Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rameshwaram

Everyday, there are three passenger trains, from Madurai to Rameshwaram - early morning, mid-afternoon and late evening.On the second day of our trip, we took the 12:40 p.m train and reached Rameshwaram at 4:30 p.m. The ticket was Rs 90 for 3 of us.


There were 2 reasons why I wanted to see Rameshwaram. One, is this incredible fact shown on the image on the left. Isn't that just amazing how this unique feat was achieved by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, that too without the technology prowess that we boast of today? Imagine the scientific and geographical knowledge they possessed! And the sheer will and devotion needed to build these temples in such fascinating symmetry. 

I hope one day I will be able to see all the temples along this line.

Later of course, Sathya spoke about the Ramnathaswamy temple and the 22 holy wells and I was hooked. The temple is a busy pilgrimage because it hosts one of the 12 Jyothirlingas and is a part of the Char Dham Yatra.

Two, I had seen a Kannada TV show, many years ago, where the anchor talked of Dhanushkodi, saying it was land's end, that it is a small island is separated from mainland India by the Pamban Channel. I was intrigued.


The Pamban Bridge, shown here, in the image from Google, is another engineering marvel of the 20th century.

I had watched a program on Discovery Channel or National Geographic (forgot which one) featuring this as one of the most dangerous bridges of the world, needing constant repair and maintenance and showed how the ocean waves lashed against the rail coaches during a storm.

The bridge is 2.2 kilometers and holds the record for being one of the longest bridges in India to be built over a bay.

The railway cantilever even has lifting spans for small ships to pass through.





We alighted at Rameshwaram station and took a van to go to Jiwan Residency Hotel. We paid Rs 100 for a distance of 2 km. No meter concept here or in Madurai. The auto or van guys throw a price at you, you accept and pay or bargain and leave.

Review of the hotel?
Well, we paid Rs 7000 for two nights - two adults and a child aged 11 with complimentary breakfast for the adults. Hotel facilities is excellent, location is great, it is walking distance from Ramnathaswamy temple BUT the internet sucks, no wifi in the rooms, only in the lobby which we never used and the staff knows only Tamil which made even simple instructions and conversation a torture, food in the attached restaurant was exorbitantly priced and the quantity was painfully small.

Anyways, what caught our fancy as we set foot in the town was the sight of these huge banners.
I don't know Tamil. I don't know what it says. Is it a wedding invitation? Or is it friends congratulating a newly married couple? Look at those "YO" boys with their cool, blue aviators. I bet the same shades were shared by all of them for this hot and happening picture. Rows of these funny posters are erected along the main road. There were also others with children (!!!) and their parents! What's with this obsession with flex banners? Pondicherry too is marred by endless posters and banners - wishing the CM on his birthday, welcoming a minister to the city, one politician wishing another politician.

I loved Chandigarh for this reason. Not a single banner on any of its roads. Naah...none! So clean!

Since we had reached in the evening, we were just in time to catch the last boat leaving the shores.
Here are some pics from the boat ride:
The silhouette of the Ramnathaswamy temple and the TV Tower
The next day at 6:30 a.m, we went to Ramnathswamy temple for the darshan and the 'snana' or dip in the holy waters. After the Lankan battle, Lord Rama performed a yagna and instituted a Jyotirlinga at this site. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We first took a dip in the Agni Theertham. It is a small section of the shallow water of the sea that is revered. It is said that a holy bath here and the 22 theerthams in the temple should precede the Jyotirlingam Darshanam. We decided to do exactly that.

Even as early as 6 a.m, there was a huge crowd that had already gathered. We saw 3-4 priests performing "shraadh" and other poojas on the banks of the river. It was unmistakable to see so many devotees from the Northern parts of India. There were many shops and restaurants too that catered to North Indian cuisine and are run by North Indian people. 

At the temple, the queue to the 22 theerthams was exasperatingly long but it was moving and that was a relief. I had thought that there would be a small pond and we would go in and dip in it. Like we had in Shridhar Theertham in Sagara, Shimoga. But here, I saw that there were exactly 22 wells, each numbered and named (like Ganga, Yamuna and so on) and manned by a person who drew the water from the well and poured it on groups of devotees. And the devotees would then move to the next theerhtam. Just a few meters away from the ocean and yet these theerthams had such sweet water!! And a continuous supply too! Never-ending, fresh water!

