Danushkodi, a small town in the southern tip of India is surrounded by water masses, which contribute to its beauty and desolation. Dubbed as a ‘ghost town’ after a cyclone completely wiped out the people and property of this once flourishing port, Danushkodi now attracts thousands of visitors in spite of the lack of proper transportation. Why do people battle the rough terrain and make a trip to this mystic, isolated spot?
Prior to 1964, Danushkodi was hardly a ghost town or anywhere near it. Located just 29 kms from Talaimannar, Sri Lanka, Danushkodi was a busy hub for transporting goods and people. Due to this vantage location, the little town witnessed rapid development and had a well built infrastructure. There was a rail service called ‘Boat Mail’, a small hospital, ferry services to Sri Lanka, a huge post office, a higher secondary school, a Church, several business establishments and pilgrimage centers.
During its glory days, Danushkodi was much further ahead of all the other villages in the surrounding area in terms of progress till December 1964 when the whole town was devoured by a fierce cyclone. Almost 1800 people lost their lives and the entire town was washed away as an aftermath of the cyclone. Sand dunes captured the well built town and swallowed all structures. The stubs of concrete that remain as a distant memory of a once prosperous Danushkodi conjure the image of a ‘ghost town’ in the minds of all who chance to visit here.
The drive down a straight road from Rameshwaram Island, bordered with casuarinas trees and sand dunes ends right at Danushkodi. From here tourists board one of the many private van or jeep services for a hefty charge in return for a guided tour of the ruined town of Danushkodi. The first stop is almost 10 km away, at Aruchalmunai to witness the perfect blend of two oceans, one calm and serene and the other rough and boisterous. This seems to highlight the contrasts in Danushkodi; scenic natural beauty concealing spoils of manmade structures. The word ‘Aruchalmunai’ has been coined from two Tamil words which mean ‘erode’ and ‘tip’. True to its description, continuous wind movement has resulted in extensive erosion of land, particularly at this point.
The bumpy ride across the sandy terrain is hardly noticed as frightful reminders of the devastating cyclone make their appearance one after the other. An almost concealed road, a buried rail track, a roof torn Church, a dilapidated post office, innumerable decaying buildings and ruined sites which once housed people, provided services and denoted economic prosperity, shout out colossal wreckage. While these ruins still remain to show material loss, there is very little residue of the loss of life.
At present there are several fisher folk who reside in huts all through Danushkodi along with petty traders who sell souvenirs and knick knacks to tourists. The Government of India declared Danushkodi as unsafe for habitation and so no attempts were made to re construct the site or restore its connectivity to the main land. However, Hindu pilgrims and curious travelers have continued to visit the ghost town. For centuries Hindu devotees embarking on a religious journey to nearby Rameshwaram have stopped at Danushkodi to take a sacred dip at ‘Aruchalmunai’.
Danushkodi has much to offer beyond the religious sentiment. Though unfit for human habitation, Danushkodi has been a favorite haunt for a variety of sea birds that migrate here for a season. The vast stretches of sea shore that surround this ruined town also unfold the diversity of marine wealth here. Corals, sea grass, sea cucumbers and a variety of life forms peculiar to the ocean can be spotted along the coast. This makes Danushkodi a haven for researchers and naturalists to further their interests.
Danushkodi will never be rebuilt. The few survivors who managed to defy nature’s fury live to look back at an eventful past and mourn the destruction of their home town. The ordinary buildings which once housed simple citizens and local establishments are now a relic. Even if these leftovers bury in time, memories of loved ones who lived and worked in this quaint city will continue to live in posterity.
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