Journey to the holy city of Rameshwaram

    After travelling to more than 10 countries within the timespan of a year, it was finally time for me to take a break from travelling abroad and go see my family in India. Having just a week in hand, I decided to spend this holiday in the city of Bangalore. My sister lives there and following a short flight, the family was finally reunited. Although it was supposed to be a quiet “family time”, the wanderer in me wasn’t ready to accept the fact that I have a holiday and I am just going to be sitting on couch and not travelling. So, my sister and I planned a 4-day road trip to the holy city of Rameshwaram in the south of India. Rameshwaram is a small town located on Pamban Island, separated from mainland India by the Pamban channel in the state of Tamil Nadu. One of the reasons behind choosing Rameshwaram as our destination was that it holds a very important value in Hindu mythology. It is one of the “Char Dham” (the four holy seats). “Char Dham” are the names of four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus. They are temples located at Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri, and Rameshwaram. It is highly sacred for Hindus to visit all the four places during one’s lifetime. My family is very religious, so my sister and I wanted to take our parents there. TIMG_7473his was their second “Dham” in the series.

    On the first day of our 600-kilometer long journey, we started pretty early in the morning from Bangalore to beat the rush hour traffic. We were out of the city very quickly. Sadly for me, it so happens that if I manage to finish the hard part of the trip easily, something goes wrong on the road to “compensate” for the extra time I gained. Just when we were celebrating that we managed to beat the famous traffic of Bangalore city, we had a flat tyre at the outskirts of the city. The driver informed us that this was the first flat tyre in the 1.5 years since the car was bought. It was enough to make me say the words, “Why always me”. Our initial plan was to reach Madurai city by early afternoon so that we can visit the famous Meenakshi Temple. Madurai is another major city in the state of Tamil Nadu and home of famous Meenakshi (Wife of Lord Shiva) temple. Rameshwaram was 150 kilometres from Madurai, so our plan was to spend the night in Madurai and drive to Rameshwaram next day. The state of Tamil Nadu had the general elections, so we had to stop at multiple police check posts from time to time. Random events like puncture, police checking, and bad weather affected our schedule from the start. Since the trip was with my family, the situation was a little different in terms of “pushing to save time”.

    Luckily, our driver had some serious driving skills. The luxury of a comfortable car, the flawless road, and the company of family made our journey enjoyable even though we were behind our schedule. We entered the city of Madurai a little late in afternoon, but it was still a big achievement after all our delays. We had the evening free, so we decided to go to the Meenakshi temple. Since childhood, we had been reading about the temple in our history books, as it holds a very important place in our spiritual and cultural heritage. India is a huge country and having spent all my life in north of India, going to the temple in the extreme south of India was no less than visiting another country. The temple is the home of goddess Parvati (known as Meenakshi in South India). Extended over 15 acres, the temple was an absolute architectural gem. The interiors of the temple featured traditional South Indian architecture and every detail of the temple was awe-inspiring. If you travel to the south of India, architecture, food, and language are a few things that differ drastically from the north.

    We hired a guide in the temple for Rs.300 (4£), who took us to visit every part of the temple and also explained the mythological stories. Even though my family is very religious, I had very little knowledge about these stories. I learned a lot about my own religion on that evening. The guide talked us through the history of the temple and also helped us to get into the “Priority” line to look the main statue of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva in the temple. The main temple is always full of devotees coming all parts of the world. A 2-hour tour of temple is a must because even if you can admire the beauty of temple, it is the stories and significance of different parts of temple that is more fascinating.

    Although the initial plan was to go to Rameshwaram in the morning, we got to know that there was one rare part of the Rameshwaram temple that opens only from 3 AM to 6 AM for public viewing. After coming so far, we didn’t want to miss the sacred opportunity. There was no way we could have made it if we left early in the morning, so we decided to push ourselves a little and to finish the3-hour journey to Rameshwaram on the same night. It was our willingness and some mysterious spiritual blessing that kept us moving even after the full- day road trip and 2-hour walking in 15 acre Meenakshi temple. Our driver drove nonstop for 3 hours and it was midnight when we finally stepped into the holy city of Rameshwaram!

    After sleeping (or should I say resting?) for only 4 hours, we had to go to the temple at 5 AM in the morning. The priest in the temple took us directly to the sacred part of the temple that was about to close. This part of the temple showcased a small statue of Lord Shiva gifted to the temple by the “Sankaracharya”, the spiritual head of the four seats (Char Dham). We were happy that our efforts paid off. Afterwards, we moved on to bathe from the 21 sacred ponds. It was a tiring journey but was well worth the effort. If you believe in mythological stories, by soaking in those 21 wells, I washed all my sins away (which was a big win for me)!After dressing up, we were taken to the main temple of Lord Shiva (also known as Lord Rameshawar). It had a majestic statue whose grandeur is etched in my mind forever. Given the sacredness of temple, it was flooded with people. We managed to procure VIP access and had a clear view of the statue.

    Our last stop in the city was a place called “Dhanushkodi”, a ghost town located at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island. It was a small village that was washed away in the Tsunami of 2004. We were driven to the coast by the local bus. While driving through the pathway that was sunk into the ocean half way through, we were amazed how someone can drive on the wet sand. When I was standing at the beach, I was told that was the end point of Indian land and Sri Lanka was only 3kilometres away! It was an amazing feeling and a truly unique experience. We saw the ruins of the village and felt the pain of the townspeople who had lost their homes. You realise the difference between truth and watching something on TV—being there in the middle of the town that was washed away was a feeling that can’t be described easily. People were slowly moving back into the town, but the proximity to the sea without any barriers would always be a risky choice for the locals. We spent some time taking photographs and then headed back to Madurai for the night.

    It was indeed an arduous journey, considering my aged parents were with me and we had to take the health factor in account for long road trips. But somehow I think the power of faith kept them strong. For me, it was a very refreshing road trip because I got the chance to spend some quality time with my parents after a long time. When I came back, I realized how important it was for me to spend that time with my family. We talked, laughed, and had a good time together after a long time and realized such family trips are important—at least once in a year. So, I decided to do this sort of trip every year with my parents and extended family. This was a short but entertaining trip. Until next time, keep wandering and keep in touch.

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