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Into the heart of a Ghost Town

A lot of you might be expecting some kind of a spooky scary story but this is a sad story of a small town forgotten in time. If you live  in Tamil Nadu there is a slight chance that you might have heard of this place. It is called Dhanushkodi or Danushkodi (Tamil : தனுஷ்கோடி), it is a town/village at the southern tip of the Rameswaram island, at the eastern coast of the Tamil Nadu state. Hindu scriptures says that at the request of Vibeeshana, brother of Ravana and ally of Rama, Rama broke the Sethu with one end of his bow and hence the name Dhanushkodi, “Dhanush” meaning Bow and “Kodi” meaning end.

Dhanushkodi has the only land border between India and Sri Lanka which is one of the smallest in the world-just 50 yards in length on a shoal in Palk Strait. Dhanushkodi was a flourishing tourist and pilgrimage town. Since Sri Lanka 31 km away, there were many ferry services between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar of Sri Lanka, transporting travellers and goods across the sea. There were hotels, textile shops and dharmashalas catering to these pilgrims and travellers.

The area around Rameshwaram has been frequently ravaged by several high-intensity cyclones and storms in the past. Before the 1964 storm, there was a train service up to Dhanushkodi called “Boat Mail” from Chennai and the train linked to a steamer for ferrying travellers to SriLanka. On that fateful night (December 22) at 23.55 hours while entering Dhanushkodi railway station, the train No.653, Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, a daily regular service which left Pamban with 110 passengers and 5 railway staff, was only few yards before Dhanushkodi Railway station when it was hit by a massive tidal wave. The whole train was washed away killing all 115 on board. Massive tidal waves swept into the completely unaware town and all that the townsfolk could do was wait and pray for help that never came. The storm then continued for the next three days unleashing all its fury. All together over 1800 people died in the cyclonic storm. All dwelling houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi were marooned in the storm . The high tidal waves moved almost 10 kilometres onto this island and ruined the entire town. Following this disaster, the Government of Madras declared the town as Ghost town and unfit for living after the storm.

Now after 46 years one can still see the ruins on a once cheerful town. A railway station which can only be identified by its ruined platform, an old post office that lays in ruins, a couple of walls with cracked blackboards on them which tells that there was a school, a ruined granary and an old catholic church which is almost destroyed, All these resonate the melancholy of this mystique place. Now only a few fisherfolk now live here, they say that some days they can still feel “that” chill in the air. When tsunami struck in 2004 the water level here receded to about 3 km for a short period of time and then the fishermen who live here actually got a glimpse of the part of the town which still lies under water. They say they could see a Temple tower and a lot of houses.

Dhanushkodi is now a tourist attraction, around 500 people come here everyday and it goes up to 1000 on festive days. Getting here is not an easy job, you have to hitch a ride in one of these specially designed vans that are specifically designed to tackle the terrain in here. After that it is a slow and sad 12 km long journey in this treacherous terrain into the heart of this ghost town. Every year on December 22nd people here pray for those poor souls who lost their lives to the wrath of nature. If you get a chance to visit this place don’t miss it.

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