Kankesanthurai is a tongue twister even for Sri Lankans. Probably that’s why they call it KKS(it sounds like kk’s). KKS, like most places in the north Sri Lanka has war associated with its identity. The story of displacement is the most poignant in this coastal area towards the northern tip of Sri Lanka. This also happens to be one of the many HSZ(High Security Zone) controlled by the army across the country.
For a couple of decades now, KKS is a sore point between the Sri Lankan government and the local Tamils & the diaspora.
However, KKS is not only about depressing stories, it is also home to some wonderful sights. We decided to find out for ourselves one afternoon while in Jaffna.
Locals take mini-buses to get to KKS and as always we chose to follow them. A brief 20 minute ride and we were in KKS.
This is your Odd Guide to Kankesanthurai in Sri Lanka
1. The Weeping Houses Of Kankesanthurai:
Gradually on the road to KKS, houses turn into beautiful decay. At some point these spaces housed close knit families and noisy kids. It is almost like every house tries to narrate its story. But melancholy and longing are the only things they succeed in sharing. If they were human beings, they would be weeping.
The weeping houses of Kankesanthurai could well be the only reason why you should visit KKS.
Residents of this town had abandoned their homes in the late 80s. The battle between Sri Lankan army and the LTTE rebels left them with no choice. This displacement continues to haunt the Sri Lankan government to this date. It is accused of colonising the north by refusing to return the land to its rightful owners. The authorities on the other hand claim to have returned large tracts of land.
Whichever way you look at it, the weeping houses of KKS are a reminder that the war goes on. Long after it is over.
2. Thalsevana Resort:
‘Why would a resort find its way into an odd guide?’ you may ask. Yes, normally a resort with a spa and swimming pool isn’t an odd place to visit. But, Thalsevana is different. This is one of the few army run resorts in Sri Lanka.
This resort is interesting because people maintaining gardens here are better at training guns at the enemy. And the demure-looking hostess greeting you could be a lethal commando.
Another controversy surrounding such establishments is army getting into areas they should stay away from. Many international groups and Tamil activists accuse the army of taking away benefits locals could accrue through tourism.
3. Sangamitta Temple:
Areas close to KKS, like Dambakola Patuna, are also important to the country’s Buddhist history. Sanghamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka and proponent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, landed at this spot. It was here that a sapling of the great Bo tree was planted and a temple was built. Neither remain today, but the army built a temple and planted a Bo tree(from Anuradhapura) here in the late 90s.
Even with a mere passing interest in Buddhism and its history in Sri Lanka, this place is worth a visit. The war legacy is visible here too. The temple and the guest house next to it are managed by the Sri Lankan navy.
Not many countries can boast of Navy seals doubling up as guides for curious tourists.
Close to Naguleshwaran temple are the Keerimalai springs. These mineral water springs are known for their curative properties. A swim in this spring is quite refreshing and for us the sight could beat the infinity pool of all five star hotels.
As expected, there are separate springs for men & women.
5. Naguleshwaran Temple:
Right next to Keerimalai springs is the Naguleshwaran temple. In fact, the springs are a part of this overall temple complex. This temple or kovil as the locals will call it is one of the five sacred spots dedicated to Lord Shiva in Sri Lanka.
When we got there, there was hardly anybody. The deserted look might fool you about the status of this sacred spot. Even Mr. Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, paid this temple a visit on his trip to Sri Lanka.
This place has a war story too. In the 90s, the temple was damaged during the aerial attacks carried out by Sri Lankan forces. But it seems getting razed and rising up again, is the characteristic of this legendary temple. According to the temple website, it was destroyed by the Portuguese and then in early 20th century it accidentally caught fire.
It has now been partially rebuilt with funds collected from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. The construction was underway for rajagopuram or the temple tower when we visited. The tower, on completion, will make the temple eligible for Maha Kumabhishekam which is a grand festival.
6. Lurdu Matha Church
In a place called Mathagal, not very far from the Sanghamitta temple is a church called ‘Our lady of Lourdes’. The locals call it ‘Lurdu Matha Church’.
Sri Lanka is even more multi-religious than one would think. Most of the coastal communities are Christians by religion. This is pretty evident by the churches and mini shrines that dot the coastline in the north.
The Lurdu Matha Church is an interesting structure with bright colours and rocky design. A statue of the divinity also goes out into the sea. Probably to provide some more hope and luck to the fishermen at sea.
Kankesanthurai or KKS is a marvel of this amazing island country. In a truly inclusive Sri Lanka its multi religious landscape will be celebrated. At the moment, KKS is still coping with the legacy of the war. There aren’t hordes of backpackers or even the rich sunbathers here yet. In fact if you are a foreigner, you just might be the only one.
That is why KKS is an Odd Traveller destination. Perfect in the itinerary of a traveler seeking to explore Sri Lanka beyond its instagrammed destinations.
How to get to KKS and visit these sights?
- There are regular mini buses from Jaffna bus stand to KKS. Once you get off the mini bus you can hire a trishaw and for about 1000 LKR (500 INR/ 8 USD) to visit all these sights. End the trip with a visit to Thalsevana – the army does not want you to click pictures of the HSZ though you are free to click pictures of the resort and the recently refurbished lighthouse.
- Train is another option – a couple of trains go up to KKS which is the last station in the north. In that case, you can avoid the army check point. Thalsevana is bang in front of KKS railway station. You could choose to stay at Thalsevana, though personally I feel it might be a bit boring.
- Once at KKS railway station or Thalsevana, you can hire a trishaw. If you are looking for a stylish ride – Thalsevana has vintage cars which they hire out to their guests.