Rameshwaram, a beautiful little island known for its religious significance, connected to the mainland with legendary bridges is one of the few destinations that I just couldn’t get enough of. The island, covering just 67 square kilometers offers so many contrasting experiences – from hyperactive gigantic temples to the church ruins of a destroyed city, from deathly black salt sea waters to tranquil turquoise beaches water, from stretches of empty roads to the ever turisty bridges, this small town has it all. We stayed in Rameshwaram for 3 days and here are the dos and don’ts of this magical place.
Apart from being a popular tourist destination, Rameshwaram is a mega holy place for Hindus and sees multitudes of buses carrying pilgrims in and out daily. This, funnily enough, creates a dearth of normal rooms. There are either big halls with the capacity of 50-100 people, or very ordinary rooms with tariffs north of 700.
What backpackers or travelers on budget need to look here for are Dharamshalas. Not ordinary dharamshalas but those being run by trusts. It’s a general rule of thumb (applicable anywhere in India) that Dharamshalas being run by trusts offer great value for money. The Dharamshala we stayed in charged us 300 per night for a room better than most of that we had been in.
An added advantage is that these Dharamashalas also run a mess which offer really simple food at amazing price. I forgot the name of Dharamshala we stayed in, but will update as soon as I remember it.
So, Rameshwaram is one the Char Dhams of Hindus, and some people consider it as sacred as Varanasi. There are 64 sacred spots in the island, most of which are in the form of tanks, holy tanks. So you will repeatedly see some people (volunteers) pouring buckets of waters over many people (pilgrims).
Of the pilgrim sites, the Ramansathswamy temple will amaze you with its sheer size and complex design. Though you can see a lot of pictures of this temple, these days, any kind of electronic equipment is not allowed in temple, so good luck with your photography. Another impressive one is the Agniteertham where, a lot of people can be seen taking a holy dip in the sea water under huge gates like structure. Rest of the teerthams (the remaining 62 to be precise), do not have much to offer apart from tonnes of peace, and hence are easily skippable.
Tripadvisor rates Dhanushkhodi beach as the best place in Rameshwaram, but its not the beach as much as the ruins of Dhanushkhodi town that we found interesting.
The beach, beware, is not beautiful in the usual sense, that is, great for swimming and having great views. It’s beauty comes from the sense of an ending you get there. It is a long & narrow sandbar, surrounded by water on sides (backwater on one and the ocean on another) that runs for a good long 6km till the sangam point (also known as the Ram Setu point open only in April). You will generally find nobody on this beach. There is very strong wind, and the beaches sand is covered with wild grass. That’s my idea of a sense of an ending.
And if a beautiful beach is what you are looking for then Ariyaman beach is the place for you (don’t go with the tripadvisor rating). Ask for the Vivekananda Mandapam near Pamban town, and ride through the narrow roads till you reach the small temple there. Behind this temple is one the prettiest beach of mainland India. The turquoise colored water is crystal clear and very quiet, that is, almost zero waves. There is a small village of 20 houses or so, on the far end with a few boats, that only add to the charm of this beach. Vivekananda had a thing for locating great spots and this is definitely among his best finds. Must must visit, and a great camping site too.
The road from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi is an arrow-like straight stretch of 15km passing though pine forest, dessert like shrubs Dhanushkodi used to be a small town that was completely destroyed in a cyclone in 1964.
Today, surprisingly, among its old & protected ruins, is settled a village in abject poverty. In fact, it was a little heartbreaking to be in such a beautiful place, yet witnessing people living in such harsh conditions.
For reaching Dhanushkhodi, you have to book a seat in a bus / jeep that charges 100-200 per head and gives a joy ride of a lifetime. Or else you can walk 7km.
The best time to visit Dhanushkhodi is early morning and catch a magical sunrise.
There is a small temple on the way to Dhanushkhodi. Do visit it if you are on a bike or car. Not for the temples sake, but for the road’s sake.
If you are in Rameshwaram, then the chances are really high that you have seen this great bridge, but don’t forget to visit this bridge during sunset, and spend some time on the bridge looking at the incoming & outgoing boats from Pamban beach.