Pamban Island Has One Of India’s Least-Known And Most Stunning Beaches
Imagine a place with waters so blue you don’t have a name for the colour. A place where the wind floats through palm trees and the sun’s morning rays are accompanied by adieus of the fisherman and the call of priests to prayer. Such a place does exist, not in Thailand or the Maldives or even the Andaman Islands, but off the coast of South East India, not far from Chennai and Bangalore. We found this wonderful place through serendipity and a little help from our friends.
Pamban Island, which contains the town of Rameshwaram, is famous for two things: the Ramanathaswamy Temple dedicated to Shiva and the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. We heard about the ghost town from my grandmother, who had visited the town in her youth, after the 1964 cyclone had destroyed everything. It’s a town with no people; an abandoned railway station and homes are among the ruins. During an idle conversation with a friend about Dhanushkodi, which is closer to Sri Lanka than mainland India, we learned that there was a place where one could stay right on the beach, kick back with a beer and do watersports. Wondering what water adventure sports were doing in the middle of a temple town, we were nevertheless happy about a place to stay that wasn’t some cheap hotel surrounded by fervent pilgrims.
To get to Pamban Island and the town of Rameshwaram, you have to take a train and cross the fantastic Pamban Bridge. We recommend doing it at least one way on the train bridge and one way on the bridge for cars and other transport. Opened in 1914, the two-kilometre bridge connects mainland Tamil Nadu with the island of Pamban. The island, located in the ecologically rich Gulf of Mannar, was important in the nineteenth century in the trade between the British empire and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
On the train, which we boarded in Madurai (about 100kms away), we were gobsmacked when, three hours later, it slowly chugged over the Pamban Bridge towards the island town. The water we saw was shades of blue and green unlike anything we had seen before in India, dotted with tiny fishing boats and larger sea vessels; the air was clear and crisp. On the right as you move along the train bridge, you can see the road bridge, with buses, cars, motorcycles and other vehicles thudding along. It was a surreal experience.
We got off at Pamban railway station and made our way to Kathadi South (see Where to stay), the adventure camp our friend had told us about. Kathadi in Tamil means ‘with the wind’ and what a perfect name the camp has. Surrounded by trees, there are two basic cottages and two tents set up in a sandy clearing. The beach, which is a few feet away, was among the most perfect we have seen. Shaped like a crescent, the wide expanse of sand is white and soft, filled with shells, corals and starfish washed up from the calm sea, and most importantly it’s empty, quiet and peaceful. Quest Expeditions, which runs the camp, offers freshly caught seafood. They also have numerous activities on offer, including kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and kite surfing, though we were happy to do very little.
A visit to the town of Rameshwaram and the Shiva temple, as well as gawking at the ghost town are recommended things to do. Built in the twelfth century, the Ramanathaswamy Temple is fairly typical in terms of form and structure, but it has the longest corridor (over 3,800 feet) among Hindu temples in India with intricately carved columns and pillars. Even if you are not religious, the temple, which you can get to by taking an auto-rickshaw, is worth visiting. Dhanushkodi can be reached only by a 4×4 vehicle, which you can hire. From Dhanushkodi, there exists a chain of limestone shoals in the sea and geological evidence suggests that there might have once been a bridge to Sri Lanka, which almost seems like a hop skip and a jump away.
How to get there
Rameshwaram is well connected by train and road from Chennai, and by road from Bangalore.
Where to stay
There are many small hotels and lodges in the town of Rameshwaram around the temple, but if you’re looking for a relaxed beach experience in a slightly offbeat location we would recommend staying at Quest Expeditions, about 13kms from Rameshwaram station (an auto to Pamban costs about Rs250 to Rs300). There are two properties: Kathadi South and Kathadi North. We spent a couple of nights at each. Both are beautifully located and well managed by the friendly Quest team. Kathadi South was our favourite with its rustic feel and accommodation in beach huts and tents with a bunch of dogs and cats to keep you company. If you’re looking for something more upmarket, check out their lovely boutique property at Kathadi North, with smart cottages, bathrooms that are open to the sky and your personal garden. You can’t go wrong with either. Both are reasonably priced and offer packages inclusive of food.
Writer Ambika Vishwanath and photographer Hoshner Reporter are the team behind The reDiscovery Project. Follow their journey here.