Dhanushkodi:Presence of an Absence.

I first heard about the place about 5 years ago, when I was flipping through some random images in a travel magazine. The black and white imagery of forlorn destruction caused their imprint on my mind. This was all I knew about the place. Since then, it bore some strange pull, maybe the photographs were too intriguing to pass off, May be it was my sadist love for ruins of all sorts , could be any of it.Nevertheless, I decided this was going to be the main reason to tread on to the Varanasi of the South, Rameshwaram.

Dhanushkodi, as seen on the map, forms a very interesting image, as thin as a visual arrow darting out from the island of Rameshwaram, wanting to reach out to the Srilankan islands, 29 kms away,across the gorgeous Gulf of Mannar stretch. Zoom in and you would swear you almost sense the submerged connections of the two countries across the waters, in form of little islands forming the Adam’s bridge.

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Sourced from Internet

The staunch Hindus, visit the place to witness the Raam Setu, the bridge built by monkeys under the instruction of Lord Rama, as believed in scriptures. There is still an unresolved mystery around the scientific explanations which fall short around the presence of this bridge which was claimed to be in existence till the 14th century. I leave aside all of this to simply state here what I experienced on the secluded island.

Bus no 3, which leaves from outside the Hotel Tamilnadu along the Rameshwaram beach, picks people every half hour. I started off around 7.30 after my hot idly breakfast, for this awaited visit to Dhanushkodi. The place lies at a distance of about 14kms from Rameshwaram, and the bus rolls on at leisure on a secluded road, passing through a lovely stretch of vegetation, oddly pretty and sterile. On the way one can get off to visit a temple, which is half km walk from the main road, I leave the ordeal for later. After a scenic ride of 40 mins in the bus, I reach the point where the public vehicles are offloaded at Dhanushkodi. The public beach lies just off the road, and pristine white sands greet me as I hop off the bus. From what I had read, this was going to be an adventure, not exactly a cake walk, with boarding of local vans/ jeeps which claim to overstuff people and drive off into shallow waters of the beach till the Ram Setu destination.

But, it didn’t quite happen like that. The Government has built a lovely new tarred road to access the Raam Setu, which apparently though ready as I could see it, had not been inaugurated and hence not tread on by any private vehicles. As luck would have it, at the time of my visit none of the transport was available on the route, absolutely none!!I marveled at my fate. This meant, I had to walk on about 4kms for the Dilapidated Dhanushkodi village and another 5kms if I wish to see the Raam Setu! Oh Yeah in the afternoon Sun.

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The endless stretch of yet to be inaugurated tar road leading to the Raam Setu

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Rameshwaram priests and holy men walking barefoot along the stretch for a holy dip at the setu

The stretch of road in front of me, looked inviting with the soft white sands on either sides with turquoise views lacing the edges as I glanced around me. I wasn’t alone in the ordeal, being the season for Sabrimala pilgrimage, I had been having the company of hordes of men, pilgrims to Sabrimala, jostling with me in temples, clad in Black clothes head to toe. I didn’t miss them here either. Groups of South Indian pilgrims clad in black clothes, happily started their bare footfall towards the setu, under the Sun. And then there was a couple and some others equally perplexed, as me, as the absence of transport dawned upon them. This was going to be fun, I say to myself as I started my Dandi march towards the unseen but hopeful end of the road.

The air was fortunately not hot, and the walk was pleasant, although I wasn’t aware how long. I remove my camera and start clicking around. The place near the bus stop has a small settlement, crudely made village huts that looked like overnight arrangements to me, occupied the area on one side, whereas the other side had the beach and the waters.

As I continued walking the road to eternity, I saw the enthusiasm of my fellow Bus buddies fizz out slowly. The couple drifted to the turquoise of the waves, having given up on the distant sights. Another group of guys, looked at me with a dare and I walked past them determined to see the ruins.

An hour into the walk , I could suddenly sight some strange movement in the horizons towards my left , as I waited to photograph, these turned out to be people, tiny stick figures were crossing from yonder somewhere towards me ,with little baskets over their heads. Curious I walked towards them, to realize women and men were out in the shallow waters to catch fish, which they carried back to the shore overhead, wading through neck deep waters. Crazy feet. I saw them reach the road where a tempo pulled over and the bunch happily loaded into it and drove away.

