Continuing our journey towards Rameswaram, we cruised on the AH43. For knowledge sake, according to the internet, Asian Highway 43 is part of the Asian Highway network, a co-operative project connecting various countries of Asia and Europe by road. AH43 connects Agra in India and Matara in Sri Lanka, with a break in Rameswaram and resumes in Sri Lanka, if you somehow manage to cross the Indian Ocean in your car !
Enroute, we passed by the last toll gate on Eastern side of India’s mainland ! We have a fancy for such landmarks and can’t go past them without clicking a picture.
For a moment we almost laughed at the toll fee, “only Rs.9/- !” but don’t get fooled by the information board, the actual toll is Rs.60/- ! The toll attendant told us that board was an old one, we think it must be ancient ! One of those amusing things on a highway.
Pamban Bridge – 100 not out !
A few more kilometres from the toll booth, the land begins to narrow and the sea appears, signalling that you are reaching the end of the mainland. The train track goes right next to the road and beyond the track, the sea !
You can feel your heart beat race in anticipation of leaving the mainland, as the road smoothly blends into the massive bridge across the sea, the Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge !
We had first heard of the bridge some time in the early 90s in a Sankar Cement’s TV ad campaign, they proudly proclaimed that their cement was the strength that supported the Pamban Bridge ! We would gape at the TV wondering how they managed to build a bridge across the sea. In 2000, during this writer’s first visit to Rameswaram, it was goosebump moment when the bus got onto the bridge, the gigantic bridge was nothing like we had ever seen. The funny thing is, even after 2 visits, we are still speechless !
This time, travelling by our own car, we had the luxury to stop and talk a walk on the bridge. When you step out, you feel vulnerable, you are on a bridge, surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on both sides, away from the comfort of mainland India ! Adding to that, everytime a heavy vehicle passes by, you can feel the bridge vibrate, even to send down a few shivers.
But, what really makes you gasp, almost has a shock value and leaves you awestruck is this !
The 100 year old Pamban Cantilever Rail Bridge ! We are talking about a bridge built 100 years ago out in the open sea, the only connection between mainland India and Rameswaram for several years, that has a cantilever which opens to let ships pass through, has withstood the devastation of a monstrous cyclonic storm, the only rail connection even today, transporting pilgrims and tourists for a century ! If this is not an engineering marvel, then what is?
We drove a little further and stopped to see the icon on every post card from Rameswaram, the Cantilever part of the Pamban Bridge !
The cantilever opens to allow ships to pass through. As kids, we remember seeing post cards of this bridge, in our ancestral home, collected by our travel enthusiast ancestors (it’s in the genes !), back then we thought it was a bridge in some foreign country ! Now, we were watching it with our own eyes and it was still unbelievable ! You can read about the bridge and its construction on the internet, there are some interesting facts.
In our previous visits, we travelled by buses which did not stop on the bridge, so we just about managed to get a glimpse of the bridge in passing. This time, we had all the time in the world to gaze as long as we wanted and click pictures. The Pamban Rail Bridge is almost a tourist spot in its own right, lot of people stop on the road bridge for some sight seeing.
A railfan’s dream come true !
Sometimes, your random wishes do come true. The deep blue sea and the rail bridge across it was picture perfect, we were just thinking how wonderful it would be if a train were to cross the rail bridge and within minutes, when we heard a faint sound of a train horn. We focussed our eyes towards the mainland and lo behold ! We saw a train slowly chugging along on the rail bridge !
That’s it, our day was made, probably, a once in a lifetime moment for us ! If you are wondering what the fuss is all about, what is the probability that you happen to be at the Pamban road bridge, having travelled some 1200 kms over 2 days and 4 states, simply looking at the sea and randomly wishing a train to pass on the bridge and a train appears all of a sudden?
We watched almost jumping in excitement as the train cautiously made its way towards the cantilever. The rail bridge is very low and close to the sea level and there are no railing on either side ! For people like this author, who have heart in the mouth moments every time their train crosses the less than 500 meters rail bridge over the dry river bed of the Penna in Nellore, it must be scary, for the more sane people it is sure to be a thrilling experience to cross the bridge by train !
As the train crossed the cantilever, we could hear the “thud, thud” sound all the way up to the road bridge and then we realised there are no supporting pillars under the cantilever which means there is only a rail track between the train and the sea !
Wonder if the weak hearted can take this ride !
People on the train waved to all of us, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. For those watching, it was an amazing sight !
We didn’t move till the train reached the other end of the bridge and took a curve into the Pamban Island or what we all revere as Rameswaram.
Unable to believe our luck, we got back into the car and headed towards Rameswaram, overjoyed and absolutely delighted, excited. We felt like a toddler given a huge piece of candy without asking for it, yes, we are all 30 year olds but moments like these make you forget that.
Someone wanted to wait and see if a ship would pass by and the cantilever would open, we would have gone mad with joy if that happened but we decided to be “sensible” people and moved ahead.
Remember? In our previous post, we asked you to guess where we met the Rameswaram Express again, well, right there on the Pamban Rail Bridge, it was the very same Rameswaram Express that went past us at the railway crossing near Mandapam ! It couldn’t get any better than this, could it?
– If you are travelling by public buses, most buses do not stop on the road bridge, you can only manage to get a quick view of the rail bridge. If you are not travelling by your own vehicle, see if you can hire an auto or a cab to take you to the road bridge so that you can take a walk on the bridge for the awesome views.
– Viewing a train or ship passing by the bridge is pure luck, you could check out train timings though.
– Be careful if you are stopping near the bridge and watch out for the traffic, don’t lose yourself in the beauty around. If there are kids, be alert and do not let them venture too close to the railing or run on the road. Also be careful of your balance while bending over the edge to see the rail bridge/click pictures.
– Be environment friendly and refrain from throwing things/garbage into the sea.
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