Friday, January 6, 2012

Drive through Tamil Nadu for Rejuvenation

It has been some time since I wrote travelogues. Well it has been some time since I got a chance to travel around... For long I had this zest of tracing back the steps of Ramayan. Be it Thirunelly forests where Rama's foot steps are there or be it the Sita devi lakes in Devikulam, Munnar or on top of Chembra hills. But what best place to go than the place where Rama started his journey towards Lanka... Rameshwaram.. and a visit to Dhanushkoti...

So it was decided, 3 days after my final exam to head on a road trip. The earlier plan was involving Madurai, but I dropped it owing to the Mullaiperiyar issues. The revised route Bangalore - Thanjavur - Rameshwaram (Dhanushkoti) - Pondicherry - Bangalore. So some Santrogiri...

So me and my bother set of at around 7am on a cold Wednesday morning from Bangalore. Lighter baggage. We were out of city by around 8am. Took the first break near Hosur for Tea. and headed down south towards Salem. My brother had GPS enabled on his mobile which made navigation easier.

Salem is well connected with Bangalore with 4 lane roads. from then on, the roads till Thanjavur are single lane but broad enough. Beyond Namakkal until one reaches Trichy, there is vast lands of cultivation mainly irrigated by Canals from the Cauvery river. Heavy duty pumps pull out water from Cauvery to the vast canals. This is before the Kallanai dam.

We had a brief stop at Thandai Periyar bridge, which is the longest bridge in Tamilnadu across the CAUVARY River that connects MUSIRI AND KULITHALLAI. Second largest bridge in Tamil nadu next only to Pamban Bridge between Mandapam & Rameshwaram.

by then the chill of Bangalore weather was gone and we were in the sultry sweating plains. By 3 we were in Thanjavur. Due to the sudden change of plan from Madurai to Thanjavur, there were no hotel reservations. They were either not available or too costly.. > 5k per night. As we arrived we also heard about some news of stone pelting and demolition of a Tea shop that belonged to a Keralite. Finally we got a room at TTDC. A nice well laid hotel with lots of space in the interior as well as ample car parking. It is a 2 storied building, but unfortunately there are no lifts (just in case there are any elderly folks staying). The paintings on the walls are amazing. I was running high fever and cold so took a few pills and slept for couple of hours. In the evening we decided to visit Brihadeeshwara temple

Man this is awesome place. A temple that is more than 1000 years of and still withstands the test of time. A UNESCO world heritage site... Wow... even while I was walking towards the temple, I saw the top dome (a huge one that too) appearing and to my astonishment I realized it was only the entrance and the temple is a few feet away. Man awesome.. Just coming to think how the Chola emperor would have built this. At the hotel I also heard that the front entrance was a 3 floor tall but broke after an attack (that is what I heard). The compound is so huge and it houses other deities as well. The big Nandi sculpture is also a site to see. We were just there in the nick of time to see the deity. The temple complex is so huge easily the size of a football ground. And huge crowd (Sabarimala season) in the temple complex. We roamed around the city during the night and had dosa from Saravana bhavan, but unfortunately he did not have tea. So we looked around and there it is a tea stall. Slept off early for an early morning drive to Rameshwaram.

By 6 we checked out of the hotel. We were supposed to take state highway 28 (as per google) to reach Pattukottai. The road just kept getting narrow and narrow. We passed through few villages and by the side of canals, till we got to a point where the road was barely wide enough for our vehicle and one side there was canal. We then asked for directions and few folks suggested orathanadu. On a broader road (comparatively) we left for Orathanadu and then Pattukottai. We joined ECR at Setubhavachatriam. ECR is really fun to drive. few kilometers of 2 lane roads followed by a small town. We took a left at Ramanathapuram and onto the road that leads to Rameshwaram. My heart was yearning to see Pamban. A few kilometers later we were at Mandapam and I could hear the rumbling of the seas. Wow what an experience it was to drive ahead with sea on both side. Gusty winds welcomed us to Rameshwaram. I can hardly describe the feeling of standing at the end of bridge, with the sea rumbling on both sides. The bridge is 2.5 km long and connects Mandapam to Rameshwaram island.

We stayed at TTDC hotel in Rameshwaram. This was one was right adjacent to the sea and walkable distance to the temple. Decent enough. Mr Munisu was our attender and he offered to get us to Dhanushkoti at a cost of 1250. We had lunch at TTDC hotel and checked out on ways to get to Dhanushkoti. It was suggested we drive till the naval post at Mukundarayar Chatiram, park our car and then hop in to one of the fishermans cab (around 80/- per head) and travel about 4-5 km to Dhanushkoti.

