Delft island is the last of a series of islets located west of Jaffna peninsula and Needunthevu is the local name. For the yearning traveler a day trip to this bucolic island is nothing short of an adventure. Now where would you find Robinson Crusoe, utterly bored having tried every attempt to get to a bigger place? In Delft island. A place you can explore in one day.
Taking a taxi or bus from Jaffna to Punkudutivu pier (1 hour drive) we arrived early hoping to hop on to the Navy ferry that would take us across to Delft. We had just missed the 9 am ferry so we sat huddled in the waiting area, enjoyed some fruit and biscuits while we waited. Then we were herded into a commuter ferry/boat like cows/pigs and we had a most miserable ride across the sea. The boat takes a deviation past the Nainativu (Nagadeepa) islet entering mid sea to take us 40 km and an hour later we were able to reach the island. Locals and tourists aboard were relieved when the journey ended by this time some had emptied their tummies over the rail. Dizzied by the glare of the noon sun and also the swaying of the boat, people got up slowly, carefully steadying themselves. After helping my friend and her family I found my self serving several elderly ladies to make it over the precarious edge of the ferry on to a Navy boat (which was stage one of the getting off the ferry operation) that was tied to the pier. No sooner I made it to the island I inquired from the Navy personnel about the return boat and made suitable arrangements for a comfortable ride back.
Delft spans 4,500 hectares and is home to about 1,800 families. The island has a few facilities – a hospital, a few churches, schools, a BOC branch and a handful of shops providing the bare necessities, but no restaurant or accommodation. Like most visitors who come here we too were making it to the beach and willing to see some of the touristy locations. We started off in the direction of the pigeon house (in the olden days these birds were used as messengers for communication), the Dutch trader’s residence, the old stables and remnants of the Dutch fort. I wonder if we could have done this on foot, at that time it seemed impossible with the scorching sun and the terrible heat. The narrow roads are lined with limestone walls, the stones are just piled neatly -one wonders if they grow a little to hold each other from falling apart? In fact everything is done in limestone on the island – even the fort is entirely out of limestone blocks. Locals say the island was once under water and was risen to form an island. Which explains the abundance of limestone. We also saw a giant foot print on coral stone (supposedly of Buddha) on our way to visit the old stables. Delft is well known for a local breed of ponies. These brown and white ponies are descendants of those animals brought by the traders. Ponies are found roaming freely every where as donkeys are found in Mannar.
We found one Baobab tree of humongous promotion. This tree brought into the island by Arab traders (from Africa) can host 15 persons inside the hollow of its trunk. The locals say it contains enough water to meet the needs of a village. Other Baobab trees can be found in Mannar but only a handful are available.
Past all the important locations (I had missed a bottom-less well that gives pure water for everyone in the island) we reached the white sands and undisturbed beaches on the West side of the island. We were sitting just 40-50 kms away from India. The azure blue sea stretched beyond the horizon, the sun rays blinked in reflection from the glassy surface of the ocean. Everything looked pristine, and perfectly matching the story of Robinson Crusoe. The children played in the water, my friend and I kept closer to the shore. A boy had taken his dog into the deep waters and was encouraging it to swim. How I yearned to jump in as well, but without a change I would be like a salted peanut at the end of the adventure – and not too decent to take the ride back. I allowed the cool water to rise thigh high and well that was about all I could afford – given the circumstances.
Boat services are provided to explore the mid sea where whales can be spotted. If you could have a boat trip ask for the place called ‘meeting place of seven seas’ whereas a Whirlpool is found. Perhaps you may see whales swimming around the area.
We returned to the jetty 40 minutes remaining for the next ferry and we enjoyed a sumptuous meal, an unexpected treat for us by the Navy officers where as visitors usually struggle to find a decent meal on the island. Quietly my friend tucked in the rice packet that she had done early morning, and welcomed the lunch offered. We enjoyed one last snack of a single candy bar – thankfully.
On a final note on this lonely Island I thought “No man is an island, entire of itself” – that all humans want to be befriended, loved and accepted. I heard the poor man say that it’s not the poverty that starves him but the isolation and segregation from the rest.
This adage is based on a quotation from John Donne (1572-1631). It appears in Devotions upon emergent occasions and seuerall steps in my sickness – Meditation XVII, 1624:
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”