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Monday, March 31, 2014

Solo Tour Diary: Trip 2 - Day 1: Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi, Devipattinam, Uthirakosamangai, Thirupullani

This is the 2nd post in my "Solo tour diary" series of blog posts, post 1 of which is here.

Trip 1 lasted for less than a day, Trip 2 lasted for 4-5 days. So I'll be writing about the tour in day to day accounts. Before I begin to describe my journey, a few things I'd like to state:

1. Why this trip?

To put it very simply, I wanted a break. I needed a break. I had not taken a week's vacation since Nov 2011 (when my brother got married). For almost 3 years, I had only taken 1 or 2 days off here and there, but NEVER a vacation. The reason was simple - I really didn't know what to do, where to go and how to spend time or how to relax. In other words, I was very content with my work life and UnReal life and really didn't feel the need for any travel to any place :) ...but over the past few months, work had increased substantially and I really felt like taking a few days off and cooling down. Same with UnReal articles too - not that I was getting tired, I can never get tired of writing satire :) passion is something which never tires you and that is what writing is, to me. But having written continuously for over 2 and half years, I kinda realized that my readers' expectations of me have significantly increased. So I decided to give my brain some rest and shut off my satiric brain for a week.

More than anything else, it was a burning desire to get far away from the internet and laptop. I had been unbelievably addicted to the internet and laptop and I needed some detox. I decided that a vacation to some far off places would be the best way to recharge, re-energize and rehabilitate my internet-addicted mind. My brain needed rest, it needed to cool down and this had to happen.

2. Why these places?

I was supposed to be in Chennai with my mom from March 22nd to March 31st. Instead of spending the whole week in Chennai, I decided to visit a few places around in Tamil Nadu. I've already seen Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Auroville etc. those were out of the list. I wanted to see some places that I had never seen until then.

Rameswaram was the first choice that came to mind - I had always been fascinated and hugely excited about the fact that over there, the train would go on a bridge built over the sea and I had heard that the beaches there are like ponds - very very gentle waves. Next on the list was Kanyakumari - This was another place that I had never seen and I had always wanted to see the southern tip of India.

I'm mainly a beaches person, so decided on these 2 places. This was the original plan. However, upon googling and suggestions from some of my family members, the number of places to be visited multiplied manifold! I hadn't the faintest idea that a place called Dhanushkodi existed and upon googling this ghost town, it automatically became my first priority! :D I had to visit this at any cost!

Various family members of mine then suggested that I visit a whole list of temples around these areas! So the list saw many more additions in Devipattinam, Uthirakosamangai, Thirupullani, Pazhamudhircholai, Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple & Mariamman Theppakulam, Thiruparankundram, Suchindram etc. My grandfather's sister even suggested that I visit Kumarakoil temple as that is the famous temple where bachelors/spinsters go to pray for a good spouse! :D ..I then went on a rampage and added as many temples as possible to the list - Tirunelveli Nellaiappar temple, Tenkasi Kasi Viswanathar temple ...I had always wanted to see Kutralam falls since I was a kid, so that was also added...the plan ended with a visit to Tiruchendur seashore temple.

I started searching for package trips and found one by IRCTC that looked very interesting - but it was priced at 12k! Plus, it didn't allow sufficient time for one to visit Dhanushkodi and other places in Rameswaram. There was another one by TNSTC, but that covered Rameswaram only. So I decided to plan the whole thing manually - I googled up places, hotels etc and finally fixed my plan! 

So finally, the addition of all these temples made the tour more of a pilgrimage than a recreational one, but who cares! Anything away from the net & laptop was welcome :D ...Plus, I've ALWAYS found temples to be places of peace and tranquility.

So this spiritual+recreational tour in search of peace was a welcome vacation from my routine virtual life in the city. In other words, a welcome vacation from myself.

3. Why solo?

I've said this in my previous post - I almost always do things solo, be it going to movies, concerts, restaurants etc. Having had no company for any of these in recent years, I've learned to love doing things on my own :) Plus, there's NOTHING like the flexibility and independence that solo travel gives you....things happen exactly as per your will :) ...

I had asked my mom if she wanted to come along. She had to take some treatment for her knee, so she declined. I had to go alone then.

Anyway, let's begin with the descriptions, shall we?

