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Sunday, 2 August 2009

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Free of terrorism:

Jaffna comes alive

The historic Nallur Kovil

Jaffna, which was a sleepy town under the siege of terrorism for the past three decades, is now repositioning itself to be one of the busiest and most developed cities outside Colombo.

Jaffna was a self-sufficient and a well-developed city before terrorism took away its glory and also the self-respect of the people.

But today after the ending of the war, rapid development is taking place that has put a fresh leaf of hope among the people.

Condominium developers, enterprisers looking to build star hotels, engage in power supply, and other infrastructure projects are underway.

While the business community and government is focusing on the development of Jaffna, the Tamils in Colombo along with the Tamil Diaspora which is estimated to be over 2 million are looking at revisiting the peninsula after almost three decades in the coming days to attend the historic Nallur Kandasamy Kovil grand festival which concludes on August 17.

Built in 1749 Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the Jaffna District of Sri Lanka.

A Heli Tours aircraft that plies the Colombo-Palali sector

Due to political reasons the temple was shifted from place to place in Nallur. Interestingly, many temples have been built in Europe and North America by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, using the same name as a cultural heritage.

While Catholics in the country are expected to flock the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu by the thousands for the annual feast, thousands of Hindus’ in the Jaffna peninsula, who were thwarted by the LTTE in exercising their religious rights for several decades, will flock to the historic Nallur Kandasamy Kovil to pay homage with a free mind.

The unofficial curfew imposed at nighttime till clearing out operations by security forces are completed, will be lifted during the kovil festival to enable the devotees to freely exercise their religious rights.

Security authorities claim that there is no fear of threat at present in the peninsula and troops are stationed only to strengthen the security of the people, the government information department web site said.

Sri Lanka Tourism has also taken a lead in promoting the event globally mainly targeting the Tamil Diaspora.

“This is the first time that the Nallur Festival is being celebrated with peace prevailing in the country,” said Faizer Mustapha, Minister of Tourism Promotion.

“After the successful eradication of terrorism from Sri Lanka, Hindu devotees are finally being able to perform their religious rights without any hassle,” he said adding that last year over 50,000 attended the event and this year over 100,000 are expected. He said that Director General S. Kaleyselvam would be visiting UK next week to talk about the arrangements for the event. “He would also visit kovils in UK to promote the festival,” he said.

Minister Mustapha, Director General - Sri Lanka Promotions Bureau, Dilip Mudadeniya, Director Sri Lanka Tourism, Kaleselvam and Wing Commodore Dayal Wijeratne at a press briefing.

Minister said that it was Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who suggested to promote the Nallur festival to the Tamil Diaspora and the response has been very good.

Minister Mustapha, with a delegation from the Tourism Ministry and tourism industry, visited Jaffna last week to develop and promote the tourism and hotel industry in the peninsula ahead of the festival.

“We will also provide training to hotel staff in Jaffna from the Colombo Hotel School in a bid to increase standards,” he added.

“Sri Lanka Tourism, as an initiative to promote religious and cultural tourism, has spearheaded the promotion of the historic Nallur Festival, particularly among the Tamil Diaspora, which was encouraged to come with their families and participate in the festivities,” said Director General Sri Lanka Promotions Bureau, Dilip Mudadeniya.

“For the first time the event would be also marketed internationally at all the international fairs in the future to attract tourists as well,” he said.

Aerial route has been the best option to travel to Jaffna. However, the two private domestic airline operators, Expo Aviation and Air Deccan, which operate around three flights per day, are not in a position to meet the demand of providing seats to Jaffna.

“Sri Lanka Air Force has taken the initiative to launch three flights a day to Jaffna to ease the burden,” he said.

Minister said that the two private domestic operators too have been very cooperative and are ready to increase flights according to the demand.

“They have all agreed to offer a return air ticket at Rs. 17,500 which is very economical,’ he said.

Wing Commodore Dayal Wijeratne said that tickets for Heli Tours could be purchased from the Air Force office opposite TransAsia Hotel, and very soon these would be sold on the net and through travel agents.

In action, Heli Tours will operate weekly flights to both Trincomalee and Sigiriya mainly to attract local and international tourists.

Air Force has also launched a Colombo Airport to Colombo City transfer service and opened a counter for this purpose at the Colombo Airport.

Heli Tours counter at the Colombo airport

Heli Tours also plans to launch passenger flights to Weerawila, Koggala and Ampara soon.

Enriched island

Jaffna District, the northernmost region of the Island of Sri Lanka, is one of the oldest habitation sites in Lower South Asia, populated by Tamil speaking people. Jaffna also known as Yarl Paanam is situated in close proximity to the sub-continent of India and separated from it by the Palk Strait and the Bay of Bengal.

The peninsula is actually almost an island; only the narrow causeway known as Elephant Pass - for once elephants did wade across the shallow lagoon here connects Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka. Jaffna is low lying; much of it covered by shallow lagoons, and has a number of interesting islands dotted offshore. In all it covers 2560 square km (999 square miles). With just under 900,000 inhabitants, the district of Jaffna was one of the most densely populated areas of Sri Lanka, second only to Greater Colombo.

Jaffna has it all, friendly people, a rich culture, salubrious climate and a picturesque environment go to make it a veritable traveller’s paradise. Now that the guns have fallen silent and peace is in sight, domestic tourism in this long forgotten northern retreat is gradually catching on. After almost 20 years, travellers now can reach Jaffna either by land or air.

The flight, from Colombo to Jaffna, is just under one hour and is quite enjoyable as the plane does not travel at too high an altitude.

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