Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dhanushkodi – The Ghost Town in Darkness

              It was amazing news to me that hardly about 50 years back, people queued at Chennai Egmore railway station, for a railway ticket to Colombo. Got into research and thus Dhanushkodi emerged to be our next destination. Dhanushkodi is the eastern most tip of Rameswaram, an island province, connected to Indian main land by the famous ‘Pamban’ bridge. Rameswaram is also known as Pamban Island.  Train service from Chennai entered Rameswaram Island along the Pamban Bridge and terminated at Dhanushkodi. Passengers were then ferried to Thalaimannar in Srilanka, just 18 miles from Dhanushkodi, and from there a connection train took them to Colombo. 

                               Such a train, with 110 passengers, was entering Dhanushkodi railway station at 11.55 PM, 22nd December 1964, while a cyclone hit the place. The train along with the town was washed away killing around 1800, including all the passengers and crew of the train. The town was there after declared a Ghost town and Dhanushkodi, today, is just the ruins and remains.

                And those of you familiar with the epic Ramayana, may recall the effort, the monkey army of Rama took, to construct a bridge to connect to Srilanka. This would be about the stone link (Adam’s Bridge) between Dhanushkodi and Thalaimannar, in the satellite picture below (Courtesy : Wikimapia).

         Left most is Indian main land, then Rameswaram (Pamban) Island. Red spot is Dhanushkodi dead end, followed by Adam's bridge or Ramasethu and then Srilanka
Closer view of Adam's Bridge or Ramasethu
                 Another view is that Srilanka was earlier connected to Dhanushkodi, by land, and the eventual rise in sea level, would have resulted in the present scenario. Read some where that it was even possible to cross to Srilanka, by foot, till 1500 AD. Owing to the Ramayana connection, mentioned above, Rameswaram has emerged as a pilgrim’s town and Dhanushkodi is an 18 km drive in a 4WD vehicle from there. 

 25 – 8 – 2010

                Four families, Sunils, Anojs, Dineshs and mine, started off by around 9 in the morning. Dinesh and I led in WagonR and the rest followed us in Alto. Dinesh was actually on a pilgrimage, and on his special request, we had included Tiruchendur also, in the itinerary. Took left at Nagercoil and continued along the Tirunelveli stretch, up to Valliyoor. At Valliyoor left NH, and took the right for Tiruchendur. Rarely found vehicles on this comfortable stretch, apart from ours, and the drive was a pleasure.

             Reached Tiruchendur by noon. Paid a quick visit to the temple and left for Thoothukkudi. 

                 Track to Thoothukkudi was also in good shape, with vastness of salt pans on either side. 

           Had a short break at Thoothukudi, to fill our bellies, and were back behind the wheels, by 4.30 PM. Drove along the Madurai stretch up to Kurukkuchalai and took right, for East Coast Road (ECR).

Drive along ECR was a thrilling experience, which is really worth a mention. The surface was even and polished and traffic was very low. 

The speedometer needle seldom went below 100 line. Went along Surangudi, Sayalkudi, Sikkal, Keelakarai and reached Ramanathapuram railway cross by 6.20 PM. That is, a stretch of 120 km was done in 80 minutes. 

ECR, at present, is ready between Chennai and Thoothukkudi, and soon it will get extended up to Kanyakumari. Should go along the entire stretch, after completion, just for the pleasure of driving. Once completed, it would be an 800 km stretch from Kanyakumari to Chennai, and that shall be done in around 8 to 10 hours roughly.