Four months pregnant, not eaten a morsel and yet I was not tired. I was energized! It was a unique experience that none of us had ever had in any temple, be it in the South or North and we treasured it. We then changed into fresh clothes and stood in line for the Darshanam. 

The special darshana queue is priced at a mere Rs 50 and almost everyone was in it!! It was long and so slow that it was not moving at all. By then, it was already 9 a.m! Sathya happened to see a guard letting in some people directly to the sanctum. He slipped in a Rs 500 note and we managed to have the darshan in less than 10 minutes.
The temple has huge colonnades on 5 feet platforms. It is a fine display of Dravidian architecture. Shown above is one of the many corridors of the temple, beautifully painted in vibrant colors. It is the longest corridor in the world!! Built in the 12th century, the temple has a total of 1212 granite columns. All the pillars are sculpted with beautiful designs and the place stands as an incredible show of strength. Many other pillars are still in their original form.  The stones on the top of the roof go up to 40 feet in length. 

 The pooja starts at 5:00 a.m and goes on till 8 p.m and the spadigalinga deepa aradhana (milk abhisheka on the crystal linga) is at 5:10.  
After the temple visit, we went sight-seeing in an auto. Rs 1100 for a day. First stop was Ramar Padham (or Gandhmadana Parvathan) temple. The foot prints of Lord Rama are here. It is the peak from where Lord Hanuman started his flight to Lanka. There is also the Satchi Hanuman temple, the place where Hanuman brought back the jewel (satchi) from Sita. 
We also paid our respects to the greatest scientist and President our country has ever seen - Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or Missile Man as he was called for his contribution to India's space research and development. He was the 11th President - from 2002 to 2007.  

The Kalam Memorial has been wonderfully constructed by DRDO in just 9 months and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi as recently as July of this year, on the occasion of the President's second death anniversary. Till last year, the site was in complete shambles and it was a sad sight to behold. Both the Memorial and Dr Kalam's house have a superbly collated display of his various accolades, highest civilian awards and photographs of his life's journey. 
We also saw the Villondi Theertham. Lord Rama made this theertham to quench the thirst of Sita by dipping the bow into the sea water. 
The place did not have any crowd when we went and offered a great view of the sea. Endless, turquoise sea.

We later went to Dhanushkodi, an abandoned twon that has many historical ruins like this ol church, an old railway track and station etc. Dhanushkodi lies at the south-eastern tip of Rameshwaram and is only 29 kms west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Lord Rama built a stone bridge to bring his army to cross to Lanka. After the war, the new King Vibhishana asked Rama to destroy the bridge. Rama destroyed the bridge with one end of his bow. Hence the name Dhanushkodi meaning end of the bow. 
Dhanushkodi has an excellent beach. This is where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean merge. The beach is clean, and vast with a color that entices you to jump right in.
A newly laid national highway connects Dhanushkodi with Rameshwaram. The drive is smooth and takes only 30 minutes. And since it is still not spoiled by unrestrained tourism, it is a great place to unwind. 
Two minutes walk from our hotel is the Holy Island Resort with facilities for kayaking, boating, a children's park etc. Satty and Tan went kayaking. Rs 200 for 30 minutes per person. 
When we returned from Rameshwaram, we took the 6:00 p.m train, the sun had just set and the evening sky was resplendent, with the highway on the left and the railway track on the right. 
The train ride is something you must go on, at least once in your lifetime and feel the thrill of standing at the edge of the open door of the coach and look at the ocean right below you. Wave at the people on the highway who have stopped their cars to wave at the passengers of the slowly moving train. We are both clicking pics of each other! 
The 4 day Madurai - Rameshwaram trip cost us nearly Rs 17,000/- The travel expenses were really low as we opted for train. A large part of the expenses (nearly 10,000/-) went for accommodation. I feel it is better to opt for the Tamil nadu Tourism Hotel. It is less expensive, the food is also reasonably priced and good and the facilities are good too.