Friday 21 May 2021

Travelogue: The last Train No 653 Pamban-Danushkodi To last land of India: Dhanuskodl, The Ghost Town

All the big journeys start from Delhi. So I boarded on Tamil Nadu Exp from Delhi to Chennai. Chennai is about 2100 Km from Delhi. The nearest railway station for Dhanuskodi is Rameshwaram. Being a major town, Rameshwaram is well connected by trains from nearly every corner of Tamil Nadu and even far off places. I boarded Rameswaram Expr which travelled about 600 km to reach Rameshwaram.

Dhanuskodi beach is Located about 18 km southeast of Rameswaram town, Dhanushkodi is a long, windswept surf beach and sandpit which exudes an end-of-the-world feel. At the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean,
Dhanushkodi is the last land of India. Dhanushkodi, besides attracting tourists is also a forward outpost of the Indian Navy.


Sri Lanka is just 31 kilometers away from Dhanushkodi. Bordered by the Bay of Bengal on one and the Indian Ocean on the other, Dhanushkodi is one of the most spectacular stretches of Tamil Nadu.


Dhanushkodi was a busy township with European bungalows, church, temple and even a railway station, custom office, post office school, hospital and other govt offices building.


Haunting Story of Dhanushkodi by Tsunami on Night of 1964 December 22

While entering Dhanushkodi railway station, train No.653, Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, a daily regular service which left Pamban with 110 passengers and 5 railway staff, was only few hundred yards before Dhanushkodi Railway station when it was hit by a massive tidal wave.


The entire train was washed away killing all 115 on board. A few meters ahead of Dhanushkodi, the signal failed. With pitch darkness around and no indication of the signal being restored, the driver blew a long whistle and decided to take the risk.


Minutes later, a huge tidal wave submerged all the six coaches in deep water. The tragedy that left no survivors also destroyed the Pamban bridge, which connected the mainland of India to Rameshwaram Island. The bridge has now been rebuilt.


Information has been received that a portion of the engine is visible six inches above water. With communication virtually cut off, the impact of the cyclone could reach Chennai only after several hours.


Before the 1964 storm, there was a train service up to Dhanushkodi called Boat Mail from Madras Egmore (Now Chennai Egmore) and the train linked to a steamer for ferrying travelers to Ceylon.


The storm was unique in many ways. It all started with a formation of a depression with its center at 5N 93E in South Andaman Sea on 17 December 1964. On 19 December it intensified into a cyclonic storm.


The Rameshwaram storm was not only formed at such low latitude but also intensified into a severe cyclonic storm at about the same latitude is indeed a rare occurrence.


After 21 December 1964, its movement was westwards, almost in a straight line, at the rate of 250 miles (400 km) to 350 miles (560 km) per day.

Pamban Bridge


Pamban Bridge was also washed away by the high tidal waves in this disaster. Eyewitness accounts recollected of how the surging waters stopped just short of the main temple at Rameshwaram where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the fury of the storm. Following this disaster, the Government of Madras declared the town as Ghost town and unfit for living after the storm. Only few fisherfolks now live there.


The route, which once linked India and Sri Lanka on the ‘Boat Mail,’ was never restored, though the remains of the cyclone still stand muted at Dhanushkodi, reminding one of the scale of the destruction wrought by nature that day.


Dhanhukodi Beach

During the bumpy ride, Taxi driver pointed us at the remains of the rail tracks covered with sand, and those of the school, the hospital and office buildings. He also shows us the village that includes some 50 households staying in makeshift thatched houses.


They say that Bay of Bengal is male in Dhanushkodi and female in Rameswaram, where it embraces Indian Ocean, after devastating seven-km sand strip separating them.

Dhansukodi Bea


We roamed around in the village and found some of the fishermen with their boats collecting their catch for the day. We also saw a few women washing clothes near a well and wonder where they get their water from. There seem to be a few wells that have salty water that people use for washing clothes and utensils.


Before the 1964 cyclone, Dhanushkodi was a flourishing tourist and pilgrimage town.

Since Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka) is just 19 miles (31 km) away, there were many ferry services between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar of Ceylon, transporting travelers and goods across the sea. There were hotels, textile shops and dharmshalas catering to these pilgrims and travelers.

Last BSNL Tower of Dhanuskodi Beach

At the “land’s end” terminus of the peninsula to the southeast of Dhanushkodi begins the chain of rocks and islets known as Rama’s Bridge. These lead approximately 19 miles across the Paik Strait to Mannar Island on the northwestern tip of Sri Lanka.


