Spectacular journeys north

Monday, 21 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Dharisha Bastians On a slightly overcast September day, the Fits Air Cessna Grand Caravan took off from the Ratmalana domestic airport in Colombo and hugged the island’s Western coastline as it made its 75 minute journey to the Northern Capital of Jaffna, carrying a motley crew of passengers – journalists, diplomats and monitoring teams to observe a historic election in the former conflict zone. Four years after the conflict ended, road journeys to the Northern Province are no longer as arduous as they used to be and with the recommissioning of the Yal Devi train from Colombo after a 25 year hiatus, rail journeys will soon become a viable and economic option once the track is laid all the way up to Kankesanthurai, in the peninsula’s most northern tip. But apart from the convenience, there is something still magical about flying into the relatively unexplored Jaffna peninsula, watching emerald waters sparkling below and tracing the cartography of an island from thousands of feet up in the air. Because the FitsAir Grand Caravan flies at an altitude of just over 7000 feet, the coastal views are truly spectacular. Passengers can mark the journey all the way, from the cluttered beachfronts of Colombo and Negombo, to the spindly arm of the Puttlam lagoon and finally, as the aircraft draws closer to its destination, the dancing islands and sand dunes off Mannar. The recently rebranded Fits Air (previously Expoair) offers daily flights between Colombo and Jaffna at convenient times. With both the Ratmalana and Palaly airports now catering to civilian air travel requirements, the entire travel experience is both pleasant and hassle-free. The airline’s brand new 12 seater Cessna Grand Caravan features contemporary and clean interiors with plush leather seats, an air-conditioned cabin and plenty of leg-room. The airline boasts good customer service, with courteous and helpful Ground Staff at both Colombo and Jaffna and very friendly pilots and first officers onboard, ready with a smile and a joke or two to lighten the journey. FitsAir also ensures passenger comfort after touching down in Jaffna, offering a free of charge air conditioned shuttle bus service into town or to the hotel of one’s choice. The same shuttle also gathers passengers to bring them back to the Palaly airport in Jaffna on the return journey. FitsAir prides itself on being the only civilian operated aircraft to maintain its flights between Colombo and Jaffna throughout the conflict in the island’s north and east, except for a brief hiatus at the height of the war a few years ago. Four years after the military conflict ended, FitsAir has expanded its range of services to include tour packages for passengers who wish to explore the cultural and historic landmarks of the Jaffna peninsula. The bustling Jaffna city itself is a treasure trove of Tamil cultural heritage, with the historic Nallur Temple at its heart and the iconic Jaffna Library standing white and proud once more at the centre of the metropolis. FitsAir tour packages will also take visitors to see sights just outside town, including the historic Nagadeepa temple in the small island of Nainativu off the peninsula or the sacred Keerimalai Springs that are said to have restorative and curative effects on bathers. And whether you are a hardcore war tourist or wish to trace some histories of the country’s civil war, the military monuments and destroyed buildings are also accessible to visitors. In the near future, FitsAir plans to add the popular eastern beachfront town of Trincomalee to its list of destinations.