....Jaffna Library – razed by an anti-Tamil group in 1981 and formerly regarded as southern Asia's best library – has been rebuilt by the Colombo Government, even if its rare volumes cannot be replaced. Jaffna Clock Tower, a derelict landmark, has been repaired and repainted.
The jewellers of Kanna-thiddy Rd, obscured by strands of gold necklaces, are trading briskly again. Nearby textile merchants are busy, too. Little restaurants are sprouting, none better than the Palm Beach where superb southern Indian vegetarian curries are served with dosai (pancakes) and idlees (rice cakes). Small guest houses – typically with a half-dozen rooms – are opening, some with air-conditioning and often in refurbished old villas.
Bastian's Hotel, with eight rooms, is Jaffna's biggest and best. Clean and comfortable, its bar fills each evening with a mix of aid workers, business types and occasional tourists who share impressions of this newly opened destination over Three Coins Lager or arrack, a local spirit distilled from coconut juice.
Jaffna is safe and relaxed for strolling. It is remarkably free of street crime and beggars.
Be sure to buy mangoes at the Municipal Market. They are renowned as Sri Lanka's best and, some Colombo wits would have you believe, access to them was a prime reason for the cessation of hostilities.
Typically, a day trip from Jaffna will include a drive over narrow causeways a couple of kilometres long that connect the flat Jaffna Peninsula to the islands of Kayts, Punkudutivu and Karaitivu. Kayts town has a busy fishing harbour with several good nearby beaches that are deserted midweek. Neat villages dot these isles, with perimeters of houses often marked by so-called cadjan fences made from the leaves of the palmyra palm.
Farther, and reached by ferry, is the bleak, sparsely vegetated island of Delft with its wind-blown grassland, Dutch fort and sandy beach.
Back on the mainland, drivers stop at a grove of palm trees with no tops. Artillery fire blasted away all but the trunks.
The market town of Port Pedro, close to Sri Lanka's northernmost tip, is a fishing port – and an hour's drive from Jaffna through pretty countryside and villages where, until recently, few strangers ventured.