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Visiting the Ghost Town of Danushkodi in India :Destroyed by a Cyclone in 1964

Updated on October 19, 2017

The Beginning

Decades back the southern tip of India where the Arabian sea meets the bay of Bengal was a small thriving colony called Danushkodi. It is the closest land border to the island of Ceylon, referred to in the Ramayana as Lanka. This was the point for embarkation of pilgrims and tourists to Lanka just 15 miles away across a shallow channel. called the Palk Strait.

I first visited this place in 1963 when my father was posted at the Air Force Admin College at Coimbatore and I was a student of the Stanes High school. My maternal Grandfather and Grand-Mother visited us and we took a tour of South India. We caught the train from Madras ( Meter Gauge) and traveled across the Pamban bridge spanning the sea to the island of Rameshwaram.

Rameshwaram is a small bustling town and at that time it was a thriving place. Further from Rameshwaran about 20 miles away is Danushkodi. The train line went right up to Danushkodi touching the sea with its sleeve. It reached Danushkodi , which had a rail station and a small pier. Passengers caught a boat to ferry them to the island of Sri Lanka.

When we visited the place it was a thriving township and reminded all of its connection with the god Rama and the tale of Ramayana. The legend of Rama is closely entwined with Danushkodi. In fact, the name Danushkodi is derived from the word Danush( meaning Bow). it was here the God Rama bent his bow into the sand and laid the foundation of a bridge to cross the strait to attack the Lanka king Ravana, who had abducted Sita the queen of Rama.

Research has shown all this as a real event and satellite picture confirms the existence of an undersea string of rocks which were used by Rama and his army to cross to Lanka. The place was thriving and visiting Danushkodi was a must for the tourists. All credit to the Raj and the British rulers who constructed the rail line to Danushkodi across the Pamban sea.



The Map of the area
The Map of the area
The Pamban Bridge over teh Sea
The Pamban Bridge over teh Sea
Picturesque beach at Danushkodi
Picturesque beach at Danushkodi

The Cyclone and all is Over

In 1964 nature wreaked a terrible curse on Danushkodi and the island of Rameshwaram. At that time the rail line went directly from Pamban to Danushkodi and connected to a steamer that took the tourists to Lanka, just 15 miles away. Danushkdi at that time had a rail station, railway Hospital and numerous small shops and hotels. The train from Madras called the Boat Mail linked it to Danushkodi bypassing the town of Rameshwaram.

On 17 December a severe cyclone commenced, which turned into a massive Tsunami on 19 December. One of the first casualties was the Pamban passenger with 115 occupants and 5 crew. Before reaching Danushkodi, the entire area went black as power generation failed.

The driver of the ill-fated train wondered what to do as the rail track went adjacent to the sea which was in turmoil. He decided to blow his whistle and move forward. It was a fateful decision as a massive tidal wave engulfed the entire train and swamped it. The train was washed away and all the 115 passengers and 5 crew met a watery grave. In fact, the tragedy was discovered only 2 days later as all communication lines had snapped.

The cyclonic storm swept Danushkodi and over 1800 people died. It also struck Rameshwaram and the waves only stopped at the gate of the temple of Rama where many had taken refuge. It was a terrible tragedy and the once thriving settlement at Danushkodi ceased to exist.

Do you think the damage caused by Tsunami in 1964 could have been avoided

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The destroyed Rail track, still the same
The destroyed Rail track, still the same
destroyed settlement
destroyed settlement
Forlorn place
Forlorn place

Danuskodi; The Ghost Settlement

After the 1964 cyclonic storm and tsunami, the settlement of Danushkodi ceased to exist. A visit 50 years down the line shows that the government decided not to rebuild or settle the area. It was opined that the place was inhabitable. The rail line and rail station was not repaired and the train line terminated at Rameshwaram about 20 miles away. No roads were built and the only way to travel to this place is through some tempos and lorries that ply to this place bringing some intrepid travellers to Danushkodi.

The only inhabitants of this place are a small fishermen's community who live in thatched huts and take drinking water from a few wells, that surprisingly have sweet water. the water is scooped and then filtered and drunk by this village community. There also no road and the tempos and trucks ply on the sand.

The entire place has a forlorn look and reminds of what will happen once a civilization is destroyed. All the shops and hotels are gone and the only reminder of a thriving township are the destroyed buildings and structures. It is sad to visit this place and ones heart goes out to the few hardy people still inhabiting here. They are forsaken as the government has washed its hands of teh entire danushkodi.

The Future

Change is the essence of life and finally after half a century people and the government have awoken up and decided that Danushkodi does have some tourist value. A road is planned from Rameshwaram to Danushkodi and will be followed by a state bus service.

The pristine beaches have found a use and Tamil and other film producers are making use of them to shoot films. Many films have been shot here and they have given a shot in the arm to the community dwelling here. The locals are afraid that they will lose their land once the settlements come back. But the local MLA has assured that they will be integrated into the society.

One hopes that this forlorn and desolate part of India which has history written all over it from th time of Ramayana will once again thrive. But all this is years away and one can only hope and pray.. Sadly half a century was wasted in not restoring danushkodi.

Danushkodi before 1964. The rail conected to steamer
Danushkodi before 1964. The rail conected to steamer
Old photo of Rail station by WAC Smith
Old photo of Rail station by WAC Smith

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