Good Morning Jaffna: Shadows of the Civil War in Northern Sri Lanka

By Mark Wiens 47 Comments
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Jaffna, Sri Lanka

The sun began to make its appearance at about 5:45 am.

Some of the colorful fleet of Sri Lankan fishing boats had already docked, but the daily fish market had yet to begin.

Sun Coming Up in Jaffna
Sunrise in Jaffna

Just after 6 am, the blueish tinge of the morning light shifted to orange fire as it rose into the line of horizon and began to pierce through the lanky palms.

Ruins in Jaffna
Ruins in Jaffna

Shadows from bombed out buildings and bunkers began to emerge through the light as another morning in Jaffna began.

These were my very first sights of Jaffna, a city in northern Sri Lanka that had been torn by war not many years ago.

I had caught an overnight bus from Kandy to Jaffna and due to the extreme speeds that our driver reached, we must have arrived in record time.

I would doze off in a very uncomfortable position for a second, then awaken as our full-sized un-maintained bus screeched to a halt or slid around a turn. I thought for sure our driver was going to roll the giant bus.

We arrived to Jaffna somewhere around 3:30 am, and instead of forking out for a hotel room for just a few hours we decided to say “good morning to Jaffna.”

Sun Coming Up in Jaffna
Sun Coming Up in Jaffna

That’s when we made our way (still in the dark at this time) to Beach Road, hoping to see a fish market and get our minds off our sleepiness.

Jaffna Building Ruins
Jaffna Building Ruins

There were building ruins all over the place, shatters of homes or businesses that had been battered by the war.

Bunker in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Bunker in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

There was evidence that many of the fortified ruins had been used as bunker hideouts during the war.

Photos of Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Building in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Many of the buildings, though aged, weathered and beat up, were very interesting to see.

Battalion in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Battalion in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

There were still armed military gaurds posted all over Jaffna in the morning. Many of the posts were blocked by palm branches.

Jaffna Photos
Beach Road in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

With little activity happening on the ocean we decided to walk 500 meters back to Beach Road where there were signs of life and a number of breakfast options.

Paratha - Sri Lanka
Paratha – Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Only men were around on the street at 6 am in Jaffna, and lots were already on their 3rd cup of tea and waiting anxiously for the food to be prepared.

I stepped into the sweltering hole in the wall restaurant, ducking to avoid hitting my head and in just a few minutes I was sipping on a steamy cup of milk tea and munching down a pile of parathas and pol sambola – 2 of my favorite Sri Lankan dishes.

Photos of Jaffna
Mending the Fish Net, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

After fueling up we got back onto the road, making our way back to the beach where the men at the restaurant had informed us that the fish market would begin at around 7 am.

Catholic Shrine, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Catholic Shrine, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Every step brought with it something different, or something interesting to see. Though most of the northern Tamil Sri Lankans are followers of Hinduism, the beach area of Jaffna is populated by mostly Christians.

This lady was setting up a shrine and really really wanted her photo taken.

Fish Market, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Fish Market, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

A few minutes later, I had arrived back on the edge of the sea, following the directions of locals to arrive at the fish market.

Jaffna Fish Market
Fish on a Bicycle, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Just like the rest of the morning in Jaffna, the fish market was quiet and peaceful. There was a small auction to sell off a few of the stingrays or other prized catches, but it wasn’t anything like the Dar es Salaam fish market.

Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Morning Football and Cricket in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

By 6:45 am there were loads of boys running around, extremely excited to see two out-of-place foreigners walking aimlessly around Jaffna – there still aren’t many foreign tourists that make it to Jaffna.

When they saw my camera they were even more excited, some wanted to pose with funny faces or do goofy things!

Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Kids in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

At 7 am walking down the street we stood out like the moon at night, everyone turned their heads.

Kids stopped in their tracks and looked us up and down – the outgoing ones even asked me to take their photo!

Beach Road, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Beach Road, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Just after 7 am the streets of Jaffna came alive.

