Dhanuskodi, the abandoned town at the end of India

Dhanuskodi

The abandoned town at the end of India

Also see: FAM Trip of Tamil Nadu

A long stretch of desolate sand, with scattered dilapidated structures, flanked on both side with endless expanse of water. On the north is clear blue waters of Bay of Bengal and on the south is the turbulent waters of Gulf of Mannar.

Where peacocks dare! Ruins of Dhanushkodi

Where peacocks dare! Ruins of Dhanushkodi

This is Dhanuskodi, once the flourishing port and now an abandoned town complete with roofless church, railway stations with rails and schools with out students.

Towards Dhanushkodi, the lands end

Towards Dhanushkodi, the lands end

Dhanuskodi is located near the south eastern tip of Pamban Island (also known as Rameswaran Island) and is the nearest land mass of India from Sri Lanka.

Dhanushkodi has a connect with the great Indian epic Ramayana and believed to the place where Rama instructed Hunuman to built a bridge to Lank.

Rama used the bridge to ferry his army across the ocean to fight the demon king Ravana.

On returning victorious Rama broke the bridge with the help of his bow, and the place came to be known as Dhanuskodi, literally means “end of a bow,”

Arichal Munai, lands end at Dhanushkodi

Arichal Munai, lands end at Dhanushkodi

Today a series of small islands lies across the Palk Strait the stretch of water separating India from Sri Lanka.

Modern satellite image show a stretch of islands, separated by submerged land, connecting India with Sri Lanka.

It is known as the Adam’s Bridge but recent time people have started referring to the natural wonder as Ram Setu.

Dhanuskodi is located on the Pamban Island (also known as Rameswaran Island) has it Rama connect the island has its share of temples and pilgrimage.

Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameswaran is part of the Char Dham Yatra, which includes the Jaganath Temple (Puri), Badrinath Temple (Badrinath)and Somenath Temple (Dwarka).

View from Dhanushkodi towards Rameswaran, with Bay of Bengal on right and Gulf of Mannar on left

View from Dhanushkodi towards Rameswaran, with Bay of Bengal on right and Gulf of Mannar on left

In spite of being an island Rameswarn is well connected to India by a set of road and rail bridges. The single-line Pamban Bridge dates back to 1914. The parallel Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge was constructed in 1988.

Beach of Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi

Beach of Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail Express once connected Madras (now Chennai) in India with Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

The international journey was a combination of rail – ferry – rail journey and operated on a single ticket.

First leg was a train journey from Madras to Dhanuskodi. Followed by the 35 km long ferry service connecting Dhanuskodi (India) to Talaimannar (Ceylon / Sri Lanka). The third and final leg was a train journey from Talaimannar to Colombo.

Being an important international transit point Dhanuskodi was a flourishing town with a busy immigration office.

Street food vendor at Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi

Street food vendor at Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi

The town along with its busy railway station also housed a small church, police station, school and post office. The town also had a sizable population consisting mainly of fishing community.

But things took a drastic turn during the December of 1964. A massive cyclone formed on the Andaman Sea made a violent landfall in Dhanuskodi on the night of 22 December 1964.

The cyclone struck Dhanuskodi with wind speed of roughly 240 km/h and resulted in tidal waves 7 m in height.

It not only caused havoc destruction and loss of life in Dhanuskodi and surrounding region but also washed out a entire train, which was making its way towards the Dhanuskodi Railway station.

Beach at Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi, where the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar meet

The entire Pamban – Dhanuskodi passenger train, with about 200 passengers, was washed away killing all the people on board. Dhunoskodi, was totally cut off from the rest of the country and it was three days later on 25 December 1964 the rest of the world came to know about the train disaster in Dhanuskodi.

Abandoned railway station, Dhanushkodi

Abandoned railway station, Dhanushkodi

Sadly no efforts were made to recreate the rail line and Dhanuskodi was decleared a ghost town, unfit for living. The rail line stopped at Rameswaran 20 km from Dhanuskodi. The Dhanuskodi – Talaimannar ferry service was also abandoned.

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

However the India – Sri Lanka ferry continued it operation between Rameswaran and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Famous travel writer Paul Theroux took the ferry in 1973 and penned down his experience in his best-selling book The Great Railway Bazaar.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
It was a three-hour trip across the Palk Strait on the old Scottish steamer, the TSS Ramanujam (formerly the Irwin), from Rameswaram to Talaimannar at the top of Ceylon.

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

In the early 1980s ethnic violence erupted in Sri Lanka with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) taking control of large portion of the island nation.

In 1984 due to security reasons the Indian central government stopped the ferry service between the two nations.

Although presently Sri Lanka is free of ethnic violence but the famed international ferry is yet to start its operation again.

On the other hand Dhanuskodi remains a abandoned town with scattered ruins along with Arichal Munai, providing a lands end feeling.

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

Although being abandoned for half a century Dhanuskodi is a well known destination in the tourist map of the country.

With the important pilgrimage of Rameswaran just 20 km away Dhanuskodi attracts a huge number of tourist (both pilgrim and non-pilgrim) every day.

Today, with no place to stay in Dhanoskodi bus loads of tourist make a day trip to the former flourishing international port town every day during the tourist session.

The trip to Dhanuskodi from Rameswaran also includes a visit to Arichal Munai, the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island (or Rameswaran Island). It is about 5 km east of Dhanuskodi.

Abandoned Church, Dhanushkodi

Arichal Munai is virtually the land’s end for India. It is a place where the waters of Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Mannar meet. Just 35 km away across the turbulent waters of Palk Strait is the Sri Lankan port town of Talaimannar.

Ruins of immigration office, Dhanushkodi

Ruins of immigration office, Dhanushkodi

The endpoint is marked with a pillar topped with an Ashokan Emblem. The pillar stands on a circular traffic island allowing the vehicles to make a u-trun from the end of the country. The place is crowded with tourist always on the lookout for a selfie or groupfie with the turbulent sea in the backdrop.

Ruins of Immigration Office, Dhanushkodi

Photographers operating from with cameras and portable printers do a brisk business by clicking photos of tourists. The street food vendors selling coconut water, roasted corn and an assortment of fresh fruits also get their share of the business.

Scattered ruins of Dhanushkodi

The scattered ruins of Dhanuskodi lies about 5 km west of Arichal Munai. The abandoned rail station lies on the north of the road. Apart from three tall arches, nothing much is left of the station, which once had an international connection.

A light house towers above the ruins and beach of Dhanuskodi

A light house towers above the ruins and beach of Dhanuskodi

The ruined roofless church, the most visited structure of Dhanuskodi. Makeshift shops selling artifacts of sea shell stands on either side of the long-abandoned church. Apart from the front entrance, a few arches and a portion of the altar nothing is left of the church.

Where Peacocks Dare!!! the national bird takes care of the immigration office in Dhanuskodi

Just adjoining to the church and to the east of it are more ruins. The inculde police station, school and a post office. About a 100 yards on the west of the church is the ruins of the immigration office. Today a group of peacocks have made it their home. No wonder nature relocated humans to give space for the national bird to safeguard one border of the nation.

Apart from the abandoned port town of Dhanuskodi, Pamban Island (also called Rameswaran Island) houses the famous Rameswaran Temple, Pamban Bridge and the Memorial of APJ Abdul Kalam.

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