Day 1 - Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi, Devipattinam, Uthirakosamangai, Thirupullani
Departure: March 25th, 2014, 5 pm 
Starting point: Chennai Egmore station
Destination: Rameswaram
Train: Sethu Express
Arrival: March 26th, 2014, 4.45 am

Sethu Express is the best way to get to Rameswaram - fast, affordable (at around 350 Rupees for a Sleeper class berth) and it reaches Rameswaram early in the morning at 4.45 am. While going on this train, DO NOT MISS the experience of the train going over Pamban bridge at around 4.15 am. 

Go and stand near the train door, hold on tight to the railings and enjoy the sheer thrill, in the pitch dark, of hearing & watching the rumbling ocean inches below your feet! A sudden thrilling vibration runs through your spine as you stare into the darkness and realize that you are right in the middle of the ocean and only a few inches separate you from it. 

The train goes as slowly as possible on the bridge - I don't know if it is for safety reasons OR so that people can take a good look at the ocean and the road bridge that runs in parallel. Anyway, my sight-seeing of Rameswaram had already begun with this more-than-fully-cherished ride :D 

The train reaches Rameswaram at around 4.45 am. There are plenty of autos available outside the station, but they tend to fleece you. The good thing is, there are also 1-2 buses outside the station that take you to the temple and Agni theertham(the sea). So I took a bus and reached my hotel for all of 5 Rupees.

As for the hotel, there are quite a few around, but for a solo traveller or for a group of 3-4, I'd whole-heartedly recommend Brindavan Residency, which I had googled and booked upon reading excellent reviews at TripAdvisor.  And my pleasant experience wasn't too different :) ...I enjoyed my stay here! 

  • Excellent location - just a few meters away from the temple as well as the Agni Theertham
  • Highly economical, with rooms starting from as low as 1200. 
  • Clean and well-maintained rooms. Good facilities.
  • There's no in-house restaurant but the staff are more than willing to get you whatever you want from elsewhere.
  • Very helpful staff, you'll see why. Read on.

In my excitement, I was impatient to start seeing the place and asked the hotel receptionist when the temple darshan would start. He requested me to wait until 7 am, so I took a walk to Agni Theertham. The place was already swarming with hundreds taking the holy dip / bath in the sea.

At 7 am, the hotel folks arranged for a guided darshan of the temple. A family of 3 and I were taken along by one Mr.Arumugam. It began with a dip / bath in the sea. Once we did that, we walked to the temple which is just a few meters away. Now, this is a phenomenal temple - one of THE BEST I've ever seen - the tour begins with the entry to the 22 wells. (The entry ticket is 25). Cameras / cellphones are NOT ALLOWED inside.

Thanks to the guided darshan, once we purchased the tickets, we were able to by-pass the long queues, with the guide taking us to those who draw water from the wells, saying "thambi, inga konjam oothu pa" (Brother, some water over here please). This happened with all of the wells.

Water being poured on you from the 22 wells is such a purifying experience that I can't describe in words! You really have to experience it to feel it! The vibe that the temple and the wells give you, the sanctity and the holiness of the whole place brings such peace to your mind! You'll really be thankful for being alive to experience that! :) ...Anyway, this process takes about 45 minutes. Once this is done, there's a separate area for you to dry your clothes and squeeze the water off them. You HAVE to do this, because you will not be allowed dripping wet into the sannidhis

Here onwards, the guide takes you on tour of the temple and you get to see the various deities - each one of them is lovely in all splendour! The best part is with this guide, you by-pass even the VIP queues! :D ...and get the highest-priority one of the sannidhis, I was even garlanded! :D ...Finally, the guide showed me the famous longest temple corridor in the world...and it was HUGE and mind-blowing! (I couldn't take pics as no devices were allowed)

The overall express-tour of this fascinating temple cost me 500, but I guarantee you, it was worth every paisa!!!! :) This guide was totally awesome and I recommend that you ask for Mr.Arumugam to guide you, if ever you go to this hotel. I came back to my hotel room, all smiles! :D

I have NEVER seen such a magnificent temple and it is no surprise why thousands of devotees throng here every other day. Once done with this, I spoke to the hotel staff about what all places I wanted to see and cover. They were so understanding and accommodating and they arranged it EXACTLY the way I wanted it. The receptionist said "Neenga eppdi sollarengalo, appdi pannidrom saar...neenga kavalaye padatheenga!" (Your wish is our command!)...So, a local sight-seeing tour began in an auto. This cost me 300 ...there's an option of an Indica too, but that would cost around 1300 or so. So, if you are just 3-4 of you, I recommend that you travel by auto itself, Moreover, the roads in Rameswaram are small, so you're better off taking an auto.

