It is a mystery why despite being born and raised in the Catholic faith, temples, rather than churches have long held my fantasy. Though nothing beats the marvel of The Great Living Chola Temples, my recent visit to The Ramanathaswamy Temple of Rameshwaram taught me that there is never a dearth for surprises in Tamil Nadu. Add to it, the perks of riding through the tiny strip of land to Dhanushkodi with the blue beach on both sides of the road, my journey was complete!
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Why Visit Rameshwaram
If you are wondering if the long journey to the tip of this island of the Indian subcontinent is worth it, here are the reasons why we think you should absolutely, definitely make this journey
Home to the Missle Man of India – Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam
After what was a long overnight journey from Bangalore to Rameshwaram, we finally reached this tiny piece of island which produced one of India’s finest scientist, teacher, scholar and President – if you did not know this little fact already, this little town is home to Dr.A.P.J Abdhul Kalam, the Missile Man of India. This fact is celebrated in every little corner of this tiny town. Every shop, eatery and nook and corner proudly displays a picture of this man who made his way to the annals of Indian history. The Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam Memorial is a 2.11 acre tribute to the simplistic life led by the great scientist and President and houses his mortal remains laid to rest on July 27, 2015
The Ramanathasamy Temple of Rameshwaram
I kind of knew what to expect in the temple of Rameshwaram because the idea to visit this remote destination stemmed from the fact that I was carried away seeing those stunning pictures of the temple all over the internet. Having a close friend hailing from Rameshwaram helped hugely in arranging logistics to visit and get around. We reached this temple town after a nights halt at Madurai and a quick visit to the famous Madurai Meenakshi temple. While the mighty Pamban bridge built across the Bay of Bengal connecting the island of Rameshwaram to the Indian subcontinent had me amazed, it was nothing compared to the sheer marvel that lay in store in this tiny temple town.
Traveler Tip : While Rameshwaram did not seem to have any strict dress codes, it is optimal to wear something that would not be disrespectful to the sanctity of the place. While jeans is permitted for women, it is wise to pair it with a long kurta or tunic and cover your shoulders and chest. Slippers need to be left behind in the cloak rooms along with any bags or electronic gadgets. Photography is not permitted within the temple premises and visitors are screened through metal detectors prior to entry.
After reaching the Jiwan Residency hotel which faced a beautiful stunningly aqua blue ocean, we quickly showered and got ready to visit the temple which is at a walk-able distance. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple was scheduled to open past 3:30 and we almost made it there on time. After visiting the main deity I kept asking our friend and guide when we would reach the pillared corridors. To my impatient repetitive questions, almost always came the patient and composed answer – “Very soon my dear, very soon”.
While I had kind of imagined what it would look like because I had seen the famed pictures in so many web pages, nothing prepared me for what I was about to witness. Amid the chatters, we took a right, and there, ahead of me, was the corridor of my dreams, the one I had traveled this far to witness – carved into thousands of pillars, pure exquisite magnificence from a bygone era stood frozen in time, the much famed thousand pillared corridors of Rameshwaram. With the evening sun casting its golden rays through the pillars highlighting the paintings and the colors, the corridors could easily bring the best of best architectures of the modern world to shame with its precision and accuracy in repeats. I could stay here and gape at those forever but we had to cover Dhanushkodi on the same evening and we had to hurry. If future allows, I would never miss a chance to visit this temple again and just revel in this beauty of a forgotten past, a timeless era.
Traveler Tip : The temple tends to be super crowded in the mornings and festive days. We went around afternoon on a Saturday and the crowd was pretty thin. However, early mornings may be really crowded because of pilgrims coming in overnight buses and making it to the early morning darshan before proceeding to other destinations.
The Drive to Dhanushkodi
While still reeling from the colors in the Ramanathaswamy temple, we quickly got out, collected our slippers and mobile phones from the cloak room and started our 15 km drive to Dhanushkodi. We knew we were probably going to be late because I had spent way too much time gaping at the pillars of the temple. The sunset was around 6:30 and we had little time left to reach.
Traveller Tip : Entry to Dhanushkodi closes at around 5:00PM and exit and return can be no later than 6:00PM. There are police check posts and checking because this is close to international border with Srilanka through the Bay of Bengal. No one is allowed to remain at the far most tip of Dhanushkodi beyond 6:00PM.
And we did not know the same traveler tip that I have mentioned above. This meant, that we reached only around 5:15PM and we were denied entry. Because my friend accompanying me was a local to the place and had friends who could convince the police that we really really wanted to visit Dhanushkodi was the only reason we managed to get past the check post as an exception. Otherwise, it is highly advisable to get here early to enjoy the beautiful beaches.
