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Danushkodi & Pamban - Bordering Lankan Territory : South India XIII

Our South Trip was in full swing and our next destination for the trip was Dhanushkodi. The town is located about 20 kilometers from Rameshwaram and we began our hour-long drive. In about half an hour we reached the first checkpoint on the route and realized that there are two options to proceed further. One, that was only way until now, is to take a canter which takes you through the marshy sands, a ride that is rough and bumpy. There were many taking that mode for the fun of while others chose it for lack of information. The government of India has laid a metalled road to the tip of the island which had recently been commissioned and we opted for this mode. It was a new road and hence smooth as butter. It was a narrow landmass with the sea on both sides and we were really enjoying the drive. Another 15 minutes of a drive led us to the Dhanushkodi town.

A Video Journey Across the Island

As a first stop, we went to the farthest tip of the town. The town lies on the southernmost tip of the island and is bordered by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, merging at the very tip of the beach. The confluence is so evident that one can tell apart the high tides of the former from the low tides of the latter. As we deboarded the car the strong wind hit our faces which actually hurt as winds carried with them sand particles. Taking shed of the car we moved to the other side which was relatively calm. One thing that we observed was a pristine environment - clear blue water and clean white sand. The region is still untapped as a tourist destination and many are unaware of how to reach to this point of the island. We were enjoying the views amidst the peace and tranquility when the phone beeped indicating a message - it was a service message from Airtel:

"Airtel welcomes you to Sri Lanka. Continue enjoying seamless connectivity at reduced rates."

Wow, we were already in Sri Lanka and we did not realize? Of course not! We were almost that close.  Indeed, Sri Lanka is just about 25 kilometers away from that point and strong binoculars allowed us distant visuals of Lankan land. It is an exciting thrill that generates a bodily shiver and we enjoyed every bit of it. After spending about half an hour we began the return drive but not before exploring the town itself a bit more. We came back to the central part of the town and witnessed the harsh reality that the town had succumbed to.

The town is inhabited mostly by fisherfolks, numbering about 500 in all. The place has been declared a "Ghost Town" and is in a dilapidated state with most structures looking like ruins of prosperity. However, it wasn't born to be this way and the beach town was heavily populated prior to 1964. The place had a railway station, a small railway hospital, a higher secondary school, a post office, customs, and  port-offices etc. The town had hotels and restaurants too. There were ferries that shipped passengers and material from Sri Lanka and the town had rail connectivity to Pamban Railway Station. There was a train service up to Dhanushkodi called Boat Mail from Madras Egmore (Now Chennai Egmore), which would halt on the south-eastern side of Dhanushkodi township, where a waiting steamer transported passengers to Sri Lanka. Today, all we see is ruins of these buildings and railway tracks to remind us of the fury nature can cause. A cyclone in December 1964 led to this state of the town in which the entire habitation was blown away including a loaded passenger train - Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger with 110 passengers and 5 staff members. Saddened, we paid tribute to the lost lives and prayed for the resurgence of town in near future, all within our heart.

The town is also believed to be the place where Lord Rama started the stone bridge to Sri Lanka - Ram Setu - in his quest to free Sita from clutches of Ravana. We visited a local temple where a small prayer was conducted during the construction of the bridge. We also got to play with a stone preserved in the temple compound - a pretty heavy stone needing two of us to lift which floated freely on water. We had some fun trying drowning the stone - almost as if reliving the bouncing doll moment from childhood. While we were there, we noticed that the place is surrounded by sea and far off from meaningful habitation. We wondered if the civic amenities have reached the place. The locals informed us that though they are dependent on salty water for most of their chores, the Almighty has provided for the drinking water. There are many small pits within the sandy land which provide sweet water for drinking. The water tastes marvelous.

Ruins of Dhanuskodi Prosperity
New Abodes of Fisherfolks
We spent about half an hour at the village and returned to our hotel in Rameshwaram by about 4 PM. It was a great day within nature and devotion and provided us with an enriching and humbling experience. However, the day was not yet over and our trip back from Rameshwaram was no less eventful. We checked out of the hotel and boarded the car for the journey to our next destination - Madurai. We had planned this part of the trip by road to have an experience on the road bridge of Pamban. We traveled for about an hour when we reached the bottom of the first pillar of the Pamban bridge. We had planned a short ride on a glass-bottom boat in the Bay of Bengal. After that ride, we went back on our drive and the excitement rose as we started on the Pamban Bridge.

Pamban railway bridge was the first Indian bridge which is built across the sea. It is generally referred to as The Queen of Indian bridges. The efforts for built a bridge across Pamban channel (Palk strait) was proposed by the 1870’s by the British Government, however, the construction of Pamban bridge was commenced in 1911 and commissioned on 1914. Until 1988 Pamban rail bridge is the only connection path between Rameswaram and the mainland of India. Until recently this was the longest bridge in India with the Bandra-Worli Sea Linking taking over the title in 2014. The 1964 cyclone had its impact on this giant bridge causing partial damage. While efficient operations of Indian Railways ensured that the bridge was restored within 46 days, the perils of a single point of failure were evident to everyone. It was then that the government planned another bridge across the sea for establishing a second connection for the island. This Road Bridge was named as Annai Indra Gandhi Road Bridge, and inaugurated by former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi On the date of October 2, 1988.

As we were passing through the bridge chatting about the might of the bridge we noticed a small crowd on one side of the road. Initially, we thought that these were tourists trying to create memories with photographs of the bridge. However, we saw them gleefully looking at the rail bridge across the concrete fence. We curiously asked the driver to stop and enquired and we realized that we were lucky ones to witness an event which few get a chance to. Railways were performing some inspection and because of which the bridge was being "opened". Yes, the bridge opens up!! Actually, during the construction of the bridge, the engineers realized that the Palk Strait, the point of shortest distance between two land masses is used by fishing trawlers and other ships. Once the bridge would have been built, their movement would be restricted and they would in most probability be forced to either go around the island or move to smaller ships. Both of these seemed to be devastating to the first users of the strait and hence a German Engineer, Scherzer, was brought in. He designed and built the famous 65.23-meter long rolling type lift span, which opens up to pave way for the vessels to pass through like a pair of scissors. Of course, we were in no mood to miss this moment and there we stood firm waiting for the bridge to open up.

Pamban Bridge - Making way for Trawlers

The Herd of Boats in High Seas

In a few moments, we saw a team of railway personnel approaching the bridge and we knew that the action was to begin soon. This bridge still used the traditional technology and the levers are manually operated. We could see four personnel positioned on each of the four corners of the bridge ready to move the pulleys. Two personnel were seen walking towards the center of the bridge, the point where the two spans meet. With a siren, the process started and the personnel at the joint guided the workers rotating the pulleys through radios until both the spans rose up to about 10 degrees when the action paused. The personnel at the joint then walked back to the land and the work resumed. In about 10 minutes, the two spans were both up almost verticle. Various vessels caught on the opportunity and crossed the strait in about an hour timeframe provided to them. We all felt as if we were destined to be there at the same moment to see this sight.

We resumed our journey and stopped next to a beachside resort near Mandapam for snacks and spent about half an hour in our last beach destination of the trip. We reached Madurai by about 6 in the evening and proceeded directly to tour the city as we had limited time before the city closed down for the day.

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