located approximately 30 kilometres away from the main land is a magnificent island with rich history from the chola dynasty, portuguese, dutch and the british colonial period.
the location is abounding in archeologically important heritage. neduntheeve, famously known as delft island, is accessible by water and air, and for tourists visiting and villagers the easiest is to travel by ferry.
the exhausting but fascinating journey begins from kurikadduwan, kkd jetty on the punkudativu island, which is bridged to the jaffna peninsula. the ferry service used to get to delft is normally used by pilgrims who travel to the ancient nagadeepa temple.
my journey began at 5:00 in the morning from jaffna town to the kurikadduwan jetty, where we got in to two boats at around 6:00 a.m. to head to the magnificent island.
on water, the burning sun is right on top burning the skin, but the breeze flowing through gives some comfort for the journey ahead. on the way to the island travellers can see several islands which are located in close proximity to the jaffna peninsula as well as delft island. rich with marine life, the sea is an ideal location to be developed as a diving location.
it took nearly one hour to get to the magnificent island, where we were welcomed by a saintly figure standing tall, none other than rev. fr. xavier thanninayagam, whose statue stood as symbol of gratitude. as we entered the island we saw many fishing vessels, indicating that it was a fishing village.
it is advised to pack lunch before heading to delft island as there are no places to dine and only a handful of retail shops are available to purchase snacks or soft drinks. many sites are located within walking distance but the best option would be to hire a three-wheeler or a smaller lorry for the journey, as the harsh conditions could exhaust any traveller, before you could enjoy the real beauty of the island.
similar to the main land, the island too basked in bright sunlight, but the palmyra growth in the island was a relief, providing shade throughout our journey. greeted by some natives of the island, our journey began inwards where we witnessed the lifestyle of its citizens.
the whole island was based on coral and limestone. the island was underdeveloped, but due to its population of approximately 4,500 people, who used cycles as the main transport mode, the roads were not crowded and the journey inwards was easy.
going further it was just bare land which was underutilized by the citizens of the island.
through the fort
our journey inwards first brought us to the old dutch fort of delft, this fort, smaller in size compared to the galle fort or jaffna fort, is made with coral and limestone. the fort was probably located here due to the favorable mooring facilities offered by the bay for old vessels and easy landing facilities.
the pillars and walls left preserved highlighted that the fort was a two-storey building. the ground floor has no windows, and it is said to have been used to store gunpowder and hold prisoners, while the second floor was built with windows for light and ventilation with large rooms.
the entrance to the fort was through a passage next to the old dutch hospital, which is well-preserved and showed the skills of the portuguese, dutch and the british, who used the facility. the hospital, too, is made from coral and limestone and its status questions modern-day construction.
the next eye-catching sight was the pigeons nest, which housed around two dozens of pigeons that were used to transport messages across islands, ships and the mainland. it made me think about the facilities we enjoy today, where communication has become so easy with instant call and sms facilities.
the site as well as many parts of the island was surrounded by a wall that was made out of coral. placed one on top of another, the wall had been built with no mortar to bind each stone. the walls were strong and had a height of around four metres.
further in to the island was the queen’s tower, which was used as a navigation landmark by the dutch. the guide pointed out that the tower was believed to be covered with a reflective surface, which could be seen a distance away from sea.
old stables and wild horses
continuing our journey inwards, we stopped at another historic location – the entrance to the horse stables used in the colonial period. on the walk to the stables from the main road, the first sight is a giant footstep which is close to one metre in length. the sight of the print surprised me as well and made me think of giants we usually see in movies. the natives believe the footprint engraved into a stone is from a man who was around 40 feet in height. according to the residents, there was a similar footprint on a nearby island, nainathivu.
passing the footprint, travelers arrive at the horse stables, used by portuguese, dutch and british to breed horses, which were then sold to passing vessels or transported to the mainland for use. although the building is not standing today, the pillars and walls remain, highlighting its function.
further into the island, travelers arrive to a ground of wild horses, bigger than a pony but smaller than the average horse. five-hundred of these wild beasts roam the plains. the sight was breathtaking as the animals in their natural habitat were fascinating. the only ground to hold horses in sri lanka, the locals believes that the beasts were descendents of those released by the dutch.
it was pleasing to know that the government had implemented a law restricting the removal of these magnificent beasts from the island.
continuing further, we arrived at the largest tree in the delft island. standing gloriously was a 52-foot hollow trunk, which could easily house three people inside; the entrance in to the trunk was the size of two men. baobab, also known as adansonia, is a genus of nine species of tree, out of which six are native to madagascar, two native to africa and the arabian peninsula, and one native to australia. one species of african origin was introduced to some
asian countries during the colonial era, and the delft baobab is believed to be one such introduction.
currently around four feet tall, a coral, which is worshiped by locals, is located in the middle of the island. the rock is in close proximity to a hindu kovil and many natives believed that the rock grew over time. some told us that there were people who spoke about the rock when it was just two feet tall.
more surprising was to learn that, even under the rough conditions, the natives have harmonized with the resources of the island to even cultivate paddy. according to some locals, most of their daily needs were produced in the island itself and visits to the mainland were minimum.
with time coming to an end, the crew headed back to the jetty to leave for the mainland. but locals in the island also spoke of various other attractions, such as temples from the chola period and some other dutch heritage sites.
it would be nice if one could lodge in the island for a few days, but as facilities were not available, a night’s stay was impossible for any traveler. however, one hopes the rich history, heritage, archeological values and culture in this magnificent island would not be harmed through the project, as it would be a major loss to the country.
heading back to mainland, the crew stopped at the ancient nagadeepa to visit the temple and receive blessings from the triple gem just before arriving to kurikadduwan jetty on the punkudativu island, to head back to jaffna.
ceylon today features
there are ruins of 3 ancient stupas partially restored by the archaeological department close to the the north western coast of delft island. the largest of the three stupas has a diameter of 13.54 meters and circumference of 31.93 meters. 3 inscriptions has been discovered on the stones used to pave this stupa. according to scientific data of the scripts the two tamil inscriptions belong to the 14 – 15 centuries while the inscription having brahmi script would date back to the 1st or 2nd century according to calligraphists.