The drive through this newly constructed stretch of road that ends at the Ashoka Pillar marking the end of Indian main land is an unforgettable experience for anyone – the patch of land with the road narrows and eventually becomes so narrow that you have the sea on either sides of the road. While to your right the waves crash onto the shore line sending sand spraying to the roads from the strong winds, to your left is a much tamed aqua blue ocean with gentle waves lapping on the pristine white shores. If Florida has the Keys, India has Dhanushkodi – yeah, take that!
The Ghost Town of Dhanushkodi
While you are here, spend some time exploring the ruins left by the aftermath of the great cyclone in 1964. The ruins of a lone church and few other buildings that was otherwise a part of a prosperous port city of the British Era is all that is left of Dhanushkodi right now. History would say that this town was once home to buzzing businesses, trades and was home to all the facilities that you would expect in a port city – hotels, dharamshalas and textile shops that welcomed travellers communting between Dhanushkodi and the Talaimannar, now Ceylon in Srilanka.
Today, this town is home to about 500 fishermen who make their livelihood out of the ocean. There are multiple stalls selling little artifacts made from shell and the sea food prepared fresh from the days catch is popular here.
Care needs to be exercised while stepping into the beaches here. While one side of the beach can be pretty tame, the other can have strong currents – strong enough to pull people right into the depths of the ocean. The sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline itself was terrific and different from the regular waves we see elsewhere. There are fishing boats that set out into the sea every day and the colorful boats add beauty to the landscape.
Dhanushkodi is popular for its sunrises and sunsets. With Indian Ocean on one side and Bay of Bengal on the other, Dhanushkodi is one of the very few places where you can witness a sunrise and a sunset.
Historical Facts : Dhanushkodi has its own place in the Indian mythological series – Ramayana. After Sita was abducted by Ravana, Lord Ram ordered Hanuman to build a bridge, called the Ram Setu, to reach Raavan’s abode, Lanka to rescue his queen. Also known as Adam’s bridge, it has been acknowledged that the sandy patch that satellites have imaged between India and Srilanka from Dhanushkodi is definitely manmade.
What Not to Miss While in Rameshwaram
The surprises on your journey to Rameshwaram includes but is not limited to the above. As a traveler, Tamil Nadu has never failed to impress me every time I go back. With welcoming smiles and food that is a treat to anyone, every part of Tamil Nadu is a travelers delight.
- While on your way to Rameshwaram through Madurai, do not miss stopping by the small road side vendors selling butter milk. These are made fresh from the homes and leaves an unforgettable memory to savor.
- The Chettinad cuisine is popular for its exquisite use of flavors and should be a delight to every non-vegetarian foodie. While goat/mutton makes its way in different forms to the fresh banana leaves they are served on, they is no telling that you would always want to come back for more.
- The sea food served at Dhanushkodi is popular and a must try. They shut their shops by about 5:30PM and we clearly missed it. Reach there early enough to have a chance at sampling the delicacies here.
- Sunrises and sunsets are popular in Rameshwaram. You can choose to view it off the Pamban bridge or at Dhanushkodi. I personally recommend watching a sunset off Dhanushkodi because there is an unexplained beauty in watching the sun setting off the horizon against the ocean.
- Train ride through Pamban bridge – Again, if one has the time for it, look up the schedules and board the train on a short ride to Rameshwaram and watch the clear blue ocean sparkle under the bridge.
Where To Stay In Rameshwaram
While there are a vast number of options to choose from, we would definitely recommend choosing Jiwan Residency.Or for that matter, any hotel closer to the temple and is sea facing.
At Jiwan Residency, we were close enough to the temple to go by walk, because four wheelers are not allowed into the temple premises. The hotel faces the aqua blue waters of the ocean with numerous fishing boats swaying in the calm waves. The walk way built along the shoreline is an excellent place for spending an evening in peace. The in house restaurant provides complimentary breakfast, room service and regular meals. However, we would highly recommend sampling food from the local restaurants to experience the local flavors.
Best Time To Visit Rameshwaram
While Rameshwaram is a year round destination, it is most popular for its sunsets and sunrises. Rainy seasons can most certainly hamper the best laid plans to watch the beautiful sunrise or the glorious sunsets. The seas can also be quite turbulent during the rainy weather and the cyclones that often hit the east coast towards November.
December to late February normally has a good weather, low humidity and cooler temperatures that makes it an ideal time to visit. Rameshwaram is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrim centers along with Kaashi and Badhrinath making it an ideal destination year round.
Rameshwaram packs in adventure, mystery, myth, history and unparalleled charm of natural beauty. This understated place can be a welcome break from the otherwise crowded beach destinations of India for the explorers of the less traveled offbeat places.
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