Roller Coaster tour of Varanasi of South – “The Rameshwaram”, Ghost City – “DhanushKodi” and Temple City – “Madurai”

Trip Duration – 27 Dec 2017 to 30 Dec 2017.

Marvelous temple town Madurai’s Mattuthavani bus stand was the place where our tour operator Amitesh travels had sent car to pick us up. Driver Pandi who was waiting there for us welcomed us. We had boarded the bus at 8:00 PM the previous day and reached Madurai at 06:00 AM next day. So our tour started on 28 Dec 2017 at 06:00 AM from Mattuthavani bus stand for Madurai – Rameshwaram – Madurai – Munnar – Madurai, covering a distance of approx. 1000 KMs.

At Pamban Bridge

Pandi with his car was to remain with us for full 4 days upto 31st Dec night. We had already booked bus to return to Bangalore. It was scheduled at 10:15 PM from Mattuthavani bus stand on 31st Dec, so on new years’ eve we were in Madurai. Mattuthavani bus terminus is one of the largest bus terminal in Tamilnadu situated in Madurai, Melur high road spread over an area of 18 acres. It has all the amenities which a traveler will need. We got ourselves refreshed by using washroom of bus stand, then ate breakfast at ‘Temple City’ restaurant opposite to bus stand. It is clean, spacious with very good vegetarian south indian food with good prices. We enjoyed its filter coffee & badam milk and were on our feet again.

Courteous behavior of Pandi will be remembered by us for long time, but he didn’t understand Hindi and knew English little bit. So language was a problem but we were able to somehow convey our thoughts to him. The plus point was that he was familiar with the places on our itinerary.

We had well planned itinerary in our mind. Our first priority was to go to Rameshwaram & have darshan of Jyotirlingam there. We had planned so that each and every minute is utilized and no place worth visiting is escaped. Internet research has made the things and planning so easy. We put all our heat & soul in planning and as usual our stay at Rameshwaram was already booked.

Drive from Madurai to Rameshwaram

While driving from Madurai to Rameshwaram we noticed that nowadays going to faraway places have become quite easy because of vast roads and all types of transport availability. Superstar Rajnikant is so popular here that our driver Pandi had set “Rajni Uncle” as his caller tune.

On the way to Rameshwaram From Madurai

We stopped our car for a while on the way when we saw an old lady selling fruits. We asked the price of bananas and she told in Tamil which we couldn’t understand then she depicted us 50 Rs currency. We purchased one dozen bananas. Those were very small in size but quite tasty.  However, coconut water we drank on the way was quite refreshing and delicious. The quantity of one coconut water was sufficient to fill stomach of two persons. We never missed the opportunity to buy coconut water. Creamy layer of coconuts was very sweet and tasty.

Enjoying speciality of Tamil Nadu – Enormous Coconuts

Pamban bridge

At last we reached Pamban bridge. Pandi itself stopped the car to take some good snaps. Cool breeze was blowing which was quite refreshing. We had come from Delhi’s harsh winter then experienced Bangalore’s charming climate (like spring season in delhi) then Tirupati’s climate which was neither hot, humid nor cold in December (Trimala was cold at night in December because it is situated on a hill) and Madurai was quite bearable during day time. It must be quite hot in summers. So we can clearly see that December is the perfect season to go to southern states of India.

My dream destination Rameshwaram was only a few KM away from us. Rameshwaram is a town on Pamban island. Indira Gandhi raod bridge ie Pamban road bridge connects shores of Mandapam (a place on Indian main land) and Pamban (a fisherman town in Rameshwaram island).

At last we reached Rameshwaram town on Pamban island, the most charming and divine place located at the southernmost tip of India.

We had already booked the hotel “Tamilnadu” a TTDC hotel only 1 KM from Ramnath swami temple on TTDC website. Its location is superb, very near to agniteertham beach. We got a sea facing room on first floor. You can witness best sun rise here and atmosphere is also peaceful. The manager of TTDC provided us a comfortable stay. We reached there in about 3.5 hours at 11:15 AM, covering a distance of 176 KM.

At Agnee teertham beach

We were so excited that without wasting a minute, we kept our luggage in the room, picked our clothes bag (with fresh clothes we will need after bath in Agneeteertham beach).

Quite worrying about how we will be able see such a big temple ourselves we headed towards temple, we were expecting a person who could guide us. Hotel Manager suggested a Panda and were convinced after having a discussion with him. He asked us to hurry as temple gets closed by 1 PM. Again, you can have darshan in the evening from 03:00 PM to 09:00 PM. Panda (Priest) offered us to take us for bath at all the kunds (22 wells). A dip in the holy wells started from sea beach (Agneetheertham). It is considered very auspicious and is equivalent to performing a penance.