Women and kids started walking around, goats began to yawn their shrieking noises and men started pedaling their bicycles.

Graveyard in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Graveyard in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Yet even as life came alive in Jaffna, there were still reminders of war – ruins of buildings everywhere and giant graveyard fields.

Jaffna Rickshaw
Jaffna Rickshaw

The early morning is a great time to walk around any town, it’s a chance to catch a glimpse of activity before work begins.

The tuk tuk rickshaw drivers were calmly drinking tea before taking their driving positions and having to be agressive on the roads for the rest of the day.

Riding Bikes in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Riding Bikes in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

There were lots of men on their way to complete their daily tasks, riding their bikes while dodging the goats that didn’t even think about budging.

Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Coconuts in Jaffna

These guys were transporting a giant load of dry coconut husks on their makeshift tractor vehicle.

On the Jaffna School Bus
On the Jaffna School Bus

Starting at around 8 am, it was time for school. Loads of kids dressed in their white uniforms appeared and got on the Jaffna school bus.

What a magical morning it was in Jaffna!



47 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Rudolph.A.Furtado

    5 years ago

    Will be visiting Sri Lanka in October-2012.Thanks for the excellent blog .

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Fantastic to hear that Rudolph, hope you have a great trip!

  • chintu

    6 years ago

    I appreciate ur patience and interest shown on the war torn country. Lovely place God blessed. One day it will bloom. thanks for the show.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Chintu. I had an incredible time in your country.

  • Anemi

    6 years ago

    Very nice post, thanks!!! Great pictures and descriptions. I just came back from visiting Jaffna. You describe it very well.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Anemi! Glad to hear you visited Jaffna as well!

  • Chungyin Hui

    6 years ago

    Hello Migration Mark,

    It’s so great to see your site. Cos I’m searching the info about traveling Jaffna.
    I just want to ask you if you need to apply the Travel Permit M.O.D before heading for Jaffna?

    I plan to cycle around Sri Lanka including Jaffna in this month.

    Thank you!

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Chungyin

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Chungyin,
      No, the permit is no longer required to visit Jaffna. I took the bus there from Kandy and our bus did have to stop in the northern part of Sri Lanka and I had to show the army my passport, but that’s it. There was no hassle or anything, just off the bus for 5 minutes, they wrote something down and back on the bus.
      That’s going to be an amazing trip with the cycling, hope you have a great time!

  • Jackie

    6 years ago

    Great photo’s, especially the one with the fish on the bike!!

    Your post bring back lots of memories and curiosities I remembered from my trip in 2006. Especially loved Ella and it’s surroundings.

    I hope that the people of Sri Lanka can now live in peace, and that tourism goes up.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Jackie,
      Thanks for stopping by. Glad it brought back some memories, Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country. I also really hope that the country remains peaceful and that they can leverage their tourism – so many beautiful places!

  • Menushka

    6 years ago

    Sri Lanka, the place I call home….miss it already and very badly…your photos taken in Jaffna are very fascinating Mark; love the vibrancy of the colours. The one with the man and fish is really on the money. sad to say that I being a Sri Lankan have not yet visited Jaffna..Nobody could actually, up until recently when the bloody civil war stopped. Guys you should visit Sri Lanka,it really is a fascinating place.take the paths less trodden and you will be pleasantly surprised by the extreme diversity of culture and life in different places…So much to see in such a small country..There are places off of the frequently taken tourist routes that are absolutely stunning..go these places and you should be able to enjoy nature, culture and life on a small budget.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks a lot for sharing Menushka!
      You said it all right – Sri Lanka is an amazing country full of beautiful places and it’s easy to get off the tourist trail and explore the countryside. The entire island of Sri Lanka really is a gem in the Indian Ocean! I hope you get a chance to visit Sri Lanka as well!
      Thanks again for checking out my site!

  • disa

    6 years ago

    Wonderful job done by you all..

