Whispers of a Ghost Town – Dhanushkodi

posted in: Asia, Beaches, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 84

Ghost towns, with its mysteries are always fascinating to visit them for the stories that are left behind. Dhanushkodi along the East coast of India, had been beckoning for a while. Finally, with the long weekend in August, we managed a long drive to this ghost town.

The Ruins of Dhanushkodi, Old post office
The Ruins of Dhanushkodi, Old post office

Dhanushkodi has no elaborate architecture to boast of nor any mystic stories nor any ghost sightings. It has been declared as a ghost town as it was unfit for inhabitation, following a natural disaster in the 1960s. I had read about it all but nothing prepared me for the sad tale that the town had to tell me on my visit. It is best that I let Dhanushkodi, in first person, take over this post and share its own story – from how it came into existence to what is left of it now.

The legend of Dhanushkodi

My name – Dhanushkodi literally means, end of a bow. It was due to Lord Rama of the Ramayana fame that I got this name. When his wife Sita, was captured by Ravana, Lord Rama along with his monkey army was all set to cross the ocean to get to Lanka. With Sri Lanka being just 30 kms from me, I seemed to be the best point to build a bridge that would take the army across the ocean. Lord Rama marked a spot on me with the end of his bow and that was the reason, I got my name.

Adam's bridge as seen from the air . Image Credits: PlaneMad via Wikimedia Commons under CC by SA
Adam’s bridge as seen from the air .                          Image Credits: PlaneMad via Wikimedia Commons under CC by SA

The Ram Sethu bridge or the Adam’s bridge, they say still exists under water. Geological evidence they say. However, to you mere mortals, that is no longer visible. However, on a clear night, you can see the twinkling lights of Sri Lanka from this side of the coast.

Good times of Dhanushkodi

Famous Pamban Bridge connecting Indian Mainland and Rameshwaram
Famous Pamban Bridge connecting Indian Mainland and Rameshwaram
Pamban Island
Pamban Island

I am located on Pamban Island (also, called Rameswaram Island) along the South East coast of India. If you visit me, you can see the gorgeous blue waters of the Bay Of Bengal mixing with the Indian ocean.  I was a small bustling town with my own railway station, post office, customs office, medical centers and even a secondary school. I had trains like the Boat Mail visiting me from Chennai, carrying passengers who wanted to ferry out to Tailaimannar in Sri Lanka. With the holy center of Rameswaram next to me, I was a natural stop for all visitors too. Life was good until that fateful day of 22nd December, 1964.

Calamity at Dhanushkodi

The winds kept howling and picking up speed through the day, thanks to the low pressure and high pressure areas in the Andamans Sea. I was no stranger to these but that day was different. By midnight, the terrible Rameswaram cyclone attacked me. At 270 km/h, there was little that I could do to withstand the force. To add to that, the calm waters turned stormy and waves of over 20 ft high swept over my little town and took away all life with it.

The Pamban-Dhanushkodi express with its 115 passengers was completely eaten by the waves and the entire railway station and tracks submerged. The winds and the waves left nothing intact and spared no one. Just 4 brave souls – radio operators, who clung onto the Pamban bridge for their dear lives were left behind. These guys risked their life to give some live broadcasts and were rewarded suitably for their bravery. However, none can ever heal those scars that the night left behind.

The fishermen's huts in Dhanushkodi
The fishermen’s huts in Dhanushkodi

Following the destruction, the Government declared me unfit for living. Today, I stand here alone & desolate with just 50 fishermen families living amidst the skeletons of what was a lively town.

Arichal Munal

Dhanushkodi road
Dhanushkodi road

Today when you come to visit me, you are allowed to come only to a certain point. After this, you need to alight and board the special tempo travelers that first take you to Arichal Munal or the Erosion Point. The ride along is a fascinating one if you have your Google Maps on – you will see yourself traveling along a narrow strip of land with water on both sides. The fun part is when you look around you, you will see the same – sea on both sides and you on literally a strip of land.

