Sri Lanka

Stories of Hope, Exploring the Resilience of Less Pamban Islands

On the east coast of Tamil Nadu, about 500 kilometers south of Chennai, lies Pamban Island. Seemingly a stone’s throw from neighboring Sri Lanka, the island is steeped in history and home to some of the most resilient people around.

The iconic Pamban Bridge is one of the longest sea-crossing bridges in the country, connecting the mainland to the island, also known as Rameswaram Island. Boasting stunning views of the Bay of Bengal, a journey to the island via the bridge feels like a throwback to colonial times, when the British built the bridge to improve trade relations with Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Built in 1914, the 6,700-foot bridge was India’s first-ever bridge across the sea and is an engineering and historical marvel in its own right, having withstood several natural disasters from storms to cyclones. The bridge originally stretched all the way to Dhanushkodi, the southeastern tip of the island, which is now a ghost town. After a cyclone hit in 1964, Dhanushkodi was washed away by the sea, and now only the skeleton of the former town remains.

Pampan Bridge. (Source: IANS)

Remnants of its railway lines, churches and ruined dwellings can still be seen, albeit in poor condition. In one corner of the region, the mobile phone network welcomes you to Sri Lanka. View from here of the Adam Bridge which used to be the overland passage linking India and Sri Lanka and now lies under the sea, also known as Rama Setu, the bridge is believed to have been built by the army of Lord Rama for the purpose of traveling from Lanka to Rescue Sita.

Nanbavel, 50, said he has no other home but Dhanushkodi, with its pristine waters and picturesque views of the Bay of Bengal. Three generations of his family have lived here. Although the deadly cyclone forced many to relocate to surrounding villages, some 50 families, including Nambavel’s, refused to leave.

“This has been our home since we met. We grew up playing in the sea and then learned to make a living by fishing or running a small shop,” Nambavel told the visiting IANS reporter. “While many people we know have migrated to nearby villages, for us there is no home like Dhanushkodi, the sea is everything,” he said.

Due to global warming, sea levels are rising around the world and the region is constantly threatened by nature. But that didn’t stop Nambavel: “Even if another hurricane is coming, most of us would like to be here, this is the land we grew up in.”

Surrounded by sea and sandy beaches, the town is unable to grow any crops and has no electricity due to the wind speed in the area. Only the solar panels initiated by the late President APJ Abdul Kalam from Rameshwaram light up the shacks of a handful of residents. Since Rameshwaram is considered one of the holiest places for Hindus, most tourists make the temple the focus of their travels.

To showcase the rich cultural and historical heritage of the island, apart from the well-visited temples, Utsa Majumder, General Manager of the newly launched Hyatt Place, Rameswaram, is conducting extensive itineraries to discover uncharted places and surrounding areas of the island.

Pemban bridge and sunset

“Rameswaram Island has more to offer than its most famous temples. We want people to know that Rameswaram can be an experiential destination and not just a place of pilgrimage,” Majumder told IANS. “From historic places that have stood the test of time to some incredible architecture and engineering such as the Pamban Bridge, visitors can see a lot here,” she adds.

These itineraries are offered to visitors based on their interests, allowing them to explore different aspects of the region, as well as menus showcasing local delicacies, from kuzhi paniyaram (rice paste dumplings) to kara kozhumbu (a spicy tamarind gravy). The district also celebrates its beloved son Abdul Kalam. His two-story building on Mosque Street is filled with thousands of books and is always bustling.

India’s Rs 150 crore “Missile Man” monument, which was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 27, has also quickly grown into a tourist attraction. The memorial houses a copy of Karam’s final speech at IIM-Shillong on 27 July 2015, some photographs of his meeting with world leaders, and many other items. As an island eager to boost tourism, even a bottle of water bought from a shack in Dhanushkodi goes to feed a family.

First published on: 14-09-2017 at 17:46 IST

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