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Dhanushkodi Ruins

Dhanushkodi Ghost Town - India

Dhanushkodi has the only land border between Sri Lanka and India and it is one of the smallest country borders in the world at less than 45m. Its name come from the Hindi meaning bow (Dhanush) and end (Kodi). Mythology has it that Rama broke his bow here and planted the end of it in the sand to make a bridge so he could reach Lanka. He marked the site as being sacred to Setu and pilgrims on their way to Rameswaram must bath here between the two seas to purify themselves before continuing their pilgrimages.

Dhanushkodi Beach
Outside of mythology Dhanushkodi is renowned for another more terrifying fact – it was the scene of one of the worst cyclones to hit southern India in recorded history.

From the end of the 19th century until its destruction Danushkodi was a thriving village at the end of the railway line that ran from Pamban. Much of its commerce relied on pilgrimage and the village had a hospital, a secondary school, post office, customs and port offices as well as hotels and shops.

Dhanushkodi Ruins
The area was prone to cyclones and storms through the centuries and the effects of the storms on the land were exacerbated by an earthquake in 1948 which caused the southern part of the town to sink by five metres. A 7 km stretch of coastline sank beneath the waves taking with it temples, homes and roads.  Tanjavur, another place of pilgrimage disappeared too.

And so it was that the storm which developed over the Andaman Sea in the middle of December 1964 had all the ingredients to cause massive destruction.

It was already unique in being the furthest south a cyclone had ever developed and two days later it intensified into a cyclonic storm. Over the next few days it continued to intensify covering over 300 miles each day in its journey to the mainland. As it crossed Sri Lanka the winds had reached 175 miles per hour and generated a storm surge of over eight metres high.

Dhanushkodi Church Ruin
On December 22, the Pamban to Dhanushkodi passenger train no. 653 had left Pamban earlier and was just metres from the platform at Dhanushkodi when the tidal wave struck.

The train was ripped from the tracks and hurled inland by the force of the tidal wave.
All 115 passengers and crew were killed. The storm and its tidal wave continued its rush inland sweeping through the town and eventually stalling ten kilometres inland, metres from a temple where refugees were seeking shelter. The storm killed 1800 people in the Dhanushkodi area alone and whilst many buildings and homes remained intact, the village was marooned as the storm had cut the bridge link to the mainland and island. Pamban Bridge was also washed away in the destruction. Following the disastrous events, the Government of Madras declared the town as Ghost town and unfit for living after the storm. Now only few fishermen live there.

Dhanushkodi Lone Bull on the Beach
Near the bus stop in the village a memorial reads:

"A cyclone storm with high velocity winds and high tidal waves hit Dhanushkodi town from 22 December 1964 midnight to 25 December 1964 evening causing heavy damages and destroying the entire town of Dhanushkodi".

After the event the railway was never repaired and eventually sand blew over the damaged tracks obscuring it from view along most of its length. To reach the village today one has to walk along the shore, visit in fishing boats or take a jeep ride.

Dhanushkodi Ruins

Today the area is developing for tourism with visitors attracted by the coral reefs and colourful fishes where the Bay of Bengal joins the Indian Ocean. Here the sea is so shallow you can simply wade into the water to be able to view the beauty beneath. Pilgrims still visit with numbers approaching 500 or more and growing each year. Still, for all the beauty to be found nearby, the memorial provided a chilling reminder of what happened, causing visitors to look tentatively to the sky for with the effects of global warming the deadly cyclone of 1964 is unlikely to be the last.