Karainagar: A serene paradise | Daily News

Karainagar: A serene paradise

The coastal towns of Sri Lanka are embellished with an alluring charm. Today we discover the hidden beauty of a very old island in the North of Sri Lanka, about 20 km from Jaffna.

Karainagar (Island of Karai trees) is a destination that effortlessly combines the majesty of the ocean, the splendour of ancient kovils and a myriad of succulent seafood. It is a destination that redefines paradise. Access to Karainagar is via a causeway. Decades ago, the area was known as Karaitheevu (theevu means island in Tamil) but over the past decade adopted the name of Karainagar. As we drove along the causeway that connects the island to the mainland, we saw green nets on either side of the road, where fishermen waded waist deep in the emerald green water and caught an assortment of fish. I have made five visits to Karainagar. You can also catch a bus from the Jaffna main bus stand.

As we neared Vallanthalai, one of the first quiet towns, the Northern sun was gracefully receding. The strong aroma of fresh fish permeated the air as the local market drew her citizens for the day’s catch. I noticed there was much bargaining as cycles passed by. The bicycle is the most reliable source of transport on this large island and every home has one. The houses in Karainagar are built to blend with the natural environment. Thankfully, trees are retained in the construction process, as they offer shade. The daily routine of the people here is all about simply coexisting alongside nature. After the train journey from Colombo, I was quite tired. We reached the residence of my friend Vincent Rajkumar, whose family has been known to my parents for more than six decades. After a steaming cup of tea, I opted for a refreshing bath at the well. These somewhat deep wells produce water that has a mild flavour of lime, and amazingly, many species of plants have adapted to this water. However, this water is not good for drinking and there are designated “clean water” wells in this quaint village.

The sea breeze gently drifts into the homes where windows remain open at night. This is a testament to the spirit of the community, and the safety it brings. Even though gates are closed, they are not locked. I woke up the next morning to the crowing of roosters. Whilst in the large garden Vincent kindly announced that he was going to serve one of these birds for lunch. I felt terribly embarrassed that my brief visit had warranted the death of a rooster, but this was the village courtesy extended to a ‘Colombo visitor’. The sun’s magnificent rays painted the morning sky. My host had skillfully cooked the rooster, adding many Northern spices into a clay pot.

After breakfast, we headed towards our first stop, the old church belonging to the Church of American Ceylon Mission (CACM). The CACM has been active in the Northern Province for centuries. Dedicated missionaries had sailed thousands of miles to come and establish schools and hospitals in these parts. During those bygone times, they taught English and other social skills to the humble island folk. The church built in 1855, still stands today.

From here, we hired a tuk-tuk. A few hundred yards away the gopuram (tower) of the Sivan Kovil reached the clouds. The temple was a riot of colour as murals adorned its walls, and two rock statues of a Hindu deity stood defiantly at the entrance. An old priest was offering incense within the inner chamber of this sanctum, while a herd of goats had sought solace in the garden. We proceeded from here to the jetty. Clusters of palmyrah trees dotted the landscape. Karainagar is also home to a naval garrison. The sailors of SLN Elara are a part of this community.

From the jetty, I saw the old Fort, rising out of the blue waters. Originally built by the Portuguese it was named Fortaleza Real (Fort Royal). After the Dutch invasion, it was renamed as Fort Hammenhiel. As we waited patiently for the ferry to arrive, a group of old men were smoking rolled dry tobacco leaves, a homemade beedi. The ferry, which connects Karainagar to the island of Kayts, arrived. The ferry ride took about 10 minutes. The sturdy boat can carry motorcycles and three-wheelers. Many schoolchildren are dependent on this safe ride to get to school.

The Island of Kayts was like a page from a travel magazine. A row of shops displayed ancient wooden doors, with carved trelliswork on the topmost part. Old lamps were suspended on wooden ceilings. These are real travel memories. There are many old churches here, among them, a church dedicated to St. James and a shrine to honour St. Anthony. I subsequently visited St. Anthony’s Church with Rev. Fr. Michael to write about the 200th anniversary of this majestic church. On our return, we visited a small shop which sold products based on palmyrah. The palmyrah tree has become a symbol of these resilient island people.

We returned to Karainagar and the sun was pretty intense. I picked up the distant view of a large bullock cart. The sight of the cart was so lovely. Two large bulls had been yoked together, and a young man controlled them with much pomp. He smiled at us displaying betel stained teeth. Another well bath preceded lunch. The departed rooster lay immersed in a pot of curry. It went down well with the vegetables. After a while, Vincent served dessert, a sweet delicacy known as mothakam, a steamed dumpling filled with grated coconut, green gram and jaggery. That evening, we visited an old eating-house named ‘Sellamuthu Suvayagam’ (suvayagam is the proper Tamil word for a cafe). We inquired from the cashier if we could buy paal appam (hoppers laden with sweetened coconut milk).

Karainagar Sivan Kovil

Nighttime accentuated the serenity of Vallanthalai. Chatting under a large Khomba tree was more refreshing than watching cable TV in Colombo. Around 11 pm, Vincent decided to keep the old iron kettle on a makeshift fire in the back garden. The flicker of the flames in the moonlit garden is a travel snapshot. Frogs croaked from concealed positions. A cat decided to sit and observe the kettle. Life can be enjoyed in simple ways, I believe.

The next morning we headed towards the cafe, I was anticipating this Northern relish. We encountered teachers and students cycling to school. The milk hoppers were made to perfection by a beautiful Tamil woman, whose long black hair enhanced the beauty of her face. We enjoyed the hoppers and took some home. Vincent worked at the main post office. I was warmly received by his colleagues when we dropped by for a visit. The post office was quiet and had no rush like a big city post office. The roads in Vallanthalai were quiet. A few women walked taking pots of water. The nose ring of one of them glistened in the sunlight. The fences erected with palmyrah fronds added to the natural surroundings. Red chillies were drying in a garden. This village by the beach had so much seafood. I cherished the crabs and prawns. The fried fish was amazing. We went in search of dried fish, but the only two shops that sold this local relish were closed. Towards evening, I witnessed older men walking in groups, and was duly informed they were going to indulge in toddy. Casurina Beach is another must-visit destination. The beach was very clean. The sunset was fascinating. Karainagar is indeed an enchanting and serene island.