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A trip to the ghost town - Dhanushkodi
If someone asks me to throw a dart at the map of India and travel to wherever it lands, I am sure that I would aim at Dhanushkodi. Such is the amount of research that I have done about this place for various reasons. My love for Dhanushkodi started in the year 2012 while I came across an article about the boat mail. Since then I researched about the historical significance of this place, which I would love to debrief as you read ahead. To begin with, Dhanushkodi is an abandoned town situated at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. The town was destroyed during the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone and was rendered uninhabitable.
I’m writing this with utmost pleasure as my long cherished dream has come true. A long pending item from my ‘To-do’ list has been checked off satisfyingly. Though it was a planned trip, it had all the flavors of an unplanned trip. Our train tickets from Coimbatore to Madurai was in the waiting List and was not confirmed on the day of travel. We were a group of four members and none of us knew what it meant to be a ‘Pooled quota Waiting List’. We were of the hope that PQWL 1,2,3 and 4 would easily get confirmed. Unfortunately it didn’t and we had to make last minute changes in our plan. Thus our ‘well-planned’ trip kicked off in an ‘unplanned mode’. Since the train tickets got cancelled, we decided to travel by bus from Coimbatore to Madurai.
Map View of Dhanushkodi
We boarded the Tamilnadu Transport Corporations 'Bye-Pass Rider' from the Singanalloor bus stand in Coimbatore. The bus was speeding at around 60kph. Hot breeze blew in from all windows. The road was hemmed by cactus on either sides. I was wondering how the desert plant was growing abundantly in this part of the world. My friend opined that it is a sign of danger. It simply means that there is a drastic drift in the climatic conditions over the years. The hot air inside the bus confirmed his words.
The bus halted at a place which looked similar to a bus station. Most of the long route buses halt at this place for refreshments. It was a private setup with a roofless toilet and a snacks bar besides it. They didn't charge for the toilet, but every other thing was highly priced. Especially mineral water was priced almost double the rate. When we boarded the bus at singanalloor bus station we had bought 'Amma' water bottles which was very economically priced at Rs.10. 'Amma' kiosks are there in almost all major bus stations in TamilNadu and is very useful for common man. I learnt that 'Amma' water bottle is just one amongst the many good things done by Jayalalitha to the common man. No wonder why the ex CM of TamilNadu was hugely popular among the masses.
I was lost in thoughts as the bus reached Madurai. The 5 hour long journey was tiring and tedious. However my mind was brimming with joy, as I was inching closer to one of my dream destinations. We have been planning for this trip for quite some time. However we were sure that we would go only by train as we all wished to travel through the most dangerous rail bridge in India - The Pamban Bridge. We have set our navigator towards Dhanushkodi almost a month ago when we found that the tickets were available in the Rameswaram Express (from Madurai).
We boarded the Rameswaram Express from Madurai Junction at around 4:30 AM. We were all tired after the 5 hours long bus journey. I climbed up the ladder and settled in the upper berth, while others occupied the lower and side berths. There was not much rush in the train. It was fun as we were the only ones in that coupe. I was happy to have stretched my back after the tiring bus journey. My back was sore and rigid by then. I dozed off immediately as the train started moving.
We woke up at around 6 AM, as the rays of rising sun peeped in through the windows. Small stations and villages transcended as the train barreled past. We were up and ready as the train crossed the Mandapam station.The famed Pamban Railway bridge is just a few kilometers away from this place. I took my camera and went near the door on the right side of the train. My friends stood near different doors with their cameras. I went live on Facebook as the train entered the bridge. It was a dream come true moment for me. My camera silently absorbed the breathtaking sight of one of the longest bridge in India.
The Pamban Bridge
Annai Indira Gandhi bridge also known as the Pamban bridge was the longest sea bridge in India until the opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010. The two kilometer long bridge connects the Rameshwaram island with the mainland India. The rail bridge was constructed in the year 1914 and the adjacent road bridge was opened in the year 1988. The rail bridge is also noted for the unique double leaf Bascule to pass the ships through the sea. The train was travelling very slowly on the bridge. The location is a cyclone-prone high wind velocity zone. People were waving at us from the adjacent road bridge. I clicked as many pictures as possible. Few minutes later, our train entered the Rameswaram station at a leisurely pace.
We alighted from the train and clicked few selfies. Soon we had to keep the cell phones inside the bag and cover our nostrils with the handkerchief. The air was filled with an unpleasant smell of human excreta. My friend opined that this could be the most unhygienic railway station in India. We hurried out of the station and was welcomed by a group of auto drivers. Our rooms were booked near Agnitheertham. We bargained with an auto driver and fixed the deal for Rs.100. The roads were all damaged and had lot of potholes. At some places there was no paved road at all. It looked more like a village than a town. The air was still filled with an unpleasant smell. We reached the hotel in 10 minutes and checked into the room.
