists it took some adjustment but it also made the experience of visiting the north more prized.