The highway and the surroundings were once heavily mined areas. When we were passing the once strategic military camp, the destroyed tanks were telling signs of the war. The horrors of the war and the heat of the battle could be seen around the Elephant Pass Camp which was finally lost to the hands of LTTE in 1999.
The German Praktikum (Internship) students were looking at everywhere the area of the once fortified Camp area and recalling the terror in their motherland some decades ago.
Elephant Pass has come a long way from being a stretch of shallow waters that separated the Northern Jaffna Peninsula from the rest of the island in pre-colonial days and has now evolved into a military epicenter of the civil war.
The shallow waters through which elephants once carried goods into the Jaffna peninsula, giving it the name Elephant Pass, have been a silent witness to the ebbs and flow of the northern conflict. Elephant Pass, the terrestrial gateway to the Jaffna peninsula, is now under the control of the Tigers. The fall of Elephant Pass has changed the military course of the whole conflict. The Dutch colonialists first built a small fortress in 1776, which was converted in modern times into a rest house for tourists. After Independence a permanent garrison was set up there to check illicit immigration, smuggling and unlawful transport of timber.
As the intensity of the ethnic conflict escalated, the strategic importance of Elephant Pass also increased. The small camp gradually expanded into a sprawling complex. At one time, the Elephant Pass base and the satellite camps covered an area of about 23 km long and 8-10 km wide. While we were proceeding along in close proximity to Elephant Pass the Jaffna Lagoon on both sides of the high way triggered my thoughts back to many of the personal experiences in the Jaffna Lagoon. I had traveled a number of times crossing the lagoon from the mainland to the peninsula and vice versa as travel through Elephant Pass was prohibited in 1995.
The presence of warring climate around the Elephant Pass made passage unsafe what with heavy land mines laid everywhere around the camp area.
Even traveling on the lagoon was unsafe as the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Navy were warring with each other with heavy casualties on both sides. The small boats used to start just before midnight, as the journey through the lagoon would be invisible. The three hours journey crossing the lagoon was enjoyable to me with lot of thrill and suspense until we reached the other end. LTTE monitored the lagoon passage as they controlled both coasts, the Kilali in the peninsula and the Nallur in the mainland.
Crossing the Elephant Pass was more than a crossing and going back into the past to me!