The Tigers’ lair was deep in the jungle. It was difficult to find and tough to get to; two hours jolting, semi-prone, in a trailer dragged by a tractor, watching for mines. This was a war zone for decades. The paddy fields were abandoned long ago to the peacocks and their perpetual courtship, dozens of them everywhere, each male made fabulous by desire. The man-made lake that once fed the fields was covered in lotus flowers. A crocodile basked on a rock in the shallows, jaws gaping as if in wonder at the lonely beauty of it all. Well into the thicker brush, down a maze of paths and tunnels through the thorn trees, we came first to what was left of the Tigers’ guard post. Just rubble now where 30 fighters held part of the perimeter of what was, in effect, a separate state. Their latrine, the only recognisable structure left, was now home to a 15ft Indian rock python.
The main camp was much further into the jungle, blasted to near oblivion, like the movement itself. It had been the permanent base for 1,000 fighters, three times that many when recruits in this eastern Tamil heartland were transiting to the battlefields of the north. It had been a small town of concrete, breeze blocks and underground bunkers. Maybe the place was levelled by the Tigers themselves, when the war ended in a bloody Götterdämmerung, 100 miles to the north. But the remains of their distinctive uniforms, the emptied ammunition boxes, and – more chilling – the human bones that were lying about spoke of collapse, and flight, and worse.