Rameswaram to Cochin

An Indian Journal | Rameswaram to Cochin

Indira Gandhi Road Bridge connecting Pamban Island with the Indian mainland | January 2011


Rameswaram | Jan 7 to 9

Rameswaram is a town of some 44.000 inhabitants located on the eastern shore of Pamban, or Rameswaram Island in between the south-eastern tip of the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka. The island is connected with Tamil Nadu on the mainland through the 2.345 metre long Annai Indira Gandhi Bridge, an impressive construction built over 14 years and opened to traffic in 1988. Along with Varanasi it counts to the holiest places of Hinduism.

Ramayana in Rameswaram

According to the Ramayana, the collected tales and legends around Lord Rama, Ravana, King of Demons fell in love with Sita, Rama’s wife. After luring Rama away, Ravana kidnapped Sita and took her to his Demon Kingdom, Lanka. Rama and his brother Lakshman enlisted the help of the monkeys and the bears to search for Sita, with Hanuman the monkey heading the band as its general. After they discovered that Lanka is an island in the middle of the ocean, the bears and the monkeys built a bridge to Lanka at Rameswaram to go and free Sita. Needless to say that they were successful, although along with Ravana, Lakshman too lost his life during the campaign.

Early Bird Room Booking

We arrived in Rameswaram after a night train ride at 4 am. I thought we would have to wait for hours until we would get a breakfast in the morning, let alone would be able to book a room in a hotel. Luckily the religious ceremonies started in the middle of the night and the whole town was already on its feet and operating.

Back in the Thicket

After the western retro-batik youth in Mamallapuram and the appealing and beautiful, but distinctively European feeling Pondicherry, Rameswaram presented itself back the way I came to love India. As a hodgepodge of strange, alien, noisy, and crowded workings of a culture we scarcely understood but immensely enjoyed to observe all day long with a cup of Chai in our hand.

Two Bridges

During our stay there we’ve visited Rama’s Bridge (a.k.a. Adam’s Bridge), a 48 km long chain of limestone shoals that once was a land connection between India and Sri Lanka. Apart from that we took a bus to the western end of the island to cast an eye on the truly impressive Annai Indira Gandhi Bridge. As we walked a couple of hundred metres onto the bridge we were hit by the Gale force winds funnelled through in between the Indian mainland and Pamban Island. One gets a pretty concrete idea what the force of nature means there. The rest of the time we spent aound Ramanathaswamy temple and Agni Theertham, the sacred bathing area on the eastern sea shore opposite the temple, before we left on an early morning bus for Madurai.

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Madurai | Jan 9

Pilgrims in the vicinity of Meenakshi Amman Temple | January 2011

Madurai is one of the oldest settlements in all of South Asia and the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu. Apart from that – or one may say consequently – it is one of the classic destinations of India tourism. Therefore we faced the same question as with Agra way up in the north. On the one hand we were not overly interested to rub shoulders with scores of Europeans, Russians and Americans. On the other hand we felt the need to take at least a look on the city. In the end we resolved the situation as with Agra. We took a bus from Rameswaram to Madurai at 6:30 am and arrived in Madurai at mid-morning. We then spent the day strolling around, visiting the famous Meenakshi Temple in the center of the old town and took a sleeper train out again at 10.30 pm. Since one can google whatever one wants to know about Madurai anyway, the story I want to tell here is how we came to get to our sleeper train tickets.

My Kingdom for Sleeper Train Tickets

Sleeper train tickets were often in high demand and hard to get. If you did not get a ticket right away at the counter, you had the option of subscribing yourself to a waiting list for tickets cancelled by their original holders. And depending on your position on that list you had more or less good chances to get one. After our arrival in Madurai we immediately went to the railway station to buy a ticket for the night train with which we planned to go to our next destination, Varkala in Kerala. To our disappointment we learned that there were no tickets left. Moreover, we were told that even on the waiting list we were that much down that there was practically no chance that we would get a ticket.

Quotas and Flyovers

Since we did not want to stay in Madurai overnight (and I think we already had accommodation booked in Varkala) we beseeched the officer behind the counter if he could do something, anything to help us get a ticket. Sometimes there were some tickets held back on a tourist quota but the system according to which that worked and how one would get one of those was opaque to say the least. The railway officer gave us a stern look and told us the following: We should use the flyover to get on the other side of the railway lines and then he described a way we should follow on the end of which we should enter a building, go to a certain room and tell the man we find there about our plight.

Back Alley Odyssey

I was suspicious to say the least. First of all I was far from sure that I would remember his directions good enough to find that building. Then I was far from sure that we won’t find ourselfes on the butt of a practical joke. But since it was our only chance to get away from Madurai that evening we tried anyway. After we followed our instructions to the best of our ability we stood in front of an unmarked building, went inside to the room the railway officer described to us and indeed found another official there who did not look overly surprised when we again described our situation. After we had finished with our plea the man said that we would be on the train, dismissed us, and 30 seconds later we were back on the dusty road behind Madurai Junction railway station.

South Indian Railway Miracle

The exciting detail there was that you only knew for sure you were on a sleeper train when your name showed up on a printed list that got hung out on the platform rather shortly before the train appeared. But when they did so our names indeed were on it. Today I know – from Google Maps of course – that the mysterious unmarked building at the end of a dusty road was in fact the Divisional Railway Manager Office. None the less for me that will always be my own personal South Indian sleeper train miracle.

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Varkala | Jan 10 to 13

Oriental food, german baked goods, young Brasilians, and Italian coffee in India | January 2011

Varkala text here …

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Quillon | Jan 13 to 14

Quillon text here …

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Alleppey | Jan 14 to 17

Alleppey text here …

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Cochin | Jan 17 to 19

Cochin text here …

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