Arichal Munai - aerial view of the last road of India

Dhanushkodi – Uncover The Secrets Of A Deserted Old Town

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The land is nestled between the calm sea waters of the Bay of Bengal and the rough waves of the Indian Ocean, carrying the sorrows of the dead, a treasured town that remains deserted on the sands, in constant wonder for lost souls is a place called Dhanushkodi.

Located about 20 Km from Rameshwaram, an island of Tamil Nadu, it served as the shortest route to the borders of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Once a thriving city, it is now a desolate landmass. Read more to find out what happened to this once glamorous city that today even pales in comparison with a village. Continue reading to know how you can reach and why you need to visit this historical place.

Dhanushkodi Trip Guide

History of Dhanushkodi 

The story has it that if sandalwood was made to float from Myanmar (Burma), it reached Dhanushkodi easily and naturally, thus an idea of a trade route was formed to cater to international borders.

During British rule in the late 1900s, they introduced a new transport route from Chennai to Dhanushkodi, a ferry ride to Talaimannar, and then again a train journey from Talaimannar to Colombo. The Pamban railway bridge, which connects Rameshwaram and Tamil Nadu mainland, was constructed as a part of this plan. On Feb 24, 1914, the first successful journey along this route took place. 

The single ticket journey of Indo – Ceylon Express or Boat Mail Express (Train no: 16701 – now runs from Chennai to Rameswaram), part of the South Indian Railways (now known as Southern Railways) starts from Chennai Egmore and ends at Colombo in Sri Lanka. The train route from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi was challenging, especially the unpredictable stops that were necessary to remove the sand on railway tracks enabling the train to pass. Apart from passenger trains, goods and livestock also traversed along this route.

As the route grew in popularity, so did the civilization. Schools, railway stations, hospitals, post offices, harbors, police stations, and holy shrines were constructed in Dhanushkodi. This harbor town has never looked more beautiful and lively than with its residents. It was such a joyous place that people would call it “heaven” and “mini Singapore” during its hay days.

Because of these structural developments and revenue growth, people flocked to Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar as they served as the prime trading city with a growing business scene. Tourism also bloomed in this region.

What Happened In Dhanushkodi?

On December 17th, 1964 a “sea depression” was formed in the South Andaman Sea. As the days passed, the winds became stronger and the sea became rough, consequentially, intensifying into a severe cyclonic storm. On the night of December 22nd & 23rd, the hurricane winds with a speed of 280 Km/Hr, and tides as high as 23 Feet hit the shores of Dhanushkodi. Heavy rains with gigantic winds drowned the entire town in water. 

A train with 150 people collapsed, houses were demolished, electric poles fell, their belongings were afloat in the waters and more than 1800 people in the region lost their lives. The place was submerged underwater in the darkness. The sea swallowed a booming city leaving only the sands, water, and floating bodies. Only a very few people were able to escape. It was a heart-wrenching time for the people who witnessed what the Sea-mother (as often referred to by the populace) had left for them.

From a thriving coastal town to a ghost town, this mourning day flipped everything. The central government announced this tragic incident as a “national disaster” and the United Nations as “Asia’s disaster”.

Although the relief works and rescue were done by the Indian army, the Government later announced the place as “not fit to live” and has been left isolated by mankind since then. But to this day there is no relief for the generations of fishermen who lost their families in the cyclone and continue to live there due to circumstances.

This horrific event was not the end of the tragedies that these residents had to brace for. After the calamity, the place was recognized as “not fit to live,” and as a consequence, these people were not provided access to the fundamental infrastructure support that they were entitled to from the government.
Links to news articles published during the 1964 incident – The Age, Reading Eagle

Dhanushkodi Today

According to Hindu Puranas, before one’s death to attain Mukti, people have to visit Rameshwaram and take a dip in the holy waters of Dhanushkodi before visiting Kasi to end their journey of “Kasi Yatra.” This pilgrim-esque journey is quite similar in principle to the Hajj. People used to take horses and hire jeeps and vans to reach Dhanushkodi. After 50+ years, the Government recognized this place and built roads in 2015 until the land’s very end called “Arichal Munai”.

Dhanushkodi village huts now

Dhanushkodi is less than a village now. As a part of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Foundation, solar panels were installed in all the huts in the region. To this day, people are dependent on solar for electricity. Drinking water (spring water) is preserved and is fetched from small wells.

There is an elementary school for the villagers’ children now and a post office also runs in the region. 20 Families out of 300 have registered homes in Dhanushkodi.

