The first image of Rameswaram we saw was depicted in a very old watercolor, painted by a British explorer of the colonial era, exposed at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. It blew our minds and we decided to go when visiting the South. When we searched it in the map, we saw the village was located in an island of Southern India, almost touching Sri Lanka. The temple looked cool, but the idea of going to the tip of that small chunk of soil, called Dhanushkodi, sounded even cooler. Another great extra of going there was that the train actually runs on a rail elevated just above the sea water. We wanted to see all that.
As we are approaching Rameswaram, the train starts to slow down. We are on the sea! Apart from some fishermen working on their small boats, everything else is water; calm, very light blue water. Everyone goes straight to the nearest window, “aaaws and ooooohs” can be heard from every passenger’s mouths, including ours of course =P.
When we arrive in town looking for a hotel, we sadly contemplate that the exterior part of all temple towers are completely surrounded by nets and scaffolding (here they are not metallic, though, but made of bamboo poles). It is really ugly and nothing to do with the paintings we saw in Kolkata so we are a bit upset with our bad luck. The accommodation options are quite abundant in Rameswaram, because this is one of the most devoted pilgrimages for Hindus. After bargaining in different places and paying for one of the cheapest not so crappy ones, we walk to the temple with intentions of visiting it. Looks like it is forbidden to enter with almost anything of what we are carrying, and we have read the floor gets very slippery because devotees here bathe before paying their respects to the gods. We postpone the visit for the next day when we’ll be able to enter during non-bathing times (obviously, we’ll end up not entering because we need to catch the last train of that day, boo!).
Crossing through a street featuring many souvenirs, some other hotels, tons of people and somehow crazy, high on who knows what devotees in airated conversations, cows and the typical busy ambiance, we end up at the beach, where a gate gives way to the shore, full of Hindus soaking in the water, clothes and all, to receive a blessing. The cows also “pray” here, which means here you can find their excrements all around, the trash they feed on, and the smell associated with all that… So spiritual.
All this enlightment leaves us hungry. Seeing this is such a popular town, we expect to find tons of restaurants, but we dissapoitingly realize, after walking for a while, that it’s not the case. In a very big but empty establishment, they reluctantly accept to serve us the varied options between masala dosa or idly.
The following day, we arrange a 4WD tour to visit the tip of Rameswaram. People usually go there by bus, which is a bigger version of a Wolkswagen beetle kinda vehicle where everyone fits the Indian way: like sardines in a can.
Nobody else has reserved for a private vehicle, so it is just the two of us and our super kind driver. As the car is leaving town, a pungeant smell to a mix between dry and rotten fish becomes very noticeable for a good couple of minutes. Most people here are fishermen and as we start approaching the sea, they are unloading their catch onto their transports. Our driver stops for a picture. The fishermen are super curious about those two white people and our driver gives them all the info he knows about us. As we continue the journey, they smile and wave joyfully
Now the landscape changes to a road surrounded by trees, the sea on the right hand side. It is a little cloudy, but not cold. There is more and more water… we are approaching! Suddenly, the paved road ends and we are at the beach, but the water is very shallow. From the other side, one of the buses is coming. Everyone is packed inside, including another foreign guy of our hotel. All the Indian guys stare at us, wave energetically, shout “hellos” and even send some kisses in the air to Irene. There is a portion of the way where the water is deeper, so all the drivers go around it a little while we wonder if we’ll sink, but without a problem we cross and arrive to a small village on the shore.
Although many houses can be seen, there must not be more than 10 families living here. Except for those homes made of mainly dry straw, the others are stone ruins of what survived from a devastating typhoon some years ago. It is eerie to see what remains of the old school, church or some unidentifiable buildings, which extend far away. Many people died but those who survived still have the sad memorabilia of the event.
We are so impressed by the sight that our driver has to come take us, not before introducing his very kind family, who have few belongings but abundant smiles.
The drive now continues to the straight, where the Bengal Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. The bus does not reach here so it’s only possible to go by jeep or by walking. Good that we decided to book a jeep then! On the way, several abandoned fishing boats can be seen close to the shore here and there. The place really feels remote and desolated. Fifteen minutes later we are the tip of the island and our driver tells us he can’t drive further due to the sand. Sri Lanka is only 25 km away from here. More than 500 years ago the distance could be crossed by foot through what was called Rama’s Bridge, but a cyclone deepened the sea and was no longer passable. We take a stroll, touch the water and enjoy the experience of being in such a remote place.
Time to go back. The sandy road passes behind the villlage again, where we take first a local woman, then another two. They are so authentic! Skinny, on about their 80s, with Indian features, yes, but somehow different. They all wear big golden jewels, even though their sarees are very humble. They talk all the way with our driver, probably asking about us, and they laugh sometimes, showing some missing teeth. After a few kilometers, they get off at another village.
Before going back to Rameswaram, we stop at a small temple, near which the floor is full of empty coconuts from the water-from-a-coconut stall. Some goats pass by and start eating, or rather devouring, a flower collar hanging from the front of a car.
After catching the fishy smell of town again and retrieving our bagagge, our driver leaves us at the train station, from where we depart towards the Southern center of India to Madurai. The ride was so much fun… But we’ll leave that for the next post.