The tour began with Abhaya Anjaneyar temple, which is almost right next to India's tallest TV tower (scaling more than 1k feet). 

From here, we headed to the famous Ramar Paadham monument atop Gandamadana parvatham. It was from this mountain that Lord Rama first saw Lanka. Gadgets allowed, but no photography allowed inside the monument. 

You get a good view of Rameswaram from this mountain.

From here, on the way back, there is another temple, indicating the spot where Lord Hanuman told Lord Rama that he had seen Sita in Lanka. Gadgets allowed, but no photography allowed inside the monument.

It's so amazing! - the feeling you get when you realize that you are in these areas where, many, many years ago, one of the core segments of Indian history is considered to have occurred :) It really makes you feel thrilled, happy and what not! I really can't describe it :D You have to be there to experience all this! 

From here, we headed to the Panchamukha Anjaneyar temple, where, as the name suggests, is the famous 5-headed Hanuman idol and more fascinating, the floating stones used by Lord Rama and team to build the bridge to Lanka. Photography of the Hanuman idol is allowed, but that of the floating stones is not allowed. 

From here, we went a little ahead to Lakshmanar Theertham - a nice temple with a kulam around. Gadgets allowed, but no photography inside the temple is allowed.

The next place was Ramar Theertham - another kulam with floating stones on display. Gadgets allowed, but no photography of floating stones is allowed, but you're allowed to lift them and put them back in the water. That's another amazing feeling! :)

There's also a Gujarati temple built around for Lord Rama.

That's about the local sight-seeing. It was all done in an hour and a half. I was back to my room by 10.30 am. 

The next part was the most exciting one, the best part of my whole tour - Dhanushkodi! Again, the hotel staff were very useful. They booked a jeep exclusively for me, that would take me till the end, for 1300. This was a rickety old jeep without an accelerator, but perfectly suited for the conditions in Dhanushkodi.

On the way, we covered another place which was on my must-see list - the house of one of India's most inspirational presidents, a true legend - Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam. Photography is not allowed inside the house.

The house has so much on display - his journey from a small hut in Rameswaram right up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, his awards including the Bharat Ratna and the Padma awards, his achievements, his old photographs, his priceless moments, his medals, his certificates, his hand-written poems, his rocket models. WHEW! The place just oozes with inspiration and exudes an indomitable, totally insurmoutable wave of positivity and determination. You really come out of the place feeling hugely inspired, determined and confident, acquiring tonnes of self-belief. As far as I remember, entry is free. This place is absolutely worth the visit, mainly for the vibe it gives you - that if a man from such a humble, small hut in a remote area of India can make it to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, anything on earth is possible through sheer sincerity, hard work and determination!

From here, we drove to Dhanushkodi. I was looking forward to this with bated breath. The initial part of the highway reeks of the odour of fish. But soon afterwards, it's a smooth ride, but the jeep goes at constant speed. 

We then reached the navy check-post, just before which we take a detour, into the mud, sand and water :)
The driver stopped here to deflate tyres.

The ride from here onwards reminded me of Dubai's desert safari - no roads, you make your own path over land, water and what not.

We reached Dhanushkodi old town, where one can see the ruins of the railway track, railway station, platform benches etc

A little ahead, we come across the ruins of a water tank, church and various other buildings of a once-popular town, totally washed away by a deadly cyclone in 1964. The town has been rendered unfit for living and is a ghost town, but a few fishermen still live here in tents and thatched huts. Caution: If you go during summer, the weather is extremely extremely hot. Please apply some sunscreen lotion, wear a cap and sunglasses to protect you from the blistering rays of the sun. 

Also, please carry a set of band-aids. If you're wearing chappals, you're bound to get a few chappal-bites due to heavy friction.

I took a walk to the Indian ocean, considered to be the rougher one among the two oceans surrounding Dhanushkodi. It was quite gentle only, except for a few big waves every now and then. But what struck me was the way it looked - WHEW! Sparkling clean, blue and super-scenic! The cold water really cooled my near-burned feet! 

The silence, the calm, the peace at this area is absolutely spell-binding. One really feels like just standing there for ever and experiencing the bliss, doing nothing else. From there, we rode a little further to reach the final drop-off point, at the Bay of Bengal. Here's where people get off to perform poojas and other last rites or immerse ashes. There are a few shops here that sell sea-shells.

