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. 


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.