Our destination was yazhpanam, a weekend in jaffna visiting Nainatheevu, jaffna fort, nallur temple and point pedro and return back to Colombo
On the night of 19th March, we left home around 8.15 pm and rushed in a tuk tuk to board the train a minute before it left the station. It was a drizzling when the train moved and when the rain stopped the moon started to shine bright in the cloudless sky. It was nearing the full moon day. The following Monday was a Poya day(full moon day) and a public holiday in Sri Lanka. There were a dozen of college goers who started singing and drumming near the restroom till 1 AM and later did sleep take over. The train reach Jaffna in time to catch the sun rise the moment we stepped down.
We reached the hotel after walking along the railway track and were informed that we have to wait till 10 AM to get the room. We had a tea and a slice of cake and left our bags in the hotel, heading to the bus station to catch 776 bus to Kirikaduvan and take a ferry to Nainatheevu – a 20 min ferry ride.
We reach the jetty around 9.30 AM and saw a huge line waiting and there was a also smaller line on the left. The name board called out ‘Katchatheevu’ .It was the 3 day festival in St Antonie’s shrine, which happens once a year. There was to be a boat at 10 AM and the ride to the island would be 3-4 hours. Excited, we got our token 113, which didn’t count much when we stood in the queue. It was a strange queue, with two columns of people sitting on parallel concrete benches. Time and again you had someone walking in between to stand in the front on a pretence of enquiring about the boat. No boat came in the next 4 hours. The young started standing on the bench to look, on the left of Nainatheevu, for boats that would take them to their destination.
We met Kumar here, who was standing in front of us with his young brother in law. He told us it was not a day trip and the boat from Katchatheevu will start after the morning prayers in the shrine. Everyone around us have planned for this trip, for some it was the second time, with food, blankets and water bottles. On a normal day, we would have quit and gone back to hotel. But katchatheevu was special. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to set foot on the island. Finally, a Vada Tharagai II came to the jetty around 1 PM, but soon the message spread that it was for the officials and the media personnel. There was another boat on the right at that time and we didn’t know whether it was also going to Katchatheevu. Everybody was eager and sweaty and wanted to desperately be on a boat. The guards started sending a few in the front, and most of them were the ones who had sneaked in earlier. While the few who had respected the queue stood watching them go out, feeling annoyed. We were also moving slowly forward and were the last and the guard finally asked as to board the boat. At the end, we had also sneaked ahead of the old family who had token 112 and were trailing behind. It wasn’t fair. We didn’t see them later.
We rushed to the boat , but the door were closed. But, a friendly guard open it on hearing that we were waiting for 4 hours with 113. It was here we met Kumar again, while we were standing in the queue he left to meet his friends and we didn’t see him again. He offered us his seat, we took turns and reach the island around 4 PM, having had no breakfast or lunch. Our first meal for the day was halwa, followed by groundnuts.
There was a path cleared between bushes with shops on both sides leading to the Shrine. Both Indian and Sri Lankan currency would buy you goods. We had made it.
On arrival, we were given a token that was to be produced to get the free food that was arranged by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Around 7 PM, a short stroll back towards the shop brought us to the food distribution point. It was rice, dal, bean and some soya curry. It was surreal. Now, it was time to occupy a small space were you would sleep the night. You needed something to mark your area, you need a sheet to spread in the ground. Having brought nothing other than the cameras, I bought a 4 metre long bed sheet which we put in the floor and also covered us. The clouds were threatening at times, but it didn’t rain.
Well past midnight, we got up and visited the shrine. It was barely 10 meters from our resting place but required careful steps. The entire area was full of people occupying even the smallest of space. There were few devotee praying close to St Anotonie. It is a very small Shrine with 3 idols of the saint and Jesus.
In the dark, we walked back to the entrance to check the first boat that would take us to Jaffna mainland and to the hotel. There were no boats leaving until the morning prayer is completed. I resumed my sleep near the entrance with Parkavi keeping guard. Before the sunrise, a dozen people came to the entrance. They had hired their own boat and it was waiting to take them to delft. We were again lucky and joined them.
The boat took them to delft and we were supposed to find another boat to Kurikadduvan. But, the friendly boat owner took us all the way till kurikadduvan with a soda and biscuits for the journey. The guards on knowing that we are returning from Katchatheevu were surprised and asked “VIP”? We probably were the first to mark our return on the register where we got the token 113.
It was the best trip ever!!