I found there a last Mobile Tower of BSNL, which was getting good signals, by which I was connected with my people. Wow; My mobile was receiving signals of Sri Lanka.  

Dhanuskodi as in Hindu Mythology

The name Dhanushkodi sounds musical. In local parlance, Dhanushkodi means ‘Bow’s end’. The gently shaped shoreline here does indeed suggest a bow. 

Hindu scriptures says that at the request of Vibhishana, brother of Ravan and ally of Rama, Rama broke the Sethu with one end of his bow and hence the name Dhanushkodi, Dhanush meaning Bow and Kodi meaning end.


It is also said that Rama marked this spot for Setu with one end of his famous bow. Bath in holy Sethu at the junction of the two seas normally precedes the pilgrimage to Rameswaram. A series of rocks and islets found in a line are shown as remnants of the ancient Setu also called as Rama’s Bridge.

A village WOMAN of Dhanuskodi Beach


A local Man at Dhanuskodi Beach

It is said that Pilgrimage to Kashi will be completed only after the worship at Rameswaram besides a holy bath in Dhanushkodi at the Confluence of Mahodadhi (Bay of Bengal) and Ratnakara (Indian Ocean). Setu is the Sanskrit word to denote a bridge or causeway. It has now acquired a special significance to mean the bridge across the ocean constructed by Ram to reach Lanka.


A memorial erected near the Dhanushkodi bus stand reads as follows:

“A cyclone storm with high velocity winds and high tidal waves hit Dhanushkodi town from 22 December 1964 midnight to 25 December 1964 evening causing heavy damages and destroying the entire town of Dhanushkodi”


At Dhanushkodi one can see the deep and rough waters of Indian Ocean meeting the shallow and calm waters of Bay of Bengal. Since the sea is shallow here, one can walk into Bay of Bengal and witness the colorful corals, fishes, seaweeds, star fishes and sea cucumber etc.


Entering the ghost town, I was caught in a time warp.

Exploring the ruins along the desolate coastline, I found a roofless, battered edifice, which looked like it must have once been a church. Inside, a pedestal, which could have been the altar, stood intact. A sense of peace overwhelmed me as I stood inside, gazing at the unscathed altar.

Ruins of  A Church


At Main land of now a ghost town Dhanushkodi beach: The last south eastern land of India.

I could imagine the pews packed with a choral-singing congregation and the church resonating with prayers and the pastor preaching sermons during a Sunday morning mass.


Moving on I found that the sand had gobbled up everything in the course of time except for the crumbling walls of a few scattered buildings with exposed bricks that stand as mute witness to the terrible tragedy in which a storm washed away this hamlet.


I came across the four-pillared structure of a water tank and stumbled upon the Dhanushkodi railway station, a solid stone structure that is a sad reminder of the ferocity of the storm and the havoc created by the raging sea.


Further to the tank are some ruins of the quarters for railwaymen. In some places the meter gauge tracks were discernible half-hidden under the sand. These were the rails that carried the Boat Mail to Dhanushkodi.


There is a big building that was once a school, two-thirds of the insides strangely covered with mounds of sand. It would have housed school kids once, most of who were probably washed away that fateful day in the storm.


Strolling among the ruins, I could not believe that the now abandoned village was once a bustling center for travel and trade, connecting India and Sri Lanka with a railway and ferry service.

Ruins of Railway Station


I just walked on the beach, went little inside the water, to the end of the peninsula where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet. I could gaze upon Adam’s Bridge, the chain of reefs, sandbanks and the islets that almost connect Sri Lanka with India. There was no turbulence, only peaceful blue Bay of Bengal.


The winds were so soothing, full of moisture, when it touches; I felt I was never touched by something so pure. The water was clean, the sand was cleaner. What a fun adventurous ride that was, although the water is shallow but still you feel the thrill of going inside the sea, the boats on the left  and lot of seagulls flying. The winds were so soothing, full of moisture, when it touches; I felt I was never touched by something so pure. The water was clean, the sand was cleaner.


It was absolutely wonderful! Seeing two oceans meet is a heart-warming sight and the feeling. Water from two oceans was brushing under our feet … amazing. I had been dying to see this place.This point of this tour just made my entire trip-- A golden memory.


If you have the ears to listen the silence too. You may hear the sounds of cries, the recitements of the prayers in the remnants of the Catholic Church, the noises from the broken pieces of busy railway station and the port office.

The End

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