Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dhanushkodi – The Ghost Town in Darkness

              It was amazing news to me that hardly about 50 years back, people queued at Chennai Egmore railway station, for a railway ticket to Colombo. Got into research and thus Dhanushkodi emerged to be our next destination. Dhanushkodi is the eastern most tip of Rameswaram, an island province, connected to Indian main land by the famous ‘Pamban’ bridge. Rameswaram is also known as Pamban Island.  Train service from Chennai entered Rameswaram Island along the Pamban Bridge and terminated at Dhanushkodi. Passengers were then ferried to Thalaimannar in Srilanka, just 18 miles from Dhanushkodi, and from there a connection train took them to Colombo. 

                               Such a train, with 110 passengers, was entering Dhanushkodi railway station at 11.55 PM, 22nd December 1964, while a cyclone hit the place. The train along with the town was washed away killing around 1800, including all the passengers and crew of the train. The town was there after declared a Ghost town and Dhanushkodi, today, is just the ruins and remains.

                And those of you familiar with the epic Ramayana, may recall the effort, the monkey army of Rama took, to construct a bridge to connect to Srilanka. This would be about the stone link (Adam’s Bridge) between Dhanushkodi and Thalaimannar, in the satellite picture below (Courtesy : Wikimapia).

         Left most is Indian main land, then Rameswaram (Pamban) Island. Red spot is Dhanushkodi dead end, followed by Adam's bridge or Ramasethu and then Srilanka
Closer view of Adam's Bridge or Ramasethu
                 Another view is that Srilanka was earlier connected to Dhanushkodi, by land, and the eventual rise in sea level, would have resulted in the present scenario. Read some where that it was even possible to cross to Srilanka, by foot, till 1500 AD. Owing to the Ramayana connection, mentioned above, Rameswaram has emerged as a pilgrim’s town and Dhanushkodi is an 18 km drive in a 4WD vehicle from there. 

 25 – 8 – 2010

                Four families, Sunils, Anojs, Dineshs and mine, started off by around 9 in the morning. Dinesh and I led in WagonR and the rest followed us in Alto. Dinesh was actually on a pilgrimage, and on his special request, we had included Tiruchendur also, in the itinerary. Took left at Nagercoil and continued along the Tirunelveli stretch, up to Valliyoor. At Valliyoor left NH, and took the right for Tiruchendur. Rarely found vehicles on this comfortable stretch, apart from ours, and the drive was a pleasure.



             Reached Tiruchendur by noon. Paid a quick visit to the temple and left for Thoothukkudi. 


                 Track to Thoothukkudi was also in good shape, with vastness of salt pans on either side. 

          
           Had a short break at Thoothukudi, to fill our bellies, and were back behind the wheels, by 4.30 PM. Drove along the Madurai stretch up to Kurukkuchalai and took right, for East Coast Road (ECR).

Drive along ECR was a thrilling experience, which is really worth a mention. The surface was even and polished and traffic was very low. 



The speedometer needle seldom went below 100 line. Went along Surangudi, Sayalkudi, Sikkal, Keelakarai and reached Ramanathapuram railway cross by 6.20 PM. That is, a stretch of 120 km was done in 80 minutes. 

ECR, at present, is ready between Chennai and Thoothukkudi, and soon it will get extended up to Kanyakumari. Should go along the entire stretch, after completion, just for the pleasure of driving. Once completed, it would be an 800 km stretch from Kanyakumari to Chennai, and that shall be done in around 8 to 10 hours roughly.

       Using Sunil’s official links, we could have the privilege of Mr. Nagarattinam, an Asst. Engineer with Tamil Nadu PWD, waiting for us at Ramanathapuram. He straight away took us to the PWD guest house, to have tea and snacks. By around 7 we were back on the road to Rameswaram, piloted by Nagarattinam in his Jeep. Rameswaram is another 40 kms from Ramanathapuram. Nagarattinam parked his vehicle at the middle of Pamban Bridge, and we followed suit. Couldn’t get a clear picture as it was dark, and postponed the camera works for the next day, while we return. Reached Rameswaram by 8.15 and occupied our rooms, booked by Nagarattinam, at Palani Andavar lodge, close to the temple and by the sea shore. Neat and spacious rooms for Rs. 1100 per day. Had dinner from Hotel Arya Nivas, the only hotel worth a visit, according to Nagarattinam. Visit to the famous Ramanathswamy temple was scheduled at 5 AM, and we went to bed early.

