Category Archives: Birds

Enticing Wood Carvings at Embekke

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Embekke Devalaya, 14th century complex where every roof, pillar and post is covered with intricately crafted flower vines, dancers, animals and birds pays silent tribute to the craftsmen of the past. Among the carvings, there are 125 series of decorations, 256 Liyawel, 64 lotus designs in Pekada, 30 decorative patterns on timber, roof members, making a total of 514 such exquisite carvings.

This historical site is one of the three been explore en-route to Kandy and is located close Daulagala, some 12 kms from Kandy.

Many a legends tell an interesting tale of the origin of this splendid place. So according to the epic Embekke Varnanawa composed by Delgahagoda Mudiyanse, it was built during the Gampola period of King Wickrema Bahu II (1371 AD). One of his consorts named Henakanda Biso Bandara, in association with a drummer named as Rangama, as told in a miraculous dream, is supposed to have built this Devale dedicated to God Kataragama. The building complex at that time was three-storeyed. Which is not surprising given other architectural feats achieved during that time.

The entrance to the Devalaya is through a waiting room with half raised walls and a sloping roof with flat tiles and tell-tale embellishments atop. The Devale is in two segmented buildings, the Digge (Dancing Hall) and Drummers Hall (Hewasi Mandappaya).

The wooden capital pillars have assumed varied shapes moulded skilfully into these intricate wood carvings. The bottom square is octagonal with carvings, while its top terminates in a leaf emanating from square. The other intricate but unique piece of woodcarvings rest on the Pekada.

Enticing woodcarvings are also carved on some beams, rafters, doorways, and doors as well. Among the best masterpieces on the capital pillars are thus: Hansa Puttuwa (entwined swans) double headed eagles, and entwined rope designs, mother breast-feeding child, soldier fighting on horseback, female dancing figures, wrestlers, women emanating from a vein, bird with human figure, combination of elephant-bull and combination of elephant-lion. Among such wonderful carvings, what attracted me most was the elephant-bull carving and that of the elephant with its elongated trunk which is mystically manifested.

The roof of the Embekke Devale bears some ingenuous carpentry in fixing the rafters. The ‘Madol Kurupuwa’ is one of the finest examples of medieval carpentry excellence. It is a wooden pin (this Madol Kurupuwa) which holds together 26 rafters at the hipped end of the roof of the Digge of Embekke Devale. The giant pin is carved with Pathuruliya, Patha motifs.

A little distance away lies another assembly of stone pillars on which are carved the very replicas of the wooden pillars of the Embekke Devale. It is believed that the wooden beams of the roof had rested on carved wooden Pekada, which are no longer to be seen in the site. Rope design, entwining swan, berunde bird, dancing girl are some of the creations found on these stone columns, quite akin to the woodcarvings at Embekke Devale.

The villagers still remember the existence of this Ambalama with the wooden roof about 100 years ago. This building is also called Sinhasana Mandapaya. In ancient times, the king and his royal entourage used to rest here and watch the Perahera when it was held.

 

Embekke  Devale is part of three ancient sites closely located Pilimathalawa enroute to Kandy, others been Gadaladeniya and Lankathilaka temple complexes.

 

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The Mangrove

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Just a couple of hours drive away from Colombo and nestled in a thicket of mangroves besides the Duvemodara Oya in Kosgoda is a serene bungalow that was soon to become my favourite spot for de-stress. Plying on the Southern Highway up to Welipanna exit point, taking a right turn and traveling some 25kms till the road joins the Galle Road I was able to reach Kosgoda passing picturesque scenery. Thereafter traveling south bound pass the Turtle Hatchery on the sea side and coming alongside the railway tracks we were soon running across a bridge that was a clear sign of approaching the said location. We crossed the rail lines to take a side lane to the left which lead us to the retreat.

