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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.