Mannar Island




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.

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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.

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I crossed the bridge to the mainland and searched for the road but once again found a trail of despair. Quite simply the road does not exist except as an extensive mud bath.

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.

5 responses »

  1. Hi Paul – We are headed down the same route next week from Jaffna to Mannar. Luckily conditions on the A32 have apparently improved somewhat since your trip, with some estimates less than 60km of unsurfaced highway (plus, it’s dry now!) If we need to break the route into two parts, do you recall passing any accommodations along the way? Thanks, Steve

    • Hi Steve. I am afraid not. Mannar ‘island’ provided the next roof to sleep under. Glad to hear that the road has much improved! My mistake after Mannar was to keep moving South following the coast in the hope of getting through the national park. It had its interesting moments but much of the journey is indelibly burnt into my mind as an almighty mudfest. Good luck!

      • Well, the nightmare is over! We had a dream ride from Jaffna to Mannar today (4-Feb-2014) and I can report that aside from a discouraging 1km of smooth dirt immediately exiting the bridge and about a 3km stretch of bad dirt potholes just before the concrete road begins, the rest of the A32 from Jaffna to Mannar is now complete! (OK, there were still a half-dozen spots of a few hundred meters each, usually where a bridge is to be built.)

        The road is so new that survey crews were out plotting the centerline so it can be painted. One surveyor we talked to said that the asphalt was laid just LAST WEEK – it is literally virgin highway. Very little traffic – I would expect it to stay that way for awhile – and with the killer tailwinds we were making a consistent 28km/h, fast for us. We still got beat up a bit by the final 20km of concrete road – what were they thinking when they paved with that?

        BTW, do you remember the name of the place you stayed in Mannar? We looked around a bit but aren’t too thrilled with our choice.

  2. I stayed at the Nelson Guest House, No58. ESP Land Road, Moor Street, Mannar. Tel 071 6793606/077 7882530.
    Orange walled bungalow behind a green wall. Grubby en suite, mosquito nets and power.
    Cheap and simple. Bit shitty really.:P
    Glad to hear your making good progress Steve.
    Great news on the road. That should improve the lives of local people a heck of a lot.

  3. For anybody considering this route, we traveled from Mannar down through Wilpattu National Park just last week on a lot of brand new pavement. B403 is almost completely rebuilt now – only 16km of that route is still unsurfaced but is under active work.

    At Willpattu National Park they allow private vehicles – including busses – to pass through but still do not allow bicycling, so we were able to cycle as far as the village of Marichchukkaddi at the north park boundary, where we picked up a truck shuttle in that was arranged for us by Sereno at Wilpattu House (

    The truck dropped us at his guesthouse in the village of Eluwankulama, and the next day he directed us down the coast to meet up with some fishermen who took us across Puttalam Lagoon to Kalpitiya for a couple of days at the beach. Great way to bridge some otherwise un-cyclable sections of the west coast route.

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