Life in the Deep South: Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi (days 59 to 61)

10th October to 12th October, 2016.

The most beautiful beaches in India are not found in Goa. Trust me on this. They are found along a tiny island called Rameswaram, around the Gulf of Manna. White sands, blue water, and absolutely no tourists on the beach. The drive to this place from Karaikudi was no less beautiful. We chose to drive through some remote Tamil Nadu country roads with open vistas, palm tree groves, and the roadside tea shops instead of the highway (special thanks to Google Maps).

A flat long road, lined with palm trees
Nothing but the odd village on either side
Green wilderness… ideal for a short stop
All clear sky and flat roads
Our ride during a tea stop

Our two short days at Rameswaram were spent with the lovely people at Quest Expeditions. Jehan and his team at Quest run an adventure sports enterprise. They own two properties in Rameswaram. Kathadi North is in Ramanathapuram, on the mainland side, and Kathadi South is at Pamban, on Rameswaram Island.

The impressive Pamban bridge
The railway bridge connecting Rameswaram
View from the bridge

One fine evening, we drove through the Pamban Bridge to Kathadi South. This rustic three shack outlet is barely 100 m from the beach. Here, you get a basic shack, amazing sea food, and provisions to do water sports ranging from Kayaking to Kite surfing. To top it all off, they have two lovely dogs who will follow you down to the beach. The Pamban region itself is as remote as a place can get.

Our ride at Kathadi South
The view from Kathadi South

This is the Deep South, and there are exactly two (rather well maintained) major roads running through the island. The local inhabitants, however, seem to be reasonably well off with farming and fishing. This island is also home to a surprisingly high number of sheep, and we can pretty much guarantee that you will, at some point or the other, be stopped by a herd if you drive here.

A couple of our neighbours

Goats are beautiful people 🙂

Our first day at Pamban was spent exploring the beaches along the Ramewaram – Dhanushkodi road. Honestly, we could not have gone wrong. Any stretch is as hauntingly beautiful and desolate as the next. Given the amount of life in the Gulf of Manna, it is easy to find a few sea shells (even sand dollars!) worth collecting. The next day was spent exploring Dhanushkodi, the part of India nearest to Srilanka.

A pine forest leads to desolate, beautiful beaches.
A perfect wilderness

Pine trees framing a very blue sky
We were the only people on the entire stretch
Our first sand dollar
Slowly, the sky turns red
And paintings appear
The colors turn brighter by the minute
We watched, till it turned dark

The village of Dhanushkodi is now a ghost town. The original village was wiped out by a cyclone in 1964. This is also where the Ram Sethu connecting the Indian subcontinent to Lanka is believed to have existed. Therefore, taking a four wheel drive to Dhanushkodi is part of every pilgrim’s agenda. But Dhanushkodi is worth exploring for non-religious reasons as well. This salty marsh is full of migratory birds and wild horses. The occasional peacock can also be spotted.

A lone tern, over the marshes of Dhanushkodi
All blue, with a pinch of red
Wobbling away in the very calm water
Wild horses are rather common here, running across the marsh

The old town buildings are still visible, covered in white sand, right next to a very blue ocean. The village is now slowly coming back to life thanks to tourism. Dhanushkodi is now connected to Rameswaram through the Asian Highway (AH) 43. This road leads right up to Dhanushkodi point, the nearest you can get to Srilanka from India. However, the road is not yet open to public. Reaching the village still requires negotiating the salt marshes that surround Dhanushkodi.

Driving here requires a certain degree of skill, the right vehicle and knowledge of local topography. If you don’t have a four wheel drive, it is extremely risky to venture out on to the marsh. There are 4 wheel drive tempos available, where in you can book a seat for some 300 Rs. (which is what we did), or book a jeep from Rameswaram town a day in advance.

The most preferred mode of transport in these parts
Remnants of an old town
This may have been part of a church
What remains of the old church
In ruins, but beautiful
Sand covers what was once the inside of a house
Someone still offers pooja here
Slowly, new temporary huts are coming up next to ruins
This must have been the biggest building in the old town
A house and a well
The sand is as white as it gets
The road to Dhanushkodi, waiting to be opened
The old Dhanushkodi temple
Another sunset
Lost in a sunset
The sun sinks into the ocean
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s life-size statue at Peikarumbu, his burial site in Rameswaram Island

Our last day at Rameswaram was spent at Kathadi North barely 500 m from the beach, this property has a few traditional thatched cottages. Each cottage though simple, is comfortable, and brilliantly designed with an open shower area attached to it.

A cottage at Kathadi North
The hammock is a perfect place for a nap
The view from the open roof bathroom
Will miss this place for a really long time
A fence made of Palm stems. Kathadi has sustainability at the heart of all its construction
The dining area

From here, we went kayaking in the ocean. The water is rather shallow, making it ideal for beginners like us. Also, Jehan and his team spare no thought when it comes to safety.  They also leave no stone unturned when it comes to food. Fresh sea food was the highlight of every dinner, and the outdoor dining area is an ideal place to have a conversation over some coffee. The place never felt like a resort. It was just a place where a bunch of friends got together. And did we mention that this place has five lovely dogs? We couldn’t ask for anything more.

Kayaking: It looks scarier than it actually is. The water in this part is just about 4 feet deep
Ocean, as far as the eye can see
A couple of minutes after this moment, the kayak capsized, and Arun promptly lost his glasses
Jehan, Upasana, Gadhi and Nileena with the first canine Nileena managed to pet. It is all about personal growth 🙂
With the Quest team. The Kite used for Kite surfing can be seen in the background

On a different note, we were lucky enough to run into Samar Farooqui here. Samar runs Slacklife Inc., and uses slack lining to motivate and encourage people to reach their full potential. If you are wondering (like we were) what slack lining is, it involves balancing yourself on a flat rope, tied at a height. You can find out more about it from Samar.

Samar on a slackline
Walking in the sun can be tiring, even on a slackline
It is best to take a nap once in a while

From Remeswaram we move to Kanyakumari, but not before stopping at the quaint village Manapad. More on that in the next post.

Nileena and the ocean
This is what this place is all about

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