Northern Province (Sri Lanka)
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The Northern Province is in Sri Lanka.
None of the above-mentioned are really geared up for tourism, unlike the Southern towns and resorts, but they all have their own unique beauty.
The Northern Province is Sri Lanka's Tamil country and, for several decades, was mostly under the control of the Tamil Tigers. Despite some investment in the region, the area is noticeably poorer than the rest of Sri Lanka; there are few jobs and industries other than agriculture.
The scars of the Civil War are still laid bare and you will find many shelled out buildings, (largely unmanned) security checkpoints and areas that are still mined.
Culturally, the region is a fusion of Sri Lanka and India. If you have travelled around the South of India, you'll find many similarities in culture, behaviour, manner, and especially food and music.
Tamil is the dominant language. English proficiency levels are lower than other parts of the country, but you will still be able to get by, especially in larger settlements.
The people are welcoming and friendly, like in the rest of the country, but they are a lot less smiley than in other parts. But please bear in mind that they continue to face severe hardship and while life is better now than before, there is still work to be done for them to feel truly equal with their fellow citizens in other provinces.
Tamil is the by far the main language but you can get by with English. If you speak Sinhala, you should have no problems getting around your daily business.
For Sri Lanka's poorest region, the roads are in generally good shape and it is certainly easy to travel around. If you are driving, some of the road signs are either a) unreliable or b) absent without leave. However, there are a number of main arteries across the region that connect you to all urban settlements and it is easy to re-establish your route. If in doubt, ask any local, they'll be happy to assist.
There are frequent networks of local buses that can bus you from one place to another.
If you like South Indian food, such as Thali and Dosa then this region will not disappoint.
You can find all the Sri Lankan staples, with an Indian twist, plus excellent (vegetarian) rice and curry, which is available everywhere.
You'll not find many western options in this region, so you may just find yourself eating dosas twice a day and a big rice and curry lunch! Hardly a punishment, though.
Numerous options exist, but mainly restricted to guesthouses. A/C and non A/C rooms are available in most towns. The cheapest rooms go anywhere from Rs.1500 (non A/C).
The guesthouses usually include breakfast in the price and dinner can be bought for an additional charge.
A wide selection of non-alcoholic beverages can be bought everywhere. The masala chai (tea) is one to try. A slightly sweet, milky tea, with cardamom and other spices.
There are less establishments selling alcohol than in other parts of the country (Tamil Tigers had a strict memorandum on liquor and tobacco) but most towns and villages have at least one 'wine shop' you can purchase beer, wine and arrack from.
It's hard to find a place that serves liquor with food in this region but if you're discreet, most places will let you drink inside.
If you venture to the coastal areas, you may find 'toddy taverns'. 'Toddy' is the local tipple of choice, made out of coconut water, freshly tapped from the palm trees. You can buy a 500ml bottle for Rs.100. The volume and strength varies, but exercise caution.
The area is peaceful now but exercising caution is still a must. Whilst the people are generally nice and hospitable, there is a small, disaffected element that should be left alone. Avoid talking about politics and living standards and you are unlikely to inflame anyone.
Whilst most people did not support the Tamil Tigers, sensitivity should be used when talking about the future for Tamil people. People are happy to talk about the war and their hopes for the region, but tread delicately.