Haunted ghost town : Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu, India

Road trips gives me a high and during last December, I decided to get moving with my like minded  buddies. And we headed straight to Dhanushkodi, the ghost town. If you guys have not heard of the town called Dhanushkodi, then its time to read on.

The name Dhanushkodi is derived from the Sanskrit Dhanus, which means bow and kodi in Tamil means tip hence it means "the tip of the bow". Dhanushkodi is also called Sethu, which means a bridge or causeway.

Dhanushkodi is an abandoned town at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. It is situated to the South-East of Pamban and is about 18 miles (29 km) west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. The town was destroyed during the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone and remains uninhabited in the aftermath. The area around Rameswaram is prone to high-intensity geomorphic activity. Even now, the place is not declared fit for living . Back then the connectivity to other places were very limited and the people had to travel by water, road or train to safer places. However, as per history of the incident it was estimated that around 1800 lives were lost, and the entire town was declared unfit for living and named as Ghost city by the Government. 

The city was known for its busy port which had a railway station, jetty services and post office  There were temples and churches which were frequented by natives and outsiders. The city was also very famous for trades and transport from Sri Lanka. This place also holds a special space in Hindu mythology, as Dhanushkodi is the place where Load Rama and his vanara sena ( army of monkeys ) lead by Hanuman build a bridge across the sea to reach Sri Lanka. Load Rama used this causeway to save Sita, his wife, from Ravan. Local residents claim that the causeway to Sri Lanka still exists under water. A bath at Dhanushkodi is considered sacred because of the Sagara Sangama ( Where Oceans meet ) where two oceans Mahodadhi ( Bay of Bengal ) and the Ratnakara (Indian Ocean) meet.  

All these facts made us curious to visit the place. We were all from different places in Kerala. Two of us from Trivandrum,one from Thriruvala and the forth person from Thirssur. We were not sure which path to take, since not everyone could start from Trivandrum. We jotted down a couple of routes and then finalised to go around a circle trip across the southern part of India. We, myself and Sankar started from Trivandrum towards Kochi and picked up the other two from Kochi.  The below shows the road map which we used to travel. 

Route Map:

Trivandrum -> Kochi -> Idukki -> Cumbum -> Theni -> Maduri -> Rameshwaram -> Dhanushkodi -> Maduri -> Thirunalveli -> Nagarcoil -> Trivandrum. 

The journey started at 0430 hrs IST from Trivandrum. It took us around 3 hours 45mins to reach Kochi. And from there we picked our buddies, Devadas & Tony. All of us then had breakfast and filled up our fuel. We were all excited, and while traveling we started to plan what all we should do en-route. One suggestion was to get down at Idukki dam, and take some selfies from there. All agreed to it. However, after we started climbing the hilly terrain of Idukki, we decided to step out to see the nature and the tiny objects well below us. It was a beautiful day, with the sun overhead, we stepped out. It was so steep that we found it difficult to step out of the car and walk towards the hairpin U section. Since it was so hot, Sankar decided to pick up his sunglasses and with that he stepped out in style, ready to pose for a picture. But Sankar slow-w-w-w-l-l-l-l-y missed his steps and fell down flat on the tarred road in split second. An embarrassed Shanker stood up in no time. We were all shocked first but bursted out laughing. 

Sankar & Devadas

We then laughed it out and went on driving. However, as soon as we stepped in. All of us seemed to be tired, and decided to have some food. We drove pass a Toddy Shop, which usually serves Kappa (Tapioca ) with Fish Curry. Believe it or not, we have a set of rules when we go for road trips, Rule #1: No Liquor. With our mouths watering, we four went up to that Toddy Shop. The shop was wide open, and no one was inside. A person finally showed up and we asked him if any food items were  available. He said that the food was just getting ready and while we wait he would serve us some toddy. We all looked at each other and said "NO..!!" and stepped out. But nothing stopped us from shooting some pictures right away. 

Toddy Shop, Some where in Idukki
Happy faces, Toddy Shop, Some where in Idukki

Disappointed faces

After a short stroll we went back to our car, and started the engine again. A big silence inside the car and disappointment crawled in. Devadas picked up his smart phones, and searched for Kappa and fish curry hotels near by. Nothing showed up. The reception was poor. Another hour went by, we were driving through hot hilly terrain. All of us, kept our eyes wide open to see at least a "Meals Ready" board. Although, the A/C was on, we could feel the hot sun touching our skin. Suddenly Tony screamed, "STOP the CARRRRR...!!!!". He had found that magic board hanging somewhere, he asked us to reverse the car. Yes there was small Hotel with meals ready board. We had king fish fry, with meals. 

