To do that ... I happen to write!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

[Guest Post] To Rameshwaram and Beyond!

In the first ever guest post to this blog, here's Jatin Pasrija , an ardent traveler, recounting his first ever SOLO trip to the end of India: Dhanushkodi - a place where sea on either side is only 100 m away, and Sri Lanka only 12 miles! Yes, this is the place of the mythical Ramsetu. Enough of yada-yada-ing about it, let's go and see it, and here's an account of what adventures await you, if you decide to go there!

The Rail Bridge

The afternoon sun was beating down hard as I settled myself in the window seat of a shaky Tamil Nadu bus. Despite the heat, it was hard to skip the marvel that Pamban Viaduct is! So when the bus reached the end of the rail bridge, I got down, took out my SLR, put on the shades and started walking towards it. Soon I was grabbing eyeballs, for backpackers, or specifically North Indian backpackers aren't a very common sight in southern parts of India. Feigning to ignore the attention, I carried on, for everything seemed so perfect then – I didn't have to worry about a soul, there was nothing pulling me back, I was free to test my limits...Damn, I should have tried such a solo-trip long-long time back...

The journey so far had already been quite an adventure. I had chosen the destination for the very reason that it was hard enough to manage in a weekend trip. From Bangalore, it involved an overnight bus to Madurai, followed by another 4 hour journey to Rameshwaram and I wasn't still done!

Having made up my mind at the last minute, I had to buy a very costly night bus ticket to Madurai. But that was just the start - the vents of the AC bus refused to close and the last seat wouldn’t push back. Moreover, it seemed my seat wasn’t exactly screwed to the base as it rocked every time the driver applied brakes. I was actually smiling inside, with a ‘Bring it on!’ attitude. But then someone noticed my plight and decided to lend me a spare blanket. Sleep came in bits and pieces.

Madurai is some 450km from Bangalore and Rameshwaram another 170km ahead. Dhanushkodi, my destination was another 20km from there. I’d been fascinated by the images of the place the day I chanced upon them a week back but it was virtually impossible to make a weekend trip with ‘a lot of people’ thanks to the distance and the remoteness. Hence it seemed perfect for being all alone!

The Destination

Here’s the thing about Tamil Nadu. The first thing you’ll notice about the place is that it is hot! Then as you look around searching for some water, or a place to rest, you’ll find that you don’t understand anything anymore. Sure, people are friendly, but you have to rely on a few English words like ‘bus’, ‘left’, ‘straight’ or perhaps a few hand gestures to exchange info, which oddly so, is not a bad experience! A lot of such 'interaction' had ensued as I’d tried finding a bus from Madurai to Rameshwaram, and ended up taking a local bus to reach another bus stand outside the city. Oh and let me tell you about the buses in Tamil Nadu! ‘DVD Luxury Video Coach’, ‘4D Surround Sound’ claim the banners outside. They’ll play movies at such a volume that you have to watch it whether you know Tamil or not. Good for me, the movie being played was Rajnikant and Aishwarya's 'Robot' and that with English subtitles!

I alighted at the Pamban Bridge that connects Rameshwaram with the rest of the country. While the rail-bridge has existed since 1912, a parallel road bridge was built only recently. However, I chose to walk on the rail bridge, and walked alone on the narrow metal strip between the tracks. The wind was so strong I had to pause and regain my balance every few minutes. There was no hurry of course, I spent close to an hour clicking pictures and decided to carry on only when I was content.

Views from the Bridge

Rameshwaram, surprisingly is not a very touristy town. It’s just so full of pilgrims that there’s an air of spirituality that runs all over the place. A little bit of that perhaps caught me and so when I reached at almost 2:30pm, I thought maybe I could go see the temple and then have some lunch. But then the Gods were having lunch themselves (read: temple closed for darshan) and so it wasn’t to be. Anyways, I found my way to the railway station to inquire about the possible return options and then headed on to Dhanushkodi by a local bus.
After some 15 minutes, the views started pouring in. The bus was moving on a narrow metalled road that was flanked by a vast sandy desert on both side. So inviting was the scene that I wanted to get down there itself, but then convinced myself against the impulse. The destination would be equally good I hoped. The bus came to stop where the road ended, and a few tourist taxis were parked.

Can you spot the children playing cricket in the distance?

It was like a ticket of Rs.8 had teleported me to the end of the world! On one side, there was a very violent ocean, with the strongest waves I’ve seen. And on the other,there was plane barren ground for several hundred meters and then something blue, not the ocean of course, it was too calm to be that. I decided to investigate and walked over towards the 'blue thing'. The sand turned wetter, and soon my shoes were soaked in mud, so I took them off, and went ahead barefoot. When I reached the mirage-point, I found a thin sheet of water, just about an inch in depth which spread for as long as I could see. There were birds, white and shiny, a little distance ahead and were making merry in the water. But as I tried getting closer to them, they flew away and found a new spot in the marshy land. The whole scene was just too good to be true. Another hour passed as I stared and clicked at what surrounded me.