After the roads were laid, the villagers could take heart in their rising economy. Tourism and fishing are their primary trade. Today, it is thriving as a tourist attraction and a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Muslims.

In 2008, the Sethusamudram Canal project was proposed to create a navigable shipping route between India and Srilanka along the Palk Strait and Palk Bay without damaging the Ram Setu but years later the project was dropped due to multiple political reasons.

The Mystery Bridge That Connects India & Sri Lanka

Satellite view of the Ram Setu or Adam's bridge
Satellite map view of the Ram Setu or Adam’s bridge

From the last land of Arichal Munai, 5 Km from Dhanushkodi, the Thalai Mannar or Gulf of Mannar of Sri Lanka is just 29 Km away approximately. When you are near Arichal Munai, you will get a cellular message welcoming you to Sri Lanka. It is that close. But, Sri Lanka is not visible to human eyes from here.

NASA has also confirmed the satellite image of the stone bridge connecting Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

Few people say that this bridge was naturally made. But some people believed it to be built by mankind. But this place remains a scientific mystery on why the stones float and there is no proof of its construction yet.

Why The Name Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge?

According To Hinduism:

In the Hindu Epic myth of Ramayana, Ravana, the king of demons, abducts Sita to Sri Lanka. Rama, her husband, searched for a number of ways to reach Sri Lanka with his famous magical arrow. The front part of the special arrow is called “Dhanush” while the end is known as  “Kodi”. The found place was named “Dhanush Kodi”.

With the help of Hanuman, a loyal follower of Rama, and his fellow tribe, they lay stones to cross the water bodies to reach Lanka. Since the stones in the area have the touch of the holy God Rama, the stones are said to remain afloat in water. This stone bridge is called “Ram Setu” or “Ramar Palam”.

According To Islam:

After the first human beings, Adam and Eve came into existence in this world, Adam landed on the “Adam’s peak” in Sri Lanka situated in the “East of the world” and Eve in the “West of the World”. Adam while searching for Eve traversed to Mecca via India through this bridge, thereby also known as “Adam’s bridge”.

Note: The beauty of India is that it is a secular state. So any number of places can have different reasons for their existence based on their faith. As a tourist, it is incumbent on you to ensure that you act in a manner that is tolerant of all faiths of the land. This sentiment is much more pertinent in places that have religious significance.

Reaching Sri Lanka Via Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram

You cannot reach Talaimannar, Sri Lanka from Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram even with an official permit. The ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar was discontinued in 1984 due to political issues. The boat mail express is now operated until Rameswaram only. There is no way to reach the two islands by land.

Many fishermen face border issues and are unfairly imprisoned for the unintentional border crossing to this day. But due to the Srilankan 2022 economic collapse, few people have escaped and reached Dhanushkodi through sheer will by swimming in the sea. Fortunately, considering the circumstances, they were granted asylum and permitted to stay as refugees in Tamil Nadu.

Best Time To Visit

Dhanushkodi beach

You can visit Dhanushkodi throughout the year. However, make sure to check the weather before visiting. If it is too windy, it will be very difficult for motorcycles to pass through as the sand splashes with brutish force.

It is better to avoid visiting during weekends and public holidays as Dhanushkodi tends to get crowded.

How To Reach?

By Air

Madurai Airport (Airport Code: IXM, 197 Km) is the nearest airport to Dhanushkodi. From there you can board buses or train to Rameshwaram.

By Train

The Rameshwaram Railway Station (Station Code: RMM, 19 Km) is the nearest railway station to Dhanushkodi. The station is well connected to cities including Chennai, Bangalore, Madurai, Bhubaneshwar, Tiruchirapalli, and Coimbatore. From here you can hire tuk-tuks or vans to reach Dhanushkodi.

By Road

Dhanushkodi is only reachable by roadways. The cheapest option is to hop on a public bus at different spots across Rameshwaram. The first bus to Dhanushkodi starts at 8 AM and the last bus departs from Arichal Munai at around 4 PM. Buses are not frequent, available only once an hour or sometimes even past 3 hours depending on the crowd.

Using shared transport, tuk-tuk and vans will run you a charge anywhere between Rs. 500 and Rs. 2500. The bill is based on the demand for sightseeing the touristy spots in Rameshwaram including Dhanushkodi. This would be a great place for you to put your bargaining skills to the test.