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Fisher folk walking across the shallow waters with their catch of the day

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Sabrimala Devottees watching the Fisherfolk as they begin to leave

At this point I suddenly realized I didn’t have any drinking water on me, smart idiot. I continued dragging myself ahead, there was no way to turn back, and I squinted my eyes to see how far I had come… the realization of being in the middle of nowhere actually hits you in such situation. There was no one around till as far as I could see, and here I stood parched and sweating under the sun, praying for some miracle. This was completely unthought-of scenario. Unable to proceed I dragged myself to the edge of the road and sat. Luckily I saw a villager on an M80 coming my way, frantically I waved to him till he stopped. I piled on and thus reached the last settlement of India ahead. Here there were little signs of life, though far from normal.

The magazine images suddenly appeared in front of me, the destroyed structures, lying embedded in the sands, looked dramatic. Once a flourishing town, with custom vigilance for crossing into Srilanka, Dhanushkodi is now a deserted , abandoned ghost town, transformed by the Cyclone is 1964.Here I was finally witnessing a village washed away by the sea, that looking so deceptively gorgeous.

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The remains of the  St Anthony’s church, the iconic structure reminding of the doom

But first I picked a bottle of water and some raw mango slices, the village ladies were selling. Hydrating myself, I started to go about exploring the sunken structures. There is not much left to see here, but a lot to be felt as there is much gone missing. The Church is the only remnant of some shape and visible architecture. Rest of the structures are worse off, embedded into the sands and forgotten there for decades. One such structure had a hostile Yogi inhabiting it. As I peeked inside to click him, he glared at me, reminding me of a Crab inside a hermitage. From here I walked on, to reach the Ram setu. The Sabrimala guys were way ahead of me .But I learnt it was another 4 kms walk and that is when I decided this much adventure should be enough.I also know i will return someday to see the Adam’s bridge remain and to squint at the horizons across the Palk Bay for Srilankan coast.

I spent a little time ogling at the white sands, they are divine, and the waters , the way they gush in at high tides, formed lovely landscapes of shallow valleys besides the road. I sat here absorbing the silence and the solitude of the landscape feeling satiated.

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The little sand wells dug into the grounds, give surprising sweet drinking water next to the shores

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Remains of the Railway Piers

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Ruins of the Altar inside the Church

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Salvaged remains of the half submerged temple

As I turned to walk back, I was approached by a local, and pulled away to see the remains of the railway station and tracks, a single gauge rail track peeked out of the submerged sand. He then took me to a little temple which held a sample of the mystery stones that were used to build the Ram setu. I found myself looking at a 1 ft. odd boulder floating in a large vessel of water. As the stories go, the stones floated on the waters and helped in making of the bridge. The locals here sell small stone figures and samples bearing this floating effect to be taken away as memorabilia. I disappointed him by buying nothing.

The thought of walking 5 kms back itself was feeling like a tall task, and I didn’t wish to add even a gram of weight on me for it.

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Heart wrenching  memories of the Pamban meter gauge railway, which got washed defunct.

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The floating stone stories as narrated by the locals for some pennies

As I started walking back again, a Jeep halted beside me,I was expecting the men to ask me if I needed a drop, but that wasn’t to happen. They asked me my whereabouts, my id, and origins etc. Apparently since it is the Border sensitive area, custom officers patrol the stretch. My camera and lone figure gave them some doubts that prompted this conversation. After getting satisfied with my reverts the men took off, without me! Whatever happened to Chivalry :))? I continued walking and somehow reached the start point without any help. Phew. By now it was almost evening and quite a few tourists, mostly locals had come down to enjoy the shores at Dhanushkodi. I half pitied the people who had started walking towards the Setu…

I loitered on to the gorgeous sands, towards the waters, where the tall beautiful waves towered over people as they dashed to the pristine shores. I sat at the edge watching this force of nature and could only imagine what havoc it much have caused , the force with which it must have washed away and silenced an entire village into ghost land.

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Pristine White sands of the Dhanushkodi beach

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Fishing boats lined after the days work.

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Fascinating Waves 6’high rise dramatically along the shores of the beach.

Here again I invited police, who questioned me elaborately over why I was roaming ALONE! Thus ended the long awaited trip to Dhanushkodi. As I write this article, I am sure the road to the Ram setu spot must have been inaugurated by now and the ordeal of the wishful traveler would be simple than what I faced. I clambered onto a local bus, destined for Rameshwaram and reached in time to watch a beautiful sunset.

 p.s : For anyone interested to read little about the history of the cyclone and the damage that followed, i had read through the link pasted below on a bloglink. https://tvaraj.com/2014/06/21/dhanushkodi-fifty-years-after-the-cyclone-of-1964/

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