 26 – 8 – 10

Got ready by 5 in the morning and Mr. Balakrishnan, a Rameswaram dweller, was ready to assist as, on the directions of Nagarattinam. While others were busy with the darsan, I went along exploring the temple art. Nagarattinam returned to Ramanathapuram, after break fast, as he had some official duties to perform. Before leaving, he arranged two 4WD Jeeps, for our Dhanushkodi exploration and ensured that Balakrishnan would assist as through out. 


The tarred road ended at Dhanushkodi beach, and the stretch that followed was along sand dunes and bushes. 

The Ghost town slowly revealed before us. I found it hard to believe that the place was once heavily inhabited, with teaming road and rail services. Our Jeep driver was born and brought up there, and he says more than half of the earlier Dhanushkodi, is under the sea now. 



He left the regular track, drove into the bushy growth and stopped the vehicle. And now we were at the old Dhanushkodi railway station. 


Nothing remained, apart from the cement benches, where passengers waited for the train, about 50 years back in history. Bushy jungle had grown over these remains too. Proceeding further, we drove past ruins of buildings, from where dwellers were washed away into vast waters, while in deep sleep.




A stone structure at a distance is a memorial to some students who were drowned, along with their train. 


The journey finally ended at the dead end and just 18 miles, from where we stand, was Srilanka. Had there been a motorable Adam’s bridge, it would be a 30 minute drive. We were on a narrow strip with Bay of Bengal at the left and Indian Ocean to the right. 


The sea here was shallow with 10 cm high tides, and our kids had great fun. Spent about half an hour there and returned. 




On the way, had a short visit to Kodandaswami temple. 

Track to Kodandaswami temple
 It was a newly erected building in the place of the one swept away by the cyclone. Two broken pillars, in front of the new structure, were what remained. 


Still the cyclone spared the main temple at Rameswaram. Left the Jeeps at Rameswaram, vacated our rooms and where back on the road by around 1.30 PM. On our way to Ramanathapuram, spent a while at Pamban Bridge. 


We were lucky to have a train passing along the lower bridge.


The train was very slow, perhaps for the fact that it’s not running on a bridge over a river, but that over sea. View over the other side of the bridge would send any one run for his camera. 



Slowly drove over to the Indian main land, leaving Pamban Island and its Ghost town back. 

Our world has changed a lot since 1964. Technology developed and so did neighborhood relations. Cyclones can now be predicted well in advance. Why not let the ghost town reclaim its life and its lights? Why not let the Chennai ticket counter sell Chennai – Colombo rail tickets?


Friday, September 3, 2010

Tholadi – Beauty Still Wild


               It was a fine Sunday morning in front of my desktop and power failed. Waited half an hour in vain and the travel bug bit me, all of a sudden. Rang up Pramod, Sunil and Anoj, regular DLC members and surprisingly all were available. Theme of the trip evolved to be recent news on a road project to Ambasamudram from Trivandrum, via Kottoor, along the thick woods of Agasthya hills. 
                    
                      Research revealed that there was a track along this stretch earlier, which was closed by the then rulers, decades ago. Later came to know that there is a water fall somewhere near this track, deep in the jungle named ‘Tholadi’, by the tribals. At present there are two well built roads to Ambai from Trivandrum- one through Nagercoil and the other through Thenmala, Sencottai. This new project may shorten the distance, but at the cost of the last thin stretch of natural jungle along the Western Ghats. 

                          Thought of exploring the greenery, to the extent possible . Packed in Sunil’s Alto, drove up to Kattakada, took left to Kuttichal, and then straight to Kottoor junction by around 11.30 AM. Had tea from the junction and paid a short visit to Kappukadu elephant rehabilitation centre.


                 On reaching Kappukad, rang up Dinesh, DFO with the forest dept. On his direction, Mr. Shiju, forester with Agasthya  Bilogical Reserve came to our help. 


