Rameswaram is one of the most significant pilgrimage centres in South India for both Shaivites and Vaishnavaites. It was here that Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu and hero of the Ramayana) offered thanks to Shiva. At the town’s core is the Ramanathaswamy Temple, one of the most important temples in India, and here you’ll see a representation of India in miniature, with pilgrims including everyone from urbane sophisticates to colourfully clad Rajasthani tribespeople.
Rameswaram is on an island in the Gulf of Mannar, and is connected to the mainland at Mandapam by one of India’s great engineering wonders, the Indira Gandhi bridge, which was opened in 1988. The town was once an important ferry port linking India and Sri Lanka, but the service ceased when things got ugly in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing it shows no signs of resuming, though regular boatloads of Tamil refugees do manage to make the crossing.
Apart from a regular influx of pilgrims, Rameswaram is a sleepy fishing village with a pleasantly laid-back atmosphere and the pungent smell of drying fish hanging in the air – take a stroll down to the harbour in the early morning to see the fishing boats come in and the catch being sorted.