Abounding in the legends of the Ramayana and an abode of one of the Jyothirlingas, Rameswaram, is every Hindu’s ultimate pilgrim destination. Kasi and Rameswaram are considered places of attaining salvation. In the days of old, these must have been sacred places where people settled after retirement, that is also probably why, there is a belief that people should visit these places only after completing all their worldly responsibilities. For people like us, who do not believe in taking up worldly responsibilities in the first place, Kasi and Rameswaram can be visited any time !
In fact, one of our guys had actually driven all the way to Kasi, earlier in 2014 and visit Rameswaram in the same year was a sure shot route to salvation, in a way, the idea of a trip to Rameswaram was born of out this thought.
God doesn’t impose a dress code
We returned from our Dhanushkodi trip, bade a farewell to driver Virodhikirudh (his name means “destroyers of enemies”, he even showed us his driving license so we could get the spelling and pronunciation right !) and paid him Rs.200/- extra for taking us to the Sangam point and made him promise us that he would take our other group to Sangam the next day without complaining ! Our friends were still somewhere near Madurai.
The visit to the Ramanathaswamy temple was up next. While most temples in India do not allow people wearing shorts inside the premises, we were pleasantly surprised when we were told that the temple did not have a dress code. The ancient Rameswaram temple does seem to have some “cool” practises, after all God did not impose a dress code on any of us, did He?
It was around 3.30 PM and the temple had just opened for the evening. We walked from the parking area to the temple. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, this is the only picture we could take on the move.
Surprisingly, there was hardly any crowd in the temple. We had gone prepared to buy a special ticket but we had the darshan not once but twice with a direct entry, no ticket, no standing in the line ! During our earlier visit in 2006, we were lucky to catch the early morning darshan where abhishekam is performed on the Spatika Linga donated by Adi Sankara. Looks like we find a place in atleast Lord Ramanathaswamy’s good books, He had been kind to us in this trip too. Jokes apart, may be it is the effect of the dim lamps or is it really the Divine presence, the Jyothirlinga seems to have some powerful aura around it.
The history of the Ramanathaswamy temple, of course, goes back to antiquity but the structure as it stands today belongs to sometime in the 1700s and later. These ancient, grand temples should be visited when they are not crowded to appreciate the artistic and sculptural beauty. Despite two visits to the temple before this, we had not realised that the mandapas around the Garbha Griha were grandly decorated with sculpture.
There are 22 wells inside the temple called “Theertha” and the waters from these wells are believed to be sacred, there is a practice at Rameswaram where people bathe in the waters from all the 22 wells.
We then went around the temple and walked down the world’s longest corridor with a total of 1212 pillars. A walk around the corridors of the Rameswaram temple is a good idea to burn some calories ! Standing at one end of the corridor and looking at the 1212 perfectly aligned pillars stretching all the way to the other end, will leave your mind boggled. Unfortunately, you cannot click any pictures. Forget the pictures, go and see it for yourself.
From Lord Ram to Kalaam
Winding up our short visit to the temple, we suddenly realised that we were hungry, having chosen Dhanushkodi and Rameswaram Temple over lunch. We snacked at a nearby eatery and then decided to head back to Madurai. It was already past 5.30 PM by the time we came out of the temple and grabbed a snack.
Before going back, we wanted to include a quick visit to Kalaam House, the ancestral house of Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. We had been here during our previous trip and were quite surprised to find the small house, now converted into a museum.
Last time, we could only see the house from outside and visit the souvenir shop run by Kalam’s family. Now, the museum is open for all and houses photos, awards and other articles belonging to Dr.Kalam. It was a thrilling feeling to see the Bharat Ratna medal, we were very impressed that they chose to exhibit India’s highest civilian award in Kalam’s hometown and the ancient, holy city of Rameswaram. If Lord Ram was a hero of ancient India, Dr.Kalam is modern India’s hero that all of us look up to. That way, Rameswaram is a sacred place for scientific temper in India !
