With towering, rainbow-coloured Hindu temples, sari-clad women on bicycles and a spectacular coastline fringed with palmyra and coconut palms, the North is a different world. Here the climate is arid for most of the year and the fields sun-baked. The light is stronger: surreal and white-hot on salt flats in the Vanni, bright and lucid on coral islands and northern beaches, and soft and speckled in Jaffna’s leafy suburbs and busy centre. Look for the shimmer of colours from the wild peacocks that seem to be everywhere.
And, of course, there are the cultural differences. From the language to the cuisine to religion, Tamil culture has its own rhythms, and people here are proud of their heritage. Inevitably, given the region's recent history, there's still a noticeable military presence. But the ambience is relaxed as locals focus on building for the future and reviving the rich traditions of northern life.