An Angel Draped in a Lungi
A Traveller's Tale by Supriya AN
The cyclone ravaged church at Dhanushkodi. Image: © Sypriya AN
Beads of sweat trickled down my face as I trudged in sand in the blistering heat. My head felt light and my legs were throbbing from walking so many kilometers.
I had neither my sunglasses nor a hat; sunscreen was far-fetched and a bottle of water? I wish I had.
I was loathing myself to have ventured this far.
It felt like I was lost in a desert but I wasn’t. I was on a sandbank in South India at a place called Dhanushkodi. This stretch of land extends deep into the sea from the mainland, like a torn piece of cloth fluttering away from the rest.
Having parked my bike in Rameshwaram, I took a bus to Dhanushkodi - a ghost town abandoned after a deadly cyclone ravaged this once thriving town in 1964. Since Dhanushkodi was on the extreme eastern point of the Indian peninsula, I wanted to catch the sight of a glorious sunrise.
I alighted the bus to be welcomed by the fresh sea breeze and a golden sky. The sun was rising behind the shimmering sea and in the foreground were fishermen casting nets for the day’s catch.
Image: © Sypriya AN
I walked around the town visualizing the streets which were once bustling with people and stopped by at a dilapidated building which was once a post office and an erstwhile church with a collapsed roof. Interspersing these were shacks selling souvenirs like conch, sea shells, tender coconut, snacks, cool drinks, and myriad of other things.
The initial plan was to return to the bus and head back to Rameshwaram, but my heart yearned to stay longer.
I strolled further away from the tourist crowd towards a stretch of land extending into the sea. This sandbank was like a pier made of sand that never seemed to end. What piqued my curiosity was the fact that no other tourist was heading in this direction. Without much thought, I felt I needed to go further ahead, to see what lay ahead.
I continued walking as if a spell had been cast on me. So narrow was the sandbank that it measured only 10 metres wide. The silence was broken by the gentle lapping of waves on both the sides of the sandbank as I walked barefoot feeling the cool sand between my toes.
Shops selling seashells as souvenir in Dhanushkodi. Image: © Sypriya AN
There was an occasional crow overhead and the further I went, the lonelier it got. Apart from the tiny speck of ships or fishing boats far away in the horizon.
This was in 2013 when there was no connectivity in this area, nor a well paved road. Today, tourists can drive up until this last point in the comforts of their cars, but I walked the entire stretch of 5 km that day - one way.
It felt liberating as I had the whole place for myself. I was ecstatic at the sight of the sandbank ending and now surrounded by the sea on all the three sides. It is not everyday that you encounter such a sight. It felt surreal to be one with nature. It was blissful solitude!
Lands end. Image: © Sypriya AN
I swam in the limpid water, sang my heart out, ran in circles with my arms wide open and even made a sand angel. It was around 11 in the morning by now and it was just me, the sun, sand, and sea which felt pleasant until that point.
After an hour of merry making, my throat was parched and I hadn’t eaten anything all morning. That is when reality started kicking in.
I took out my phone and my heart sank. There was no network reception. Now a fun stroll was transforming into a nightmare in the span of a few hours. I couldn’t brush away the negativity that was clouding my thoughts.
I quickly started retreating towards Dhanushkodi.
I continued walking. The only solace was that if I kept walking in the same direction, I would find the town, unlike a desert, where you wouldn’t know where to go.
I could see the silhouette of palm trees and a few shacks in the distance. It did not stir any excitement as I had seen it thrice already. I wouldn’t let the mirage get to me anymore. My skin felt like it was on fire from the overhead sun and so did my eyes.
After a long arduous trek in the torrid heat of the afternoon, I finally found a few shacks. The faint noise of a rumbling diesel engine from an old rickety bus confirmed that I wasn’t looking at a mirage this time. The bus I had arrived in had departed long ago and this was the next bus of the day waiting to leave.
Tender coconuts. Image: © Sypriya AN
I made my way to a shack under the thicket of palm trees and plopped myself on a wooden bench. I shut my eyes and relished how my skin felt under the cool shade. All I could think of was having cucumber slices on my eyes to cool them down.
While I was lost in thought, a young man in a striped t-shirt draped in a white lungi approached me. He happened to be the owner of the shack. He looked at me with pitiable eyes as if he knew about my untold misadventure. It looks as though it was a common occurrence - unprepared folks like me venturing into the unknown and returning exhausted.
Since we didn’t speak a common language, I pointed at the tender coconut that he was selling and a cluster of ripe bananas. I sipped on the tender coconut and felt the cool liquid making its way down my throat and into my belly. I quickly gobbled a couple of bananas too. I was overwhelmed by the kindness showed to me by this stranger, but there was another disappointment awaiting me.
I reached into my pocket to pay him but was dejected to find only ten rupees (~ 1 USD), which was enough to pay for my bus ride back to Rameshwaram. I was too bone-tired to walk any further. To my utter disbelief, he refused to accept the money and he even offered me some cash.
I was so touched by his compassion and generosity. At that point, I had nothing but my gratitude to offer to this gentleman.
The angel in a lungi. Image: © Sypriya AN
The driver of the bus was now blowing the bulb horn without a pause to indicate that it was time for departure. Tourists started boarding the bus and I profusely thanked my angel draped in a lungi, assuring him that I would return someday to pay my dues. I requested a picture and he happily obliged; I quickly took his snap and bid goodbye.
I settled in one of the window seats and waved to him as the bus departed. Looking outside the window imagining all that had transpired, I realised that I had forgotten to ask his name.
It’s been eight years since I last went to Dhanushkodi, but I vividly remember every detail of that eventful day. I look at his picture once in a while, to remind myself about all the things I should be grateful for in my life.
For me, he is an embodiment of kindness and a valuable lesson of the importance of being empathetic to everyone, no matter what the circumstance.
About the Author
Supriya divides her time between enhancing the digital presence of travel businesses and seeking inspiration for her next vacation.
On weekends you will find her in a cozy corner engrossed in the travel memoirs of famous globetrotters.
Pencil sketching is Supriya's hobby and she likes to sketch places that she has visited in the past to relive her travel memories.