iAwashed | In Ghost Town Dhanushkodi

I don’t think I have ever fully imagined what it is like for an object to be swept off the earth! It has remained but a phrase that belonged either to school textbooks in their outmoded ways of ensuring we got an education or to newspapers who mostly thrived on sordid tales at best. I was yet to be confronted by something that had in fact been swept off the earth. So the writers of the story of my life took me by the shoulders and left me gaping at what resembled a boat graveyard (Think elephant graveyard from The Lion King and treat it as no exaggeration).

Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu (India)

Arriving in Dhanushkodi that July of 2015 was not a part of a plan.
But then again it was not a part of any plan to be taking 7 trains spanned over 18 days just to get from Delhi to Mumbai either! The lure to be on that train that choog-choog’d along India’s first (and then, longest) sea-bridge was a magnetic force I didn’t want to resist any longer.

It was the third of those seven train journeys that brought my friend and me to Rameswaram from Kanyakumari on a blue-grey morning before the sun itself had woken up from behind the hills. And this is where the plan came to an end. After all, the sole purpose of hauling ourselves on that train had been achieved; in other words, Pamban Bridge atop a train had been experienced.

It was my friend’s conversation with her cousin that introduced us to, what from descriptions on the internet seemed like a mystical place that was, Dhanushkodi - a place wiped out because of a cyclone that hit it in the 1960s! Sure the eastern coast of India has been more susceptible to cyclones but I was yet to learn about a place that had been swept off the earth – and in all likelihood even submerged below it – in the wake of that ravaging cyclone.

Memorial erected at Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Memorial erected at Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Wikitravel was helpful in pointing us to Bangur Dharamshala in Rameswaram, where for a trifle of 250 INR we had a modest room to clean up. After all we were not going to spend any more than 12 hours in the temple town of Rameswaram; we were taking the train out the same night! So morning ablution and authentic South Indian breakfast later, ghost town - as it were - awaited our visit!

At temple town Rameswaram | Tamil Nadu (India)

At temple town Rameswaram | Tamil Nadu (India)

In a when-in-Rome-do-as-Romans-do moment, risking it with public transport from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi saved us 582 INR. In other words, a mere 12 bucks is what we paid per head instead of the 600 bucks being quoted by the rickshaw driver. It is important to note that after a certain point along the route there is absolutely no road and those wishing to go the proverbial land’s end must board SUVs who charge you 150 INR for that ride! So haul a rickshaw at your own wallet’s risk, I’d say.

“Look! The sea” we had both found ourselves exclaiming on the bus albeit pointing in two opposite directions. But only one of us was right.
Because on the one side of the slim tar strip that causes the bus to make a constant rattling sound was the calm blue-grey Bay of Bengal, while on the other the turbulent cerulean Indian Ocean. I don’t think my neck particularly appreciated the Tinder-esque swipe-to-the-left-swipe-to-the-right jerks I induced it while wanting to take in sights from both the sides of the road!

At the last stop after we dismounted like sheep without a shepherd in what seemed like a land of goats what with us not being able to speak the local language (Tamil), we were lucky to be almost summoned by a lady who was keen to have us fill in the blank for the requisite 12 people who are required for the SUV to take off!

At the end of the motorable road from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Boarding the next vehicle to get to Dhanushkodi town | Tamil Nadu (India)

The drive through the sand bed is what I call the graveyard. And may be befittingly so because it is the boat carcasses that lay strewn across the landscape all the way until the sea meets the horizon. And it’s here that the impact of the cyclone eerily makes itself known. Barely-here railroads, a structure that is believed to be a church and another that’s supposed to be the post office are the only remnants attesting to point that once upon a time, human life abounded in those very same environs.

Boat carcasses at Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Submerged railway tracks of the erstwhile Dhanushkodi station | Tamil Nadu (India)

Ruins of the church at ghost town Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Ruins of the church at ghost town Dhanushkodi | Tamil Nadu (India)

Turns out that the experience of being in Rameswaram wasn’t quite complete. While we had been atop the train as it choog-choog’d its way along the Pamban Bridge, we hadn’t been able to really take in the sight of the engineering marvel as it stood. So later that evening prior to getting to the station to take our train out of Rameswaram we took the rickshaw to the road bridge and waited, watching as an evening train slithered along the rail bridge.

Pamban Rail Bridge | Tamil Nadu (India)

Pamban Rail Bridge | Tamil Nadu (India)

Reclined on my side-upper berth of the Rameswaram-Kanyakumari Superfast Express later that night I found myself piecing the events of the day that began with us entering Pamban Island as the muezzin call to prayer welcomed us and the Sun from across the horizon to the day that felt a lot like playing a game of Pictionary with Life; I now know what ‘swept off the earth’ looks like!

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