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Delft: at the edge of Lanka



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Text and photos by Andrew Milhuisen


Sitting in the confines of one’s concrete and plaster home and wondering if there is still adventure in Sri Lanka? We have travelled most everywhere on the island but have we seeing it all? There is still so much to see and today we will travel back up North to cross the sea and explore one of the most fascinating islands off Jaffna, Delft.


I travelled to Delft for the first time with a great friend who knew the islands and Jaffna intimately. Having driven up to Jaffna we had awoken early and journeyed to Punkudutivu Island and the Kurikadduwan jetty where the RDA manned by the Navy operates a ferry across to Delft and the nearer Nainativu Island with its incredible Nagapooshani Amman Kovil and the Nagadeepa Buddhist viharaya, which we visited in a previous article.


Delft is a about a 45 minute ferry ride away and arriving on the island we hired a flamboyant and informative tuk driver to take us around the eight-km long six-km wide island.


The mighty Chola, Portuguese, Dutch and English have all left their prints on this island and Hanuman quite literally his footprint- photographs of which you can see beside this narration.


One wonders if one has stumbled upon a remote Galapagos island as the terrain and beauty of the island is otherworldly. The trees have sprung where the seeds have fallen and the entire island is a feast of strange flora and fauna all competing to survive in the arid sunlit coral island surrounded by shallow turquoise waters.


One of our first stops was at the mighty


Baobab tree that stands a tall 58 feet and hollow trunk that could accom modate a small party and still not feel crowded.


Next we visited the Portuguese fort built by them with thick coral walls and a dungeon to house unruly prisoners. The fort is mostly in ruins now with collapsed walls but is still fascinating to clamber around and wonder of the seamen and garrison that must have once built and manned this mighty structure entirely constructed with coral and limestone like most every wall on the island.


An enormous amount of coral has being harvested and has being used as material to build everything on the island and one wonders about what the reef must have once looked like and the abundant marine life.


Not far from the remains of the Portuguese fort are the Dutch barracks and administrations buildings, some of which are still used today and fascinatingly the still standing pigeon-house built entirely with limestone. This housed the valuable doves used by the Dutch to communicate long distances between ships and the mainland.


Travelling further and taking many a winding sun baked coral strewn roads we arrive at a tall tower built by the Dutch called the Queen’s tower. It was used as a Navigational point, watchtower and lighthouse. There was also a King’s tower but has since being destroyed.


A treasure house of odd discoveries we next find the most exhilarating - wild ponies. Not far from the Queen’s tower is lot of open land with bits of coral and grass. Amongst these roam the wild ponies of Delft. Abandoned by the Dutch these beauties are wildly beautiful and seem totally out of place in this environment although they have adopted and survived for generations to date.


The Portuguese, Dutch and English used the stables on the island to breed horses and ponies to sell to passing ships as transportation. Their descendants now roam free and are barred from being taken off the island by the government offering the some 700 strong ponies some protection within the island with cement water troughs in places for them to drink.


The Dutch stables as they are called are no more and only a few walls and pillars remain of the original buildings. The pathway to the stables is lined with walls of huge coral and walking alone side we come face to face with Hanuman’s footprint. This huge meter long footprint sends exciting chills up and down the body as one wonder’s how this giant footprint came to be here in the middle of a coral island that is also in the middle of an ocean far from any mainland.


What exciting times we must have lived during this period of our history and what little we know of its details!


The ‘growing rock’ is a apparently a rock that keeps growing and is about 4-5 feet tall and tales of its growth documented since it was two feet tall. A Hindu Kovil nearby and the people of the island have made it a tiny shrine and it sits in the sun near a boutique and roadway.


Finally there are the remains of three Buddhist stupas with Brahmin inscriptions beginning from the 1st and 2nd Century and Tamil inscriptions from the 15th or 16th centuries.


Ours was a roller coaster ride in a tuk which at times we had to step out of to push on the rougher terrain with the most talkative tuk driver on the entire island who was to his generous benefit a well of knowledge on all things Delft and we made the circuit of all the sites in a few hours and made it to the jetty by late afternoon.


The ferry ride back in the open sea is long and refreshing as blue waves lap loudly against the wooden sides and the cold sea breeze envelopes you in visions of an island that you are unlikely to forget and makes you wonder of the beauty and myriad history of the island of greater Lanka and what more there is to discover.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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