A few weeks back I got to visit Rameswaram town after a decade or so. The main reason for the trip was to visit the recently opened memorial for Dr Kalam at Peikarumbu, Rameswaram.
We travelled from Chennai by train – the newly introduced “Faizabad Express” (16794) that runs from Ayodhya to Rameswaram. The train leaves Chennai Egmore at 18:50 to reach Rameswaram next day morning 07:10. It was a new route, the coaches were brand new and comfortable, with bio-toilets that don’t dirty the tracks with its waste.
We stayed at Daiwik Hotels Rameswaram, which was one of the best hotels in town.
After settling down in the hotel and a bath, we went for a darshan at the famous Ramanathaswamy Temple on Rameswaram Island dedicated to the God Shiva. It is one of the 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams, where the three of the most revered Nayanars (Saivite saints) have glorified the temple with their songs. The temple was expanded during the 12th century by Pandya Dynasty. The presiding deity, the Lingam of Ramanathaswamy (Shiva), is believed to have been established and worshipped by Rama, an avatar of the God Vishnu, to absolve the sins created during the Ramayana war at Sri Lanka. According to Skānda Purāṇa, twenty-four Tīrthas (holy water bodies) that are on this island are important. Bathing in these Tīrthas is a major aspect of the pilgrimage to Rameswaram and is considered equivalent to penance. Twenty-two of the Tīrthas are within the Rāmanāthasvāmī Temple, hence you will see on any given day thousands of pilgrims queueing for the holy bath. As pilgrims move around in half-dried clothes, the corridors in the temple can be wet – the elderly have to be careful while walking.
After having a good darshan, we went for a boat ride on the sea near Rameswaram temple. The joyride was operated by a small outfit who charged Rs.60 per person for the 30-minute ride on the sea close to the shore. Apart from us, there were about 50 passengers who went on the ride, which were being operated continuously during the day.
After lunch on the first day of our stay in Rameswaram, we went to House of Kalam and then to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Memorial at Peikarumbu.
On the second day, we decided to first visit Dhanushkodi (தனுஷ்கோடி) town which was destroyed completely during the 1964 cyclone and remains uninhabited for decades. A few months back, during the visit by Prime Minister Of India, a new road was constructed connecting Dhanushkodi to Rameswaram Island. We were told by local residents, after the new road, thousands of tourist are visiting Dhanushkodi every day and tourism is booming.
Dhanushkodi was off-limits for civilians for many decades, during that period it was rumoured to be a heaven of smuggling and for being the port of entry for illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka during the civil war in that country. Now, it feels like any other popular tourist destination in India – crowded with people everywhere, hundreds of vehicles and shops selling everything from showpieces to coconut water.
After Dhanushkodi, we went for a quick darshan at Kothandaramar Temple (கோதண்டராமர் திருக்கோயில்) which is on the way from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi.
After lunch, we went to Vivekananda Memorial Hall, which marks the place where Swami Vivekananda landed on his return from his historic visit to America. It is situated about 5 kilometres from the main road, peaceful, ideal for meditating and free of the tourist crowd. You get brilliant view of Pamban road bridge from here.
Our last stop for the visit was to the new Pamban road bridge (Annai Indira Gandhi road bridge) which connects the National Highway (NH 49) with the Rameswaram island.
Overall, the long-awaited trip to Rameswaram was fun and spiritual too.