As per our itinerary, the first place of visit was the Ramanathaswamy temple. The temple was located at a walkable distance from our hotel. Rameshwaram is believed to be the abode of Hindu god SriRam. It is considered as a ‘pilgrims delight’ since ages. Ramanathaswamy temple built in 12th century is an architectural marvel. It has a magnificent imposing structure with long corridors, carved pillars and a towering Gopuram. The 38 meter long Gopuram stands tall like a fortress. I clicked pictures from outside while my friends went inside to offer prayers. I was surprised to hear from them about the special packages inside the Temple. If you do not wish to stand in Queue and want to have ‘Darshan’directly, then you can pay some amount and enjoy the privilege. Similarly, they had packages for Holy wells (Theerthams) as well. There are 22 holy wells inside the premises. The number 22 indicates the 22 arrows in Rama's quiver. Bathing in these Theerthas is a major aspect of the pilgrimage to Rameswaram and is considered equivalent to penance. On our way back to the hotel we did some window shopping. There were many shops near the temple selling handicrafts made of sea shells and conch. However, we did not spend much time on these roadside shops as the summer heat was soaring up. We helped ourselves with tender coconut water to beat the heat. We were then ready for our next destination.
House of Kalam
We hired an auto-rickshaw from the nearby junction and headed towards the funeral ground of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. However, we couldn’t go inside as they were constructing an arcade in that location. We saw from a distance, the tomb of Dr. Kalam. Hopefully the construction would get completed soon and the place would be opened to public. From there we went to the ‘House of Kalam’. His house has now been converted into a museum. His achievements, rewards and quotes are all displayed in the gallery. The events in the life of India’s ‘Missile man’ is at display. One could feel his greatness in every artifacts you see there. His Veena, books and clothes will make you feel his presence in that house. Really proud that such a humble man was the President of India. I was in awe when I saw ‘Bharat Ratna’ – The highest civilian honor in India, in one of the shelves.
Note: Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
House of Kalam - Photos
Food at Rameswaram
Our auto driver had suggested the best restaurants in town. From the ‘House of Kalam’ we went to have lunch in the nearby junction. We had the worst food experience of our lives in Rameswaram. We had the bad experience during all meals of the day at different hotels. Every hotel we went to has served tasteless food. We wondered if they had a competition among themselves to serve the worst food. However, they didn’t forget to give us a bill equivalent to the best hotels in Coimbatore. Adding to that, none of these restaurants were hygienic. The food served was of utmost low quality. Both the Vegetarian and non-vegetarian food had the same plight. It so happened that we found chicken bone in a fish biryani. According to them, fish biryani is nothing but placing a fried fish in between the rice taken from chicken Biryani.
An off-road ride down the 18 kilometre long trail, leading to the ruins of a township was an exciting experience. The journey, through land and water, in a jeep was eerie but fascinating. After having the lunch, we hired a private jeep to go to Dhanushkodi. I had been waiting for this moment for many years and finally it came true during this summer. We fixed the deal for Rs. 1500 and the driver agreed to take us to the tip. On the way to Dhanushkodi, he narrated many untold stories about the place and we listened to him keenly. The construction of the road leading to the tip was already completed. However, it was still not opened to the public. Therefore, we had to take the offroad route through sand and sea. The driver halted the jeep near the check post and took permission from the authorities. Private vehicles are not allowed beyond this point. Then he made some changes in the wheel cup of the front wheel, to make the four wheel drive possible. According to him most of the jeep owners have sold their jeeps because of the upcoming road to the ‘tip’.
Until 1964 Dhanushkodi was a major point of entry to India. However, the fate of this seaside town changed during the night of 22nd December 1964. A cyclonic storm devastated the entire town. The ‘1964 Rameswaram cyclone’ (also known as the Dhanushkodi cyclone) is regarded as one of the most powerful storms. The cyclone washed away the railway track, a steam engine and its carriages and an entire village. The train along with 115 passengers on board was washed away by a huge tidal wave. An estimated 1,800 people died in the cyclonic storm on 22 December including 115 passengers on board the Pamban-Dhanushkodi passenger train. The entire town was marooned and the Government of Madras declared Dhanushkodi as Ghost town, unfit for living.
53 Years Later - 8th April 2017
The buildings that braved the fateful day still exist partially burried by the sand and partly weathered by the sea. They add a mysterious beauty to the 'Ghost Town'. Haunting yet appealing; Deserted but still full of life; eerie but fascinating. Dhanushkodi is full of contradictions.
Dilapidated Buildings - Photos
Dhanushkodi is one of the most intriguing places in India. The land of eerie beauty. The buildings that braved the fateful day still exist in this dilapidated town. They were partially buried by the sand and partly weathered by time. These derelict structures add a mysterious beauty to the 'Ghost Town'. Haunting yet appealing; Deserted but still full of life; eerie but fascinating - Dhanushkodi is full of contradictions.
I walked around the ruined buildings and was lost in thoughts about that dreadful night, the cyclone and the screeching people. ‘Deafening sound’ of silence descended over the ruins. An uncanny feeling that I am being watched by the souls startled me. 'The roofless remains of the church and other structures deserved a reconstruction' - I thought. The wandering souls of this ghost town, one after the other, caressed me in the form of wind. Do they have a story to share with the world? Do they want me to write their story? It's very sad that all those people, children, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers just vanished in such a devastating tragedy. Every writing about Dhanushkodi is a tribute to those innocent souls. It was only after seeing the ruins in person that I was able to completely comprehend the gravity of events that took place.
There was a gradual crescendo in the sound of waves as we walked to the shore. The roaring waves of the mighty Indian ocean gently embraced the calm waters of bay of Bengal without any ruckus. I sat on the shore and looked at the horizon, where sea and the sky were locked up in a mutual gaze. The journey helped me to re-plug myself. Being a wanderlust is more fun when you unearth stories from the places you go.