Arichal Munal
Arichal Munal

Far and wide, you will only see white sands and blue waters. No other sign of life. People tell me that it is quite depressing to note that and yet, when you arrive at the Arichal Munal, you can’t help admire the tranquil beauty of the blue water. You can step in and wade a little but beware, for this has sudden depths. Hence, swimming is an absolute no-no. It is from here that you can see Sri Lanka on a clear night but since, night ventures are not allowed, you will just have to take my word for it.

Small shopping stalls at Arichal Munal
Small shopping stalls at Arichal Munal

Stay awhile and take in the sights, buy a trinket or two from the little shopping shacks and then head to what remains of my erstwhile lively town.

The remains of the old town of Dhanushkodi

The Erstwhile Railway station at Dhanushkodi
The Erstwhile Railway station at Dhanushkodi

The first thing you will see is the remains of the old railway station. Should you dare to walk along a little further, you will also see a few covered railway tracks.

Arrow
Arrow
The Old Church at Dhanushkodi
Shadow
Slider

Behind the railway station, covered with is the old Church. A mere shadow of itself, you will not be able to help yourself as you walk through it. Notice the small altar or the remains of it. Just pause for the moment and think what might it have been then.

Ruins of the Police Station at Dhanushkodi
Ruins of the Police Station at Dhanushkodi

Next to it, was the post office and the police station. And further down, a huge structure that remains is that of the town school. No more of the blackboards, or the benches are seen. No more chirpy sounds of the kids or the pattering footsteps of them queuing up for their morning prayers.

Ruins of the school at Dhanushkodi
Ruins of the school at Dhanushkodi

Sands of time have covered the ruins but none can ever erase or dent my memory of what I, Dhanushkodi was.

My thoughts on Dhanushkodi

Dhanushkodi village
Dhanushkodi village

Now that you have heard the tale of Dhanushkodi in its own voice, it is time to share what I felt about it.

Visiting Dhanushkodi was just a beautiful and sad experience – melancholic is the right word here. At the Arichal Munal, as I gazed at the sea, I wondered how such a beautiful piece of nature was capable of that blinding fury. While venturing along those crumbling walls of the erstwhile town, I could not help but think of the lives of people back then.

Ruins of the school at Dhanushkodi
Ruins of the school at Dhanushkodi

I could see them attending a Sunday mass at the old church. I could see the kids running around the beachy playground of their school. I could visualize the post office stamping the envelopes and sorting out the mail. And then, a huge wave just sweeping away all those lives! It made me realize how nothing in life is permanent. It made me also, realize how we need to live each day to its fullest for you never know when disaster strikes.

Yes, Dhanushkodi left me uncomfortably pensive but also, thankful for the good things in my life. And if you are in Rameshwaram, I think a visit here would be good for you too. It is bound to open up your mind, especially if you pause like me amidst the old walls of Dhanushkodi to hear the whispers of its tale.

pin_dhanushkodi

Getting here:

  • Dhanushkodi is around 18 kms from Rameswaram. You will need to reach Rameshwaram either by road or rail. Rameshwaram is well connected to cities like Chennai, Madurai and Thanjavur by rail.
  • Madurai is the closest airport to Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, at around 163 kms,
  • Once in Rameswaram, you can head to Dhanushkodi in your own vehicle or take a bus to the place. You are allowed only to a certain point in Dhanushkodi after which you will have to park your vehicle and take a tour with a tempo traveler. These tempo travelers are easily available at the entry point and charge around INR 100 – 150 per person for a round trip
Tempo travelers that take you from the Dhanushkodi check point into the ghost town .
Tempo travelers that take you from the Dhanushkodi check point into the ghost town .
  • There are a lot of private tour operators that organize a day trip to Dhanushkodi. These tour operators can be easily found in Rameswaram, along the roads as well as with the help of the hotels in Rameswaram.
  • Some of these operators take you only till the entry point after which you have to board the tempo travelers that I have talked of earlier. However, a few of these also, organize a private jeep tour of Dhanushkodi. The jeep tour takes you into the town of Dhanushkodi and costs anything between INR 1500 to INR 3000.