22 Kunds Holy bath

All this while the Panda (Named Arsu, mobile number can be shared on demand), took care of our bags. He stood near it while we were having bath at Agniteertham. I had kept money in my shorts pocket. It was carefully well wrapped/covered in plastic bags. We entered the sea with wearing all our clothes. In the excitement to have bath at Agniteertham beach I forgot about money and somehow my shot pocket got flipped and money packet got slipped from my pocket and it started floating on water. My wife noticed it and alerted me. Thank GOD, I successfully caught the bundle in time. I had money only with in that bundle that I brought with me from my hotel room (also we left all our mobiles except one at hotel room only) and only from it I was supposed to pay Panda’s fees which was quite high. Anyway, I took a sigh of relief.

We all had entered the sea holding hands of each other. Big waves of sea were pushing us hardly. There were some stones also below on water which could prick and injure the feet if not careful. Though waves were high, my both sons enjoyed swimming even we asked them not to.

We all closed our eyes and prayed to Lord Rama. We were blessed to have bath at the same sea that Lord Rama had crossed to go into the territory of demon Ravana.

It is said that first kund/teertham now lies submerged under this sea. So the bathing ritual commences from this place. I prayed to Sun God taking some water in anjuli (folded hands), eyes closed, hands joined in prayer, head lowered. My wife and both sons followed me.

After 15-20 minutes, we came out. The Panda picked our bag on his shoulder and asked us to follow him. He took us to a place and deposited our Chappals there. It was a counter in a corner for depositing shoe, chappals etc. Next he took us to all the wells one by one, 22 to be precise.

Rameswaram has 22 Theerthams in the form of wells in various parts of the temple.  Taking bath in all these Theerthams purify the body as well as the mind.  It is believed that this water is holy and also having medicinal qualities. At Kodi Theertham pilgrims take their bath lastly and end their pilgrimage of Rameshwaram.

  1. Mahalakshmi Theertham is situated in the South of the Hanuman Temple.  Dharmarajan bathed here and got riches.
  • Savithri Theertham is situated in the West of the Hanuman Temple.  King Kasibar got rid of his curse.
  • Gayathri Theertham is situated in the West of the hanuman Temple.  King Kasibar got rid of his curse.
  • Saraswathi Theertham is situated in the West of the Hanuman Temple.  King Kasibar got rid of his curse.
  • Sethu Madhava Theertham is the tank at the third corridor.  One will get Lakshmi’s blessings and purification of heart.
  • Gandamadana Theertham is in the area of Sethumadhava Temple.  One will get riches and their sins will be absolved after getting rid of their penury.
  • Kavacha Theertham is situated in the area of the Sethumadhava Temple.  One will not go to hell.
  • Gavaya Theertham is situated in the area of the Sethumadhava Temple .  Shelter under Karpaga Virutchaga tree.
  • Nala Theertham is situated in the area of the Sethumadhave Temple.  One will get Soorya Teejas and reach heaven.
  1. Neela Thertham is situated in the area of the Sethumadhava Temple .  One will get the benefit of Samastha (entire) yaga and receive Agni yoga.
  1. Sangu Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  Vatsanaba, the Sage, got rid of his sin of ingratitude.
  2. Sakkara Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  The Sun got his hand turned golden.
  1. Bramahati Vimochana Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  Bramahati was absolved of his sins.
  1. Sooriya Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the temple.  One will get the knowledge of the past present and the future and reach the worlds they want.
  1. Chandra Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  One will get the knowledge of the past present and the future and reach the worlds they want.
  1. Ganga Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  Gnanasuruthi Rajah attained wisdom.
  1. Yamuna Theertham is situated in the inner corridor of the Temple.  Gnanasuruthi Rajah attained wisdom.
  1. Gaya Theertham is situated in the in the inner corridor of the Temple.
  1. Siva Theertham is situated in the South of nandhi Deva in the Temple.  Completion of Bhaira Brahmahathi.
  • Sathyamirtha Theertham is situated in the Amman Sannathi.  Emperor Bururoonu got rid of his curse.
  • Sarva Theertham is situated in the front of Lord Ramanatha’s Sannathi.  Sutharishna got rid of his blindness (from birth), iliness, and old age and then he prospered.
  • Kodi Theertham is situated in the first corridor of the Temple.  Sri Krishna got rid of his sin of killing his uncle kamsan.