The Mangrove otherwise known as Kos is hidden from the beaten path and set away from the popular sea frontal hotels. The bungalow takes on a traditional look of a local villa, but boasts of tasteful selection of colours and decorations giving it a warmer ambience than originally designed. The place was introduced by a friend of mine who loves Yellow Ochre as much as I do. The bungalow is bathed in Yellow Ochre making it appear rather vibrant against the emerald setting of trees and foliage. She referred it as a lovely place next to the lagoon and close enough to hear the ocean break on the beach. Once you’ve reach Kos you have a choice of kayaking or taking the boat.

The view across the placid waters was calming as the skies turn melon red. A fierce ball of fire dip along the horizon. Time stopped still in the twilight moment. A Colombo bound commuter train sped across the bridge and it shuddered. I kept on rowing underneath. A splendid array of colours fell on the lake surface. Water birds like cormorants, herons and kingfishers skimmed and dived playfully acknowledging the close of day. Monitor lizards kept a watchful eye from the banks of the lake should atleast one be slow in reaction, perhaps it’s a lucky day.

Before dusk I shoved the kayak into the water and hauled myself into the center of its pit. I decided to venture further down the lake where it was spread like the palm of a hand into several fingers. These narrow alleys although lacking in depth had interesting features to light up the imagination of those who cared to explore. Manuring into one of them carefully ducking under a canopy of vines I drove into a most remarkable mangrove forest. It was dark because of the thick foliage. The light seeped in through the curtain of vine in mesmerizing strands. A cacophony of bird calls was heard from the belly of the forest. Where birds of different feather were found amidst a debate trying to negotiate their nesting grounds. From the severity of their calling it seemed for some birds their territories had shifted. They didn’t seem to be happy about it. Swimming alongside the boat was a six foot monitor lizard, with a sleek head held above the water, the rest of the body camouflaged, a wiggly stroke waving in perfect tune to the rippling of water.

The mangrove or mangal is a distinct saline shrubland found along the coastal belt. They are salt tolerant trees also called halophytes. They are protected because of the important role played in balancing eco-systems.

In the thicket of the mangrove a fine tune was sung by a brilliantly coloured bird who made a fleeting appearance. Excitement rose within me of the prospect of discovering a new bird. As I paddled gently further looking for this elusive beauty, it was spotted perched on the upper branch of a tree. It’s beak was a dead- give-away for its identity. It indeed was a Kingfisher. In fact it was a rare orange breasted Kingfisher. When I reached a clearing it was finally possible to turn the kayak. Not knowing the art of doing this I twist-turned intuitively, bumping the pointed front several times in the thicket and using the paddle as a pivoting point, finally managed to get the boat in the right direction.

I rowed back in silence towards the bungalow after experiencing a wonderful sun-down. Night was fast on its heels, the pink skies now residing, a sliver of slivery moon shone above. A single dog gazing at the moon howls an eerie tone, its silhouette visible even from a distance. I shook off the chilling feeling – no I had no reason to be frightened. I loved nature no matter what time of day it was.

The Mangrove by the side of a placid lake is a wonderful haven on earth – a peaceful place to recoup. Not far from the busy city or the touristy southern hot spots. It is close to the Turtle Hatchery where sea turtles are said to be nurtured in a far-fetching conservation drive. A fifteen minutes’ walk in the morning brought us across the Galle Road to the sea side where we were the only people to enjoy the beach.

Sri Pada the Holy Mountain

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A trail of sparkling lights ascended until it became indistinguishable among the stars. A hundred people or more were chanting and carrying on ahead of me. One step at a time, we were getting closer to the realm.

It was around 6 am and I was at the top of the world. A veil of mist lifted to bring forth golden rays across a rosy pink sky. The mountains peaked above cottony clouds, airbrushed in shades of peach. The Adam’s Peak is a mountain summit you should attempt climbing atleast once. There is an old saying – you would indeed be a fool not to climb it atleast once and again, a fool to do so more than once. I have been there thrice.