       Using Sunil’s official links, we could have the privilege of Mr. Nagarattinam, an Asst. Engineer with Tamil Nadu PWD, waiting for us at Ramanathapuram. He straight away took us to the PWD guest house, to have tea and snacks. By around 7 we were back on the road to Rameswaram, piloted by Nagarattinam in his Jeep. Rameswaram is another 40 kms from Ramanathapuram. Nagarattinam parked his vehicle at the middle of Pamban Bridge, and we followed suit. Couldn’t get a clear picture as it was dark, and postponed the camera works for the next day, while we return. Reached Rameswaram by 8.15 and occupied our rooms, booked by Nagarattinam, at Palani Andavar lodge, close to the temple and by the sea shore. Neat and spacious rooms for Rs. 1100 per day. Had dinner from Hotel Arya Nivas, the only hotel worth a visit, according to Nagarattinam. Visit to the famous Ramanathswamy temple was scheduled at 5 AM, and we went to bed early.

 26 – 8 – 10

Got ready by 5 in the morning and Mr. Balakrishnan, a Rameswaram dweller, was ready to assist as, on the directions of Nagarattinam. While others were busy with the darsan, I went along exploring the temple art. Nagarattinam returned to Ramanathapuram, after break fast, as he had some official duties to perform. Before leaving, he arranged two 4WD Jeeps, for our Dhanushkodi exploration and ensured that Balakrishnan would assist as through out. 

The tarred road ended at Dhanushkodi beach, and the stretch that followed was along sand dunes and bushes. 

The Ghost town slowly revealed before us. I found it hard to believe that the place was once heavily inhabited, with teaming road and rail services. Our Jeep driver was born and brought up there, and he says more than half of the earlier Dhanushkodi, is under the sea now. 

He left the regular track, drove into the bushy growth and stopped the vehicle. And now we were at the old Dhanushkodi railway station. 

Nothing remained, apart from the cement benches, where passengers waited for the train, about 50 years back in history. Bushy jungle had grown over these remains too. Proceeding further, we drove past ruins of buildings, from where dwellers were washed away into vast waters, while in deep sleep.

A stone structure at a distance is a memorial to some students who were drowned, along with their train. 

The journey finally ended at the dead end and just 18 miles, from where we stand, was Srilanka. Had there been a motorable Adam’s bridge, it would be a 30 minute drive. We were on a narrow strip with Bay of Bengal at the left and Indian Ocean to the right. 

The sea here was shallow with 10 cm high tides, and our kids had great fun. Spent about half an hour there and returned. 

On the way, had a short visit to Kodandaswami temple. 

Track to Kodandaswami temple
 It was a newly erected building in the place of the one swept away by the cyclone. Two broken pillars, in front of the new structure, were what remained. 

Still the cyclone spared the main temple at Rameswaram. Left the Jeeps at Rameswaram, vacated our rooms and where back on the road by around 1.30 PM. On our way to Ramanathapuram, spent a while at Pamban Bridge. 

We were lucky to have a train passing along the lower bridge.

The train was very slow, perhaps for the fact that it’s not running on a bridge over a river, but that over sea. View over the other side of the bridge would send any one run for his camera. 

Slowly drove over to the Indian main land, leaving Pamban Island and its Ghost town back. 

Our world has changed a lot since 1964. Technology developed and so did neighborhood relations. Cyclones can now be predicted well in advance. Why not let the ghost town reclaim its life and its lights? Why not let the Chennai ticket counter sell Chennai – Colombo rail tickets?


  1. It's great to see you back on the road again Shinu. I have crossed the Padman strait by train, and I had a big surprise when I went to the carriage door to look outside and noticed that the train appeared to be floating above the water. I was glad that the train moved very slowly...
    Yes, it would be good if the ferries between Dhanushkodi and Thalaimannar were reinstated.

  2. Highly informative. Great work. I feel like missing Dhanushkodi region during my visit to Rameshwaram. We can plan a trip to Colombo if the ferry service is reinstated.

  3. Chris : we couldnt have the train experience due to time constraints. Looking forward to travel from Chennai to Colombo.

    Pramod : Dont worry. We shall plan a Colombo trip soon.

  4. Hi shinu

    A train to Srilanka from india, interesting ?

    good and interesting post

    a lucky photo of train crossing pamban bridget

    Siva temple in Rameswaram was built by SriRama during sethubandhanam

    good picture and narration


    my new post on Mathur Aqueduct

  5. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and the traveller has plenty to see and experience.Only flights are available to Colombo now but if the current plans to open the ferry service from Danushkodi to Thalaimannar commences soon, I am sure there will be plenty of visitors, both ways.

