Rameswaram was once the southernmost point of sacred India; to leave its boundaries was to abandon caste and fall below the status of the lowliest skinner of sacred cows. Then Rama, incarnation of Vishnu and hero of the Ramayana, led an army of monkeys and bears across a monkey-built bridge to the island of (Sri) Lanka, where he defeated the demon Ravana and rescued his wife, Sita. Afterwards, prince and princess came to this spot to offer thanks to Shiva.
If all this seems like so much folklore, it’s absolute truth for millions of Hindus, who flock to the Ramanathaswamy Temple to worship where a god worshipped a god.
Apart from these pilgrims, Rameswaram is a small fishing town on an island, Pamban, which is connected to the mainland by a 2km-long road and rail bridges. The town smells of drying fish and has a lot of flies, and if you're not a pilgrim, the temple alone would barely merit the journey here. But the eastern point of the island, Dhanushkodi, only 30km from Sri Lanka, has a natural magic that adds considerably to Rameswaram's attractions.
Most hotels and eateries are clustered around the Ramanathaswamy Temple, which is surrounded by North, East, South and West Car Streets. Middle St heads west towards the bus stand (2km). The train station is 1.5km southwest of the temple.