The sheer ascent covering a distance of 6 kms and alleviation of 1000 m is nothing short of been arduous. However the serenity and breathtaking views makes it worthwhile. There are four routes to reach Adam’s Peak, of which the longer route from Palabathgala in Rathnapura (8.5 km) is said to be the most enjoyable one. With a group of hikers you may be able to attempt the ascent following this trail. Whereas I was joined by a throng of pilgrims on the Hatton-Nallathanni route during the onset of the season. Every year with the dawning of the Uduwap full moon in December the season commences for Buddhists who visit the Adam’s Peak. In the lofty high heavens atop the mountain is the indention of the (left) footprint. Which according to the chronicles was placed by the Buddha during his third visit (520 BC) to the island.

Rolling back 2500 plus years this beautiful conical mountain cradled in the central hills of Ratnapura was a tourist attraction. It was called Samankuta after the deity Sumanasaman and even today a small devala (shrine) atop the mountain attracts Buddhist worshippers. All other religions also lay claim to the peak and thus attracts close upon a lakh of people during December – May each year. The rest of the year only seasoned hikers geared to meet the challenges take up the trail, as wet weather and lack of proper lighting make the arduous climb very daunting.

Upon the arrival of British colonists the mountain peak was claimed by the Christians as the place where Adam spent time exiled from Eden. This gave the mountain its popular name Adam’s Peak. The Muslims are agreeable – they claim it to be the footprint of Al Rohun (soul) or Adam the prophet. To add to the milieu Hindus believe it is the footprint of Lord Siva, and calls it Sivan Adipadham or Sivanolipatha Malai.

Amazing views of the Adam’s Peak has promoted Sri Lanka as a beautiful paradise location in the modern day. Interestingly in terms of height the mountain ranks fifth. I have been to the three highest peaks Piduruthalagala, Kirigalpoththa and Thotupolakanda during the trailing of the misty mountains. The profound claim of history as well as the physical challenge of this ascent, the trial of patience and endurance attracts people like me.

Arriving at Hatton by railway and having commuted the short distance to the tea plantain town of Nallathanni by tuk-tuk, I found a comfortable place to rest and recoup. The trail was set early morning where I was joined by a group who would start the ascent by 2 am. The timing is said to be just right to reach the summit at dawn. Along the path we were accompanied by the croaking of frogs, cacophony of the crickets, rustling of leaves and dear calls alerting of predators as we made way through the forest. At a small plateau known as the Indikatupana we reached a post that was knotted with thousands of white threads. A ritual followed by many a pilgrims probably as a sign of leaving a trail marking. The elderly rested here and their families waited on. Chanting and singing of songs help groups of people up the climb. It is taboo to return to base without making it to the summit.

Past Indikatupana the trail grew steeper. The lights of Nallathanni twinkled far below. I looked back across the route and felt elated that I had made it thus far, and a little more to carry on. The high elevation made breathing impossible and the chilling winds made us huddled into our jerseys. Morning dew caught in the cap moist and dribbling. Just as the nocturnal animals accompanied us on the trail bird calls – a distinct sign of break of light was heard as we progressed.

A watermelon red spread around the summit marking the dawn of day. A thousand butterflies said to traverse the contours of the mountain like pilgrims. A bunch of fluttering butter-yellow wings made ahead of me dotting the path that once was lit by lights in the inky darkness. At the peak around the slab of granite that was the footprint of great holiness, many of these gentle souls were laid to rest. The bells chimed in deafening proportions and the most wonderful feeling of triumph was enjoyed.

I reached the bell to ring it thrice marking my third ascent of Adam’s Peak, the pinnacle of physical endurance and determination. A sublime calm silence took over in the next few minutes. I was reminded of the words of Denis Diderot, ‘Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things’. You should try atleast once, before the season ends.

I know why caged birds sing?

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Maya Angelou is an inspiring writer and poet.  What drove her to express herself in language was the hurt feelings coming from childhood, for which she tried hard to find answers.

So one evening reading her favourite angelou_at_clinton_inaugurationAmerican poet Paul Dunbar’s “Sympathy” she penned a simple poem herself. It was received well so she went on to describe her life in an autobiography (published in 1969) under the same title. This book earned many accolades and was well read by her fans. A decade later a TV series was made under the same title.

