A Trip to Strengthen Your Roots - Why you should visit North Sri Lanka
There’s a quote that I see often that says “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” But what if there were parts of you within, waiting to be discovered in a place that your parents once called home?
For many of us from the Thamizh community, going back to parts of North or East Sri Lanka does not bring back the fondest memories. But a trip could change your perception if you’re willing to view things with an alternative perspective. I remember the first time I visited Jaffna in 2013, I was anticipating a land of shattered dreams, loss, destruction etc. However, the Jaffna that I experienced was filled with strength, warmth, rich culture and the most beautiful souls.
So here are a few reasons why I think everyone should take a trip to the North:
1) An indestructible history - Northern Sri Lanka is filled with landmarks that play an incredible role in shaping the identity of the Thamizh community. It's a known fact that the strength of a tree depends on how grounded its roots are. The best way to discover the strength of your identity is to experience where its roots developed. A good example of this is the Jaffna library. Seeing the Jaffna library in person is a memory that will forever be etched in my mind. To a tourist, this might be a library, but to those who are aware of our history, this remains as a symbol of strength and the power of Tamil literature and education.
Another beautiful and one of my personal favorite places to visit is the Nallur Temple. Regardless of your religious beliefs, visiting the Nallur Temple exudes a peaceful energy
like no other place. One of my favorite things about this temple is its authenticity. The interior of the temple is built in a way so that its main source of light is natural daylight and oil lamps. It's hard to believe that this Temple was built in 1749 A. D! The management has done an incredible job in maintaining its structure and original architecture. The Nallur Temple also served as a shelter for many people who fled the war and through some form of protection remained undestroyed during the civil war.
As you drive through the North, one of the few things that cannot be missed would be the places that have survived the war. There are many smaller villages that have remains of homes and untouched land that awaits reconstruction. Seeing these places every time I’ve gone back has reminded me of the importance of never forgetting what our people have gone through in the past.
2) Stories of resilience - One of my favorite reasons to visit North Sri Lanka is to meet people and listen to their stories of survival. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people who have survived the war and now focus on rebuilding their lives in either their place of origin or a city within the North. A story that I’ve shared before at Palm Roots, my annual photography auction/fundraiser and would love to share again is the survival story of a man named Veluchamy who I met in Kilinochi. He started his life from scratch numerous times and relied on his skills and artform for an income. As you can imagine, the income he receives as a pot maker is bare minimum. However, he never believed in giving up and continues to focus on fighting to survive. He also helped his family migrate to Canada, and have not heard back from them since they left. As triggering it might be to revisit these places, I believe its important for our generation to re-visit these places to meet people who would benefit from our assistance or learn about their stories directly from the sources rather than relying on media platforms for our information.
I remember meeting another woman at a vegetable market who has children living in the UK and mentioned that they’ve asked her to migrate many times but she refuses. She told my family and I that she found it refreshing to continue working at the vegetable market, regardless of her age because it kept her active and independent.
Stories like this remind us of the strength that they have to remember their past but focus on the present and future by working hard. And most importantly, finding their independent ways of success and making the most of their current situation. Entrepreneurial inspiration!
3) Food! - Can I mention how incredible the food tastes in the North?!! The abundance of local Thamizh restaurants makes any traveller happy! I think the best Kothu roti I’ve had so far has to be in Kokuvil! :) The chemical-free vegetables, freshly ground spices and the aroma of our favorite food everywhere you go will make you want to visit these areas more than once!
And remember, every time you make a purchase from a local-owned business, you're supporting them directly.
4) Giving back & volunteering - This will always be one of the most important reasons I visit the North. As most of you might read via media, the news etc, people in North Sri Lanka are attempting to build back their lives and need the support of diaspora Thamizhs. This doesn't always have to be through financial means. There are certain areas where people have sufficient funding that they receive through NGOs but are unable to develop new programs, create education based initiatives or even support the longevity of orphanages and schools due to the lack of support or ideas about the opportunities that exist for them.
One of the projects I worked on for Palm Roots with Miracle Family Care (MFC) was to build a computer lab for Grade 12 and University students where Computer Science and English courses are taught. These courses will provide students with the opportunity to learn skills that not only help them but can be shared with their peers as well. If we use the opportunity to guide students in the North or if possible, implement new ventures and start up companies to provide employment opportunities for Youth there, we help them become leaders and spread their knowledge to a wider group of students.
And even if you're not interested in the entrepreneurial side of things, personally visiting orphanages and educational institutions will give you a more visible evidence of how your volunteer hours or financial contribution is creating an impact for people there. The impact you have of connecting with people and helping them directly is one that will last a lifetime.
I can carry on with many reasons why taking a trip back to the North will give you the opportunity to think out of the box and discover the strength of our roots. But this is a journey that needs to be experienced to truly understand its importance.
Travelling from Colombo to Jaffna takes close to 8 hours by road. There are many transportation services available at present for a convenient and comfortable journey, that includes pit stops to give you a break and also explore other places of interest. If you consider this trip to the North, VMS Travelscan provide the perfect travel services for you. Their modes of transportation are easily accessible and extremely comfortable.
Being a client of VMS myself for many years now, I can guarantee you that they've been an extremely reliable travel agent especially when I was stuck in Colombo and had to deal with flight cancellations during the beginning of the pandemic!
For more details, you can contact VMS via phone: 416-293-5800 or their website www.vmstravels.ca