All kunds lay scattered all around the temple premises. There are arrow marks to guide your way from one well to another. Water of each teertham tastes different and contains medicinal properties. Legendary I can say, faith is all you need to feel blissful. We did as the Panda instructed us to do. We reached all the wells following the Panda. At every Kund, we all gathered at one place and Panda (or his associates) fetched a full bucket from Kund and poured on each of us in turn.

It was a divine experience and feeling cannot be expressed in words. We were enjoying every bath (chanting Harey Ram! Harey Ram!) and thanking the GOD, the almighty that he had provided us the opportunity to be there. Taking baths at every kund was quite tedious and we were able to do it as we were having Panda with us otherwise it might take hours.

My both sons enjoying every minute of each others company

Ramanatha Swami Temple

The temple premise is very big and walking under a canopied massive structure carved on row of pillars (1200 in number) the temple corridor, the longest in the world (197 meters long and 133 meters broad) was fete indeed. This temple finds a mention in ancient Hindu Purans and has been glorified by sages with verses over the years. Our guide cum Panda cum priest (you can call him with any name) helped us in every way. We were quite happy that he was doing his job decently and in perfect manner and every penny paid to him was worth his efforts. He charged us 1200/- (for 4 members) though after a great negotiation which he demanded 3500/- initially. The amount we paid after entire sequence of bath at 22 kunds and Darshan. Happily, we also gave some extra amount due to his job perfection. You can find guide because there are plenty and they come to you by themselves to offer help obviously for a price.

After bathing at all the kunds the guide took us to changing room, separate for ladies and gents. The guide took us to the place where the Ramalingam sits pretty in a partially lit sanctum sanctorum. It is visible only from a distance. The priests are performing Abhishek amid a string of chants. We stand in queue while the guide waited at a distance. The beautiful shiv lingam in black stone, my heart sings Rama! Rama! Shiva! Shiva!

This highly esteemed temple is one among the 12 shiva jyotirlingam temples in India. After moving out from Darshan area, we bowed our heads in all the temple strewn all around the complex. These include Lord Vishwanatha, Goddess Parvati, Ashta Laxmi, Ganapati and others. After 2 hours we were outside the temple premises, we bade good bye to guide and headed to food joint serving steaming south indian meals.

We called our driver Pandi to take us to Dhanush Kodi. First we reached our room at TTD Tamilnadu hotel, picked the mobile phones and another set of clothes to change if needed after masti at Dhanushkodi beach. We also took water, some eatables like biscuits, dry fruits and a plenty of chocolates, Namkeens etc with us as Dhanushkodi is known as ghost town and not many options of vegetarian eateries are there.

We witnessed faith, mythology and serenity all at one place at sacred land of Rameshwaram island. It is said that bhagwan Rama built a bridge from here across the sea to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from her abductor Ravana.

Rameshwaram is a bit polluted because it has more tourist attractions. Rameshwaram temple compound is like a virtual water world and whole temple is drenched in water because of 22 kunds snan. However, the Titanic Ramnathswami temple with its famous corridor (4000 feet long), the pillars (1212 pillars on either side), the Gopuram will remain in my heart always as a placeof Chardham yatra. The other being Puri (East), Dwarka (west) and Badrinath (North).

It is the pride of India and one of most visited place of India. Paying the guide, Panda, priest whatever you call them can make your whole experience much smoother without hassles. It is morally correct or not, I cannot say.

Now was the time to go to sourthernmost tip of Rameshwaram known as Dhanushkodi, the hometown of former president Dr. A. P. J. Abdul kalam sahib. A stroll across the calm waters of Dhanushkodi beach take you to another world.

Dhanushkhodi

A small island in the tip of sourth india with its white sand and blue waters has flourished as a best tourist spot. Dhanishkhodi means one end of the bow in local language. The floating bridge called Ram setu between mainland & srilanka was built by Lord Hanumana along with his army to cross the sea to reach srilanka (it is just 31 Km away from Dhanushkhodi).

Enjoying Cool breeze at Pamban Bridge

Dhanushkhodi is just 20 KM away from Rameshwaram and only 50 fisherfolks live here with a population of not more than 500. It was once a flourishing town until 1964. A cyclone devastated it washing the entire village.