Why do caged birds sing? is a good reflection for parents on providing protection for their children. Children are vulnerable and can often fall victims to men (and women) who prey on the innocent. It is often someone close to the family who takes advantage of their innocence. So it cannot be hard for grown ups to be more cautious.

Maya laments over her experience at the age of 11 years when her mother’s boyfriend cuddles and rapes her in their home. Although she speaks up and brings him to courts he is later murdered by Maya’s uncles who were enraged about the incident. The little girl to whom things were not explained in simple terms, is confused and she immediately blames herself for his death. This elaborates the uncomplexed thinking in little children.

It is only 5 years later that a kind neighbour by the name of Mrs Flowers, encourages her to read her poetry aloud. The love for literature prompts her (caged bird) to break through and emerge braving her guilty feelings. Then she is able to accept the truth – that she is not in any manner responsible for the ill-fated death.

Why do caged birds sing?
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou taught American studies at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has won the Pulitzer prize and National Book Award nomination.

She died on 28 May 2014.

 

Mystic Misty Mountains – part 2

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141The Horton Plains takes its name from the British Governor Sir Robert Horton. The plains served as hunting grounds for Sambar and to a lesser extent Elephants and Wild Boar. Also the British converted the lower grassy slopes into coffee cultivation and later introduced tea. During the in 1960s a large extent was terraced and used for potatoe cultivation. It was much later people realized the value of Horton Plains as catchment area feeding some of the most important rivers. The Horton Plains was designated a National Park in 1988.

The block of Montane forest found on Horton Plains along with adjacent Knuckle Mountains is considered the most important in terms of its wealth of species and protection of watersheds according to a national conservation review done in 1992-97. It is home to a wonderful array of plants and animals species, many of which are endemic and only found in this area. The park authorities said disturbances from the large number of visitors arriving, as well as other factors like air pollution and spread of invasive species is threatening habitat on the plains.

The charm of the plateau and encircling mountain ranges often concealed in the mist is enhanced by Baker’s Falls and two escarpments –Small World’s End (274 m) and World’s End (884 m). There are three trails found on Horton Plains- the Worlds’ End and Baker’s Falls circuit, Kirigalpoththa and Thotupolakanda trails.

The last of these trails which is to the peak of the third highest mountain (2,357 m) is said to be the easiest as the ascend covers just 200 meters in elevation, 1.6 kms in distance and takes around an hour. Thotupolakanda trail allows hikers to experience the unique mountain forest ecosystem, and is less crowded since most people do not know of its existence. A small board on the left hand, 400m to the park entrance, indicates the starting point to the trail.

According to Ramayan tales this location marks the landing place for king Rama’s plane ‘Dadumonara’ (a wooden flying object in shape of a peacock) as he was bringing his lady love, Princess Sita to Lanka. Thotu-pola in local language, Sinhala means landing site.

We decided to take the first of the three trails since only one of these is possible in a day. Barely visible in the thick mist we headed in the direction of Bakers Falls around 9 in the morning. The first stretch is a warming-up along the undulating paths snaking its way into higher elevation. A stream where Rainbow Trouts are said to be found, flowed crisscrossing our path. Morning dew dusted the tops of wild fern and thorny bushes that lined the stream, like tiny, shining jewels. A steep, precarious descend got us to the base of the Baker’s falls. Having got there with some difficulty we ventured further down to get a better view of the cascades This lead us to a an open clearing through a new path which connected with the route we were on. In a moment if panic we were lost, we looked-up Google maps for directions to the World’s End. Minutes later sounds of approaching visitors finally put our fears at rest.

