Dhanushkodi, the ghost town returned by the sea.4 min read
Dhanushkodi was an Indian city located exactly opposite Sri Lanka, the last human outpost before the narrow channel between the two nations. The meaning of its name means “End of the Arch”, and symbolizes the particular geographical position of the city.
India is a country full of surprises, both natural and man-made.
Dhanushkodi, located is probably the place where the wonders of nature and man become one. This is a place shrouded in mystery, that’s easy to miss by the regular tourist. In fact, it’s not really a part of the tourist map, and moreover this place is hard to reach. For reaching this place one needs to cross over to the Pamban Island from the mainland and the best way to do this is by train, through the popular Pamban Bridge.
The journey to Dhanushkodi begins through several fishing villages, accompanied by the mesmerising views of the Palk Strait, which stretches between India and Sri Lanka, on both sides.
The Hindu scriptures claim that the town of Dhanushkodi is the place where Lord Rama had ordered Lord Hanumana to build a bridge between India and Sri Lanka, which could carry his army across to Sri Lanka, where Demon King Ravana had kept Sita captive. The bridge was called “Ram Setu”, Rama Bridge.
After Rama won the war and crowned a new King of Lanka, Vibhishana asked him to destroy the link. According to Hindu mythology, Rama destroyed the bridge with the end of his arch, and in fact the name “Dhanushkodi” means exactly “End of the Arch”.
The series of rocks and islets between India and Sri Lanka suggests that once the two states were connected by a strip of land. The Kodhanda Ram Kovil temple marks the place where Rama is said to have begun his journey to Lanka. Hindu pilgrims used to bathe at this point in the ocean before completing the pilgrimage to Rameswaram. The site is considered a point of sacred confluence between the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. The pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi, in northern India, is not complete without also reaching Rameswaram, which includes the ritual bath in Dhanushkodi.
Dhanushkodi is a point that could be considered the land border between India and Sri Lanka, and is also one of the smallest borders in the world, with a width of only 45 meters of land. Before the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi was a greatly visited tourist and pilgrimage city. Between Ceylon (now Talaimannar, in Sri Lanka) and India, there were many ferries that connected Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar, on the island. And believe it or not, Sri Lanka is located at a distance of just 31 km from this town! Especially during the British Raj, Dhanushkodi was a small yet prosperous town. It had everything you expect a town full of residents to have: railway station, a church, a temple, a post office and numerous activities that welcomed pilgrims. Before the ’64 cyclone, the train arrived at Dhanushkodi station up to the pier, where travelers were embarked and taken to Sri Lanka across the Palk strait.
However, between 22 and 23 December 1964, winds with speeds of 280 kilometers per hour hit the city, generating 7-meter-high waves that destroyed everything. On December 22nd of that year, at 11.55pm, the 653 Pamban-Dhanushkodi line train was loaded with 110 passengers and 5 insiders when it was hit by the force of the destructive wave. The train was wiped out killing everyone present, and carriages were not found until two days later.
During the storm about 1,800 people died and the city of Dhanushkodi was practically wiped out by the fury of the sea.
Following the disaster, the government declared Dhanushkodi a ghost town unsuitable for life.
Today it seems there are only two fishermen who live in the city. In December 2004, just before the arrival of the Tsunami that affected the Indian Ocean, the sea around Dhanushkodi withdrew about 500 meters from the coast, exposing the submerged part of the city. This rare event was witnessed by local fishermen.
Today Dhanushkodi can be reached on foot or with sand suitable means, and it is completely abandoned. The railway lines that crossed the area were left to abandon following the natural disaster, and the village buildings remain gloomy witnesses of an event that destroyed a point considered sacred by the entire Hindu community. With the stunning views of the two oceans and a beautiful shoreline, Dhanushkodi is a picturesque place to be, and what once used to be a town so significant, is nothing more than a ruin now.