    Great feeling you .Also it’s given a chance to see every good memory of bed war for the peoples who wanna keep the bloody war on for their benefits…
    Lets get-together to help your own peoples get up from crucial moment…
    “Stop talking – show them by action” if you’ll never been to Sri Lanka…by looking at this pictures will give you evidence for their needs…time for you to think of them….

    Thanks again….who had initiative to do this much…to open every once eyes on them…

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Disa! I had an amazing trip to Sri Lanka and a great time in Jaffna, I met some really incredible people.

  • Johanan Ottensooser

    6 years ago

    Hey mate! Great posts and great pictures! I absolutely loved my stay in Jaffna, especially going to the Nallur Kovil!
    Now I am in Trinco – any hints on awesome things to do?

    Good work!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks a lot Johanan. I didn’t actually make it to Trinco…sadly my time in Sri Lanka ran out before I was able to get it there. Keep enjoying Sri Lanka, and good luck with all your travels, it’s such a great country!

  • jenjenk

    6 years ago

    wow…there’s something so starkly beautiful about all these photos. In and of itself, I know there’s so much poverty in Sri Lanka, but you’ve managed to capture this essence of a wonderful home, family and life…

  • Andrew Graeme Gould

    6 years ago

    A fascinating series of images. Very interesting to follow you through that early morning in the streets.

  • Kristel Mae

    6 years ago

    Hi Mark…You did a great job in providing your post to us here…Awesome!!

  • Joseph

    6 years ago

    Amazing job. Your photos speak for themselves. I’ll definetely come back for more.

  • eileen ludwig

    6 years ago

    Very fascinating seeing other parts of the world I have never dreamed of going to and yet there you are in the middle of it all

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks a lot for checking it out Eileen. Part of the reason the internet is so great – we can all share our experiences/photos from places that we can’t all be at the same time!!

  • Sophie

    6 years ago

    Such beautiful and evocative photos, Mark!

  • Christy & Scott

    6 years ago

    Great photos, Mark! Your posts are making me want to go to Sri Lanki even sooner than next year!

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    6 years ago

    Great photos! Especially like the one of the colorful boats.

  • Nomadic Samuel

    6 years ago

    Awesome photo essay Mark – the pictures really tell the story here.

  • John in France

    6 years ago

    Thanks for taking us on this wonderful journey – your photos are superb – loved the fish on the back of the bike!

  • Dean

    6 years ago

    What a great local experience! I agree that the early morning is a great time to walk around a town or city. It’s always completely different to how it is later in the day.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      As soon as the main crowds of people wake up, all cities completely change. The early morning really offers a fresh glimpse at any place!

  • Shani

    6 years ago

    Great picts! Especially love the one w the guy placing his fish on the back of his bike. I wonder if the dogs chase him. Coconut tractor is pretty classic too! Sounds like they definitely aren’t used to tourists – did you have any probs finding somewhere to stay?

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Shani, thanks for stopping by. Actually, I didn’t have a big problem finding a place to stay, but it did take a couple tries. I didn’t want to pay for some of guest houses and the YMCA was fully filled, so I just walked around a bit more and finally bargained down for a room at about $10 per night. There are surprisingly quite a few guest houses around town, many of them catering to local Sinhalese tourists from Colombo – I think they normally fill up during the weekends.

  • Marcos

    6 years ago

    Loving these pictures man! Great job!

  • Erin

    6 years ago

    Great post Mark. It’s sad to see the effects of the war but it must have been interesting to explore a city that’s very off the beaten track. I look forward to heading up there when we next visit Sri Lanka.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks Erin, yes, despite the shadows of the civil war Jaffna is extremely interesting. Hope you guys can make it up there!

  • 50+ and on the Run

    6 years ago

    Wow, wow and wow! I think this is my favorite of all your posts. So glad you didn’t go to sleep, and instead took these pix. Really, thanks for posting, Mark!