Evening at Beach

Bordered by Bay of Bengal on one and Indian ocean on the other Dhanushkhodi is one of the most spectacular stretches of Tamilnadu. The incredible views of the sea take your breath away. Before cyclone of 1964 Dhanushkhodi had railway track, steam engine, hotel, textile shops, school, post office etc. There was a train service upto Dhanushkhodi called Boat Mail from Chennai Egmore and a steamer transported passengers to Sri Lanka. But, on 19 Dec 1964 a cyclone crashed Dhanushkhodi totally. Over 1800 people died and all houses and other structures were ruined. Eyewitnesses said that surging waters stopped short of the main temple at Rameshwaram where many people had taken refuge.

Following this disaster, the Govt. declared Dhanushkhodi a Ghost town and unfit for living. Now jeeps and cars take you to upto beach because a very good road has been built. This 20 KM long straight ride is an exciting experience and you can see remains of the school, hospital, office building and rail track.

We reached the end of the land where the two oceans meet. The driver parked his car and we watched the deep blue sea, the sand we had to cross to reach the beach. After a short walk on sand we reached the beach and wondered how peaceful the place was. The gorgeous blue water of Bay of Bengal mixing with Indian ocean and you find yourself on a strip of land, no sign of life. You cannot venture the sea only step in and wade a little because sea has sudden depths Swimming is quite unsafe here.

Coast guards keep a vigil on tourists and keep whisteling if anybody dars to go beyond a point. There are no rest rooms and changing rooms or shack at beach. Only a few stalls are there that sell some shell items and jewelry.

Shops at Dhanush Khodi

We spent 2 hours on its beautiful shoreline and took unforgettable photos of this picturesque place. We also saw the particularly beautiful stretch of sandy shore from where the Ram setu starts. It is believed that Vibhishan asked Lord Rama to break the bridge after the war was over and Lord Rama broke the bridge using his bow & arrow. A recent NASA image has confirmed that the stretch of Land formation visible between Dhanushkhodi and Sri Lanka mainland is certainly man made.

Ram setu globally known as Adam’s bridge was built by Vanara Sena. Unparalleled natural beauty of the place never ceases to charm you. It is a paradise for birders because rare migratory birds fly to this place from faraway places. The water of the sea kept changing its colour with setting sun. We witnessed the sun set sitting on a wall (platform which was there between road and sandy area). Coast guards shove the people away by 5 PM. Cool breeze had dried our clothes. We left for our hotel again enjoying the 20 KM long ride upto Rameshwaram. Newly built road has made the ride up to Dhanushkhodi very easy but certainly the life of local people (fishermen) is quite tough. Women have to dig deep into sand with bare hands for drinking water.

Checking mobile network, showing You are in Sri Lanka

DhanushKhodi is in news these days because a proposal of a bridge from India to Sri Lanka is on the cards. If the project kick starts, then this place can get its lost glory. How lucky we were, we had been to the place from where we could see the origin of Ram setu. It is a place shrouded in mystery and will remain in heart because of its mesmerizing overall scenic beauty and sunset view.

At Dhanush Khodi beach, enjoying sun set

We went to see Dr. Kalam’s house and visited the gift item shop of his brother on second floor. Museum on first floor was closed at that time so couldn’t see. It is on the main road and we stopped here for only 15 minutes. The house is very humble and gives the feeling that simple beginnings do not matter to make your life big.

We had a sumptuous dinner at a purely veg Bhojnalaya and liked the food which was like home cooked at Gujrat Bhojnalaya near to main temple.

We reached our hotel, took bath because all our clothes and body were drenched in salt & sand, water had dried. My elder son was quite keen to experience the train journey on Pamban bridge so we booked train ticket for Rameshwaram to Mandapam on irctc website for next day at 05:25 AM which reached Mandapam at 06:00 AM on 28 Dec 2017.

At Mandapam Railway Station

Train Journey to iconic Pamban Bridge

Our driver reached Mandapam taking our luggage. We were quite excited as we boarded the train, but it was an everyday affair for local people. As it was early morning, Rameshwaram railway station had deserted look. Train arrived on time and when it passed the Pamban bridge it slowed down and we enjoyed the view from both sides of our coach, pristine blue water till as far as our eyes could see.

Inside the train passing on Pamban Bridge

It was a thrilling ride on this outstanding engineering marvel called Pamban bridge. Its construction started in 1911 and it was opened in 1914. This bridge survived the cyclone of 1964. After 1964 the railways halt train movement on bridge when the wind speed exceeds 58 KMPH.

View from Train passing on Pamban Bridge

There are not too many trains that go over this bridge. We were lucky to get seat however it was our sudden plan on advice of our son and we got the tickets in Tatkal booking but it was worth every penny.