The mist was reducing as the skies cleared and a bright sun was shining. This meant that terrific views of the valley below was awaiting those who reached the World’s End around 10 am. A tea factory and several houses were seen the size of match boxes. My legs turned into jelly as I searched for more details. Giving up – I turned my focus towards the far away mountains in shades of fading blues and greys. I worried as a bunch of youngsters were trailing the edge for a good shot. A miss of a footing will take the unfortunate hiker plummeting hundreds of feet down. We continued on the route a further 6 kms to reach the Small World’s End which been at a lower elevation was completely covered by mist. As we completed the trail we met many local families, large parties of young people and dozens of tourists who were doing the route. Some children were seen riding on the shoulders of their fathers or helped by their mothers. We reached the Farr Inn a little after 11 am, whereas heading to the canteen enjoyed  some warm tea and fresh roti with spicy lunu-miris.

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Mystical Misty Mountains

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To my surprise I felt a certain springy keenness on the second day of our holiday in Nuwara Eliya. Breaking a long spell of solo travel I had my youngest son accompanying me on the trip. I was feeling excited because of where we were going. After nearly three decades I would be walking in the mist driven Cloud Forest of Horton Plains. For my son it would be his virgin expedition in the plains.6

We had arrived there a little cramped on the Night Mail train the day before. Luckily transport was arranged and a van was waiting for us at Nanu Oya station. The drive from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya is just over 9 kms you can easily get public transport, but at 3:30 am, in cold temperatures of 11-14 degrees, you will not venture out into the deserted town laid in pitch darkness because there will be no Tuk-Tuks waiting there.

We managed to convince the hotel to let us in even though occupancy was at its peak and early check-in was out of question. We freshened up to settle down in the lobby, which was still a luxury in comparison to where we had just spent the last seven hours trying to get some sleep. Since December is the holiday season and children are on school vacation people are queuing in numbers to g11et their rail tickets. I could only manage third class reserved tickets. I didn’t have to line up though, I purchased them using my Dialog mobile. I had duly warned my son to expect the bare minimum comfort wise and that the Windsor hotel would more than make up for the lack of luxury. We treated ourselves to a pot of hot coffee and a sumptuous buffet breakfast. The first day in Nuwara Eliya was largely spent in recovering and loitering in the town. There was a slight drizzle throughout the day but it wasn’t pouring as it does in Colombo. We heard that there had been frost in the morning a few days ago.

On the second day we overslept and were only able to leave the hotel around 8 am and hour later than what was initially planned. The weather was surprisingly good, the morning sun shone brightly making us open our jackets and loosen the scarf around the neck.

The Horton Plains National Park is some 27 kms travelling along Blackpool-Ambewala road and having crossed the rail line at Pattipola (Incidentally Pattipola station at 1,897 meters is the station at the highest elevation) we continued on an uneven and broken road that was lined with tall Pine trees lending us a feeling of entering the wilderness. All signs of human activity faded away as the van charges uphill. The driver a rather clever and is one from the area was able to handle the elbow-bends rather cleverly. A sense of excitement was rising inside me as the landscape began to level out into large flat expanses of yellowing grassland. The plains are not necessarily flat but looking like the surface of crumpled bed sheets you wake up on in the morning. In the far distance blue ridged mountains only a shade darker than the sky was curling around the plains like a huge fence placed along the horizon. The road bobbed up and down like a grey colour tape, and at the end of which we arrived at the Farr Inn.

3The Farr Inn now serves as the Information Center for the National Park. Back then the Farr Inn was a hunting lodge for the British colonial officers. The Wildlife department <http://www.dwc.gov.lk> maintains lodging in terms of two bungalows (Ginihiriya & Mahaeliya), also the Forest department has another in Ohiya (Kande Ela) and a spacious dormitory for large groups. There are also camping sites made available for the more adventurous hikers.

For those who stay 3-4 nights it is possible to cover the three trails found on Horton plains. They are the Bakers Falls – World’s End circuit (8 kms) which is the more popular one, Kirigalpoththa (5.6 kms) and Thotupola Kanda (1.3 km) trails. According to Lakdasun website <http://www.lakdasun.org> done by veteran hikers Kirigalpothaththa trail is said to be the most interesting of the three. Two third of the trail is through the bush and the last stretch is a little tough along the rocky ascend to the peak. On windy days hikers are said to crawl on all-fours during this last lap. Standing tall at 2395 meters Kirigalpoththa is the second tallest mountain in the country. The summit gives wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding area. For those who actually get there, it’s worthwhile to spend time enjoying the beauty of nature.

