Once I had crossed the Jaffna Lagoon I was presented with a track made from mud, sand and water. I hoped that it would be a short stretch but it turned out to be the exact opposite. This was to become a road over the next three years. Meanwhile the coast road linking Jaffna with Putallam is, in practical terms, unusable.
It was a Herculean task and one which rivals the most arduous times in cycling I have ever experienced. My struggle against a gale along a North Jutland beach will stay with me forever.
I waded through deep puddles of water and worried that the contents of my panniers would get wet. I continued with the hope that it would get better. It didn’t. It rained. I felt like a bicycle messenger at the Somme.
Finally and as darkness fell the mud became a concrete road leading to the bridge connecting with Mannar island.
Lights from the town glittered in a seductive row ahead and as I finally cycled in towards the main junction I felt like I had fought some savage beast. Just a bit of mud and rain really.. but about 45 miles of it.
I asked a jolly policeman at the town junction about finding a room and he set me off down the right road.
The hotel I found had thick well made Dutch windows and doors. With bakelite electrical fittings and overhead fan it felt a little anachronistic. It was wonderful to get cleaned up and recover from my day. The Dutch had also imported Catholicism and donkeys to the island.
The next morning I set off with the intention of cycling to the other end of the peninsular to view Adams Bridge; the rocks connecting Sri Lanka with India. However and given the extra distance I had second thoughts and simply completed a wide circle of the town stopping to have breakfast along the way.
Mannar Island was a LTTE stronghold during the war and suffered like Jaffna from much deprivation and lack of transport links. Adams Bridge provided an escape route for refugees to reach India. However the town itself remained fairly intact and still reflects its Dutch colonial heritage. The Dutch fort is in excellent condition and undergoing work to preserve and convert for visitors. I wandered in and was given a tour by the resident archaeologist.
I lost a day on that route. My plan to skirt (and camp) along the coast South via Wilpaththu national park (B403) came to nothing. Just inside the park I was turned back on the good advice of a navy post. The ‘road’ ahead was flooded. I backtracked and instead had to camp at a deserted Sri Lankan army fortification with high mud walls. A storm raged during the night. Once again it felt like being in a First World War trench with bombs exploding all around. I packed up my wet tent and once again tackled the mud. I slowly backtracked North. I stopped to view the ruins of the first Governor of Ceylon; Frederick North’s residence which is badly eroded by the wind and slowly bit by bit, falling into the Indian ocean.
By lunch time I was back on the road. A real road and one which would lead me back to Anuradhapura.