Killinochichi is unlikely to feature in any Sunday newspaper supplement as a dream destination any time soon. It’s a two road town, and one of those roads is the one running through it and out the other side to Jaffna, a place you ARE more likely to read about.
However, if this were a travel guide, it might recommend you eat at a place called Thaj Mahal (in Sri Lanka th is pronounced t), using your fingers for breakfast, dinner and tea. That’s what we pretty much did.
Every day this week we’ve woken with the dawn at 5am, made the most of the coolest part of the day, and then headed for breakfast of roti and dhal, or string hoppers with kiri hodi. String hoppers are thin noodles, made from red rice, and served on a plate in flat rounds. They essentially look like pink brillo pads. You pour kiri hodi over, a thin mild curry sauce, break the noodles up into little pieces with your fingertips, mash it together into a ball, rest it on your fingertips and flick it into your mouth with your thumbnail. The playing with your food bit is easy, the mashing-scooping-flicking bit, not really.
Thaj Mahal also do an extensive range of lunchtime curries – chicken, fried fish, fish, or beef – all served with rice and a range of side dishes like dhal, curried potatoes, spicy cabbage, and others depending on the day, as complimentary. In the evening you can choose between roti and daal again, or try egg kottu, which is roti finely chopped with onions and other veg and fried with egg. Of all the food I tried there, kottu was my favourite, and, I was reliably informed, excellently done. For four people, with drinks, the average price was 550 rupees, or £2.50, in total.
Killi also has a brand new ice cream parlour called Yaal, just opened this week, and serving three flavours of ice cream in a variety of sundaes and cones. Unfortunately they weren’t certain what the flavours were when we visited, but I’m fairly certain mine was vanilla, topped with nuts and candied fruit of a nuclear red and green colour.
Along the main stretch you’ll also find banks, a daily market, a children’s play park, a pharmacy (you can hydrocortizone cream and 10 antihystermine tablets here for 40p), several places to buy water, and a lamination shop (which I can also highly recommend).
A little further out, there’s a lake with beautiful reedbeds, and a continuous and much-needed breeze to take the edge of the heat. The railway between Kandy and Killi is being rebuilt, as are the roads, and there are decent stretches of tarmaced road, or as they are known here, carpeted road.
All of this is not bad considering Killinochchi was once a substantial place. During the final stages of the war the city was pretty much razed to the ground. On the main stretch you can see a large water tower which was deliberately felled so it couldn’t be used as an outpost for snipers.
What was more sad, though, were the empty properties and the land that has been abandoned, and remains that way. I saw one plot, which had what had clearly once been a very proudly maintained and thoughtfully laid out garden. Beyond the garden was what was left of the buildings.
But, if ice cream parlours and railways are anything to go by, the forerunners of better and more exciting things to come, perhaps in a few years time, Killinochichi might make it into the guidebooks and the Sunday papers after all. Stranger things have happened.