For me, who grew up with news of war and chaos in the north for 20+ years of my life, Jaffna has always been an enigma. A place that invokes a strange feeling in my mind of a far-away place filled with mystery and history. When I finally had the time and the means to go there, the strange attraction which has always intrigued me of Jaffna got further increased. What a beautiful and unique place in my small island.
An arid, flat landscape rejuvenated by recent rains opened up in front of me as I entered the Jaffna peninsula crossing the causeway built linking Pooneryn to Jaffna. (The road from Mannar to Jaffna was covered in an another post: 'Mannar again and the road to Jaffna'.) The shallow continental shelf which surrounds this beautiful connected set of islands creates a unique landscape that is unparalleled to anywhere in Sri Lanka. The shallow lagoons stretching far and wide creates ideal habitats for aquatic birds and the close proximity to the Indian subcontinent attracts waders to this part of the country.
Having 2.5 days to explore this beautiful landscape and having arrived in Jaffna on 'Thaipongal' day, my first day was spent island hopping in the Jaffna peninsula. Second day was completely taken up by Chundikulam National Park. On the third day morning, I travelled to the island of Delft specifically to see the Indian Courser who can only be seen in Delft.
The causeways which connect the different small islands to Jaffna peninsula give access to beautiful views of the continental shelf. Also, they are great for spotting water birds. On my journey from Jaffna township to 'Casuarina Beach' which is located in the island of 'Karaitivu', I came across a few small, shallow lakes which were occupied by groups migrating ducks. These shallow water holes are great for viewing these shy beauties. Specially the Northern Pintail's are so beautiful.
Although the beaches in Jaffna are famous for its beauty, I was not that impressed with the 'Casuarina beach' nor the 'Kankesanthurai beach' (KKS beach). Mainly due to pollution where fisherman and visitors have left lots of plastic and garbage on the beach. Plus the water was a bit too cold for my liking. I'm told that this is due to the season and in certain times of the year, the sea is very calm and warm.
Further down the peninsula, in 'Kayts' island, its a different story. Hidden from the incoming wind, the sea has become very tranquil. Although not ideal for sea bathing, these shallow, calm waters provide breathtaking scenery especially during the sunsets.
The drive along the north outer most road from 'Ponnalai' to 'Kankesanthurai' was a hot bed of birds. There were many different species that could be observed along the road. Its a beautiful drive. I had a memorable encounter with a 'Eurasian Hoopoe' where I managed to take some beautiful photos.
After a great day of island hopping and exploring beaches, the sunset over Kayts was breathtaking.
Exploring 'Chundikulam' National Park by yourself is not a wise idea. Compared to other national parks in the country, entering in to Chundikulam is not straightforward. The roads are not well marked nor prominent. There is still a considerable army & navy presence in the area and its access roads are in bad condition. Specially if you don't speak the native language Tamil like me, finding your way around as well as knowing where your going will be tough.
Thus, I had to get assistance of a local during this leg of my journey. Help came in the form of Srisaravanapavan Kajenthiran who is a birding enthusiast based in Jaffna. He operates a small tour guiding outfit and can be found on social media on his page 'Birds of Jaffna'. He provided valuable assistance in finding the way around Chundikulam. Running along the neck of the Jaffna peninsula that connect Jaffna to the rest of Sri Lanka, its a unique patch of jungle nestled between the sea, lagoons and sandbars. Its shallow lagoons and jungle patches provide ideal habitat for birds.
After about a 40 minute drive from Jaffna city, We arrived to the outskirts of Chundikulam with the early morning light.
Once inside the park, you can drive along the main road that runs parallel to the sea. Its a birding paradise.
One of the price captures was of a Plaintive Cuckoo-Female (Hepatic Morph). These were my first ever photographs of Cuckoo's. When we first saw the bird and took pictures, we had no idea what she was as the Hepatic Morph threw us off. It didn't match any Cuckoos in our books. Only after sending the pictures to an expert we were able to identify her. What a beauty.
Although, during certain times of the year, with a good 4x4, one can cross the narrow lagoon channel that disconnect the main road running parallel to the sea, in January after rains, a crossing was impossible.
To explore the rest of the park, this meant having to come all the way back 'Pachchilapalli', crossing Elephantpass to get to 'Paranthan', getting to 'Visuamadu' and crossing back in to the national park. As we had lots of time to kill during mid-day, I decided to take the trip. Its a good 1+ hour drive. In hindsight, I think this was a waste as the landscape very much looks the same. I will not be doing that round trip the next time.
As the sunset over Visuamadu, we made our way back to Jaffna. It was an super day of off-roading, adventure and birding.
Last day of the Jaffna adventure was special. I was after one particular bird who is only found in the unique island of Delft - the Indian Courser. To get to Delft, one must catch the ferry from the 'Kurikadduwan Jetty'. The first ferry out to Delft is at 8 AM in the morning. You can drive up to Kurikadduwan Jetty, park the vehicle and take the ferry. Operated free of charge by the SL Navy, this service is only available for island residents. But when you speak to the Navy personnel, they will let you take the service. Its about 1 hour ferry ride to Delft. I must say I was impressed by the quality of the service.
Delft is a unique place with an identity of its own. Its isolation, arid landscape and rich history makes it a must visit place if your in Jaffna. Although its a small island, getting around different locations and finding the elusive Indian Courser is not easy without help of locals. When you arrive in Delft, you will be surrounded by a bunch of taxi (3 wheeler) drivers all promising various packages. As there are no other means of transportation, you have to talk to a few and understand what they are offering.
I was lucky to find Sugi who knew exactly what I was looking for and knew where to find the birds. I roamed around Delft in his 3 wheeler and before long, the Indian Courser's of the island started showing up.
Managed to see few of the famous Delft wild horses during my gallivanting around the island.
Mission accomplished, by mid-day I was back at the jetty to catch the ferry back and start my long journey back to Colombo. What a wonderful place on this beautiful planet. I will surely go back for more.