forces beyond comprehension?
What of the townfolk, did anyone survive?
What is the place like today?
Till the disaster, Dhanushkodi was like any
other Indian town. It had a port for traffic to
and from Sri Lanka; it had a railway station, a
post office, hotels, the usual urban accoutrements you will find in any town of that vintage.
Pamban, the island in Ramnad district which
houses Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi, was
connected to Mannar in the mainland via a
railway line. And regular trains would ply
between Madras Egmore and the tip of the
island, disgorging and collecting men and
materials from the ships from Thalaimannar
that would come calling at the port.
Today, all that is left of the town are skeletons
of what was, and a splattering of hutments
occupied by the fishermen families who continue to live there.
After the December 23-23, 1964, cyclone the
town was declared ‘unfit for occupation’ and it
doesn’t look like anything has changed on the
To get to Dhanushkodi you will have to drive
down from Rameswaram, from where a clutch
of ‘tempos’, as the ancient Mahindra 4WDs are
called, ferry you till land’s end, the south-east
corner of Pamban island.
Traffic is regulated, so even if you have a
4WD of your own you will need to register it at
the checkpoint at Mukundarayar Chathiram
where all tempos, waiting for passengers, are
Once upon a time there was no regulation
and movement was easy. But once Sri Lanka’s
Tamil ethnic problem began to intensify, this
was where boatloads of Tamil refugees would
alight, and as the militancy in the island-nation
grew virulent the authorities moved in, clamping down on any illegal entry.
On a clear night, it is said, the lights of
Thalaimannar can be seen.
The road from Rameswaram goes beyond the barricade at Mukundarayar Chath- iram but no vehicles are allowed beyond
this point. One can walk all the way on this
road, which looks like a good half hour’s trek.
There are stalls selling vaazhakkai bajji
(coconut fritters), sugarcane juice and such.
Fried fish is also sold here, but usually in the
evenings, we are told.
This point is, for those who don’t wish to
undertake the short but time-consuming drive
in decrepit vehicles to land’s end, known poetically as
Arichal Munai in Tamil (or Erosion Point), the walk along
the coast will do fine. But if you decide to go all the way,
remember, some tempo drivers really pack it in, like ours
did, and charge Rs 100 per head, otherwise the norm is Rs
150. They are also open to hiring out their vehicles for
smaller groups but on fixed payment, say, around Rs 2,000.
If your driver is a voluble man, like ours was, you will get
a running commentary of the scenery on the way. ‘There,
that was the track there that got blown away.’ ‘Here, you can
see the tracks from that night.’ All this is in first person, like
he was witness to that traumatic night from 50 years ago.
The locale is perfect for film shootings and, as if on cue,
Arichal Munai is mesmerizing and inviting. There are a
few stalls here, selling the usual souvenirs (shells, and more
shells, in all shapes and sizes), water, lime juice, etc.
The right setting for a chilled beer given that the sun is
glaring down at you, you tell yourself, but alas, no luck with
the spirits. Although, judging from the odors emanating off
a group, where there is a swill, there is a way.
After spending around 30 minutes at the waterfront –
really, if you are not swimming, how long can you with-
stand the afternoon’s scorching sun even if the view is
The tempo trundles to the village some distance away.
Which is when the reality of what happened that night
50 years ago hits you.
The church, its roof blown off, silhouette dominant,
stands like a silent sentinel over the destroyed homes
around, and there’s a small temple next door. A little further is what our driver-guide says was the railway station.
The water tank was next door, what is left of it are the
columns, pointing an accusatory finger at the skies.
There are a few hutments where fisher-folk live, there’s
a local school with classes till the eighth standard. Kids
try to sell shells to visiting tourists for Rs 10 a pop.
The tourist traffic is constant, through the year except
during the rains, and amounts to a few thousands. The
numbers are expected to go up exponentially once the
sanctioned road from the Mukundarayar Chathiram till
Arichal Munai becomes a reality, by next year.
There are earthmovers clearing the way for it, and there’s
an air of expectancy among the locals that with connectivity their lives too will improve.
Hotels will come in, so will electricity and regular water
supply, schools and a hospital… And a ghost town will
finally be laid to rest.
Dhanushkodi needs to snap out of it, 50 years is enough
time to grieve.
But for now, everyone is grim-faced on gazing at the
remainders of what nature’s fury can do, and the return
journey is somber. n
The church destroyed in the cyclone 50 years ago.
The water tank near the the railway station.
The mesmerising Arichal Munal or Erosion Point.
A ghost town
hopes to come
The ‘tempos’ that ferry you to and from Dhanushkodi.