Travel Tips:

  • Entry to Dhanushkodi after 5pm is not allowed. Your visit here can start as early as 7 am.
  • There are no cafes or restaurants here. You can get some basic packaged snacks and bottled water only.
  • There are no rest rooms at Dhanushkodi
  • Do not venture into the water at Dhanushkodi. Swimming is quite unsafe here.
  • There are a few stalls that sells some shell items and jewelry here. The prices are fairly reasonable.
  • Carry plenty of sun screen as it gets hot in the afternoon.
  • There are plenty of hotels for a stay in Rameswaram. I personally, stayed at Hotel SDM Towers and would recommend the same.
  • The entire tour from the check point at Dhanushkodi to back here takes around 2 hours. If you take one of those tempo travelers, you will be given only limited time at each stop.
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84 Responses

  1. Aa ha, loved the unique story-telling. Dhanushkhodi it seems will remain elusive to me for some more time 🙁

  2. VT and I have been planning to visit Dhanushkodi for a long time. We were fascinated by the bridge but I wasn’t aware of the ghost town. you are right that it’s sad to see ruins and one does feel melancholic.
    Loved your pictures.

    • Thanks Parul. Hope you get there soon. It is worth a short visit, opens your perspective to so many things.

  3. Beautiful post Ami! Melancholic is the right word! Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Nice read on Dhanushkodi.

  5. poor 1800 people who left this world on 22nd December 1964 at a time. it would had been like many dead bodies how we saw during Tsunami in 2004 December. i think there is some connection between sea and December month where sea can plan many lives at a time.

  6. A great read on Dhanushkodi.. quite an interesting story! Loved the pictures too Ami 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Visited the place a couple of years back. Again reminded of those beautiful moments.

  8. Love the way you tell the story!
    Appreciate the tips that you left at the end, very practical. Thanks

  9. Such a sad story of Dhanushkodi! The pictures with your emotional write up literally took us there. Thanks for sharing Ami 🙂

  10. How fortunes change, for so many places!

  11. gobeyondbounds

    We loved the narration of the story behind Dhanushkodi village. You never know nature is unpredictable 🙁 It is good that Dhanushkodi is gaining some tourist attention from last few years.

    • Thank you. I am glad that you liked the tale of this small town. Sad that things are no longer the same. But a lovely place nonetheless.

  12. Matthew and Heather

    Interesting story. Did not know about Dhanushkodi village before this.

  13. What a sad story! I was looking at that photo with the bridge and imagines the wave coming by and sweeping the entire train together with its passengers. Such a sad image to think about… i like how you gave life to the story by letting the “place” talk through its own voice.

  14. Such a sad story… I agree with you when you say “melancholic” is the good word. So sad to see that only ruins remain. I love that you wrote as if the city was talking. It’s as if you resuscitated it.

    • Thank you Lea. Honestly I did feel as if the town spoke to me. Hence, best shared the same way 😀

  15. Sarah @ Expat of the World

    This place seems literally worlds away! Great of you to include travel tips at the end there too.

  16. It’s very sobering to read about and see the deteriorating effects of a once fully functioning place. I have heard of Dhanushkodi but was not aware of the whole story behind it! Your pictures managed to capture all the different tones of the story. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  17. what a sad story! Good that tourism is allowed. I have to visit the place.
    The ruins look amazing against the blue cloudless skies!

  18. Interesting writing about an intriguing place. It was very creative and effective to write Dhanushkodi’s story from a first person perspective. Thanks for including all the tips.

  19. Such an interesting place filled with sadness.Hard to believe how literally in one event an entire village perished with all their hopes and dreams.
    I have heard of the story of the Ramayan and the building of the bridge to Lanka. I woyld love to visit.

    • Thanks Verushka. Dhanushkodi is an example of how no one can withstand nature’s fury. Definitely a place to visit and learn a lesson for life.

  20. i felt so sad knowing its background story, but then I couldn’t deny that these sad stories gives more appeal to its beauty.

  21. A grim reminder how insignificant man and his creations are in front of forces of nature….

  22. Such a fascinating story.

    I love abandoned places, and this surely fits the bill!

