Rameswaram- featured in India's Top 42 Weekend Getaways published by Chillibreeze and India Today

                             Rameswaram - Looking Beyond The Ramayana

The 106 year Pamban Bridge connecting Rameswaram to the rest of India

Rameswaram –Looking Beyond the Ramayana
The cry was for an unusual weekend getaway from Bangalore and it had to be different from jungle resorts, Cauvery River fishing breaks and serene plantations. The dice fell on Rameswaram, a place of religious and mythological significance. We were also intrigued by the unique geography of this conch shaped island at the very end of the Indian peninsula. We wanted to see Dhanushkodi, the south eastern most tip of India, the Pamban Bridge, the longest sea bridge in India and the hometown of Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam.
Rameswaram, at a distance of 601 kilometres from Bangalore, is not exactly next door and with only three days over the weekend, driving down was out of the question. But whoever said that weekend getaways had to be done only by road? We did it by train, thanks to the Tatkal scheme. An overnight journey by the Tuticorin Express on a Friday took us to Madurai, the closest railhead to Rameswaram. What a comfortable and painless way of covering almost 450 kilometres and we had saved an entire day! The rest of the 163 kilometres to Rameswaram could be done by train or road. But the Rameswaram Express left Madurai at 1.50 a.m at night and reached Rameswaram at 5.50 a.m and we wanted to see the Pamban Bridge by day. So we decided to drive to Rameswaram. At Rs. 4000 for a Madurai-Rameshwaram-Madurai trip with an overnight halt for four people, this seemed quite reasonable.
A pleasant two and a half hour drive brought us to Ramnad district which connects the Indian mainland to Rameswaram and before we knew it, there we were, on the Pamban Road Bridge with the beautiful, unending expanse of the ocean on both sides. We stopped right at the middle of the bridge to marvel at the sight and literally fell off in fright when we saw the 90 year old Pamban rail bridge snaking its way below to our left! The bridge was very narrow, there were no railings on the side and here was this train gliding along at a slow ghostlike pace! It was also frightening because we were standing on a bridge that has been constructed in the ‘second highly corrosive environment ‘in the world, next only to Miami and this was a cyclone prone high wind velocity zone! We scurried back to the car and made a formula one dash to Rameswaram.
Thanks to the internet, we were lucky to find the only three star hotel in Rameswaram. It was clean and air conditioned except for the flies which are a ubiquitous part of the summer in Rameswaram. By two o’ clock on Saturday we were in Rameswaram, fresh, well fed and raring to go! The travel desk at the hotel suggested that we leave for Dhanuskodi right away and return before sunset as the road to Dhanuskodi is fairly deserted and there have been unconfirmed reports of robbery and molestations after dark. Moreover, even though Dhanushkodi is only 15 kilometres away from Rameswaram, a major portion of the journey is on the sandy beach which can be negotiated only by special jeeps at a very slow pace.
After the defeat of Ravana, his brother Vibheesana, fearing more strife, is said to have requested Lord Rama to sever the link between Sri Lanka and India. The point where Rama struck the land with the end (Kodi) of his bow (Dhanush), to effect this separation is Dhanushkodi. It is the starting point of the Rama Setu as well as the point of the confluence (Sangam) between the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean which makes it very important to devout Hindus. Finally, Dhanushkodi is the town which was completely destroyed by a 20 feet high tsunami that struck it at midnight on the 22nd of December 1964, washing away a train with 115 passengers and the entire Pamban rail bridge in Dhanuskodi. The TamilNadu government has since declared Dhanushkodi a ghost town unfit for inhabitation. We had to see it!

The Tale of Two Oceans -  The Confluence Of The Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean at Dhanushkodi
Well, we never thought we would! Every jeep looked as if it would fall apart as soon as the ignition was turned on and if we survived that, we would be truly bottomless when we got down, as the seats were mere wooden strips! The road was deserted and the driver drove most cautiously on the tracks made on the sand by his predecessor. After an hour’s drive, just when we began to feel truly lost, we burst upon a clearing! “Sangamam”, announced the driver cheerfully and we whooped with joy because there were other jeeps and people around us! The joy gave way to wonder. Dhanushkodi was stark, eerie, untainted, raw and yet simply beautiful. The oceans stretched endlessly and the wind roared like an aircraft taking off. Nothing can prepare you for the awesome velocity and force of the wind. Nothing can prepare you for the wet sand that is whipped up by the wind and hits you like a thousand pointed spears. Nothing can prepare you for the depth to which your feet sink when you step into the water. As we drove back, we saw a pillar which was the only surviving structure of the Dhanushkodi railway station, a few desolate huts and a tiny church! Dhanushkodi had made our day!
Day 2 saw us at the famous Ramanathaswamy temple, a temple dedicated to Shiva and the raison d’être of Rameswaram. The temple enshrines the idol that was made by Sita and worshipped by Lord Rama, to atone for the sin of having killed a Brahmin; Ravana by virtue of being born of a Brahmin sage, was also a Brahmin. Its outer corridor, running over 1200 metres, is said to be the longest in the world. The temple is a storehouse of architecture and aesthetics and you can spend hours discovering it, if you can blot out the din, the dirt and the chaos created by busloads of pilgrims. It is not impossible!
Our next stop was the Gandhamadana Mountain from where Lord Hanuman is said to have taken off across the ocean to Sri Lanka. It is a small hillock at the top of which there is a stone impression of the feet of Lord Rama. Then my son insisted on seeing the floating stones believed to have been used by the monkeys for the bridge. Even the staunchest Hindu is likely to take this with a sack of salt, but it was a great diversion!
Just round the corner is the house of Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam. We learnt a lesson in humility from his 90 year old brother who welcomed us and spent a few minutes reminiscing about the days gone by.
There is much more to Rameswaram, but it was time to return to Madurai to catch the Tuticorin Express back to Bangalore.
The weekend threw up the happy revelation that weekend getaways do not necessarily have to be to places that are close by or done by road and that with a little spadework and ingenuity, getting off the beaten track can be fun!
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