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Dhanushkodi: The Ghost Town Ravaged By Cyclone

In the middle of Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka is a small elongated island called Pamban, and it's connected to the Indian peninsula by a 2 km-long, one hundred year old railway bridge. This Pamban bridge, the only connecting link to the mainland, is considered to be one of India’s most dangerous. The wind is so strong here that trains slow down to a crawl when crossing the bridge, otherwise it would be blown off the tracks. The bridge’s design doesn’t offer much confidence either. One look at it and your heart will sink—the tracks lie directly over the piers and there are no guard rails. You can actually see the sea through the tracks.

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Photo credit: Sandeep Kumar/Flickr

Every year, tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims brave the 10-minute white knuckle journey over the sea bridge to pay tribute to god Rama who is supposed to have built—as the legend goes—a floating stone bridge across the sea to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from her abductor, the evil demon king Ravana.

Much of the island’s population live in two towns—Pamban and Rameswaram—located on the island’s northwestern end close to the Indian mainland. But half a century ago, the island’s opposite end, a narrow spit of sand trailing into the sea was equally populated. The town of Dhanushkodi on the southeastern tip of Pamban Island was once a flourishing trade town rivaling that of Rameswaram in size and population with more than 600 homes, schools, churches, hospitals, and a railway station. Being situated barely 30 km from Mannar Island of Sri Lanka, Dhanushkodi was a critical connection between the two countries with regular ferry services transporting travellers and traders alike.

A little more than fifty years ago it was wiped out from the map by a terrible cyclone.


Related: Rama’s Bridge: A Bridge Built By Monkeys


Dhanushkodi is situated at a very vulnerable location. With the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, the island is prone to frequent storms and cyclone and storm surges. Less than a kilometer or so of shifting sand separate the two seas.

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On the night of 22-23 December 1964, a super cyclone, one of the most powerful storms to ever strike Sri Lanka and coastal India, made landfall at Pamban Island with an estimated wind speed of 240 kilometers per hour. The intense wind drove a storm surge 23 feet high that completely submerged the town of Dhanushkodi and dashed to ground any standing structure. An entire train with 115 people on board was washed away killing everyone. At least 800 people died in Dhanushkodi alone. The total casualty on Pamban Island was 1,800.

After the cyclone, the Indian government declared the town unfit for human habitation, and survivors were relocated to Rameswaram and other places. 

Today, Dhanushkodi lies abandoned with ugly ruins every where. Over the years many fishermen have returned to Dhanushkodi and tried to make the ravaged town their home. They live in makeshift straw houses and dig wells in the sand with their bare hands in search of drinking water. There is no electricity or any other amenities of any kind. The government urges them to rebuild their lives elsewhere, but these 500 or so fishermen are determined.

In 2017, a new road was built connecting Dhanushkodi to Rameswaram in an effort to promote the ghost village as a tourist destination.

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Fishermen’s huts in Dhanushkodi. Photo credit: Sandeep Kumar/Flickr

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The ruins of Dhanushkodi’s old railway station. Photo credit: D Kartikeyan/Wikimedia

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Dhanushkodi ruins. Photo credit: Denis.Vostrikov / Shutterstock.com

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Ruins on the shore of Dhanushkodi. Photo credit: AmulyaNagaraj/Shutterstock.com

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The destroyed church of Dhanushkodi with the altar still visible. Photo credit: Denis.Vostrikov / Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Anbu Paramanandham/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Anbu Paramanandham/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Anbu Paramanandham/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Chandra/Flickr

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Photo credit: Chandra/Flickr

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