May 2017


Discovering Mandaitivu
May 2017




Crabs are checked everyday by the fishermen

A little islet off the coast of Jaffna awakens amidst the hustle of fishing boats, church bells, the chanting of pooja and the entertaining frolics of birds.


Words: Keshini de Silva | Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


Mandaitivu, situated west of Jaffna Town, is huddled between Kayts isle and the mainland of the Northern Province. It is quite a quaint island, home to a population of around 1,500 mainly Hindus and Christians whose primary livelihood is fishing and farming. The landscape where only the palmyrah trees and colourful gopurams reign high, is filled with marshlands and saline-mixed pools of water, making it a hotspot for birds, especially for migrant birds.


This was what drew us to the isle of Mandaitivu at the break of dawn, even before the islet was awake. We traversed along the Jaffna - Pannai Road floating above the great ocean and cruising through a vast, flat, rough landscape. The fishing harbour on the southern end of the isle, the only area that showed any human activity in the early hours, was our first destination. In the orange luminosity of the dawn sky, fishermen checked their nets and boats before wading into the water. The only sound the chimes of church bells from St Peter's Church. Green, red, blue; the fishermen designate nets based on the size of their catch. Near the causeway the nets are set up for crabs and prawns; cast once a month these are checked everyday.

The landscape where only the palmyrah trees and colourful gopurams reign high, is filled with marshlands and saline-mixed pools of water, making it a hotspot for birds, especially migrant birds. This was what drew us to Mandaitivu at the break of dawn.


At the shoreline we met with P V Thirunavukerasu, who had long since retired from going out to sea, but had ritualistically woken early to see the young fishermen off. Yes, migrant birds can be seen frolicking about the marshlands and little pools of water by the road, he said. These avian species including the exotic flamingoes had quite comfortably made Mandaitivu their home since December.


Likewise, on the journey along Jaffna - Pannai Road in Mandaitivu, we were rewarded with sights of aquatic birds. Spoonbills were the first to grab our attention. With their ladle-shaped beaks submerged, the endangered birds rummaged for fish at a quick pace; almost as if on fast-forward. Amidst this flock black-necked ibis too were feeding.

Thiruvenkadu Siththi Vinayagam Devasthanam, dedicated to Lord Ganesh and built in 1773, is one of the Island's oldest kovils. As the story goes, Iyampillai Mudali, had a vision of Ganesh in the form of a white elephant in what was then the Thiruvenkadu forest. He interpreted the sighting as a divine instruction to build a kovil. The older walls of the colourful kovil are distinctive as they are made from coral matter. The annual kovil festival is held between August and September.


A few metres away, in another pool, a brahminy kite stood on alert amidst chattering storks, a gathering of unlikely friends as the still waters offered plenty of food to go around. Grey herons too would sneak up and fly away with a fish trapped in its beak. Our eyes soon darted towards the brahminy kite's sharp gaze; a grey heron fishing in peace. Momentarily, the brahminy kite soared and within a split second dived to attack the heron, stealing away with a fish. A common altercation in the world of birds.

Beautiful seashells, both large and small, can be found along the beach stretch in front of the Annai Velankanni (Our Lady of Good Health) Shrine near the fishing harbour. You can spend an entire morning collecting seashells here.


Farther away, we caught a glimpse of beautiful painted storks enjoying their breakfast. At this miniature lake, were pelicans as well as ducks. The pelicans filled their large beaks with fish, while cormorants hunted with skill. Surveying the brackish waters, a pied kingfisher was perched on a wire, basking in the warmth of the morning rays. Later, near a mangrove filled marshland, we spotted a striated heron more commonly and also aptly called the mangrove heron.

If you plan on spending a day exploring Mandaitivu, it is best to pack some snacks for yourself.


Our good fortune to experience a flamingo sighting, the key attraction of birdlife in the North, did not occur until next morning. That also took place, just after we crossed over to the Kayts Island through the Jaffna - Pannai road. A dozen flamingos were engaged in leisurely recreation in Alallpiddi, undoubtedly feeding on insect-larvae that is a plenty in these salinity high waters. The flamingos were huddled in twos and threes; noticing our arrival, aligned into a leaner formation. Lifting and bending their long pink legs, these glamorous birds, though strangely undisturbed by our presence, slowly trudged farther away to maintain a calculated and fair distance from us. The slender birds did not even ruffle a single feather when a flock of seagulls swooped past. Indeed, we were truly lucky to watch these elegant, exotic birds, even if it was for a mere matter of minutes.


Mandaitivu, offers many things to discover with the marshlands flanking the tarmac providing both passers by and birdwatchers a chance to witness avian splendour. Thus, it is the isle's saline-mixed brackish waters and marshlands that provide travellers the best experience of them all.

  • image01
    image01

    At sunrise the boats set out to sea

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    St Peter's Church in Mandaitivu

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The Thiruvenkadu Siththi Vinayagam Devasthanam with a colourful gopuram

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Charming seashells along the Mandaitivu shore

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Flamingos get into formation as a seagull watches on

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Rays of the morning sun seep through the palmyrah trees

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Cruising through Mandaitivu along the Jaffna – Pannai Road

    Prev Next