End of the road

The Central Government have just agreed the funds to lay a new road out to Dhanushkodi. This is a very interesting part of Tamil Nadu with a long history which ended in tragedy in 1964.

Many people looking at the map of Southern India are struck by the long finger of land and then a series of islands and islets which stretches out to Sri Lanka. This is the famous Adam’s Bridge, or Rama’s Bridge – a link between the two countries across the Palk Strait. In Hindu mythology, the Ramayana tells how Lord Rama’s army of apes built the bridge so that Rama could cross to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the Lankan king, Ravana. But in the early 1800s, a British map-maker used the name Adam’s Bridge, referring it is thought to a myth that Adam used the bridge to reach a mountain in Sri Lanka (assumed to be Adam’s Peak) where he underwent a penance.

Geologists, geographers, historians, antiquarians, oceanographers – all disagree as to whether this was a man-made or natural causeway, and if natural, how exactly it formed. What is a fact is that Dhanushkodi was the last town on the Indian side. It was a temple town, it had schools and a hospital; it was an important port with customs and immigration facilities for trade with and travel to and from Sri Lanka, and it was the end of the railway line. The “Boat Mail” ran from Egmore Station in Madras to Dhanushkodi, from where a steamer took passengers across the Palk Strait to Sri Lanka and an onward train to Colombo. You could buy through tickets.

But on the night of December 22nd 1964 all that suddenly and violently ended. An extremely strong cyclonic storm with huge tidal waves crossed the area, destroying Dhanushkodi completely, and washing away a six-coach train whose wreckage was not discovered for 48 hours. Over 1800 people perished in the storm which was the state’s worst natural disaster until the tsunami of 2004.

Image

Since then trains have ended their journey at Rameswaram and the tarred road stops a little further on. Fishermen, pilgrims and visitors to the ruins of Dhanushkodi and “land’s end” beyond must now either walk through the sand dunes for some kilometres, or take one of the many four-wheel-drive mini-lorries which drive through sea – the sand is quite hard. This is the way I visited with two friends in November 2005. We hired a mini-lorry and hung on as it ploughed through the shallow water and over spits of land. On arriving in Dhanushkodi you are visiting a ghost town. The ruins of the water tower and a portion of the station building stick out of the sand: the front elevation of the church remains intact. Everything else was either washed away by the tidal waves or buried in sand.Image

[I’m sorry about the wobbly picture but we were on a lorry too!]

The journey was great! It really won’t be the same if they do actually get round to remaking the road.

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