The Bay of Bengal is the calmer ocean and is again, one of the best places for a walk. About 1-2 km from there was the absolute end, the South-Eastern tip of India. It is very very hot, but doesn't feel so hot if you walk along the beach, with the gentle waves. It does get very tiring, though. Make sure you carry either a 1-liter or 2-liter water bottle with you! You hardly get anything there and even if you do, they might be at exorbitant prices.

I finally reached the South-Eastern tip after a brisk, but a little long walk. It is absolutely wonderful! Seeing 2 oceans meet is a heart-warming sight and the feeling you get when you realize that water from 2 oceans is brushing your feet is amazing! :) I had been dying to see this place and to actually be there and have your wish fulfilled is nothing sort of bliss :D...this very part of the tour just made my entire trip! :)

Again, you have to be there to experience all this. No matter how hard I try, my descriptions will never do justice to how awesome this place is really is. Dhanushkodi, was, without any shred of doubt, THE BEST part of my whole tour :) I walked back along the Bay of Bengal and could see a few dead sea-animals here and there.

We headed back towards the metalled road and on the way, we saw the ruins of the Dhanushkodi railway line.

We soon took a right turn to see the Kothandaramar temple, which is on a small island away from the strip.
Gadgets allowed, but no photography allowed inside the temple.

Tip: Drink as much tender coconut water as you possibly can. Each one costs 25 if I'm not wrong, but it's the best anti-dote to beat the sweltering heat.

We drove back to the hotel and reached by around 3 pm. The hotel staff told me they'd get some rice for me, from outside and they got me a fully delicious meal! :)

Now, I had covered Day 1 of my plan sooner than expected, so I decided to utilize the remaining hours of the day to cover places from Day 2 of the plan. So I left at around 3 pm for Devipattinam. I was advised by one of my family members to see this fascinating temple with Navagrahas in the ocean. I was also told that it's supposed to be such a powerful temple that would make sure your planetary alignments are right etc etc. That soon gave me a thrill, but I had to travel a long way to reach this.

There are frequent buses from Agni Theertham to Rameswaram bus stand. I took one of those, got off at Rameswaram bus stand. All Trichy-bound and Karaikudi-bound buses go to Devipattinam. I had assumed that they would go directly, but the Karaikudi-bound bus I was in, went all the way to Ramanathapuram, halted there for a while and then went to Devipattinam. I don't remember the bus fare, but it must have been around 20-30 Rupees. By the time I reached Devipattinam, it was around 5.30 I think.

The Navagrahas are reachable by walk from the bus stand, but since I didn't have much time with me, I took an auto. They charge 30-40 Rupees, it's a fleece,  but I had no choice. The entry to the Navagrahas costs 10 I think, or 5. I don't exactly remember. But yeah, the Navagrahas in the ocean are fascinating :) People usually get into the ocean and walk around it, but now, there's also the option of walking on the newly built pavement. I did both :)

From Devipattinam, I took an auto back to the bus stand and from there, took a bus back to Ramanathapuram. From Ramanathapuram, I decided that I'd go to Uthirakosamangai or Thirupullani, whichever bus I get first. I ended up boarding one to Uthirakosamangai. This was a LONG, LONG route. There was also a halt at a railway crossing in  between. It was around 7 by the time I reached Uthirakosamangai. It is a very very small village, with just the temple as the main attraction. Uthirakosamangai is known for being one of the most powerful Shiva temples in the country. There was no rush at the time I visited, so I was able to get good Darshan of the whole temple. 

I asked the auto-drivers around whether it was possible to reach Thirupullani by bus. They said there is no bus that plies between the 2 temples. So auto it was! Leaving at around 7.30 pm, the auto went through a pitch-dark road with no lights at all. It was scary! Hehe! But we covered the 11 km distance in around half an hour. I reached Thirupullani by 8 pm. The auto-ride cost me 200, but like I said, I had no choice :) 

Thirupullani is another powerful temple of Adi Jagannatha Perumal and it was again, very good, as there was hardly any crowd when I went. I had a good darshan at all the temples in it and spent a few minutes at the kulam too.

Note: These temples open early morning, close at noon and re-open in the evening post 4 pm. They're open only up to 9 pm. So plan your visit accordingly.

From Thirupullani, there are frequent buses to Ramanthapuram. So I boarded one and reached Ramanthapuram by around 8.15 pm. I was advised by co-passengers that taking the 8.50 pm passenger train to Rameswaram would be a wiser choice, as one could sit comfortably and go instead of jostling for space in crowded buses that ply very slowly on the roads. So I did just that - bought a train ticket for 15 to Rameswaram. The train left at 9 pm and I was dead tired.

