by Dr.Kavan Ratnatunga
Anula Meier Radalage has the distinction of having been the last Sinhalese to run a business in Jaffna before the conflict with the LTTE ended in May 2009. Her guest book lists special envoys Erik Solheim and Yasushi Akashi, many ambassadors, heads of missions and other VIPs who had stayed at her place- Anouk Swiss Chalet.
Spacious comfort: Margosa Guest House
In the Sunday Times of July 20, 2003, I wrote of my first trip in late May 2003 to Jaffna, when I stayed at her guest house in Urelu. Back in USA in July, little did I know that soon after, Anula would no longer be able to run her establishment. Her almost eleven-month enterprise in Jaffna came to a chilling end.
Enterprising woman: Anula Radalage
Anula's full story is a book she hopes to publish some day, but here is one part of it. She had invested significantly in the venture in mid 2002, getting permission from the local LTTE office. However when she opened, the LTTE visited and told her that she as a Sinhalese, although she was now a Swiss citizen, did not have permission to run a guest house in Jaffna.
She then travelled to Killinochi, met LTTE leaders Thamilchelvam and Pulidevan and requested permission to run her business, which was declined. She then appealed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) who told the LTTE that it was politically useful to have even one Sinhalese-run business in Jaffna. And so from September 2002 she operated under the protection of the Norwegian SLMM.
In early July 2003, SLMM lost favour with the LTTE for ruling against them on a disputed Kurankupanchan camp in government-held territory near Trincomalee. A few days later, Anula, returning after showing Kantharodai, to a close friend and daughter was stopped by an LTTE cadre and asked to identify herself. When she said she was the owner of the guest house at Urelu, she was coldly informed that he had orders to shoot her.
Lucky for her a UN vehicle stopped behind her, and she was able to escape. The former Tamil manager of her guest house had been killed the previous week for unknown reasons. The message was clear. She was forced to abandon the guest house and leave the country. That house is now occupied by the Human Rights Commission.
Seven years later, on October 15, 2010, Anula opened a new luxury Guest House "Margosa" in East Urelu (Tel 0773034532), about a mile from her former location. The large white house about 3/4 km east towards Chunnakam from the Punnalaikkadduvan Junction is just past the 9 km post on the Jaffna-Palali Road. Being exactly midway between Jaffna and Palali her place is well situated for both who fly in as well as drive. If you come in, like me by bus, then you can catch a trishaw or the 764 bus which can, however, take an hour. Being at the centre of the Jaffna peninsula it is close to many tourist sites.
Anula has leased this old ancestral manor, from a leading family in Jaffna. It has a central courtyard and she has converted five large rooms, each with two queen size beds and air conditioning into bedrooms. The large attached bathrooms have no roof over the solar heated hot water showers. It is a quiet, serene place for the whole family in the midst of a more than one acre plot, on which she hopes to grow organic fruits and vegetables.
Meals from her clean kitchen and pantry, at her small cafe "Olives" are the best of Jaffna cuisine including Vendai Kolumbo, Poriyals, Cools, Paal Appam, Pahasam,Thosai, Iddli, Uppam, Vaarai Prawns and Crab curry with Jaffna rice to name a few.
We journeyed to Jaffna having booked seats on the luxury "Bubble Bus" which cost Rs 1000 each way. The bus starts just after 8 p.m. from Wellawatte. I had expected a Volvo on which I had travelled in January, but what came was a Tata Leyland.
The ride was still bumpy in short sections but a lot better than I remember of January. The main annoyance was the loud film (Tamil subtitled in English) that they seemed to want to show on the TV in front, despite hardly anyone watching it.
The first rest stop was in Puttalam. The next was at Ikirigollawa in Medawachchiya. Although the bus is luxury, the toilet at the stops are ones you don't want to go into unless you really need to. Someone should solve this problem, even if with clean paying toilets at these stops.
At Omanthai the bus stopped again for a nominal security check. The expatriate Canadian Tamils who were travelling in the same bus, had however to get down for clearance. We reached Jaffna by 5:30 a.m., a nine-hour journey. The main drawback of travelling at night by public bus is that you miss seeing all the tourist stops on the A9 like Killinochi and Elephant Pass.
We wanted to visit Delft and see the wild ponies. It is a 32 km drive from Jaffna to the ferry terminal. When we asked at 9 a.m. at the Navy check point at the entrance to this road near Jaffna, we were told the ferry left at 10.30 a.m. and we had ample time to catch it.
However when we reached the ferry terminal at 10 , we were informed the ferry had already left at 9. There was clearly a lack of communication.
Hiring a boat privately cost Rs 6500, which was more cash than we had with us. We visited Nagadipa in a very stuffy and crowded ferry and returned to Jaffna. After lunch we visited the Jaffna Public Library and the Archaeology Museum. The Museum has some interesting artifacts, but is in urgent need of funds for restoration of the building.
Next day we reached the ferry terminal by 9. The ferry ticket costs only Rs 40 each way per person. This ferry was not for tourists but for the 4500 local residents of the Delft Island. It carried all of the food and fuel needed for residents.
There were a large number of drums with diesel on board. Since there was only one bus, two trishaws and a few tractors to provide transport on Delft, two of the passengers were taking their motorcycles across. We were told that they restrict tourists to under 10 per day. There were under 50 passengers. Being on open deck it is best to have a sun shade and rub sun screen lotion to prevent sunburn.
To tour Delft we hired a hand tractor (Rs.1000) with trailer which took us to see the wild ponies. We saw over 50 in small groups of about 10-15. The land was a coral reef, which had been also been used to make all the fences. We saw the Babob Tree and old Fort behind the hospital. The return trip leaving Delft at 2 p.m. was far more crowded, with probably more than the 200 passengers I was told could go on that boat according to the Navy.
With the excess load the return ride was however much smoother. For the return to Colombo we were asked to report at 7.30 p.m. to the bus stand opposite the post office. There were a large number of buses and we had to find the bus on which we had booked and insist on the seats we had reserved. The bus only left at 8.20 p.m. Tired out, we slept better on the return journey which was only interrupted at Omanthai where the security check required most to get off the bus with baggage and have it checked. Some of the more elderly passengers were allowed to remain in the bus. The bus reached Wellawatte at 5.30 a.m.
Anula says there are a minimum of 50 famous places of interest to see, and that it will take at least five days to see Jaffna properly. Her guest house is booked for some of the weekends for the rest of this year. Jaffna gets very crowded during the weekends with over a lakh of visitors. Visiting Jaffna during the week is a much better option to enjoy the 250 square kilometres of the peninsula