Located approximately 30 kilometres away from the mainland is a magnificent island with a rich history from the Chola Dynasty, Portuguese, Dutch, and the British Colonial Period.
The location is abundant in archaeologically 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 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 into two boats at around 6:00 a.m. to head to the magnificent island.
On the 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 that 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 a 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 mainland, the island too basked in bright sunlight, but the Palmyra growth on 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 that was underutilized by the citizens of the island.
Through the fort
Our journey inwards first brought us to the Old
Dutch Portuguese 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 favourable 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 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 dozen 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 meters.
Further into 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 the 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 meter in length. The sight of the print surprised me as well and made me think of the 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, travellers arrived at the horse stables, used by the 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, travellers arrive at 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 believed that the beasts were descendants 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 on Delft Island. Standing gloriously was a 52-foot hollow trunk, which could easily house three people inside; the entrance into 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 are native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one is 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 worshipped 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 on the island itself and visits to the mainland were minimal.
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 on the island for a few days, but as facilities were not available, a night’s stay was impossible for any traveller. However, one hopes the rich history, heritage, archaeological values, and culture of this magnificent island will not be harmed through the project, as it would be a major loss to the country.
Heading back to the mainland, the crew stopped at the ancient Nagadeepa to visit the temple and receive blessings from the Triple Gem just before arriving at 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 northwestern coast of Delft Island. The largest of the three stupas has a diameter of 13.54 meters and a circumference of 31.93 meters. 3 inscriptions have been discovered on the stones used to pave this stupa. According to scientific data on 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.
What to see at Delft
Ruins of the Ancient Portuguese Fort: Ruins of the fort built by the Portuguese to protect the Jaffna peninsula. Not much information survives of this fort from the Portuguese era. The fort lies close to the jetty of the island and has been built in a unique shape and only the larger walls remain today. [More Info … ]
Ancient Homing Pigeons Nest (Dovecote) : This unique Pigeons Nest is found on the adjoining land to the Delft Divisional Secretariat among the other ruins. According to historical sources, the Dutch who lived in Delft and other surrounding islands, used to communicate between other islands using homing pigeons [More Info … ]
Growing Rock : Currently around four feet tall, the coral is worshipped by locals and is located in the middle of the island. This is a stone said to naturally grow is wrapped in a shimmering cloth, and is treated as sacred as it takes the form of a cobra.
The Baobab Tree : The baobab ( also referred to as baobab boab, boaboa, bottle tree, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree) is a native tree to Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. The tree is also referred to in Sri Lanka as the Ali-Gaha (Elephant Tree) since the bark of the tree resembles the skin of an Elephant and the Tamils refer to it as ‘Perukka’.
The baobabs in Sri Lanka are believed to have been brought by Arabian Traders. According to a study done in 2003, about 40 Baobab Trees are surviving in Sri Lanka, out of which 34 have been identified and measured in Mannar. Most of the trees were calculated to be 300-400 years old. The Baobab Tree found in the area called Kavolaiyampalai in Delft has been declared an archaeological protected monument.
The Great Banyan Tree : This stunning tree has a wide veil, supported by the roots of its branches. The canopy extends over a large area of land.
Older banyan trees such as this are characterized by aerial prop roots that mature into thick, woody trunks, which can become indistinguishable from the primary trunk with age. Old trees can spread laterally by using these prop roots to grow over a wide area. The topology of this massive root system inspired the name of the hierarchical computer network operating system “Banyan VINES“.
In a banyan that envelops its host tree, the mesh of roots growing around the latter eventually applies considerable pressure to and commonly kills it. Such an enveloped, dead tree eventually decomposes, so that the banyan becomes a “columnar tree” with a hollow, central core. In jungles, such hollows are very desirable shelters for many animals.
Queens Tower (Triangulation Survey Towers) : Among the archaeological heritage of this island, the Queen’s Tower which lies at at the south-eastern ridge of the island is quite popular among visitors. This is well preserved trigonometric station built by the British. However, there has been another little-known trigonometric station called King’s Tower on the same island.
The Queens Tower at Delft is 55 feet in height. It has five levels, each level a little smaller than the bottom. There is a doorway on the bottom level which goes all the way to the opposite side of the tower. As in most buildings on this island, this tower has been built using blocks of limestone, the only building material found on this island. [More Info … ]
Groundwater Well near Southern Edge Built for Breeding Horses : You would find several groundwater wells built during the era when the island was used to breed horses and raise cattle. This well can be found on the southern edge of the island close to the coastline (see Google Map below for the exact location). These wells have a gradually slanting path up to the water level, allowing animals to walk down to the water.
According to Crowe (1954), an Irish Lieutenant named Lt. Nolan, who served in the 4th Ceylon Regiment that ruled the outlying island of Delft during the early part of the nineteenth century had been given the responsibility of raising horses in Delft in 1811. Nolan had built three sets of elaborate stone stables and an ingenious series of wells for watering his stock. This well could be one of them.
Ruins of the Dutch Stables : Ruins of an ancient stable built by the Dutch can be found on the western edge of the island, 380 meters inland from the sea. The stable is about 150 meters long and 10 meters wide and One full side wall exists today. The stable has been built on two rows of 36 large square pillars. These pillars have been about 3 feet thick. Some of the pillars have completely fallen off to the ground while some upright pillar stumps can still be seen.