The best way to reach Dhanushkodi is by using your personal transport.
Note: Ola and Uber’s services are not available.

Shopping In Dhanushkodi

Buying ornaments and home decor items at Dhanushkodi

Ornaments and home decor items are beautifully carved out of sea shells. You can buy them as souvenirs and use them as decor items.

Where To Eat?

There are numerous seafood restaurants available in Dhanushkodi. Cool drinks, water, snacks, and hot snacks are also readily available and served.

Please make sure to take your waste back home. Do not litter.
Note: Online food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato are not available in this region.

Where To Stay?

No hotels or accommodations are available in the Dhanushkodi village. Rameshwaram, 20 Km away is the better option, if you are looking to stay in a decent AC and non-AC lodge.

Please note that there aren’t many hotels listed online. However, the offline lodges are fully booked throughout the weekends and public holidays. It is better to call and confirm your booking before your arrival. Here are a few recommendations.

 

Network Availability

Airtel provides poor to intermittent cellular reception and Jio networks are feebly available at Arichal Munai and Dhanushkodi.

ATM Availability

There are no ATMs available in the region. You can find ATMs in Rameshwaram which is 20 Km away. Given the lack of network infrastructure, the majority of the shops do not entertain digital alternatives to cash. It is better to have cash with you. 

Languages Spoken

The official and regional language of Tamil is the only spoken language by the people of Dhanushkodi.

Places To Visit In Dhanushkodi

Dhanushkodi can be visited only during daylight from 6 AM to 6 PM. The check post will be closed and you will not be able to access the roads beyond the mentioned timings.

Kodanda Rama Swamy Temple

You can find Kodhanda Rama Swamy temple midway to Dhanushkodi. Also known as Vibhishan temple, this popular temple is believed to be where Rama crowned Ravana’s brother, Vibhishana as the king of Lanka after returning from Sri Lanka.

The City Ruins

Dhanukodi watertank ruins

Memorial for the people who lost their lives in the cyclone invites you to the city. You can find the ruins of a railway station & track, a Church, a Hindu temple, a Post Office, a School, and remnants of the old harbor and the old city.

Dhanushkodi Temple

The floating stone preserved at the Dhanushkodi temple
The floating stone preserved at the Dhanushkodi temple

There is a Kaliamman and Shiva temple known as Dhanushkodi Temple near the railway station notice board. Here’s where you can find the floating stone just in front of the temple which is believed to be used by Rama for building the stone bridge to Sri Lanka as per the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Dhanushkodi Lighthouse

Dhanushkodi lighthouse - distant view and the traces of railway track
Ruined railway track with the view of lighthouse

Next to the ruins, on your way to Arichal Munai, you will be crossing the Dhanushkodi Lighthouse. Although the lighthouse has been renovated in recent times, the public is not allowed to take an aerial look from above.

Arichal Munai

Dhanushkodi - Arichal Munai view point
The last road of India at Dhanushkodi – crowded during weekends

The journey to Arichal Munai from Dhanushkodi is just 4.5 Km. The ride is scenic with the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal on either side. Arichal Munai, the southern-eastern tip of Pamban Island is considered to be the last landmass towards the south-east side.

The public has refrained from entering the Dhanushkodi beach due to strong currents in the region. They have also tied ropes prohibiting entry for the safety of the public. Please note that it is very difficult and challenging for the local fishermen or police to rescue unfortunate souls due to strong waves and wind.

Final Thoughts:

Although the ride to the last road was joyous, it was heartbreaking for me to hear and imagine the stories of the people who lost their lives and those who live in solar-powered huts to this day. To see the ruins, and the remains of the lively town is devastating and will forever remain in my memories. It makes me appreciate and feel grateful for the things that we own and are privileged to have access to every single day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Dhanushkodi really a ghost town?

Dhanushkodi is not haunted by ghosts. Since only the ruins of the 1964 cyclone remain in the village and not many people live here today, it is called a ghost town.

How much duration will it take to visit Dhanushkodi from Rameshwaram?

Although it pretty much depends on the individual’s choice, ideally you can spend 3 hours in the region. Also, Dhanushkodi is open only during the day hours from 6 AM to 6 PM.

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2 comments

Cynthia 04/29/2023 - 2:51 AM

Sad to imagine the fate of so many people who lost their lives here 🙁

Reply
Twins 05/11/2023 - 6:23 AM

yes @Cynthia, it is very devastating when we hear about it even today. Can’t imagine how people would have suffered during those times.

Reply

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