Jutting out into the Palk Strait and connected to mainland Sri Lanka by a three kilometre long causeway, Mannar is just thirty kilometres from India. The dry, sandy and laid back Mannar Island where donkeys roam the streets, is surrounded by blue seas. It is a great place for a few days stay and here’s a short list of things you could see and do in Mannar.
1. Visit Thiruketheeswaram Kovil
Thiruketheeswaram, an ancient Hindu temple about seven kilometres north of Mannar, is one of the five sacred temples dedicated to the worship of God Siva in Sri Lanka. Some believe the temple predates even the arrival of Vijaya, the presumed founder of the Sinhalese nation, in 600 BC from India. Thiruketheeswaram is closely associated with the nearby ancient port of ‘Manthotai’ (Mathoddam) which was the main port of ancient Sri Lanka. Mythical stories related to the Indian epic Ramayana recount that Mandothari, the wife of Ravana – king of Lanka, was from Manthotai and that Mayan, the father of Mandothari and the King of Manthai built the ancient Temple of Thiruketheeswaram to worship Shiva. (Note: All must remove footwear and gentlemen their shirts to enter the temple).
2. Take A Look At The Baobab Tree
The Baobab is not native to Sri Lanka. There are about 40 of them growing in the north of the country, all of them brought by Arab traders in the distant past. The one in Mannar town is said to be about 800 years old with a circumference of 19.5 meters. It is 7.5 meters tall.
3. Take A Walk At Thalaimannar Pier
Thalaimannar Pier was the terminus of a ferry service to India across Palk Strait before the cyclone of 1964. It was part of the Indo-Lanka Railway service, where passengers were ferried between Talaimannar and Dhanushkodi on Rameswaram island in India. Now, only a lonely lighthouse stands on the beach frequented by fish eagles.
4. Take The Boat to Adam’s Bridge…if you dare!
The ancient Indian epic Ramayana documents a 30 km bridge over the Palk Strait connecting Rameswaram Island off the southeastern coast of India, and Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. The epic attributes the building of the bridge to the ape army of Hanuman aiding Rama in his war against Ravana, the prehistoric king of Sri Lanka who abducted Rama’s wife Sita. Hindus call the ‘bridge’ Rama Setu and believe it was built 1.7 million years ago during one of the mythical Four Ages of Mankind – the one in which Rama lived. Today local fisherman take visitors to the sand banks from Urumalai Beach. (Click here to read the post “Adam’s Bridge Revisited“)
5. Walk Round Mannar Fort
The square fort with four bastions was built by the Portuguese in 1560. The Dutch captured it in 1658 and rebuilt it in 1696. In 1795 the British occupied the fort following the surrender by the Dutch. It is a pleasant place for an evening walk to watch the sunset. (Click here to see the blog post “Mannar Fort”)
6. Eat Kotta Kilangu
Kotta Kilangu is the underground sprout of the Palmyra palm. It can be dried or boiled to form a hard chewable snack. They are fibrous but nutritious.
7. Take A Look At The Dry Fish Market
Lightly salted fish dried in the sun and wind is considered a delicacy in Sri Lanka. Manar is famous for its dry fish and has a dedicated street with shops selling all sorts of this commodity.
8. Walk On The Beach At Doric House
At the beginning of the nineteenth century (1801 – 1804) a house was constructed at Arippu near Mannar for the first governor of British Ceylon Sir Frederick North, the Fifth Earl of Guilford. He stayed there for several months at a time to revive and supervise the pearl fisheries. The two story house was constructed using bricks and mortar and the exterior walls were decorated with chunam which was made from the lime of burnt oyster shells and was described as appearing like ‘marble.’ The building was known as ‘The Doric’ due to the design of the columns which was in the Ancient Greek Doric style. (See the blog post “The Doric of Arippu“).
9. Watch Flamingos At Vankalai Bird Sanctuary
433 bird species have been recorded in Sri Lanka of which 26 are endemic. Mannar in the north-west is one of the top birding destination of the island and with a large numbers of migrants seldom seen elsewhere in the country, Vankalai wetland is the prime site of the region. (See the blog post “Birding At Vankalai“)
10. Visit Giant’s Tank
Giant’s Tank is a marvel of ancient irrigation engineering in Sri Lanka and is a great place to see rare waders. Click here to see the post “Giant’s Tank”).
11. Go To Madhu Church
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic shrine with a history of over 400 years and is considered the holiest Catholic shrine in the island.
12. Stop At Thanthirimale On The Way Home
The little village of Thanthirimale, 40 kms north-west of Anuradhapura city, is the site of a remarkable third century rock temple. (Click here to see the blog post “Thanthirimale”).
Where To Stay In Mannar
- Agape Hotel – Located in an hard to find back street. Basic with small lounge and dinning area but has free Wi-Fi and air-conditioned, clean en suite bedrooms. Sadly, there are no mosquito nets. Local food cooked by chef/manager Noeline is delicious.
- Palmyrah House – Many say it is the best hotel in Mannar
- Hotel Ahash – Stayed here in 2012 when it was still being built. Memorable food!
- Four Tees Rest Inn – Birders love this place. The owner Laurence himself is a birder and bird guide