And so we drove around late afternoon to Dhanuskoti. One has to drive for about 15-20 km from Rameshwaram to get to Mukundarayar Chatiram. From Kodandarama temple the stretch is really beautiful with sea on both sides. Long drive was worth it. We saw few back packers as well arriving as well. We hopped into a truck. An Indian version of the 4 wheel drive :) and it slowly made its way through the sand.

Hindu scriptures says that at the request of Vibeeshana, brother of Ravana and ally of Rama, Rama broke the Sethu with one end of his bow and hence the name Dhanushkodi, Dhanush meaning Bow and Kodi meaning end. It is also said that Rama marked this spot for Setu with one end of his famous bow. Series of rocks and islets found in a line are shown as remnants of the ancient Setu also called as Rama's Bridge.Setu is the Sanskrit word to denote a bridge or causeway. It has now acquired a special significance to mean the bridge across the ocean constructed by Rama to reach Lanka.

The area around Rameshwaram has been frequently ravaged by several high-intensity cyclones and storms in the past. A scientific study conducted by the Geological Survery of India indicated that the southern part of erstwhile Dhanushkodi Township facing Gulf of Mannar sank by almost by 5 meters during 1948-49 AD due to vertical tectonic movement of land parallel to the coastline. As a result of this, a patch of land of about half a km in width stretching 7 km along North-South direction submerged in sea along with many places of worship, residential areas, roads etc. Incidentally, Thanjavur Raja’s choultry, a known dharmasala for pilgrims in those days, located in this area, also submerged.

On the night of December 22 1964 at 23.55 hours while entering Dhanushkodi railway station, the train No.653, Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, a daily regular service which left Pamban with 110 passengers and 5 railway staff, was only few yards before Dhanushkodi Railway station when it was hit by a massive tidal wave. The whole train was washed away killing all 115 on board. All together over 1800 people died in the cyclonic storm. All dwelling houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi were marooned in the storm . The high tidal waves moved almost 10 kilometres onto this island and ruined the entire town. Pamban bridge was also washed away by the high tidal waves in this disaster. Eyewitness accounts recollected of how the surging waters stopped just short of the main temple at Rameshwaram where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the fury of the storm. Following this disaster, the Government of Madras declared the town as Ghost town unfit for living after the storm.Only few fisherfolks now live there.

Remains of the once flourishing town is still there. The old temple, railway station, the water tank of the railway station, the church, the post office.

Sharmila selling sea shells

Lanka is so near, just 20 km from dhanushkoti. May be less since the stretch of small islands are divided among the 2 countries.In earlier times one used to get train tickets from Chennai to Colombo. A ferry used to transport people across gulf of mannar to Thalai mannar in Sri Lanka. And then on to Colombo via train.

After a brief stroll at Dhanushkodi, we hopped back into the truck to make our way back to the place where we parked our car. The only regret I have is that the trucks did not take us to the end of the island, but may be a kilometer away. I heard that special permissions are required these days and the path is not drivable.

That day evening we went to Rameshwaram temple. According to Hindu belief, the temple is part of one of the Dhams. For details refer the link for the importance of the temple. We were in the nick of time to visit the temple. Could not have bath in all the theertha's but that is something I would like to do with my family next time around I am here. Dinner at the same TTDC restaurant and both of us went to bed early.

The next day morning we started around 8am. Did a bit of car washing because the crows had bombarded the car which was right under the tree.

On the way back we took a break at Pamban to catch a glimse of the island. Those images still remain etched in my mind. We saw a couple of back packing cyclists (foreigners). I have to appreciate their stamina and determination. Off to Pondychery. The roads upto Nagapattanam are good (ECR). The landscape is also beautiful with salt pans and small lakes in between. There are no bye passes at Karaikal so one has to drive to through the city. Karaikal reminded me of Mahe (in Kerala). Pretty much the same landscape and people, French influence I guess. We took a break (unplanned at Tharangambadi or Tranquebar). One of my HP friends house is located there. He took us around and that is when we realized this was a blessing in disguise (to take a break).

Tranquebar was founded by the Danish East India Company in 1620, when a factory (commercial settlement) was opened and a fort, known as Fort Dansborg, was built by a Danish captain named Ove Gjedde. This fort was the residence and headquarters of the governor and other officials for about 150 years. It is now a museum hosting a collection of artifacts from the colonial era.

