There is something about abandoned places.
Perhaps it is the eerie feeling of having absolutely nobody around, a far cry from the bustling cities we live in. Or perhaps there is strange poetry in looking at the present through the lens of the past – a story of what once was. Evidence of human life; the only thing missing is the human beings themselves.
Welcome to the lost city of Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu. Photo by Vinod Kumar M
Welcome to Dhanushkodi
The so-called ‘ghost town’ of Dhanushkodi is one such abandoned town which makes for a fascinating visit. Located off the beaten path on the south eastern tip of Pamban Island (Rameshwaram Island) in Tamil Nadu, the sleepy little coastal town is enveloped by the vast blue sea. Interestingly enough, Sri Lanka is located a mere 29 kilometers away!
Dhanushkodi: A Piece of Sky
As the legend in the Ramayana goes, when Lord Rama lifted the bow of Shiva to win Sita’s hand in marriage, the bow split into three fragments, one of which fell in each of the three worlds – the sky, Earth and underworld. The piece of the bow which fell into the sky landed in the faraway land of Dhanushkodi.
Dhanushkodi finds yet another mention in the Ramayana – later on in the epic, Lord Rama builds a bridge called Rama Setu (also known as Adam’s Bridge) between mainland India and Sri Lanka to take his vast army across. After the war was won, the new king of Lanka requested Rama to destroy the bridge as its purpose had been served. Hence, Rama broke the bridge with the end of his bow. This earned the location the name of Dhanushkodi – meaning ‘the end of the bow.’
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The sprawling sands of Dhanushkodi with the blue sea all around. Photo by Raja Ramchandra
Getting to Dhanushkodi
You can’t just land up at this lost town without prior planning – getting in to Dhanushkodi is only via a jeep, van or SUV from Rameshwaram town, located about 20 kilometers away. The ride is incredibly turbulent once the main road ends at the Dhanushkodi check post. You can literally feel the car swaying in the wind at some points as the car slams over the wetlands! It is an ethereal experience to see the endless seas on either side – the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal respectively.
The eerie feeling of seeing and exploring an abandoned church. Photo by Vinod Kumar M.
Discovering the Lost Town
As the smattering of fisher folk that live on in Dhanushkodi will narrate, this now-abandoned village was once a bustling centre for travel and trade, connecting India and Sri Lanka with a railway and ferry service.
On the night of 22nd December, 1964 disaster struck as the region was hit by a massive cyclone, literally sweeping away the entire town. Dhanushkodi town was marooned as huge tidal waves moved deep onto the island. Following this tragedy, the Government declared Dhanushkodi as ghost town and unfit for living. This story sets the tone for what is to come.
Views of the Dhanushkodi Church. Photo by Lakshmi Sharath
The ruins of the former Dhanushkodi town stand tall on the far end of the deserted Dhanushkodi Beach, partly submerged in water. Chills went up and down my spine as I set my eyes on the ruins for the first time. Crumbling walls, weathered rocks and abandoned dwellings completely devoid of human life—there is something very poetic yet haunting about the sight. The silence around is deafening, with only the roaring sea and whistling wind in the background. Stories from an era gone by seem to leap at to you as the lost city of Dhanushkodi doesn’t seem so lost after all.
If you can manage to wander about despite the marshy, waterlogged grounds, you will find some barren remains of houses, the skeletal remains of a church covered in coral (with its unmistakable steeple having stood the test of time) and a small temple. Most eerie is a visit to the former railway station, half buried in the sands. A passenger train carrying 150 passengers was swept away in the 1964 cyclone moments before it entered this station. There were no survivors. Knowing this story, the very sight of the railway tracks is enough to make the tragedy of Dhanushkodi seem larger than life.
A crumbling school on the Dhanushkodi beach. Photo by Vinod Kumar M.
The Ocean meets the Bay
Even further into the sea lies the point of Sangam, where the Indian Ocean meets the Bay of Bengal. This is considered to be a very holy spot, with pilgrims from all over India visiting to bathe in its holy waters. Getting to the Sangam is a bit of an adventurous ride as you plough down the beach over sand, marsh and slush. The risk of your vehicle getting stuck is a very real one – and God forbid that happens, you will need a truck to pull it out! However, the journey is well worth the effort. The sight of the endless sea that awaits you is something else.
Adventurous ride to the Sangam point through marshy terrains
I was fascinated to see how different the waters of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal were. While the greyish-green waters of Indian Ocean are violent, and choppy, the clear blue waters of the Bay of Bengal are absolutely serene – and their coming together looks postcard perfect. You may even be able to spot the coastline of Sri Lanka in the distance (or receive a SMS on your mobile phone, welcoming you to Sri Lanka). Linger for a while and immerse yourself in the place, so far away from human settlements that you feel one with nature.
A trip to Dhanushkodi is probably unlike any other you have ever taken. It is a land faraway and much forgotten, stuck in a past of its own. And just maybe, you will find some interesting perspectives on life amid the lost ruins of Dhanushkodi.
This piece was originally published in the August issue of the JetWings magazine
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