Road Trip: Rameswaram

It was a boring thursday evening in the office. I was almost done for the day and was planning to wind up and leave, when my friend pinged and informed me about the upcoming long weekend. I had totally forgotten about it. “Lets plan something”, I said, “We won’t get tickets at such short notice, so lets drive somewhere”. He quickly came up with two options, Madurai-Rameswaram and Kanyakumari. After a little research we decided on Rameswaram.

Rameswaram is about 600 km from Bangalore. With one stop at Madurai, we expected to reach Rameswaram by late evening. It was the month of “Sawan”-The fifth month of Hindu calendar, which invites a lot of pilgrims, making it difficult to get hotel bookings. We decided to give it a shot anyway. In worst case, we could sleep in the car.

Mostly, people start at around 4 am to avoid the city traffic. But since I was the only one who knew driving, it was necessary to get proper sleep. I reached my friends place at 8 am.

One of them was still packing and two others were asleep. “We might need to stay at Madurai today”, I thought.

By the time everyone was ready, It was 9 am. We had breakfast at home and started at around 9:45. It took around 2 hours to get out of the city and touch NH7. Afterwards, it was a smooth ride. The road condition was very good and we were easily driving at  90-110 kmph.

We reached Madurai around 5 in the evening. Its a very crowded city with narrow roads. It took us some time to find the Meenakshi Temple. We found a car park nearby.
The temple is huge, clean and well maintained. The temple compound has a huge temple tank, large halls, thousands of pillars and many shops. We took our time to explore the temple.

By the time we came out, it was around 6:30. We had sufficient time to reach Rameswaram and find a hotel. We stopped at Ramanathapuram, a small town near Rameswaram for dinner.

It started to rain heavily after dinner. The road to Rameswaram was two-lane and there was no divider, making is difficult to drive.

Driving at snail’s pace, we reached Rameswaram around 11 pm. There was no light on the Pamban Bridge so nothing was visible. We still stopped for a while. Faint reflections of distant lights were dimly visible on the sea waves.

We couldn't stay for long, still had to search for accommodation. We headed for the city and started with the hotels near to the temple. All of them were booked. Even the ones in the remotest corner of the island. After about an hour of searching, we were able to find a room. There was no furniture, not even washroom. Just an empty room with fans and lights. He charged us 50 Rs for it. It was anyway better than sleeping in the car, so we took it.

We cleaned the room, but how would we sleep on the floor? My friend reminded of the yoga mat kept in my car. We used the mat for back support, and a folded pair of jeans as a pillow. Its not that bad, I thought. I could sleep like this.

Hardly 15 minutes later, the guard knocked at the door. Apparently he was not aware of how badly we needed accommodation, but the owner was. He said the owner has asked for 1000 Rs. We were outraged, we argued with him, but it was pointless. Cursing the owner, we left.

It was around 1 am, and we had visited almost all the hotels, and were very tired. We found a spot near sea shore for parking, and slept in the car.

Half an hour later, we were woken up by a policeman. He asked us to move the car and showed us the way to a car park nearby.

People were going for a dip in the sea that time. We found that the timing for temple entry that day was 2 am to 6 am. And it was a ritual to take a bath before entering that temple. Vehicles were not allowed near temple and therefore the area was being cleared.

Since we were up, we thought we might visit the temple as well. We removed our shoes and kept it in the car. It was a short walk to the temple from parking.

The temple was crowded with pilgrims from all over India. After security check at the main entrance, we went inside.

The temple was not clean, there was a strange smell everywhere. We were surprised when we found that there is an entry fee to enter the second gate which leads inside the temple. We were not happy with commercialization of temple. They are charging for the privilege of entering the temple, they should at least clean it!

It was no better inside. The weird smell was still present. Broken pieces of stones, probably from the repair work were lying here and there. We were out quickly.

We headed towards Dhanushkodi, also knows as Ghost Town. Its a city destroyed by cyclone in 1964. The remnants of the buildings are still present. The Rameswaram-Dhanushkodi road is a ~4 km long narrow strip of land with sea beach on both sides. It was still dark and there is thick vegetation on either side of the road.

By the time we reached the end of the road, morning twilight had begun. Ruins of Dhanushkodi town were visible now, you can also see the railway tracks disappearing beneath the road. It was truly magical at that time. We would have surely missed it if we had got accommodation for the night. I guess things happen for a reason.

By sunrise, people started to come. There was a mini bus service to take tourists to the tip of the island, which locals also call as Sangamam, or the confluence of Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

The bus drives through the sandy beach to reach the tip of Pamban island, around 10 km from the end of the Rameswaram-Dhanushkodi road. Water is lodged at many places on the way and near perfect reflections of the sky makes for picturesque terrain.

Half an hour later, we reached the Sangamam, and I finally got a chance to use my camera. The place is truly surreal. The land narrows and comes to an end on the tip with ocean on the three sides. Waves were coming from the Indian ocean and mixing with the calm waters of Bay of Bengal, which was surprising as I have always seen Bay of Bengal as a violent sea with huge waves.

The most beautiful place in Dhanushkodi. The Sangamam or the Rama-Sethu point

To give you an idea of where we were. Sri Lanka is just 15 km away

The bus stops only for a small time, from there we headed for the Dhanushkodi town. There was hardly any structure fully intact. Mostly stone walls with no roof. The cyclone must have hit the town really bad. The place must  be scary at night, specially if you think about the thousands of people who died during the cyclone.

Ruins of a church at Dhanushkodi
It was 10am by the time we reached back at the pickup point. There were hundreds of people by the beach. Numerous shops were open. There was huge waiting line for the bus service to Dhanushkodi. We were really fortunate to have reached early morning.

Fishermen at Dhanushkodi, It took 30 people nearly an hour to pull out the net from the sea.

The surrounding beach was beautiful, and although we were damn tired, we couldn’t resist taking a dip. By the time we came out, it was 11 am. We desperately needed to sleep. Since there was no hotel available, we decided to drive to the nearby town, 50 km away.

We stopped at the Pamban bridge on the way. Its a true engineering marvel. The first Indian sea bridge and longest till 2010. When we reached, a train was passing on the bridge, providing a great opportunity for photography. We took a lot of pictures before leaving.

Train crossing the Pamban Bridge

Half asleep, we drove to Ramanathapuram, and booked the first hotel we found. I went straight to sleep. After evening snacks, we drove to Madurai. It took us some time to find a hotel in the crowded city. We had dinner and explored the nearby areas on foot.

Next day, we left early morning for Bangalore. During these three days, we spent most of our time in the car. Still, it was the best road trip I had taken so far, as we were actually on road for more than 80% of the time. People think of Rameswaram as mainly a Religious place but it has a lot more to offer. The place is relatively less commercialized, which makes it even better. Do visit for the love of serene beaches, the surreal Dhanushkodi town and if you are an Indian, your family will love it that you visited one of the char-dham ;)

Somil Bhandari

Somil Bhandari, A programmer, traveler and an amateur photographer. Loves adventure, hates stagnant life. Always looking out for something new.

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