Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.
History of Dhanushkodi
Dhanushkodi had everything you would expect in a small, yet prosperous, coastal town—incredibly beautiful views of the clear blue sea, spotless sands, an important religious significance, and busy ferry services between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar of Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), transporting travelers and goods across the sea. It had a railway station, a church, a temple, a post office, a small railway hospital, a higher secondary school, and houses, among other things.
But today everything is dilapidated, having been abandoned years back. The Dhanushkodi of today is a ghost town occupied by hutments of fishermen who live in isolation and with no connection to the outside world other than the occasional jeep to the mainland. Their main means of survival are the fish they catch from the sea.
The 1964 Rameswaram Cyclone
The town was destroyed by a cyclone that took place in 1964. It destroyed everything, and what remains now is a sandy shoreline with ruins dating back to a bygone era. The town is still breathtakingly beautiful, but the desolate ruins give an unnerving eeriness to a city that was once one of the priceless jewels of South India.
The Mythology Behind Dhanushkodi
Dhanushkodi, which means "end of the bow," is situated to the southeast of Pamban town, about 18 miles west of Talaimannar town in Sri Lanka. Dhanushkodi has the only land border between India and Sri Lanka, which is one of the smallest in the world—just 45 meters in length on a tiny sand dune in Palk Strait.
Dhanushkodi is strategically located, with the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. This made it an important port for traders across the Indian subcontinent. Ferry services were available between India and Sri Lanka through this town, transporting both goods and travelers across the sea, from one country to the other.
The town of Dhanushkodi had everything a busy traveler could need—hotels, boarding houses, textile shops, money exchangers, etc. The business was brisk, and the residents were quite prosperous.
Apart from trading, the town had an important religious significance tied to the story of Ramayana, one of the major epics in Hinduism.
The town of Dhanushkodi is believed to be the place where Lord Rama ordered Lord Hanumana to build a bridge that could carry his army across to Sri Lanka, where the Demon King Ravana had kept Sita captive. After Rama won the war, he broke the bridge with one end of his bow.
Hence, the name Dhanushkodi or ‘end of the bow’ (Dhanush meaning ‘bow’ and Kodi meaning ‘end’). Thus, the unique mix of history, myth, mystery, and religion made Dhanushkodi one of the busiest pilgrim hotspots across the world.
Then one day, everything came to an end.
A Cyclone Destroyed Dhanushkodi
On that night of December 22, 1964, a cyclone ravaged Dhanushkodi. Reports say that over 1,800 people died in the storm. The high tidal waves moved deep, and as a result, the little town that was once a bustling location for trading and tourism was reduced to ruins.
Following this disaster, the Government of India declared Dhanushkodi a ghost town unfit for living in. More than half a century later, corroded remnants of dilapidated buildings stand naked against the bright blue sky, telling their own tales of the prosperity of a bygone era that never came back again.
A few survivors of the cyclone still live there, but in utter poverty. A community of about 500 fishermen is all that constitutes the current population of Dhanushkodi. They eke out a very difficult living, surviving on the fish found aplenty in the area. Their houses have only makeshift thatched roofs, lying at the mercy of the finicky seasons and the howling winds that blow continuously.
Dhanushkodi Is Now Getting Popular
Dhanuskodi may have been destroyed, but there is hope.
The Indian Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has launched an ambitious road project to connect Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi in 2014. After several postponements, Phase II of this project—a nine-kilometer-long stretch of road from Mukuntharayar Chathiram to Arichalmunai, the southernmost tip of Dhanushkodi where the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet—was completed in 2018. The remnants of the "ghost town" should also get a facelift, with the district administration planning to set up a sound and light show for encouraging tourism.
The opening of the connecting road, along with other efforts being made, are expected to pave the way for a better life in Dhanushkodi, with the creation of new business opportunities and encourage an influx of tourism back into the town.
This will help the town rightly reclaim its invaluable significance from the times of the Ramayana. Hopes are high, but as to whether they will become reality, only time can tell.
As Christina Aguilera rightly said, "Time heals everything. Sometimes you have to go through that pain and heartbreak so that you can get to the other side and come out on top.”
Things to Do in and Around Dhanushkodi
Some of the best activities that can be done at Dhanushkodi are:
- A solitary visit to the ruins of the police station, church, and the railway station, indulging in nostalgia for the town's prosperous past.
- A stroll along the clean beach with swimming near the seashore. (Remember not to go too far in the sea due to sudden changes in weather conditions.)
- Rameshwaram is only 18 km away, and you can visit the majestic Rameshwaram temple and even perform puja there.
- Drive along the Rameshwaram-Pamban bridge and enjoy the majestic sea on all sides.
- If you are feeling adventurous, you can even plan a visit to the nearby Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park.
- Pay a visit to the famous Adam’s bridge or Ram Sethu about 16 km from Dhanushkodi beach and visualize the Ramayana with your own eyes.
Important Tips for Visiting Dhanushkodi
- Dhanushkodi has no functioning hotels or eateries, so please take some packed food along with you.
- The sun can be hot, so make sure you apply enough sunscreen before stepping out on the beach.
- Dhanushkodi by itself is a full-day trip from Rameshwaram, so plan your itinerary to start early from Rameshwaram so that you can be back by 7 pm.
- Dhanushkodi is closed after 7 pm, and wandering among the ruins is illegal (and a punishable offense).
October to February is the best time to travel, when it is winter in India, with moderate rain easing the temperature further. That said, visiting the beach during monsoons is not recommended due to high tide conditions.
How to Reach Dhanushkodi
- By Air: The nearest airport is at Madurai, which is 164 km away from Rameswaram, where taxis are available to go to Dhanushkodi.
- By Train: The nearest railway station is at Rameshwaram, which is 18 km away. Direct trains are available from Chennai and Madurai.
- By Road: Taxis and private vehicles are available from the nearest city, Rameswaram, which is 19 km away from Dhanushkodi.
- The Story Behind the Lost Land of Dhanushkodi in India
- The story of Dhanushkodi, a cyclone hit town
- The Story of Dhanushkodi, The Ghost Town of India
© 2021 Ravi Rajan