The third trail which is to the peak of the third highest mountain (2,357 m)  is easy because the ascend covers just 200 meters in elevation, a little over a kilometer in distance and takes about an hour at most. Thotupolakanda trail allows you to experience the unique mountain forest ecosystem, and is less crowded since most people do not know of its existence. A small board and arrowhead on the left hand, 400 meters to the park entrance where you obtain tickets, indicates the starting point to the trail.

According to Ramayan tales this location marks the landing place for king Rama’s plane ‘Dadumonara’ (a wooden flying object in the shape of a peacock) as he was bringing his lady love, Princess Sita to Lanka. Thotu-pola in local language, Sinhala means landing site.

trail-across-horton-plainsWe decided to take the first of the three trails since only one of these is possible in a day. Barely visible in the thick mist the sign at the starting point indicated a circular route that covers the Bakers falls, World’s End and the Little World’s End and vise verse. But more of that on a later date.

On our return to Nuwara Eliya town having spent a little bit of time at the Bale market which offers branded clothing and shoes at half cost we decided to take a circuit around Lake Gregory. The lake has received a major uplift since the taking over by Indian entrepreneurs. Grassy slopes lead to the edge of a cleaner lake, where children in colourful jackets were playing, while their parents watched with satisfaction. The kids play area is packed where a marry-go-round and swings had been installed. Further down boat rides and water jets are available for hire. A walking track is been constructed along the water’s edge. A hundred rupees is been charged for entrance reminding visitors that everything in life comes for a cost. I hope this does not get caught on as elsewhere walking tracks are used free of charge. In the town the Race Course offers horse/ pony rides. It was very tempting. I was an ardent fan of the movie International Velvet (starring Tatum O’Neal) and the British TV serial called Flambards which made me imagine one day I would too be galloping on a horse.

lake-gregoryThe highest mountain in Sri Lanka is Piduruthalagala (2524 m). The small space on the peak is almost entirely occupied by the army as they give protection for Rupavahinie Corporation’s main transmission tower. There is no indication of the route leading to the peak except for two words ‘piduru’ followed by ‘thalagla’ in Sinhala done in childish hand-writing on a stone just near the turn off. Driving further up we were feeling lost until we came to the Army check point. Locals said it was too late to enter but luck was in our way and we managed after giving the information they wanted. There is around 6 kms drive through the forest. The road is lined with beautiful wild flowers in a host of pinks colours, the foliage was thick and you can see the forest was untouched. Signboards warn visitors of leopards. As we make ourselves to the very top we found ourselves amidst the clouds and the mist started to clear away almost magically. Although we could not see anything in particular on the summit due to strict army regulations, the scenic beauty that was up for viewing was more than enough.

Little strands of clouds hung on mountain tops; we could see many mountains in layers stretching far beyond, their hues becoming a shade lighter with distance. It’s a pity we were not allowed to take photos but we covered up for it by spending a long while just taking in everything, even breathing it and smelling it lest we miss some important part of the experience. At this monumental place of Lanka the very peak ceyon-white-eyewe spotted two Ceylon White Eye birds, drinking nectar off purple blooms that were hung like lanterns on long stems. This olive green bird is very tiny yet found only on elevations higher than 2,500 meters. Its striking white stroke around the eyes was looking like someone had just applied Tipex!

The sighting capped a wonderful trip to the misty mountains in the central highland. We were so full of joy having been amid three of the highest mountains in the country, having seen the fauna and flora many of which are rare and endemic, we realized that we did not once mind, the effort taken during the long trail.

A day trip to Delft island

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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. 10Then 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.

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The old Dutch fort made of limestone lie next to the Base Hospital

9148We 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.”

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Navy service point in Delft island

Map of Ceylon done by Dutch navigators – note the islet of Delft (left bottom)