Monday, July 25, 2005

Among the Ruins of Dhanushkodi

This is one of my favourite pictures. I took this when we went on a tour of South India last December.
This is a ruined church at Dhanushkodi, about 20 kms from mainland Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. It has a history that is truly heart-renching.
Dhanushkodi was just another port town with a population of around 25,000. In 1964 a cyclone wiped out the entire populace and what is left is a ghost town with ruins of a college, a school, a temple, a church, a post office, railway station and the other trappings of a town. Yet what is amazing is the number of people who continue to live there. There are around 200 families of fishermen who constantly live under the shadow of another catastrophe. Each family lives in a hut that does not look capable of withstanding a slightly bigger wave even, let alone a killer cyclone. Every household has a mobile phone but it is not the result of any mobile revolution or a sign of prosperity. For them, a mobile phone is a basic necessity, not a device of luxury or convenience like for the rest of us.
Dhanushkodi is not connected by roads. Before 1964, it was connected by a train from Rameshwaram. Now to reach the place you have to drive down a few kilometres from the mainland. The road is so straight that you can see ahead for miles on end, kind of gives you an idea of infinity. You can see the ocean on both sides of the road. You then reach a dirty smelly fishing village where an enterprising trader sells cheap sea shell jewellery and other souvenirs as you wait for your ride.
Now is the fun part. No hardy vehicle is allowed into Dhanushkodi. You have to get into a specially designed small truck paying upto Rs 450. The very bumpy ride takes you through the ocean (yes you read that right!) on a sandy trail for the next 20 minutes. There is a very real chance of getting bogged in the middle of the ocean if you deviate from the trail.
Believe me, it was surreal going through the ocean. You then reach the town of Dhanushkodi where for the people we are just pesky tourists. Looking at the ruins is really very very saddening. There was this ancient man who had survived '64 but I couldnt ask for much details because he spoke a kind of Tamil that was beyond my rudimentary grasp of the language. Our guide showed us a deep hole from where drinking water was gathered, not at all salty. Sri Lanka was just 18 kms ahead of where we were standing. It seems you can actually see the 'bridge' (some say it is a coral reef) that Lord Rama built to get to Lanka to bring back his wife Sita. It is today seen in satellite images and is called Adam's Bridge.
A woman I spoke to said that the trucks that come by are their only source of getting in and out of the island. Kids here get educated. Life is normal there if you look past the stark reminders of imminent danger.
Going there reminded me of how fatalistic my countrymen can be. When I asked them if they were not scared of a disaster, they said that so far nothing had happened and they believed that God would protect them.
The devastating tsunami struck less than two weeks after my trip. Amidst the horrifying toll of damage and death, I was thankful that Dhanushkodi was spared from any major damage. Maybe God was looking out for the people.
I have travelled around my beautiful country but never have I seen another place like Dhanushkodi. It is so beautiful, so silent in its obvious and hidden pains, so full of hope. It sort of reinstates your faith in the fortitude, courage and faith of people, reminds you that life, inspite of everything, should and will go on.
The Sethusamudram Project that was conceived over a century ago has finally taken off. It seeks to have a connecting canal between Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal without the ships having to go around Sri Lanka. It will be good for trade and I hope to God that it will in some way be beneficial for the good people of Dhanushkodi.


Vaibhav said...

Hey! this was a very well written post.

How did you find out about this place ?

San Nakji said...

Wow, this place sounds wonderful... well written, like Vaibhav says above me ;-)

Ramkumar G Krish said...

Yes, it was a dreadful incident @ 1964.Yesterday I went there, very painful incident. We have met a person who is only one surviver of the cyclone inceident.He couldnt exactly recollect the month of 1964 cyclone.
He further, it was a very city compare with rameswaram.
A lot of history is still there, somebody may find plenty of stranges of Dhanushkodi.

ANANTH said...

Hi all,
This is Ananthanarayanan P V who survived the disaster of Dhanushkodi in Dec.1964. Now living in Hyderabad, my contact mobile No.09959359963. Still the happenings of that fqteful night is still vivid in my memory. Our entire family survived the disaster and we were rescuded after three days by INS SARADA and brought to the Mandapam relief camp. From there, we went to our native Coimbatore. My mail id is

Unknown said...

Nice article and infact i wanted to visit that place.You have rightly described this area,but can u suggest can I go there by bike and any place to stay there in nights.
Mail id is


Anonymous said...

good words.. will visit sometime..

Raaj said...

Hi Deepa,
The place is well described, just got back from a trip to Dhanushkodi, the experience of visiting a ghost town is just beyond words. It just shows how helpless we could be at the face of the fury of mother nature.

Unknown said...

Hi Deepa how R U. This is Belliappa

Unknown said...

A good photo about the past hope u find many interesting places keep it up

Unknown said...

I also visited this place few days back, its really beyond words to describe that place. The two sides of the sea, one is calm and the other is quite rough. I also met the oldest man residing there and my driver told me that this man swim to sri lanka and came back 3 times. He was also having a certificate.
Now it's a bit easy to reach that place as i hired a jeep from rameshwaram which took me directly showing all the places in Dhanushkodi and i paid Rs 1000 for this 3 hrs trip.

subbu said...

can u briefly describe what happend more than you described?

Unknown said...

The name of the old man is "Neechal Kali". Presently he is seen acting in some tv serials. He can tell you the story of 1964.

Unknown said...

yes this place like hidden pains..It is so beautiful..

Pradip Ghosh