Time flies, and it was almost 16:30 hrs IST when we reached somewhere near Cumbum, after crossing the Kerala border to Tamil Nadu. The roads were winding and we noticed lots of Jeeps and similar vechile filled with tea plantation & grape wine workers being transported back to their home after a tiresome days work under the hot sun. The route ensured that our ride was bumpy as the roads had a lot of potholes and the dry dust stayed in the air. We stepped out multiple times to see the nature, especially the green tree trunks leaning towards the road. Not to mention about the naps in between, as soon as Devadas gets in the car he would start his healthy long naps :-). Tony was silent as it was a long day and it was getting quite late.

We reached Madurai at around 20:00 hrs IST. Sankar mentioned about some veggie dishes, which were a speciality in Tamil Nadu. But this time, we did not have that much cravings for food as we were in a unfamiliar place and had no idea where we would get good food. We followed the path Google Maps showed us, but due to some glitch in the maps ( shhh, I had forgotten to take a turn ) we were in the middle of a crowded market in Madurai City. We gave our companion, Mr. Google Maps ,some time to reroute us to our destination. Right after we exited the market, we spotted a "Saravana Bhavan". Although the place was over crowded and it took us light years to find a place to sit, the food was undoubtedly awesome.

My co-driver cum buddy, Sankar, was wide awake even at 22:15 hrs IST navigating the turns up ahead. The roads were empty with no traffic at all. We were driving at an average speed of 60 Kmph. Rule #2: We stick to controllable speeds, and obey strict traffic rules. However, the sleep daemons started to crawl through my eyes and I was feeling sleepy after 18 hours of drive. Driving at a steady speed ensured that I spend very less energy for braking and changing gears.We were approximately 110 Kms away from Rameshwaram. Paramakudi was the nearest town, so we started looking for a place to stay at around 22:30 hrs IST. Within 10 minutes, we were lucky to find a decent lodging at a reasonable rate. Everyone took a good refreshing shower and headed straight to bed. In the meantime, I backed up all our images & videos for the day and the went to sleep. 

Next day morning at 04:55 hrs IST our alarms started ringing. It was too difficult for me to wake up and I snoozed the alarm. Devadas and Sankar woke up and were ready by 05:15 hrs IST. Knock Knock, Devadas came by to remind us that we are running out of time. Our plan was to reach Dhanushkodi at the earliest. We were up and running in a jiffy.We had an authentic Tamilian breakfast served in banana leaves from a nearby restaurant and then started out again. As we reached the Pamban bridge ,our excitement knew no bounds. We had seen the bridge only on television and print ads. We stopped right away on the bridge as the traffic was minimal. The view was breathtaking. We took some images, and admired the architectural engineering marvel, Pamban railway bridge. The winds were so strong here, that we felt like we would be blown off from the bridge. It was one of the best moments in my life, as I dreamt of visiting this place since when I was around 10 years old. Everyone would recall that it is Pamban bridge that is portrayed in the ad for a cement company ( Sankar Cement ) .  Probably every kid of 80's would have seen that ad. 

Pamban bridge connecting Rameshwaram & Indian Mainland

Pamban beach, where the Bay of Bengal meet Indian Ocean
After a few minutes, we got back to the car and continued towards Dhanushkodi. The weather was beginning to play a spoiled sport as it started to rain heavily. As we approached Dhanushkodi,you are allowed to drive only till a particular point, beyond that only 4x4 tempo vehicles and Jeeps are allowed. We talked to a couple of drivers, and one of them agreed to take us as soon as the rain settled down. They asked us to wait inside his tempo, while he was busy picking up some more tourists so he could get enough people for this trip. We paid 200 INR per person, which was the average. It varies according to the tourist head count and the availability of the vehicles / drivers. We were a bit skeptical about the condition of the tempo as we could see lots of rust, and holes beneath our seats.As the heavy downpour slowed to a slight drizzle, and as more tourists joined, the driver got into the vehicle and  screamed "Sit Tight...!!!"  

