Located in one of the southern extremes of India, the island town of Rameswaram is a place where history and mythology blend. Interestingly, at this historic temple town, an architect of modern India was born! Rameswaram is one of the biggest pilgrim destinations in India and a temple-town known for it’s temples and legends associated with the Ramayana.
Though I’m not really religious, I love to explore the various stories and cultures of India. I visited this temple town in April 2016 while I was travelling across the Southern tip of India. I came to Rameswaram in a train from Kanyakumari. Here’s an elaborate guide on how to reach Rameswaram, what to expect from the city, what to eat, where to stay – how to get around, and much more!
How to Reach Rameswaram
Even though it is an island which is located just a few kilometers away from the neighboring country of Sri Lanka, Rameswaram is one of the most easily accessible places in the country. This temple town is well connected with rest of India by railway. In fact, the rail route to Rameswaram is quite spectacular as all trains coming to and leaving from Rameswaram cross the Pamban railway bridge.
It is one of the most unique structures from which the Indian rail passes. Back when it was constructed, it was India’s first cantilever bridge. The bridge can be split into two and raised to allow ships to passed! The bridge was constructed in 1914 but don’t be afraid – it has since been reinforced several times and is absolutely safe. It is quite the sight to watch the clear waters of the Bay of Bengal all around you while you sit in a train.
It is strongly recommended to take a train to Rameswaram during day-time as that way you can enjoy this sight. Rameswaram is also well connected to neighboring cities by road.
Where to stay in Rameswaram
Rameswaram is a temple-town which means there are many low-budget accommodations available for pilgrims who cannot afford staying at hotels. There are also a number of decent, budget and mid-budget hotels in the city. I stayed at SS Grand, which is one of the most comfortable places in the town, located about 1.5-2 km from the main temple of the city.
It was at this hotel that I met a local auto-wallah who later took me to a complete trip of the town. These day-long tours can usually be organized in an auto for about Rs. 500 – 600. What does this cover? Let’s take a look:
Places to Visit in Rameswaram
While I’ve called Rameswaram a ‘temple-town’ numerous times above, there’s more to it than just temples. Even atheists like me can spend a day here without being bored! Let us take a look at some of the best places to visit in Rameswaram:
One of the holiest temples of all India, the Ramnathaswamy temple is the central attraction of the city. The temple is of significant mythological importance and is a place where some crucial events of the Ramayana take place. However, keeping the mythological aspect aside, it is quite the sight!
The giant golden-colored ‘gopuram’ (a tower like structure) of the temple can be seen from miles away. Architecturally, it is quite a wonder. The corridor of 1000 pillars is a sight to be awe-struck of. The temple’s grandeur really makes your jaw drop. Moreover, there are elephants roaming freely in the temple premises!
A pro-tip for those planning to visit the temple: You’ll be needed to take off your shoes and there’s no proper system to keep them. Moreover, you’ll also need to deposit your phone, wallet, etc. Best to keep them at your hotel and carry some loose cash with you.
Home of APJ Abdul Kalam
I began this post by saying that this city holds the key to India’s mythology and history, but is also the birthplace of modern India’s architect. That man is none other than beloved former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. There are many streets and monuments which make his presence felt even after his untimely passing.
The Home of APJ Abdul Kalam has now been turned into a museum and a souvenir shop which is managed and run by members of his family. There are many interesting things which are at display here and it is a must visit for anyone visiting Rameswaram.
The Indo-Ceylon Railway Line
There was a time when you could book a railway ticket from Chennai in India to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)’s Colombo! This railway line was operational till as late as the 1960s till a cyclone completely destroyed it. The British had connected the two countries by rail and this railway line was popularly known as ‘the boat mail’.
It was called the Boat Mail because you could buy a ticket from Egmore to Dhanushkodi and then hop on to a ship that would take you to Colombo Fort in Sri Lanka! The distance of 22 miles between Dhanushkodi and Colombo was covered by steamers named after former British viceroys Hardinge, Curzon and Elgin. While the railway line is broken now, it is an invaluable part of the history of the region and the remains of this line (broken tracks) can be seen all the way from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi on the sides of the streets!
Dhanushkodi, which literally translates to tip of the bow, is a ghost town near Rameswaram. The entire town was wiped out in one stroke when the devastating cyclone of 1964 hit. However, the remains of this ghost town still haunt us. Broken down churches, torn down houses, shops which only have walls left. It is a horrific sight to look at and something you can never forget. The viciousness of nature and all that’s left behind of what once was a thriving town.
When you reach the final tip of Dhanushkodi, there’s an even interesting sight waiting for you. A calm bay of Bengal on one side and a violent Indian Ocean on the other. In the bay of Bengal side, you can walk for about 300-400 meters into the ocean during low-tide as there are absolutely no waves and the water is very shallow. However, on the other side, waves are so strong that they’ll drag you into the Indian ocean even if you are standing far from the water! A mesmerizing sight indeed.
The Kalam Memorial
Back when I visited it in 2016, the Kalam memorial was still being constructed. There was a small section which was enclosed in a cage which was likely to be the Sanctum Sanctorum area of the memorial. While there was just sand and a flag at that time, I hear that a beautiful monument has since been constructed in memory of APJ – Rameswaram’s favorite son.
…And Several Other Temples
When in Rameswaram, while there’s much to check out, we cannot discount the temples. There are literally hundreds of temples all over the city. Among some of these are mythological sites believed to be a place where Vibhishana was crowned the new king of Lanka after Ravana’s death.
There’s another temple which claims that it has ‘floating rocks’ from the ramayana era. Although they are just a simple science trick, many believers devotedly pray at these rocks. There are many ‘kunds’ (small ponds) devoted to various mythological figures. There’s the temple, then there are more temples – and even more temples!
Regardless of your religious faith or belief, Rameswaram is indeed a place you should totally check out for it’s significance in terms of history and geography. The city has the perfect small-town feels and can be explored on foot.
Best Time to Visit: Anytime but the summer months. Totally avoid going to Rameswaram between the months of April to September as the heat and humidity are too intense, even for a frequent traveler like me. April was burning hot in the town with temperatures soaring well past 40. Winter months are a good time to visit this temple-town.
Ideal no. of Days: 1 night and 2 days in Rameswaram are more than enough to explore the entire town.