The hotel staff called me up out of concern and asked, "Sir, enga irukkenga? saaptengala? Saapadu sollanuma?"  (Sir, where are you? Did you eat? Or should we get something?)...I told you earlier, lovely staff - they truly value their guests! :) ...I had assumed that the afternoon's rice would hold good, but was infested with ants by the time I came back. So the hotel staff quickly got a dosa and omlette for me at 10.30 pm, as nothing else was available. I hogged and crashed for a few hours, all set to wake up early next morning.

So that ends Day 1 of my tour :). Day 2 can be read here.


Raghu Vedagiri said...

oru doubt sir,, who took that it Sleefie:)... btw nice read ur solo trip to south of TN n thx for hotel & travel recos...

Raghu Vedagiri said...

One doubt sir,, who took that sleefie in a solo trip :).. thx 4 the hotel & travel recos.. good luck

Bhargav Kesavan said...

OMG!!! You've covered a lot ashwin!

Check out my visit to Danushkodi when you've time!

Ashwin S Kumar said...

@Raghu - haha ..I me myself :P

@Bhargav - nice one! :)

Sridharan Sankaran said...

very nice and helpful. thanks a lot

Rudolph Furtado said...

Will be visiting Danushkodi in March 2015 and your blog has provided interesting information.Thanks.

dimpy roy said...

One of the destinations in the Hindu Char Dham Yatra, Rameswaram (Rameshwaram) is a peninsula with a charm that heals all kinds of tension, and also fulfills religious pursuits. Check out all best hotels in Rameswaram also.

vasudha said...

if you can list phone number of the auto driver it would help.

vasudha said...

If you can share the contact number of the auto driver @rameshwaram it would help.

nuttie........... said...

Hey ashwin,
Is it safe to travel to rameshwaram forva girl alone or along with younger brother who is merely 12 yrs???

nuttie........... said...

Hey ashwin,
Is it safe to travel to rameshwaram for a girl alone or along with younger brother who is merely 12 yrs???

Ashwin S Kumar said...

@vasudha - I don't remember the number ..sorry :(

@nuttie - Well, I can't guarantee and say it's safe ...I can only say I never felt unsafe at any time during my trip...and I found the people of Rameshwaram very warm and helpful...

Don't take my word for it, but I can say Rameshwaram is pretty much safe ...can't say the same about Dhanushkodi though...because it's a very deserted place

Sreedev. R said...

A clear detailing of so called ghost town and excellent snaps. Hope to see more write ups from you. Here is my experience on this same place.
Happy travelling!!

Abhilasha Kukreti said...

Rameshwaram, pretty famous for its temples, fabulous architecture and the grand bridge made by lord Rama (according to hindu mythology) is a great place to plan a trip...explore best places to visit in rameshwaram .

Khushi R said...

Enjoyed reading your post. With the mention of various places to visit in Rameshwaram, I would like to say Rameshwaram is a beautiful city with fabulous temples, architecture and a great place to spend vacation.

Make India Travel said...

Great article, It is very nice experience for everyone to take a great experience in traveling. I really appreciate for this.Golden triangle tour

Ayshwarya Singh said...

Awesome place! Awesome shots! Awesome Blog! Keep up what you're doing cause you're doing great!! flight ticket booking agents in delhi

Anamika said...

Really Rameswaram is very beautiful city and has various places to visit. A complete package for tourists who want spend time on the sea coast, temple or want to explore the architecture.

Anamika said...

Really Rameswaram is very beautiful city and has various places to visit. A complete package for tourists who want spend time on the sea coast, temple or want to explore the architecture.

sivashankar said...


Tinu Anzz said...

That's Interesting. I had been to Rameshwaram through Parveen Travels with my Friends. It was a nice and devotional trip. I was thunder shocked seeing the Pamban bridge.

Unknown said...

Nice write-up :)

Can you please let me know if Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi are safe for solo female travelers.

Ashwin S Kumar said...

@Unknown - Rameswaram seems safe. But Dhanushkodi, I'm not too sure - it can be very desolate at times. If you really want to go to Dhanushkodi, please make sure that you're back before sunset.

Rajesh periasamy said...

A wonderful solo trip described in such a lovely way. really nice and interesting blog. loved it. Thanks for sharing. and the photos are also very good.

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shree priya said...

Worth reading. Thank you. seo services chennai