Visit Dhanushkodi, one of the top tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu, and you'll have reached the end of India. However, it's likely you'll feel that you've reached the end of the earth as well. Once a flourishing trade hub, Dhanushkodi is now an eerie ghost town. All that exists of it are the fragmented and windswept remains of a few buildings, stark and seemingly out of place in the severe yet serene landscape. This complete guide to Dhanushkodi will help you plan your trip there.
On the night of December 22, 1964, a ferocious cyclone hit Dhanushkodi at an estimated 280 kilometers (170 miles) per hour and forever changed the town's fate. Most of the town, a passenger train, and nearly 2,000 people were wiped out. The rest of was submerged under sea water. Such was the magnitude of the damage that the government declared Dhanushkodi to be a ghost town, unfit for habitation.
Prior to this disastrous event, the British had developed Dhanushkodi into an important port of trade between India and Sri Lanka (then named Ceylon). As it was the closest point between the two countries, it provided a vital connection for boats transporting both goods and people. Passengers were able to take a train all the way from Chennai (then named Madras) to Dhanushkodi, board one of the regular ferries to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, and then get another train all the way to Colombo.
In addition to its own railway station, Dhanushkodi had a customs office, post office, schools, hospital, church, hotels, and shops. It was a thriving community that had grown rapidly.
However, Dhanushodi's history can be traced much further back than the British era, to the time of Hindu mythology. A submerged chain of limestone shoals, known as Adam's Bridge, extends all the way from the furthermost tip of Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar. According the great Hindu epic The Ramayana, this is where Lord Ram and Lord Hanuman's army of monkeys built a rock bridge to Sri Lanka, to rescue Ram's wife Sita from the evil clutches of demon king Ravan.
The bridge, Ram Setu, is said by some to have stood above the ocean until a cyclone destroyed it in the 15th century. Others say that Lord Ram destroyed the bridge himself, with the end of his bow, after victoriously returning to India to prevent anyone else from using it. He also marked the spot where the bridge was to be built with an end of his bow. This gave rise to the town's name, Dhanushkodi (meaning bow's end). Regardless, Hindus believe that the shoals are the remnants of Ram Setu.
In 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami caused the sea off the coast of Dhanushkodi to briefly recede more than 1,000 feet, exposing the submerged part of the town. Some of the rocks from Adam's Bridge were also found washed ashore.
Encouraging tourism to Dhanushkodi has been a government focus in recent years. This is being facilitated by a new road that runs all the way through Dhanushkodi to the land's end at Arichal Munai (Erosion Point) near Adam's Bridge. The road opened in 2017.
Dhanushkodi is situated just off the coast of Tamil Nadu in South India, on Pamban Island's elongated southeastern sand spit. It's about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Rameshwaram, on Pamban Island and about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. The choppy Indian Ocean is on one side and the calmer Bay of Bengal on the other.
How to Get There
The new road has made Dhanushkodi much more accessible. Before it was constructed, the only way to reach the town was to take a private mini bus or jeep across the sand, or walk along the seashore. It was totally cut off from civilization. Now, you can drive there directly in your own vehicle.
The road is an extension of National Highway 87, which runs from the mainland to Pamban Island and Rameshwaram. Previously, it ended at Mukuntharayar Chathiram but now continues 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from Mukuntharayar Chathiram to Dhanushkodi, and a further 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) from Dhanuskhodi to Arichal Munai (Erosion Point). The final stretch is strictly controlled by India's Border Security Force. Entry is only permitted from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (although it's possible to remain there until 6 p.m.).
Travel time from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi is about 30-45 minutes. If you don't have your own car or motorcycle, there are various options available depending on your budget.
The cheapest option is to take the state government bus (Route 3) from the bus stop near Agni Theetham in Rameshwaram. The frequency of buses is approximately every 30 minutes and tickets cost 30 rupees per person, one way. The last bus returns just before 6 p.m. However, the drawback is that you won't be able to stop at other tourist spots, such as temples, along the way. Taking an auto rickshaw is an alternative option. Expect to pay about 800 rupees for a round trip. If you hire a taxi or car and driver, the cost will be about 1,500 rupees.
Rameshwaram is well-connected to other cities on the mainland by bus and train. Crossing Pamban Bridge is a highlight. It's recommended that you experience it by train, in at least one direction, as the railway line lies spectacularly close to the sea.
What to Do There
While the stone remnants of Dhanushkodi are the main attraction, the best thing to do is simply soak up the soul-stirring and sometimes haunting atmosphere. As you wander around what's left of the town, you'll come across structures in various conditions. The best-preserved ones are the church, post office, and railway station. Railway tracks are also buried under the sand.
The only inhabitants are local fisherfolk. They live harsh lives in makeshift thatched huts with no electricity or running water.
After you've finished exploring Dhanushkodi, continue all the way along the road to Arichal Munai (Erosion Point). It's a magical scene, with the straight strip of tarmac enclosed by the sea on both sides. A solitary pillar of Ashoka, the national emblem of India, stands at endpoint where you can look out across Adam's Bridge. Don't be surprised if your cell phone automatically connects to Sri Lanka's network if your settings allow roaming!
Plan to spend a couple of hours there at least. It's really worth getting up early to beat the crowds and catch the bewitching sunrise.
Facilities are limited but there are a few restaurants serving up fresh seafood, and stalls selling products made from shells.
Kothandaramaswamy temple, located off the highway about 10 minutes before Dhanushkodi, is of interest too. It's dedicated to Lord Ram, and notably is the only building in the area to have survived the cyclone that destroyed the town.
Depending on the time of year, you may also be able to see flocks of migratory flamingos standing together in the shallow sea water looking for food. It's an amazing sight! The birds are usually there between January and March.
Check out these things to do in Rameshwaram as well.
You'll need to stay in Rameshwaram, or elsewhere on Pamban Island, as there are no accommodations in Dhanushkodi.
If cost isn't a concern, the Hyatt Place Rameshwaram is the most luxurious hotel, with double rooms from about 5,500 rupees per night. Daiwik Hotel and Hotel Ashoka are popular mid-range choices. Rates start from about 3,000 rupees per night for a double room. Alternatively, Blue Coral Cottage is perfect for budget travelers. Double rooms cost about 1,400 rupees per night upwards.
Those who prefer relaxed boutique beach accommodations can select from Cabana Coral Reef or one of the two Quest Expeditions properties, Kathadi South and Kathadi North. Kathadi South is rustic, with beach huts and tents. Kathadi North is upmarket, with cottages that have open-air bathrooms and gardens. Both offer kite surfing lessons in season.