We were not sure why he screamed sit tight, until when he took us over to the beach side. There were no roads. Only some tracks were visible next to the beach, where water hits the land. The driver stuck his head out to see if he was on the right track, and had enough sand for the tyres to hold on to. It was purely an off-road experience with no guarantee that we would reach back on shore. As it started to go deeper on to the sea, we could only see water everywhere, i.e. we were literally surrounded by the sea. We saw some land with bits & pieces of torn tarred road. Devadas told me, "Oh yeah, we saw some tarred land. It used to be a road earlier !!" The ride along this path, was a fabulous and fascinating one. Our other tourist friends were asking if we are on the right path. The driver told us that we were almost there. He mentioned that the drivers will have a difficult time after the new road is built as they make a living by taking tourist to Dhanushkodi.

Two ladies, with a young boy waiting for their transport.
We could see the new road track which is being build in the background. 
The driver dropped us at a point, and asked us to be back after an hour or so. It was drizzling. But in spite of the weather conditions ,we took a stroll towards the memories which were left behind after the cyclone. We saw a small Siva temple, where we were left off. We marked that as the meeting point in case if we miss one another.  We saw a sign board showing the remains and its identification. There were temples, a church, a railway station, a light house, a hospital, a school and a post office. First we saw the railway station and the water tanks right next to them. It was amazing and depressing to see the relics. From there, we could see the remains of the church. It crossed our minds how elegant this place would have been back in the old days. We went close to the church and noticed some coral like substance on the rocks and walls of the church. It broke out a discussion amongst us, whether the church was under water for a long time ? Or was it a recent tide or flood which resulted in it. 

While walking down the beach, I couldn't get hold of my thoughts. It wandered around the healthy town, where you could see the trains coming in, prayers at church & temples, kids at schools, old manual stamping at post offices, residence enjoying evening walk at the beach,  the celebrations they had at this small town every other day. Suddenly the waves crashed to wipe of the humanity, just like that, snap of your finger & all gone. It reminds me of Steve Jobs words, "If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you'll most certainly be right." 

After taking some images, we went to the beach. Far & wide, we could see blue sea and white sand. One could feel the calm beast, who was ready to bounce back at any time. We loved the beach even though its now crowded with tourists, and sellers near the drop off point and church. We took a stroll to see the places, to our surprise we saw lots of wastes & bottles which were half settled in the sand. It reminded us of rough seas, which dumps back what we dump at sea. Or rather, the tourists and people around would have made the place dirty. Who knows..!We took some snaps of the place & enjoyed the sea. I placed the tripod and camera to capture all of us in a single frame. We were posing and suddenly the rain showered again. All our camera & equipments were in water. Thank god, the cameras were weather sealed. We shutdown the camera, and started running back to some shelter. The sand was slowing us down and the rain socked us all the very much. We loved the rain, however the cameras started to act weird and shutdown after sometime. We were not able to take images on our way back due to this. An hour just vanished before us and we spotted our driver calling out to us. On our way back I started to clean up my cameras and was worried if I had lost all the cameras, while Sankar was chanting, "All iz well...!" 

Wrecked boat at Lands End, Dhanushkodi

Wrecked boat at Lands End, Dhanushkodi

Stalls near the church & drop off point
We reached the place where our car was parked, and kept the camera on the back windshield where the sun rays would dry up the equipments. On our way back we saw a beach on our left. There was no second thoughts, we stepped out and ran to the beach. There were pine trees between the road and the beach. It was so filmy that we were running towards the beach in the heavy rain. We sat down at the beach for sometime. After a while, the sun showed up and slowly the rain slowed down to a stop.  Here the beach was clean and less polluted sand, as you can see in the images below. 

After the fun run at the beach, we went back to Rameshwaram & visited the Rameshwaram Temple. This temple, has the deity of Lord Shiva. Like all south Indian temples, this temple also has high compound walls and corridors with huge towers. The pillars and ceiling were all with engravings and images and it was a spectacular sight to watch. I would highly recommend visiting this temple.  Since my cameras were all socked in water, we couldn't take any pictures of the temple. 

Our next stop was Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam sir's house. This place was very informative and inspiring. Photographs, awards and write ups exuded the simplicity of our former President Bharat Ratna "Missile Man" Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. He spent a considerable part of his early life at this house at Rameshwaram. This place reminds us of the humble beginnings of our former President. 

