My two-week trip was my second visit to the Jaffna Peninsula, a 400-square-mile expanse of Technicolour temples and arid, surreally beautiful landscapes in northern Sri Lanka that have only recently opened to tourists after a 26-year civil war. I had travelled there in 2011 to research a guidebook, but that trip had been packed with activity; this time I wanted to explore the area at my own pace. So, basing myself in a guest house in the capital of Jaffna on the peninsula’s southwest coast, I returned to linger in the region’s temples and visit the tiny islands offshore.
Outside of town, Jaffna’s shady lanes give way to a series of rugged causeways, one-lane bridges and sandy roads that traverse a network of islands, peninsulas and bits of land in the Palk Strait. Here, salt flats and open fields are peppered with palmyra palms and magnolia trees, hardy shrubs with purple flowers, and serene cows munching the ground cover down to a pale fuzz. The water is never far away. It is a completely different country from the tropical coasts and hilly forests of Sri Lanka’s south.
Sri Lankan temples are friendly places. Priests always welcomed me, giving me small cloths to tie onto prayer trees or guiding me through prayers. Women put kumkum powder on my forehead and showed me when to take holy water and when to put 10 rupees in the tray.
I asked how a non-Hindu should pray to Murugan for her mother. “Close your eyes and talk to the god, ask for his help, that’s all. He will help you,” he told me. So, with the sun streaming into the temple compound and the beating of the ocean in the distance, that is exactly what I did.(New York Times)