The Fort was first based in 1620 A.D. through most part of the fort has been reconstructed several times, Tharangampadi fort consisted of two large structures. they were the rampant wall was a fairly large four sided structure with bastions at each cardinal point. On the eastern side of the fort, there was a two storied building facing the sea. It was the main building of the fort. The vaulted lower storey served as a magazine and a warehouse, while the vaulted upper storey contained the church and the lodging of the governor, the Senior merchants and the chaplain. The fort was surrounded by a moat and access to the fort was over a drawbridge. This moat has completely disappeared. The sea on the eastern and western side protected it. Because of the political situation, the British East India Company brought the Danish settlement in India in 1845. So the Danish King sold the town and the territory to the British East India Company.

The land for the Dutch East India company was given by Thanjavur King. It is believed that there is an underground tunnel that connects Tranquebar to Thanjavur. There is an old temple (Shiva temple) that was partially eroded by the sea (the Tsunami and the cyclones that batter this area). Folks in this area are resisting the idea to move the temple to another location as they believe the temple is one of the reasons the sea has not encroached any further. Interestingly the outer walls of the fort are already submerged but the temple which is almost at the same level is still holding its fort.

After a sumptuous lunch we left for Pondycherry at around 3pm. The roads are HORRIBLE to say the least. Cuddalore stretch is pretty bad with potholes all the way. By around 6pm we reached Pondy and stayed at the world guest house. We spent the night roaming around and feasting on some good sea fish.

The next day morning we woke up by 6 and proceeded towards the old French Quarter. About a couple of kilometers long, this is the prime real estate in Pondychery. We walked around the beach for about couple of hours and had breakfast at Le Cafe, which is a beach side restaurant. The place reminded me of the beach side apartments in Barcelona. Apart from this portion of about 4-5 sq km, the rest is like any part of Tamil Nadu. I visited Choco la Chocolate shop in Pondicherry. Lot of celebrities, including Dhoni has visited the shop (at least the photos indicate so).

We started back by early afternoon. Everyone whom we contacted suggested us not to take the route through Thivannamalai due to bad roads. But we were in no hurry so decided to take the route through Thivannamalai . Luckily or unluckily we missed the deviation towards Thiruvannamalai and took the road towards Vellore. After a few kilometers we realized it but then decided to continue. I guess it was a 100km detour with the route through Thellar - Vandavasi - Cheyyar - Arani - Vellore. Entirely a different landscape that is pretty dry and barren. The roads are pretty good except in patches, with lots of towns in the middle. We reached Vellore by around 2pm. Had lunch in between Vellore and Krishnagiri and then had evening tea at the same Kamat hotel where we had breakfast on the first day. 6pm back in Bangalore. Home sweet home..

Even while I write the hair on my body stands tall with excitement. I am just thinking of the next trip I could plan around south india.. Hampi may be.. Few places missed as well. Like Chidambaram, Thiruvannamalai, Kumbakonam etc. Lots of good memories in the trip. Be it the Amazing Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur, beauty of Pondicherry, the drive through ECR or the stories surrounding Tranquebar. But the one thing that I will remember this trip is the time spent in Ramesharam. I am not sure if it is the Serene nature of the island or the Hindu beliefs that are associated with the place. I would like to visit this place again... And I will remember this of course the best time I spent with my brother during the trip.

The blog is dedicated to my brother to who is a core biker..


Chakry said...

Blog is just cool... May be I would like to join you in your next Travel... Chakry

A Clairvoyant said...

Thank you.. Thank You :-)

Anonymous said...

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Rajesh said...

cool....after a grueling exam sessions ...we could some other trip along with friends..

rancho said...

Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

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Gopal Sukumar said...

This makes a reference for those packing their bags to Rameshwaram. Good post - especially the interludes of history of almost every place differentiated this from a boring travelogue :)

Hai Baji said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ghumakkadd said...

Good day, Dileesh,

Such a good blog you have maintained with your travel experience.
I recently took a road trip from Kanpur to Rameshwaram and then to Pondicherry.
Really loved the way people in south keep their locality clean.
At Rameshwaram, we had the best Idli we ever had in our life.
Though We were in the tight schedule we covered some main cities like chennai, Pondicherry and Rameshwaram.
I am looking forward to visit Kerla soon.


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