Pamban at evening
We started from Rameswaram around 6.30 PM, destination Madurai. While driving out of Rameswaram, you get a great view of the Pamban road and rail bridges together. The Pamban road bridge looked gorgeous under the setting sun.
To the west of the bridge, fishing boats and trawlers waited out in the sea.
The short distance between India mainland and Rameswaram island, is a nature lover’s delight. We also found it amusing as we drove across the bridge and sighted the mainland, it felt like we were returning home from abroad !
The rest of the drive from Rameswaram to Madurai was eventless but every now and then, we would shout out in surprise whenever we spotted a town that had developed beyond recognition since the last decade of our visit. Ramanathapuram, in particular, was unrecognisable. Way back in 2000, the only noticeable area of the town was the bus stand, today, it looks no less than any other city, especially under the night lights.
The official drink of Madurai
It was past 9 PM by the time we reached Madurai, we checked into Hotel Sreenithi near Mattuthavani Bus stand on the Madurai – Chennai Highway. We were looking for a hotel in the less than Rs.1000/- and Hotel Sreenithi turned out to be good option.
The Mattuthavani Bus stand area is a blessing for foodies. The entire stretch of road is full of food joints, food carts and hotels providing you the best of Madurai food. We stepped into one of the hotels and feasted on Kothu Parotta, normal Parotta and idly served with a tangy, spicy kozhambu, the food at Madurai had us cleaned bowled !
As if that was not enough, we had to try the “world famous in Madurai” Jigarthanda, a drink made of milk cream, sherbet and Badam pisin and ice cream, served cold. We had heard about Jigarthanda but never got a chance to taste it during our previous visits to Madruai, this time, we decided we were not leaving the city without tasting Jigarthanda. You will find Jigarthanda almost everywhere in Madurai but this outlet, the “Famous Jigarthanda”, we were told are the pioneers in the making of this drink.
Boy, what a delicious drink it was ! We wouldn’t mind driving the entire 1000 kms just for that drink, serious !
After such a heavy dinner, all we could think of was sleep. It had been a wonderful day for us, starting with Dhanushkodi and ending with Jigarthanda, two things we love, travel and food !
Our friends who had driven to Kodaikanal reached Madurai and visited the Meenakshi Temple at about the same time when we returned to Madurai. While they were going to drive to Rameswaram through the night, we dozed off in preparation of our two day journey back to Hyderabad. A crazy idea had crept into our mind.
– Information about Ramanathaswamy Temple can be checked at the temple website http://www.rameswaramtemple.tnhrce.in
– The temple is open from 4 AM to 1 PM and 3.30 PM till 9 PM. The darshan at 4 AM including the Spatika Linga abhishekam is an amazing experience.
– Finding accommodation in Rameswaram should not be a problem, there are several hotels and guest houses. TTDC’s Hotel Tamil Nadu can be booked online.
– There are several temples in and around Rameswaram, at every turn, you have sign boards listing the temples. You could hire a cab or autos to take you around.
– The Lakshmana Theertha temple is a must visit to see the floating rock believed to be the kind of rock used to build the Ram Sethu. Another interesting temple is the Gandhamadhana Parvatham or Ramar Padam, the belief is that Lord Rama stood on this hillock for a view of Lanka, another belief is that Lord Hanuman used the hillock as the launch pad for his leap to Sri Lanka ! One can get a lovely view of Rameswaram from here. We had visited this temple during our earlier visits and gave it a miss this time due to lack of time.
– House of Kalam is open to visitors from 10 AM to 6 PM. Photography is not allowed inside the museum. There is a shop inside where one can buy some souvenirs to take back from Rameswaram.
– Ideally you will need 2 full days to visit all the places in and around Rameswaram including Dhanushkodi.
– When in Madurai, don’t miss Jigarthanda. The roadside eateries of Madruai are very popular and are usually open throughout the night.
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