Mystery of the mirage solved

Then I walked back to where the bus had dropped me and hopped on a truck that was to take me to the actual tip of the island. Yes, it was still another 8km away and the ride was over sand and mud. I hung on the back of the truck with one hand and used my camera with the other as we raced through the desert on an unsteady path. The views were just mesmerizing. There were signs of destruction by a cyclone in 1964 which had flattened everything and even swept away a train that carried some 200 passengers. It was a ghost town now, with a lone church as the only surviving building. And then there was my destination, the end of the island, with sea surrounding on three sides, Sri Lanka was just 20 km from the point. Slowly, the sun went down and wind kicked in. It was almost impossible to keep eyes open in the sand-storm that followed.

A sand-storm brewing at Dhanushkodi
620km from Bangalore, it was now time to head back. But when the truck left me where I was supposed to find the bus, it was pitch black. I tried asking the truck driver – ‘…when ?’ ‘Half an hour’, he replied after a few minutes of deliberation. I wasn’t so sure about waiting there in total darkness, 20 km from civilization. Perhaps he saw my reluctance, hence offered to drop me to his village some 10km ahead, on the highway, where it wouldn’t be so dark and uncertain. Why not!
So after waiting for sometime at his sleepy village under one of the best starry skies, I reached Rameshwaram and bought the train ticket to get to Madurai by a midnight passenger train. I wanted to give the temple another chance, so walked a couple of kilometers to the gate but alas, it was sleep-time for God now (read temple Darshan closed again !). Never mind, at least I tried! I got back to the station at 10:30pm, found a place to lay down at the platform, set up the headphones and closed my eyes. As I pumped up the volume, a cool breeze started blowing, and then the song 'Yeh Raasta hai keh raha’…pure bliss!
Sometime later I realized the train was already there at the platform an hour before departure. So I found an empty berth and went off to sleep in no time. Next thing I remember, a man in khaki, probably a policeman, was hitting at the berth with a stick, thankfully not just mine, but everyone’s on the coach, announcing ‘Last stop, Madurai’ followed by something gibberish to me.

So early?! What’s with passenger trains these days! So at 3:30 AM I was at Madurai station, half asleep and trying to find a bed to rest. There were none of course. So I curled up at the waiting hall, which was nothing but an extension of the platform except with fans to cool and keep mosquitoes at bay. There were close to fifty people sleeping soundly, I noticed several hundreds outside the station as well. A little wary of losing my belongings, I tied my shoes to the bag and kept the bag as a pillow. Its not so bad actually when you’re actually desperate to take rest. At 6 I was woken by an extremely loud honk of a train pulling up at the platform. Surprisingly, everyone around me had already woken and left; and it now felt weird sleeping alone on the platform floor. So I freshened up and decided to go to Meenakshi Temple and check out what Madurai was famous for.

Wake up Madurai

I've always believed each city is at its peak in early morning and Madurai was no exception. The streets were very much like Chandni Chowk, except instead of Red Fort or Jama Masjid, the gopuram of Meenakshi Temple was the imposing structure. The pujaris weren’t very keen on allowing me inside with half-pants, so I had to borrow a lungi from someone. There’s no logic actually, people who wear lungi are equally exposing, sometimes even more when they pull up their lungi to ‘keep themselves cool’! Then, you’re not allowed in if you’re not a Hindu, which just seems pointless. Also if you’ve got the buck you can get a VIP Darshan and the more you spend, the closer you get to God. Anyways, the temple structure with its cave-like appearance was impressive. Good for me, I was before the crowd pulled in and hence got through in half an hour.

After three courses of breakfast at Modern Restaurant, I was barely able to walk. I decided to take the bus back home since there wasn’t much to do in Madurai anyways. As I got to the bus stand at the end of the city and looked around, I was told there were no buses to Bangalore till night. It was best to break journey till Salem, the half-way point. But where were all the buses to Salem? I couldn’t’ find any, so started asking around.
‘Salem bussa…Aryapalam Bussa stand…ippa that bus’, without thinking or caring to understand I hopped on the local bus that the guy was pointing to. So I was taken to another end of the city where thankfully I found the bus to Salem. It was a long journey back actually, took 11 hours to Bangalore instead of the 7 it took by the overnight bus, but that was kind of expected. I don’t mind long journeys very much as long as I get the window seat. And in any case there was no one I could have cribbed to! ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ turned into an interesting whodunit and my phone, recently charged at the restaurant in Madurai, was ready with music as well...

So when do you know you are ready for a solo-trip? You just do. What worked for me was that I was constantly on the move. It should not matter how many bus, train or truck rides it takes to get to the destination. The moment you lay back and relax, you’ll wish someone was around and that’ll be the end of it. Of course, you also have to follow the basic rules of travel – being open-minded, being cautious and to enjoy whatever is thrown at you. But then isn’t life like that as well…

- Jatin Pasrija
Find me at:


  1. Of Course after Italian Diaries :P that was awesome too!

  2. arre mast yaar... i hope i get to drive there one day...(this year)

  3. my idea my idea

  4. @ Shubhi - Thanks :D Italian Diaries were awesomer. I know :)

    @ Reuben - Yeah, you have drive from Chandigarh to Dhanushkodi plan!

    @ Meenakshi - Who can forgo the chance when the godess herself calls!

  5. @meenakshi: was this a part of a bigger scheme in which you planned that i get typhoid and hence not be able to go for the june trekking trip ?

  6. arrey nishant wat did u do to my first comment!

  7. Jatin I loved the post. It seems u had so much fun!..keep making solo trips and tell us about them!

  8. @ranka goddess of the Meenakshi Temple!! :P