Thursday, May 26, 2016

Places to see in Rameshwaram: Ghost Town, Dhanushkodi.


It is not safe to venture further into the town of Dhanushkodi today. Our driver's voice is grim and non budging, ignorant of my brother’s earnest and repeated plea to prod him into saying a yes. We should move out of here as soon as possible.



The rough weather at Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
The sea at Dhanushkodi: Not in a good mood today!

My brother steps out of the car on a quest to see as much as possible of this ghostly town and so do I; the rains are heavy and cyclonic and we don’t have an umbrella. But our desire to see this mythical ancient decrepit and highly touristy town is heavier.

We are at Dhanushkodi, popularly tipped as the 'ghost town' situated in the state of Tamil Nadu in India and about 18 miles west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Regular vehicles are banned entry further beyond this point, the barricade at Mukundarayar Chathiram flanked by a merger of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. A clutch of tempos/jeeps are available to do the job instead; pay around 150-200 INR depending on the rush and you will be whisked off to the land’s end (the actual town), around 5 kms. further, also known poetically as Arichal Munai in Tamil (or Erosion Point), the south-east corner of Pamban island.

After some deliberation over the worsening conditions of the weather, we decide to heed the advice of our driver and chuck the idea of taking a ride in this tempo. We shall not be venturing any further beyond this point today.

Disappointed to see our plans washed out by rains but determined to still make this trip to Dhanushkodi worthwhile, we head towards the ocean in sight, the bridge that connects this part of the village to the far end on the other side where the actual ruins of a nightmare continue to live, telling a horrific tale.


Stretch of the Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Walking along this sandy stretch takes you to the abandoned Dhanushkodi town.

Once a thriving town rooted in tales from the Great Hindu Epic Ramayana, Dhanushkodi, some 20 kilometres away from Rameshwaram, was subjected to nature’s fury by a ferocious cyclone that hit the town on the night of Dec 23, 1964. History has it that this is the same place where Lord Rama pointed to with the tip of his bow after his victory over monster king Ravana (hence the name, Dhanushkodi which means tip of the bow) and Lord Hanumana along with his army of monkeys built a setu (bridge) to cross the sea to reach Sri Lanka. The all consuming cyclone ate up everything that came in its way uprooting life from its very foundations. All that remains now is a frail picture of this once chirpy town, now declared unfit for occupation.

The frailty jumps out like open scars waiting to be healed – a dishevelled railway track, a dilapidated temple, the roof of a church, and the columns of a water canal - like eerie echoes that continue to hang about even today along the corridors of time. 

THE "GHOSTLY" TOWN OF DHANUSHKODI … AS I SAW IT (FROM THE OTHER SIDE):

Barren but with a beating soul, my first glimpse of the town is a sprawling space across sandy terrain dotted with fishing nets and temporary shacks set up by the local fishermen. Silence fills the environs disturbed only by the lashing rains and the majestically roaring ocean at a distance.


Shacks on the Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Local fishermen making a living in Dhanushkodi

But what really disturbs my senses is this heady concoction of intrigue that looms large in the environs – one in which mystery, faith and destruction are mixed in equal measure. It’s an intangible feeling but pretty much palpable as it hangs right there - in the air, suspended like a thread frozen in the spinning wool of time.


People at Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Come, play with me, I will do you no harm.

For those who catch a few of these strands knitting together this elusive town, it’s delightful of sorts and they often return in awe and wonder. But beware! As you get hold of it, it has that mysterious tenacity to take you deeper through the serpentine maze of time and curdle forth strong sensitive emotions mirroring back both, the importance and impermanence of life.

Winds are fierce and I tuck the strap of my Nikon camera firmly around my wrist doing my best to protect it from the untamed velocity howling around; I am keen to savour these moments, for they are zenlike, my 'one time one meeting' with the wildly melodic sea at Dhanushkodi.


Terrific skies at Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Beauty... Untamed!

First one, then another; gingerly I slip into the slightly raging waves telling tales of history – past, present and more. Like a rowdy child, a huge wave bumps into my calf muscles as if inviting me in. In… into a world where the waves breathe on and are now talking to me freely, quietly. They carry within them stories that are waiting to be heard. Stories that define their lineage. These are stories dating back, beyond years not easily comprehensible in numbers and then there is one more, more recent that took everything tangible away.


Beautiful Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Can you hear me? I have got stories to say.

I see the tragedy as they have seen and feel the sadness as they have felt it. To come face to face with the loss and desperation of thousands of gullible lives – destroyed and unfound - on a cold wintry night some 50 years ago is not easy. Far from it.


What about barren, abandoned, obsolete, uninhabited places is so intriguing to us?


Us… you as well as me. Is it simply the emotion of intense melancholy that we feel in those moments when we walk through such places, or is it the dive into an unknown mystery, of all that in life that is beyond visual comprehension, that which we call death or is it something else, something more?


Huge waves at Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
What lies beyond ... that which we cannot see?

Thoughts cloud the windows of my mind as waves rise and fall with each passing minute, as if teasing me to imagine all that lies beyond, through the passage of time and distance, in this ghostly town of Dhanushkodi.

It's gloomy and the changing colors of the ocean bears testimony to the changing hues of life that the town has been a witness to: dark grey, furious, wild and untamed, perhaps this is how she speaks. To you, me and us, to answer all the many questions that wander in the recesses of our minds. And, also the biggest question of them all -


Why did nature do this to mankind?


At the Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
The wounds are open, laid bare for everyone to see.

The town is vulnerable, real to the core still trying everyday to come to terms with the memories of an oceanic rage that once gobbled up its very identity, without any remorse, reclaiming in a single stroke, perhaps everything that was always hers.

