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Dhanushkodi: Washed away but still alive, says PRASSANA SRINIVASAN

HAUNTING YET appealing, deserted but still full of life, eerie but fascinating — Dhanushkodi is full of contradictions. Bow's End (as translated from Tamil) is a sure delight if you have a penchant for impossibly blue seas, pristine white sands and ruins by the shore. Bordered by the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, this semi-ghost town is probably one of the most spectacular stretches in Tamil Nadu.

Breathtaking beauty, a population of less than 500, the nearest telephone about 20 km away, out of reach of mobile signals and the feeling of being in a place which was once alive, now reduced to rubble, makes it a place truly less travelled. And standing at the tip of India is a pretty heady feeling!

The road that leads to the land's end is lined with casuarina and the sea on either side. A ride down this 18 km-long, impeccably straight road leading to the ruins of a township is an exciting experience by itself. Dhanushkodi was a major point of entry to India until 1964, when a cyclone devastated the entire town, washing away the railway track, a steam engine and its carriages, and the entire village.

Our auto driver, who also doubled as our guide for the day, narrates the events that followed the violent cyclone. He points out the rail track that lies half buried in the soil and goes into graphic descriptions of how "it had once ferried passengers between Dhanushkodi and Rameswaram." Becoming increasingly mournful, he travels back four decades when "a group of students were the lone travellers on the doomed train." The buried railway track is our first glimpse of the "land that once flourished." Eerie but fascinating, adding an extra thrill to this road less travelled.

All forms of transport to Dhanushkodi stop at Moonram Chathiram. From here, we hire a vehicle more suited to the sandy terrain (read a smelly van that carries fish) to traverse the mud tracks leading up to the ruins. A 7-km bumpy ride takes us to the actual ruins.

The buildings that braved the fateful day still exist partly buried in the sand and partly weathered by the sea adding a mysterious beauty to the place. A rusted four-pillared structure, possibly a water tank, welcomes us to this lost land. Even though the town was wiped away by the 1964 cyclone, small numbers of temporary settlers live in thatched huts during the fishing season. Our smelly and unsmiling van driver informs us that this is one of the richest fishing belts in India.

Bordering these huts is another roofless shattered building resembling a church. Inside, a pedestal, which could have been the altar, stands intact. You can almost imagine the pews packed with a choral-singing congregation and hear the booming voice of the pastor. We then visit the village post office — now a grand red arch, the rest of it buried in sand. A ruined railway station and a temple lie among the debris. But the shells of the structures sit peacefully in dunes of white sand against a deceivingly calm and sparkling blue sea. Covered with weeds, sunk in sand, corroded by the sea, Dhanushkodi seems to be a living example of the impermanence of life — it's suspended in decay, seeming to thumb its nose at life.

How to get there:

Rail: There are direct trains from Chennai to Rameswaram — Sethu Express and Rameswaram Express. From Rameswaram several buses ply to Dhanushkodi.

Road: There are no straight buses from Chennai. However, there are buses from Madurai to Rameswaram.

Air: Madurai is the nearest airport.

Where to stay: Most hotels offer affordable accommodation, but if you are looking for a package — food, guide, cab, etc. — TTDC is recommended.

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