Although it is generally accepted that these stables were built by the Dutch, in 1954, Philip K. Crowe, the ambassador of the United States of America, gave a detailed account of the island based on his experiences on Delft Island. According to Crowe (1954), an Irish Lieutenant named Lt. Nolan, who served in the 4th Ceylon Regiment that ruled the outlying island of Delft during the early part of the nineteenth century had been given the responsibility of raising horses in Delft in 1811. Nolan had built three sets of elaborate stone stables and an ingenious series of wells for watering his stock according to Crowe. [More Info … ]
Ancient Wells of Sarapiddy : You would find several groundwater wells built during the era when the island was used to breed horses and raise cattle. There is a cluster of wells around the old horse stables on Delft Island (see Google map below for the exact location). These wells have a gradually slanting path up to the water level, allowing animals to walk down to the water. These wells were declared a protected archaeology monument by government gazette No. 1739 on 2nd November 2011.
According to Crowe (1954), an Irish Lieutenant named Lt. Nolan, who served in the 4th Ceylon Regiment that ruled the outlying island of Delft during the early part of the nineteenth century had been given the responsibility of raising horses in Delft in 1811. Nolan had built three sets of elaborate stone stables and an ingenious series of wells for watering his stock.
Giants Footprint : “Giant’s Footprint” is located a few miles into the island of Delft. This is an interesting rock formation due to erosion which resembles a very large footprint of almost a meter long. This is also referred to as the footprint of a 40-foot-tall man by the local population. The rock in this area is quite different from other areas – like hardened bluish-grey ash.
Ruins of an Ancient Hindu Kovil belonging to the Chola Dynasty : These rarely visited ruins in Delft island lie western side of the island between the old stables and ruins of the ancient Buddhist stupas (see Google map below for the location)
The ruins of this temple have been studied by Prof P. Pushparatnam at Jaffna University who has identified that the structure of the temple has a close resemblance to the Chola period architecture. The length of the sanctum and the front view of the temple have an affinity with the traditional arts and architecture of the Chola kings. It is also evident in the architecture of temples in the Polonnaruwa period in Lankan ancient history, and more importantly in the temple built by the Chola monarchs in Tamilnadu. There is evidence that this temple at Delft might have been built in either the 10th or 11th century.
Ruins of Ancient Buddhist Stupas : The foundations of these stupas were subjected to limited preservation by Charles Godakumbura in the 1960s. Mr. Ponnambalam Ragupathi states in a publication on the Archaeological Heritage of Jaffna in 1987 that the pottery found here suggests that the island has been inhabited since the first seven centuries AD. It is said that this temple may have been the object of worship of these traders in ancient times as it is located on the sea trade route from India to Jaffna. He determines that the temple lasted until the last local Tamil kingdom.
This area which was abandoned during the terrorist era has been re-conserved after being liberated from the clutches of the terrorists in 2009. In 2013, archaeologists at the Maritime Archaeological Unit of the Central Cultural Fund uncovered three undiscovered inscriptions for the first time. These inscriptions were carved on the stones that lined the flat courtyard. [More Info … ]
Ruins of the King’s Tower (Triangulation Survey Towers) : Very little is documented about the trigonometric station, Kings Tower. However W. H Cole in 1884 records 2 triangulation stations in Delft as observed in 1876. One on the northwestern end of the island and the other on the southeastern point of the island. The southeastern station is the Queen’s Tower as known today and the Northwestern station has to be the King’s Tower.
Based on Cole’s observations this tower is built about 14 feet above sea level and consists of a platform of lose stones and sand enclosing a solid circular pillar of masonry of 5 1/2 feet in diameter and 1 foot above the ground level, built on a foundation 8 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep. The pillar contained 2 marks, one flush with its upper surface and another 1 foot below it. In 2013 it was reported that only the basements of the ‘Kings Tower’ remain at present. [More Info … ]
- Roaming wild Horses
- 12 Branch Palmyra Tree
- White sandy beaches of Delft
Journey from Kurikadduwan (KKD) to Delft Island
The Road Development Authority operates a boat that can carry 100 passengers between the mainland and Delft Island. This service is offered free of charge and the daily schedule is as follows;
|Delft Island to Kurikadduwan||Kurikadduwan to Delft Island|
|Trip 1||6.00 am or 6.30 am||9.30 am or 10.00 am|
|Trip 2||2.30 pm or 3.00 pm||6.00 pm or 6.30 pm|
The Navy also offers boat services which can be hired separately, the boat is available for Rs. 6,000.00 Up and down from KKD to Delft Island back to KKD.
Boat Travel time is 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Accommodation in Delft Island
Accommodation and food options are almost none and it’s advisable to take your food from the mainland when visiting the island. A new hotel with 4 rooms has been opened recently with the most basic facilities and food.
Though most of the sites you visit may be within a small radius, with an average temperature of 30-34 C it’s advisable to hire a 3-wheeler or a small lorry from the jetty. The prices are more or less fixed with Rs 1500 for a full day tour for a 3-wheeler and 2000-2500 for a small lorry.
- Attractions of Sri Lanka
- Heritage of Sri Lanka
- Waterfalls of Sri Lanka
- Nature and Wildlife of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within Close Proximity
Map of Delft Island
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Driving Directions to Jaffna (Delft Island)
|Route 01 from Colombo to Jaffna||Route 02 from Colombo to Jaffna|
|Through : Kurunegala – Dambulla – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya|
Distance :400 km
Travel time : 7-8 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Puttlama – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya|
Distance : 400 km
Travel time : 7-8 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps