A Southern Sojourn
Train journeys can be beautiful. As a kid who grew up in the nineties’ India, long train journeys every summer were inevitable. While the primary excitement used to be the destination, packing and plans for the 2-day train journey were quite significant too – excitement for the window seat, making shy friends with co-passengers’ children, books to read, grubs in the mini-backpack, the snacks to be bought at the various railway stations along the way – it was fascinating.
Growing up to be a high-school student meant shorter vacations and even lesser travel. By the time I moved 1700 kms away from home for college, low cost airlines had made their way into our lifestyles. Plus, train journeys scared me now because of increased crime-related incidences one would hear on and off. While I longed the beauty of it from my childhood, I wasn’t actually inclined to indulge in a long distance commute by train anymore.
From here we went to Madras (Chennai) for a day and proceeded to Rameswaram on a train the same evening. It was an overnight journey but when I woke up the next morning, I re-lived the excitement of picturesque train journeys that I carried in my memories all these years.
It was refreshing and beautiful in every sense of the word.
I was also excited because I had heard so much about Pamban Bridge on this route. To see the train go right over the water since the railway bridge is quite low is an experience; I was told. I could not get myself to blink when we were atop the bridge. It was frighteningly exciting.
The journey is charming, filled with many striking sights. Everything is worth capturing on camera but the camera is a distraction in the way of the experience that it is.
Rameswaram was much like what I had expected – a quiet town with lives of the locals revolving around spiritual tourism. It is situated on Pamban Island which is about 50 kilometers away from the Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. Pamban Bridge connects Pamban Island to mainland India. Rameswaram is a part of the ‘Char Dham’.
We checked into an guest house very close to Ramanathaswamy Temple, a majestic Hindu temple for Lord Shiva. It is a work of art, truly. So big from the inside that we almost got lost in its illustrious architecture – it’s hard to absorb! It is known to have the largest temple corridor in India. Shiva, here, is worshipped as a Jyotirlinga. It is believed that this shivaling was built in sand by Sita when Ram wanted to worship Lord Shiva after the war with King Ravana was over.
We hired an auto from here to take us around all the other temples in the town. It took us about 4 hours to visit some of the main temples. We went to Gandhamandana Parvatham, about 3 kilometres from Ramanathswamy Temple. This parvatham is the highest point on the island and gives a breathtaking view of the entire town from the top.
The parvatham is also known to have Rama’s footprints.
We spent the day exploring Ramayan’s known and unknown anecdotes and legends – even seeing the floating stones that were supposedly used to build the bridge upto Lanka by Hanuman and his mighty army. Most temples are dedicated to incidents that happened after Rama’s victorious return post Ravana’s defeat and death.
From Rameswaram, we took a train back to Ramnathpuram, a typical South Indian city with beautiful temples and quaint beaches. The journey let us catch the sunset over the Pamban Bridge; again a delight.
We spent the next three days at Ramnathpuram, visiting its temples and shrines which are centuries old and give out powerful positive energy that you can feel by just being in the premise.
Our days in Ramnathpuram were filled with fresh air and a simple lifestyle – we ate the most nutritious of organically produced food and retired to bed at 9:00 pm. It seemed like a piece of heaven since mind and body seemed to be in reconciliation and a sense of calm engulfed our minds in a way I cannot describe. Waking up to peacocks in the backyard is an experience one can never get enough of.
After 3 days of tranquil, it was time to return to our mundane city life. We were flying out from Madurai and hence it was decided to spend a day exploring what we could in the short while we had in Madurai. It obviously included visiting the abode of the fish-eyed goddess, Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple. I will let you have a look at these photos below because I am not sure if I can describe its marvel in words.
After soaking in the charm of this grand temple, we went to the Gandhi Memorial Museum; however it was shut and we could not go inside.
Our next stop was Thirumalai Nayak Palace. It was an imperial residence for Nayaka dynasty’s King Thirumalai Nayak. He presided over the city from 1623 AD to 1659. The palace was buil in 1636 AD. Post independence, the palace was declared a national monument and currently taken care of by the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department.
You can pay extra to take your camera inside the palace and click freely. However, I was mighty disappointed to see the condition of the palace from inside – the walls everywhere were littered with rubbish by visitors, as you can see in this picture below:
You can see endless remains and artefacts at the palace – lots of idols carved in stone. The palace itself is a fusion of Islamic and Dravidian style architecture. Barring the ugly writings on the walls by insensitive visitors, the palace is a treat for anyone even remotely interested in archaeology.
It was time to head to the airport and I bid goodbye to Tamil Nadu, knowing that I would return. I had just explored a little piece of this mighty state and there was so much more to see, until I go back…