  6. Hello boss...
    Itz really amazing..
    U are posting wat t real traveller expected...
    N one suggestion is it ll be useful if u post some of the contact deatils of the people they can hep the traveller
    If itz nt personal

  7. Krishna : I went through your post to find that you are a promising youngster.

    Anonymous : I do agree with you & I'm looking forward for that to happen.

    Renji : Thanx for your frequent visits. As regards your suggestion, most of those helping hands are not enthusiastic in disclosing their details in a public platform like this. But still I'm not reluctant in revealing data, to the extent possible, through replies to emails, I receive daily. And after all, that's what this effort aims.

  8. Thanx boss......
    loooking fwd 4 ur new jorney

  9. there are very few things left from Ramayan time ..proof that our literature is not fake and people want to destroy it so that coming generations don't have any proof left and hence no faith left in our culture

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I made a trip to Dhanuskodi in Apr. We were four me, my mom, sister and niece. Our driver dropped us off Dhanuskodi beach. There were some strange looking mini cargo vans were available. But, they were transporting 20-30 folks with fully loaded. As per my request, they offered me private tour for 4 of us [cost me $35]. We went all the way to Dhanuskodi point where Bay of bengal and Indian ocean meet. What a marvelous view. The water was so clear as crystal [just like miami beach]. The beach was not polluted. Very few folks. Great place to relax and enjoy...

  12. how many kms to the tip from the point where private vehicles are limited...

  13. Good Morning Sir
    thanks for sharing valuable information
    blessings to you and your family
    Uma Maheswar Nakka

  14. spectacular photographs...India is blessed with so many beautiful places...

  15. Like the Silk Route and the Spice Route,this is the Boat Mail Route to Lanka ! Or the Route of Vanavaasa .. Interesting ..

  16. SHIVAN THANU MAR 11 2012 19:50March 11, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    While seeing your pics, felt like me too visited Dhanushkodi and Rameshwaram.But planning to visit there atleast once. Hope to visit SL too. May all the very best to u and your family. Thank You once again for the wonderful pictures. God Bless.

    1. Thank you very much Shivan Thanu Mar

  17. Indian govt should take necessary steps to give rebirth to this dhanushkodi,so that the normal people of both the countries(India and Srilanka) can communicate with each other rather than destroying Ram Setu.People are destroying the Indian culture by calling the Ramsetu as adams bridge.I don't know why they are doing this shameless thing.....May be they don't have any rich heritage thats why they are renaming our things by their name.anyway Thanks a lot for sharing some nice pictures.....

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  19. Hi Shinu,

    I'm from Trivandrum and looking for a place for our team outing this Saturday (24th Aug). Need your help in suggesting a good place.

    can you please email me your contact number?

  20. Oops!! Skipped my email: pramodmani@gmail.com

  21. Mr KP Kar, Mrs Deepti & Ms Guria,
    We visited Rameswaram on 30 Jan,2014. What a geat sight & experience when our train crossed PAMBAM bridge over the Sea. Sayed at Daiwik Hotel, very good, went on a Jonga jeep to the tip of Dhanushkodi where "banar sena " of Lord Rama made the floating stone bridge. Saw the floating stone. There is new good school, students with uniform, the destruction of 1964 was nerve shaking & very painful. Our Govt should take steps to turn the so called Ghost township into a flourishing commercial and bring solace to the poor citizens. Returned to Rameswaram & offered prayers to Lord Shiv & maa Parvati at Ramanathaswamy temple. A great feeling & heavenly experience. Drove next day to Kanyakumari through Pamban Bridge. Good road , very good scenic & fine people. Jai Hind !!

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Incredible Blog!! That was astounding. Your idea preparing is great. The way you tell the thing is amazing. You are truly an expert.
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