Memories of grief and pain stick in my heart like sandy particles stick in my feet, pulling my mind away from the reality every now and then, making it difficult to focus on the present. The Present... Where the tidal wave of destruction has long receded. And, new hopeful waves keep coming on. Perhaps, the day is not far when we shall see a resilient wave of human spirit rising up again. The biggest of them all. To give back all that was wiped off - back to Dhanushkodi.


Such is nature, after all.
The nature of life.

Getting there - Dhanushkodi:

1. For all those visiting Rameshwaram, a trip to Dhanushkodi is a must. To get there, you can take a car or a bus from Rameshwaram before switching over to a jeep that take you to the actual town.



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28 comments:

  1. Your post makes me feel really bad that you didn't get to explore the town. And I really would love to know what stories the waves whispered to you, stories that only elders of the lost town will know and share...

    I hope you visit the place once again, and this time, the stars align to ensure that you get to do what you are yearning for - to familiarize yourself with the place. More people should know the stories about this town, especially from your pen / keyboard.

    Absolutely stunning post, Arti.

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  2. I was curious to know about the unbelievable tragedy of Dhanushkodi and whether people still go there or not. Loved reading the mystery of the place and your emotions flowing with it. Reading about your visit and that still people can visit, my belief in hope is strengthened. This vulnerable town disturbed my mind for a second, but that also showed me a message of long-fought battle. Loved the optimistic ending very much, such is the life. So true.

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  3. Beaches are nothing but gentle giants, they mean no harm.
    Nice pictures.

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  4. Arti, Just read your post. Thanks for sharing :) Beautiful pics.
    Greetings ~ da

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  5. Dear Arti,

    I enjoyed reading your story of this ghost town and seeing your beautiful photos of the sea. The waves can have such a powerful force and have seen that at many beaches over here. Thanks for sharing the post and good to see you again.
    Enjoy the rest of the weekend
    Carolyn

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  6. What a poetic post, Arti. You made me feel the mystery of the place and the symbiotic relationship it has with the sea. Storms are often frightening in their power but also energizing. What an adventure you had even though you couldn't reach your destination. I recently came upon an abandoned town high in the mountains, and I had a similar feeling of the past speaking to me. Your photos are mesmerizing.

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  7. ahh, the unforgiving waves, the unforgiving forces of nature, but such is nature indeed, behind the wrath is so the promise of hope

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  8. You may not know that but I'm a real fan of beaches! I love jogging there, especially in the morning or late at night. It's the best feeling ever! The sea at Dhanushkodi definitely looks like a beautiful spot for doing what I love the most! <3

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  9. Sad to hear the fate of Dhanuskodi. But perhaps sadder is the rate T which human-kind is wiping nature out...

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  10. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the post which you have presented like a wonderful story. I guess its the mystery behind these uninhabited places which pulls us towards it keeping us intrigued!

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  11. Beautifully described. These places beckon you and yet disturb you

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  12. I visited this place years ago. And you blog wakes up my memories. Like the pictures

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  13. I had been to Dhanuskodi long back in 2005. Drove down to the last point in a jeep. Took bath in the water. There was no one else there. Finding such silent beaches is difficult these days.

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  14. The quiet and stilness all around the place has its own beauty and the raging sea and beating waves are the only sounds one hears. I cannot forgetbthe tranquility of the place visited many years ago!

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  15. One day I want to visit all the ghost towns of India. On second thoughts, why only India, of the world. :)

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  16. Awesome captions and the story that you weave through your travel tales transports one to a nothing less than a novella.

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  17. Such stunning photographs with perfect captions. Loved the way you narrated your experience. Awesome post :)

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  18. I guess you made the place spookier through your description, but enjoyed reading your post.

    I feel nature doesn't harm us in any way unless we call for it. I hope to visit it some day.

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  19. Such a wonderful, melancholic post Arti! I can literally feel this place - and the atmosphere of a world in between worlds - you captured it so well and in beautiful words! i like the hopeful ending of it too. Thanks for your lovely visit the other day and your comment - i hope you have a nice start to your week!

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  20. Arti: Dhanushkodi is sure a very unique place, so close yet so far, not just by distance but also by the way life / isolation and loneliness play a role there. Indeed it is worth visiting if nothing else just to remind us about our position in the cosmos....

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  21. Enjoyed the narration of your visit.

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  22. And the beach, the waves remain the same - untouched by the tragedy. They have no time for sadness. Glad you went.

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  23. Makes one feel sad as one reads through your words for the town that once thrived with life, now deserted and ghostlike. I have similar thoughts when I explore ruins always wondering what life was and how things changed in a matter of minutes.

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  24. Very Useful information about Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi . It is Dhanushkodi or Dhanushkoti ?

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    1. Everywhere I read and saw, it was Dhanushkodi. But now that you point it out, Dhanushkoti sounds equally fitting!

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  25. Loved every line of the post. I've a penchant for mysteries and thrillers, haunted houses- so I was as disappointed as you had been when I read that the trip to the actual town didn't budge. You've described the pathos, the melancholic nature of the town so beautifully...that's why your travelogues are always an enjoyable read... :-)

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  26. Wow, very moving. Fifty years...that's not so long ago, is it. It's an impactful reminder of the destructive and awe-inspiring power of nature. Thank you for taking us along on your trip.

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  27. I travelled with you. Into the realms of the shores and into the intriguing mysteries of the ghost town. Even though you didn't get to explore it, you weaved a picture of the pain, sadness, mysteries and unanswered questions!
    Kudos Arti. Beautifully penned.
    The unfortunate, unfathomed furies of nature bring to light how helpless mankind is, no matter the level of development we hold pride in.

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