Dhanushkodi – A ghost island at the tip of India

Dhanushkodi view point - Mittai Stories

In the middle of the subtle green waves and rich coral life lies a little island, with clear sand and gentle waves washing its shores. This once bustling fisherfolk hamlet is now a lonely ghost town frozen in time. Meet Dhanushkodi, the tail tip of Indian subcontinent. 

Dhanushkodi, called as the last land of India, is infamously known for its tragic past. Commonly associated with local folklore and myths, this abandoned town is at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island. It is about 24 kilometres (15 mi) west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. It is easily reachable by boat from both the countries. 

Dhanushkodi ghost town - Mittai Stories

1964 Dhanushkodi cyclone – The day nature lost control

Back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, if you were living in Dhanushkodi, you’d wake up in a little hut to the warmth of  bright morning sun and sound of the waves. You’d witness the little town’s fisher folk selling their last night’s catch, and some prepping to go back to the sea. You might also wave a hi to the friendly postman cycling by with this brown bag full of letters, while you stand and watch the town folk boarding a bus to reach the mainland – Rameshwaram. And if it was a sunday, then you might go to the old Roman Catholic church.

All that is said above would have been just the perfect little beach side life, unless you were living in 1964 and enjoying the holiday season. Because when everyone was busy living their best holiday life, tourists and pilgrims going about enjoying their little getaway, a terrible storm was brewing in the Bay of Bengal. 

The beginning of the end of Dhanushkodi 

Earlier, Dhanushkodi Rameshwaram has suffered a number of cyclones and hurricanes. However, those were all typical tropical storms that would just pass, maybe damaging some properties. But on December 15, 1964, in the southern Andaman Sea, an unusual low pressure area caught the attention of the meteorological department. 

Within two days, heavy rainfall and thunderstorms threatened the safety of boats and ships passing by the south of Bay of Bengal, so the Meteorological department were all eyes on the deep depression, in simpler terms, a deadly hurricane!

Simultaneously here in Dhanushkodi, things are just the way they should be. Everyone is busy with their lives and tourists are busy sightseeing. The meteorological department’s warning merely passed as ‘just another storm’.

Meanwhile, getting much worse, this severe cyclone was soon approaching SriLanka.

“The greatest tragedy that ever hit Ceylon” – SriLankan Government 1964 

Early on December 23, the cyclone made its first impact on land by tearing down the northern tip of SriLanka. The raging winds and the thunderstorm downpour caused catastrophic losses, hitting Pamban, the place near Dhanushkodi, the worst.

According to the initial reports, about 250 people were killed, 5000 houses and 700 fishing boats were destroyed. All of this was in the Jaffna district of Ceylon alone. More than 300 fishermen were lost at sea. 

With the death toll likely to reach 2000, and costing almost 200 million rupees in damages, the SriLankan government called it the “greatest tragedy that ever hit Ceylon”.

 But all of this was only the beginning. The worst was yet to come.

A violent storm and the end of a mythical little town DhanushKodi

On December 23, a wednesday morning. With not much communication facilities or technological advances, the people of Dhanushkodi were going about with their day as usual. 

After checking their tickets, around 200 people boarded the Dhanuskodi passenger train. It was about to take them away from the island, through the Pamban Bridge. This bridge was the only solid transportation available out of the island. 

Kids were running around playing and the town’s panchayat office was buzzing with local elders. 

None aware of the tragedy that was nearing them by the minute.

After almost destroying Ceylon, the raging storm finally struck the town with a brutal force. It tore down every hut, house, or building that was on its way. 

Dhanushkodi Cyclone - Mittai Stories

It overturned the Pamban-Dhanuskodi passenger train, and killed all the passengers on board, and the ‘Pamban Bridge’. India’s first sea bridge, now became completely damaged and useless. 

The terrible cyclone submerged the town ,cutting them off from any sort of connection to the outer world. People went without food and water for days. It killed at least 800 people in this little town alone.

The incomprehensible loss of lives, houses destroyed, a train of death, and being submerged by the ocean –  all started the ‘ghosting of Dhanushkodi’

The aftermath of the Dhanushkodi Cyclone

The town was under water by the time any help could reach the locals. Any one who lived through the storm had to go without food and freshwater for more than four days. 

When the clouds started to make way for the rescue mission, Indian Navy’s ship brought back about 200 people. They were holding on to anything that could save their lives, until help arrived. Despite intense efforts, no planes and helicopters could land as the town was almost submerged. 

With no connection to the mainland, the lifeless town was declared ‘unfit to live’ and as ‘dangerous’, by the Madras Government. 

St Anthony's church - Mittai Stories

Since then, many attempts to inhabit and rebuild this town failed miserably. However the Pamban bridge came back to its glory soon enough to keep the town accessible.

Pamban bridge Dhanushkodi - Mittai Stories

One of only a handful of cyclones to attain such an intensity close to the equator. This one left a haunting trail of bodies and has forever destroyed the little town.

Dhanushkodi today – A tranquil reminder of nature’s worst disasters

Today, a handful of fisher folk live in Dhanushkodi. They make their living mostly out of fishing. Well connected to the mainland, this town now attracts tourists from all over the world.

Taking a jeep or local bus ride from Rameshwaram brings you to this island.

You can see the remnants of the old church. The railway station barely manages to hold together a few walls and pillars. These stand as the reminders of the town’s tragic past. 

Dhanushkodi railway station - Mittai stories

The fisherfolk there make a meger income by guiding tourists through their town. They give us a tour of whatever survived the cyclone.

Noteworthy is how, even after its worst attack on the town, nature still sustains the townsfolk. Digging the sand below your feet leads to fresh water free of any salinity from the surrounding sea. You can see many locals just burrowing with their bare hands until they find water. They drink it by filtering it with a piece of cloth.

The light green tranquil waves and the ocean beautifying the scenic cycles of the sun and moon makes one forget the horrors and tragedy that once hit the very land they are standing on.

Dhanuskodi tourism : The best time to visit and how to reach

Due to its geography, Dhanushkodi can get pretty hot during the summer months of April to June. With seasonal rains drenching the land between July to October, you definitely do not want to visit Dhanuskodi at that time . Yes, reference to the whole history 🙂 . So the best time to visit would be from the month of October to March. This is when the weather is pleasant and the heat is much tolerable. 

How to reach Danushkodi?

On reaching the Rameshwaram railway station you can take the government aided jeeps offered by Dhanushkodi Tourism upto the beach. 

You can also take the services offered by the locals, and take a tour on their jeep or vans. This would actually cost you less. But if you are from nearby and own a car. You should definitely take your own vehicle as it is more convenient and the roads are well connected as well.

Finally, we’ve now reached the end of this blog on Dhanushkodi! Why not take a virtual tour to a nearby hidden coastal beauty – Manapad?

Liked the blog or been to Dhanushkodi before? Share your experience with us on the comments below!

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  1. I’m pretty pleased to discover this site. I want to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also have you bookmarked to look at new things in your blog.

    1. Thank you Walter. Glad you enjoyed it!

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