    Thanks for sharing

  23. What an interesting and unique way by which to explain the thoughts and story of the Dhanushkodi through its own personal voice. Lovely read and really interesting!

  24. I’ve never heard of this ghost town before but the way you describe it makes me want to visit! Glad there’s been an uptake in tourists. It seems like it’d be fun to wander the ruins a bit.

  25. Frenchie on the road

    I love the way how Dhanushkodi tells its story in this article. This is very informative! It must be a bit hard emotionally to visit such a place hearing about the cataclysm that happened there.

  26. I always have mixed feelings about places like Dhanushkodi. What’s left is always fascinating, so are the stories, but there’s a sadness that follows you around when you visit. Which is fine, we all need to learn the darker side of a place’s history and culture, it’s how humanity grows.

  27. Sadness came to mind seeing the deterioration of a functioning area. The area is interesting and provides a backdrop for photographs, but it also brings feelings of hardship. That being said, I would visit to learn more and get a glimpse of how the people lived there.

  28. What a sad story! I don’t like visiting doomed morbid places on my trips. Though this place would be amazing to capture some beautiful pictures! Also, love the style of your writing!

  29. This does sound like a bittersweet experience. It would be interesting to visit and learn the history but sad at the same time. Great photos snapped!

    • Thank you. The place does offer a lot of photo opps. And the history makes it interesting. You should try and go!

  30. Komang Ayu

    many older buildings that are not intact, even a lot of simple houses. Is there really a ghost town. I saw a few people and there are many boats. But the interesting places to visit.

    • It is a ghost town by order. No one is allowed to stay there after 6 pm. There are only 50 people – basically fishermen who refuse to go, that inhabit the place. The Govt has declared as unfit for inhabitation.

  31. What a fascinatingly sad story. Walking in the shadows of ghosts and a town once alive is always a haunting and humbling experience. I have never actually heard of Dhanushkodi but thank you for introducing it.

  32. Oh the misfortune!

    Loved your story narrating style. Have done it a few times myself. 🙂
    Dhanushkodi or even Rameswaram is waiting to be explored by me. When? I do not know. 😐

    • Thank you Nisha. I hope you get to Dhanushkodi soon. And yes, please make a stop in Bangalore if you do!

  33. Such a sad tale of nature’s fury consuming a beautiful and lively place. The place is so beautiful with the sea around but the tag of “Ghost Town” that comes with it is unfortunate. Very touching how you wrote this post

  34. What a sad story and terrible fate for the inhabitants of this city. It’s incredible to think that everything was destroyed in minutes! It looks like a very interesting place to visit though, the ruins still make it a beautiful place even though there’s little left.

    • Indeed Alberto. The ruins do make it interesting and add to the charm of what is left of the place.

  35. vishvarsha

    It is really sad when you think of how this beautiful place was completely destroyed! Dhanushkodi, Ross Island, Kuldhara, Bhangarh… so many thriving places and then just gone! Sad but fascinating stories nonetheless 🙂

    • That is the charm of Ghost towns…sad but interesting. Guess, it teaches us to accept the positive with the negative 😀

  36. That was a great story and said in the first person, its charm has enhanced. The story made me sad as well…a place, full of sound and life…now just stands alone…

  37. I’ve listened so much about the place once was full of civilization but today standing alone telling about its past. How sad but no one can fight against nature and time, we have to accept the reality.

  38. Such a beautiful way to write its story, really breathes life into it. Saddening to hear its history but would still love to visit this melancholic place. Theres some kind of allure to it..

  39. I loved reading your take on Dhanushkodi, glad you were able to get there. Yes indeed the place does leave you with a lingering feeling of melancholia. It leaves you reflective and sad. I loved the way you let Dhanushlodi take over.

  40. It’s so sad to hear the story of how this small town got dismantled. You have described it really well. Just like I want to go see the place and feel and imagine how life would have been before the disaster. Thank you for sharing the practical advices on getting there and things to do.

    • Thanks Johann, I hope you manage a visit there. It is definitely a story that is best told by the town.

  41. Beautiful described post. I found it very interesting. Loved the pictures.

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