On our way back, we even tried to get to the top of the light house tower at Pamban, however it was restricted to only officials. It was close to 1730 hrs IST, that we decided to bid good bye to Dhanushkodi & Rameshwaram. After spending a good amount of time at the Pamban bridge. Tony asked, "Whats our next plan ?". Sankar said, "Lets get back to the hotel where we stayed last night. Do you guys remember the name of the Hotel ?" Thats when we all realised, we forgot the name of the hotel and the location. All we knew was that the place was right after a railway crossing and was around 100 Kms from where we were right now. We googled for all the places we knew, and searched for a three storied hotel. At last, as a last attempt we thought to drive back and find the railway crossing. So we set the trip meter back to zero, and started towards Madurai. Over 90+ kms done, and we didn't find that hotel or the railway crossing. We started to get worried.Did we loose all our luggage and cloths ? Did we keep any valuables back at the hotel ? No idea at all. We saw the first railway crossing, here we stopped the car and enquired if there was a hotel near by. Nobody knew any hotel of that sort,so we went forward again to another railway crossing, here agin there were no buildings in site. Worried and dejected we went forward an empty stretch and we thought there was no use looking any further as the trip meter showed that we had travelled 110+ Kms. Suddenly we noticed a three storied building on our left, and a railway crossing board next to it. We pulled in, and went up to our rooms, received and laughing about the big mistake we did. This was a learning point,never ever leave the hotel without their business card or at least some document of the hotel. We had our dinner, talked over the experiences and slept off. 

The very next day morning, we started towards Trivandrum.We had made our minds to have breakfast from the same place from where we had dinner from Madurai. Since it was so damn good, we wanted to have the breakfast from the same place. Everyone was excited to have some veggie Tamil breakfast on fresh banana leaf. Again, nobody knew which place we had dinner the other day. All we could remember was that we took a wrong turn through the Madurai Market, and came across this Restaurant and right next to that there was a petrol pump station. Devadas said, "Lets go back and then put the google maps towards Rameshwaram. Rahul, all you have to do again is to take that wrong turn at the right place." We went ahead with that plan, and to our surprise I did take the wrong turn and ended up at the same restaurant . We had a wonderful set of Tamil breakfast with super filter coffee. From here, we took the route to Nagercoil via Thirunalveli. The roads were really good and we didn't even realise that we reached Nagercoil.  From Nagercoil, we took around 2 1/2 hours to reach Trivandrum.     

Visiting Dhanushkodi & Rameshwaram was a wonderful experience. Even though it reminded us about the crazy disaster which resulted in this situation for the town, we could imagine how important the town would have been as far as transportation & trade was considered between India & Sri Lanka. Not to mention about the mythological importance of the place too. 

How to reach Dhanushkodi; 
  1. By Road : It is reachable easily via road, and the distance from Rameshwaram is around 17 - 18 Kms. Where as Rameshwaram is well connected from other major cities. Bus from Madurai to Rameswaram. Jeep / Tempo Traveller to Dhanushkodi
  2. By Train : Trains till Rameshwaram is also available. However, it would be advisable to check with the railway station before hand to make sure the train service is available. Sometimes, due to bad weather they might delay or worst case cancel the service. Bus from Madurai to Rameswaram. Jeep / Tempo Traveller to Dhanushkodi
  3. By Air: The closest airport is Madurai. And from there then by road ( approximately 160 Kms )  

Few thoughts, and travel tips. 
  1. If you are traveling during the busy season, we would recommend to book your rooms before hand. Especially if travelling with family. 
  2. Carry lots of water, and an umbrella. 
  3. Dhanushkodi is open from07:00 AM IST till 05:00 PM IST. Do stick to this timing. 
  4. If weather conditions are bad, refrain from going to Dhanushkodi. Wait until the weather is back to normal and safe. 
  5. No cafe & restaurant is there at Dhanushkodi, only bottled waters and minimal packaged food is available like Lays, Bingo and Biscuits. 
  6. No Swimming at Dhanushkodi, it is quite dangerous. 
  7. It is recommended to have sun screens if you are allergic to hard and harsh sun rays. 
  8. It is always recommended to take the tempo travellers but the time will be limited, usually less than 2 hours, as they need to get another set of tourists to feed their own families.   
  9. There are lots of tour operators and independent drivers, you can get one from Rameshwaram itself, however it can be more expensive than the ones from the entry pick up point at Dhanushkodi. Some of them will only drive you till the entry pick up point, and then you have to get another guy to take you further. 
  10. Tempo traveler would start from 150 to 200 INR average per person, however the Jeeps starts from 1500 to 2000 INR. Jeeps doesn't work per person, its a whole tour deal.

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Rahul Devakumar
Creative Media Studio

We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.


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