                    Planned a trek to Meenmutti falls as a starter, but dropped it on the way due to heavy down pour.   


                                 Returned to Kappukadu and revealed our original plot to Shiju. He assigned Mr. Ajayan, driver with the dept. to assist us. Got to know that the earlier track was still motorable up to a tribal settlement by name Chonampara. Chonampara is about 8 kms from Kottoor and we moved on, lead by Ajayan. The track winds through thick woods with occasional streams crossing it. 


                   Drizzling was somewhat consistent, strengthening in regular intervals. Shiju had warned us not to cross the streams if the flow was strong. 


               Somehow we managed to take our tiny vehicle up to Chonampara, and parked it by the way side. 


                   Walked along the muddy track listening to the roar of Anchu Nazhika River beneath. The thick foliage obstructed view of the flow. Walked by the side of Chonampara settlement, for about a km to reach Kattakutti, where the track ended at the river.


                On the other side it had narrowed to a foot path, due to lack of usage. Ajayan says, the path leads to Agasthyarkoodam and its just 12 kms from here. He has done the trek to Agasthyarkoodam, many a times along this track, and it’s just an 8 hour walk from here. He continued that abandoned wheels of chariots, that took the kings along this route, can be found along the way. It seems the rulers themselves had closed the route, by blocking it at many places, in fear of intrusion of unwanted elements from the Ambasamudram side. Deviated and continued along the river side to our ultimate aim – Tholadi falls.



As Ajayan wasn’t sure of the track, we took a tribal by name Ramachandran, from the settlement, as a guide. Crossed a narrow rivulet by name ‘Aana Nila’, which is a tributary to Anchu Nazhika River that descends at Tholadi, our destination.


            Halted at a place for leach check, and we could capture mist capped ‘Kathiru Mudi’, at a distance, where Anchu Nazhika River originates. 



                     Another five minutes walk took us back to the river side. Here Ramachandran urged us to cross the swift flowing ‘Anchu Nazhika’ River itself, and it was a risky attempt. The rain in the mountains renders the strength of the flow unpredictable. Feeling our frustration, Ramachandran went ahead with a demonstration, and that was a confidence building measure. 


                   Accepted the helping hands, and we made it to the other side. 


                  Crossing the flow, followed the river upstream, in the drizzle. After a 10 minute walk, we could hear the mild roar, indicating the proximity of our destination. Leaches started their spell, as usual, but none bothered the blood loss. Another five minutes and we had the distant view of the whiteness, filtering the foliage.



                      Once at the base, we realised that the gradient was of such nature that our view couldn’t cover the entire beauty. 


                 The milky white flow descended in several steps and our eyes could follow only four such steps. 


             The adventurer in me woke and I attempted to climb along the rocky ridge alongside the fall, neglecting the leach threat. But still the top of the flow was out of view. 


              Leaches would have had a laugh, as they could reach up to my elbow, while I was on the four legged climb. Ramachandran pointed to a tall tall tree in the jungle, at the top of which, one could have a descent view. None of us where good tree climbers and we chose to be contended with what we had from the base. We hadn’t carried umbrellas and were accepting the shower all along.


video
               
              Sat on rocks enjoying the wild beauty until someone was out of the magical spell, to realize that it was about 4 in the evening and our bellies wouldn’t bear it for long. Started the return trek under the shower, and walked briskly to reach our vehicle at Chonampara within 45 minutes. Ramachandran had left us at his hamlet by then. Drove back to Kottoor along the same wooded stretch. 

                Along the drive, Ajayan opened up on the hidden treasures of this region and as a regular practice by the end of every exploration, we, then and there, declared an immediate revisit. Left Ajayan at the Forest office, assuring a reunion soon, and took left just before Kottoor. Drove alongside Neyyar reservoir up to the Dam and deviated for Kallikkadu. Found a local tea shop along the Kattakkada stretch and had a stomach full of Dosas and other delicacies. The dishes were surprisingly good that I had it packed for my family too.
                Back home by 6.30 PM, all mud and damp. Handed over the food packet, and my wife was wondering what I had been up to. I told her that it was like an ‘Alice in wonder land’ experience…..for I’m back into the madness, after an eight hour dream.

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