At Pamban Railway station

Madurai to Rameshwaram we had come via road route and clicked some photos standing on Pamban bridge which runs parallel to this bridge on which train runs. It is a narrow bridge spanning 2 KM between mainland india and island Rameshwaram.

After 40 minutes we reached Mandapam station and our driver also came there via road route. He took us to Mandapam beach park where we enjoyed for a while about half an hour.

Mandapam Beach

We again started for Rameshwaram – Madurai and stopped at a place to drink fresh Coconut water. Here coconuts were quite large @30/- Rs / piece. We slept during the journey because we had wake up early today while Pandi was listening to Tamil songs and was driving at high speed. In fact I cautioned him many times to drive slowly.

Road is very good from Rameshwaram to Madurai. Cool breeze embraces you when you stop at Pamban bridge on the way. We reached in 3 hours from Mandapam to Madurai covering a distance of 152 KM. We had not booked any hotel at Madurai so asked the driver to take us to any good place where we could stay that day. We reached a place near to Meenakshi Amman temple and took a decent room. It was four bedded nice, clean room with attached bathroom and on main road.

We placed our luggage and headed to a nearby joint Manorma for breakfast, on suggestion of our driver. We reached Manorma and its tasty Idly and Vada, hot sambhar and Chatni were really good and were served on banana leaves. We had our breakfast to the fullest. We came to know that temple opens till 12:30 PM so we planned to have darshan in the evening when it opens at 4 PM. We had a lot of time with us. We reached our room and took bath, rested for a while and reached Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal which is known for its majestic Indo-Darvidian architechture and beautiful interiors

We took a tour of the whole palace and reached our room. We asked the driver that he can take leave now and should come at 3 AM next day for our Madurai – Munnar trip. Driver also needed rest and he was basically from Madurai so he happily agreed and went home. We left our mobiles, leather purses etc in the hotel room and headed for Meenakshi Amman temple on foot.

We kept our shoes & chappals at the locker available in the temple and after security check stood in the queue.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

This temple is considered one of the oldest and largest temple of India. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations of south India dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi & Lord Sundareshwara. This is architectural master piece built over a vast area (45 acres) with 5 different entrances. Superb craftsmanship, stone inscriptions, drawings and paintings on walls make this temple a place worth spending your time. We explored the temple area for a good 3 hours and did darshan of the deity seated in garbhgraha of the temple.

The traditional music, the Hindu rituals, incense scent and smell of flowers still wander in my mind when I recollect the time spent there. Conservative dress, which does not reveal legs or shoulders is a must while visiting the temple. You are manually searched by guards before entering the temple.

This temple was announced as the Swachh Iconic place in India in 2017. The streets surroundings the temple are also swept and are neat and clean. Water dispensing units are used for this purpose which helps to make toilets usable for tourists. Main highlight of the temple is its stunning hall of 1000 pillars. Goddess Meenakshi can be identified because she is always represented as a graceful lady wearing a green saree holding a parrot in her right hand. Meenakshi = Meen + Akshi means a lady with eyes of a fish.

The idol of Shri Meenakshi Amman is made of greenish black stone. The Linga of Lord Sundareshwara is believed to be one of the 68 swayambhu Lingas worshipped in India. Swayambhu lingas are not man made and are naturally occurring. The Linga is supported by 64 Bhootaganas, 32 Lions and 8 elephants.

A huge Ganapathi idol supposed to be 1500 years old is worshiped just outside the sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi.

As we came out of sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi we looked up to the ceiling and saw a recently painted 3-D image of Lord Shiva’ linga. This Linga gives us an illusion of following us as we circled around it below. We were so satisfied with the darshan that a sense of pride filled our heart. Everything was well organized right from security check to ticketing to generaal cleanliness.

This temple is world class and truly represents the energetic, ancient city on Vaigai river Madurai. We bought Laddoo Prasad, Maduari special Kumkum and auspicious picture of Goddess Meenakshi from counter selling these items outside temple premise.

After exploring the market surroundings, the temple, we purchased some eatables, fruits etc and came back to our room. Packed the whole luggage and slept setting alarm for 2 AM. Got refreshed and Pandi came at sharp 3 AM as promised and were quite excited as we were visiting God’s own country Kerala’s gem, the paradise on earth “Munnar”.

When I think about the time we spent during our trip of southern states, I realize that life becomes pretty amazing when we tour new places. God has made this earth so beautiful with diversities that humble souls like me can only try to reach the places which are in our budget.

As Edith Wharton has said, “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”.

I think I am trying to be a mirror by writing about the beautiful places I have visisted. I always see the scenic site of a place. The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

Munnar….we are coming………… J

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