Uchipuli and Rameshwaram

Life in deep south.

Uchipuli, a town unheard of – approximately 100 kms from Madurai in the Ramanathapuram district, Tamil Nadu. It’s a tiny village next to a rich coastline where a beautiful little paradise – The Kathadi North awaits. It was a November afternoon when I took a bus from Madurai to Uchipuli bus stand. In most places in south, November brings second monsoon and here it was again. I did have the monsoon experience in Madurai as well but not as much since it was different where I was staying near the hilly outskirts. But here, close to the coast, second monsoon has come back with full vengeance. It was raining cats and dogs and my host at Kathadi had warned me to come prepared.
Tip: Umbrellas from south are really sturdy and can withstand the coastal rain. Do buy one when you go south. I have two, one from Kochi and one from Madurai 🙂

A short rickshaw ride inside the village, from the Uchipuli bus stand takes you closer to the coast and across a railway line that passes by a road that not many crosses. I was waiting for the gates to open for almost five minutes with my auto rickshaw driver while enjoying the rain is when the gatekeeper offered (without asking) that he would open the gate halfway through to let us pass. He bent the rules because he found a Hindi speaking person in a long time and so did I. There’s a good mix of Hindi speaking people around this area till Rameshwaram something that I was surprised about too.  Language was a real problem till the time I was in Madurai, and the more deeper I go in south, I was finding people who speak Hindi fluently.

We reached Kathadi after a few hundred meters which was the only constructed structure that you can see for miles. A wall and garage clad with several kayaks, paddle boards and surfboards can be seen from outside the gate.

A little about Kathadi north. 

My friend Jayce referred this place to me. It’s a small resort and a water sports academy started by an adventure duo Upasna and Jehan who are originally from Mumbai. Jehan who is a professional kite surfer and a water-sport master who trained from New Zealand found this spot along with Upasna when they were on their hunt to find great seas with the right amount of wind and waves around the country about 5years ago, and ended up at this tiny little barren spot by the sea and decided to call it home. They opened Quest Academy with the intent to spread the spirit of the sport along two cosy beach resorts – Kathadi north and Kathadi south. This part of Tamil Nadu was hit by the 1964 Dhanushkodi super cyclone that wiped off the entire village, forest and vegetation from here. Upasna and Jehan, along with the forest department have been doing their bests to restore the forest. They have planted more than 4000 palm and fruit trees in and around their property. These trees are still very young and short but are standing tall.

The water sports training center is called Quest academy that offers both professional and recreational training in various water sports including kite surfing, water sailing, wind surfing, kayaking, SUP, surfing and scuba diving. They’re have some of the most professional and experienced trainers that I have ever come across. Check out the available courses and packages that may interest you. click here

Pictures from Quest academy website

Know about this season’s adventure

The Kathadi experience 

I had a long chat with Upasana a day before and I was obliged that she agreed to host me for a day at their Kathadi north property. I was most excited about the open shower bathrooms that they have with their cottages apart from the surfing, the beach and the property itself. I reached in the evening and met Upasna and the staff (including two dogs and two cats) at Kathadi. It was still raining and Upasana mentioned that it had been raining since 4 days and that it might be difficult to go to the sea for any activities. I went to my cottage to settle my things and to check out my shower area and god it was magnificent!

I decided to take a hot shower while cold November rain was still filling the bathroom. It’s a funny feeling when your body is not able to decide if it’s supposed to feel cold or warm. 

November rain

The cottage itself was a beautiful, cosy arrangement with a mix of modern and traditional touch with a small private garden with a hammock to sleep under the sun and a covered veranda to enjoy the rain. It’s a pet friendly place and your pets would love it here.

Later that night, I met everyone – the instructors, other guests and the staff in the dining area for dinner, a common meeting place bustling with good vibes and great music and people come together and tell their stories. I was so happy to get the first bite of fresh fish of this trip.

Fish is my inspiration to travel so far down south. Fish is my love.

The rain started to become worse and turned into a thunderstorm. It wasn’t even 9 and I decided to retire for the day and get up early the next day to make most of my birthday. The storm kept getting louder and fiercer every hour and I was trying hard to sleep. There were no signs of the storm subsiding.

It was the “Cold November Rain”

I woke by a bright ray of light flickering on my face while I was still in my bed. It almost felt like a dream and then a bounced off my bed upon realising the storm has subsided and the sun is out. Excited, I ran to Upasna to check when we can go to the sea and what activity I can probably take. She told me that the sea is very rough so the only options are either kayaking or stand up paddle.

Check out Kathadi’s pictures

I wasn’t very excited about SUP but I wanted to kayak in the sea. I have never kayaked in the sea but I have kayaked in still waters in lakes and lagoons.  We went with our kayaks to hit the sea. It didn’t look like an extraordinarily rough sea from outside but soon I realised how rough it was when it was not letting us in with our kayaks. It was really hard to get in and took us about 15-20 mins, the waves would just throw you out or topple your kayak. Once you make your way past the crashing waves and you’re in a bit deep, things are calmer. The way to kayak in the sea is to first go deep in and then kayak parallel to the beach. Sun was shining but the sky was still a bit cloudy. The moment we got a bit far, I saw thousands of lumpy and brownish maroon jelly fishes. Some fat and big and some really tiny. Govind, the instructor screamed from afar “they are harmless jelly fish that don’t sting, not to worry”. But, there are thousands of them in the water and the waves can topple the kayak any moment. I don’t wanna struggle getting back on my kayak while I’m surrounded by so many jellyfish. I’m immensely worried and I carefully paved my way through the water to get right beside Govind so that I can inquire about these creatures and that why are they called jellyfish if they are not harmful. And what if some of them collectively decide to sting today. And why are there so many of them at the first place. Govind answered all my questions. “Since it has been raining non stop since past 5 days, these jellyfish sometimes come to the surface. They may sting but their sting does not really hurt. And no, they are not at all harmful” and to prove it he said he’s gonna take us for a swim with them. “Ewww” I replied as I kept rowing. Every little splash of water that touched my body after this conversation was analysed carefully by my brain “did it hurt? Did it sting?” That kept on going for long. But not long enough.

Stock photo of the kind of jellyfish.

The sea was getting rough again. There were sudden waves out of nowhere that will try to push the kayak upside down. But the trick is to manoeuvre your way out of it by not letting the waves hit sideways but take it upfront and row into them. I got a hang of it real soon and I was very quick at manoeuvring my kayak out of the rocky waves. Sometimes the tide you are on will suddenly turn on to a big 5 feet high wave and you realise you’re higher above than your surroundings and within an instant you crash hard on the surface. Almost everyone toppled at least once with their Kayak including the one instructor but I didn’t. I got lucky that day. We decided to go to the beach and rest a little. We took our kayak’s out of the water and I starting running on the left side of the beach to get my water bottle. Both the instructors called me from afar and asked me where I was going. I told them “I’m getting my bottle” They giggled and said that we’re at a different beach, we left that beach 4 kms behind us. I got so confused, I couldn’t believe we’ve come this far. By this time, everyone was in the water swimming with the jellyfish and I could see Govind and the other instructor throwing jellyfish at each other or putting it into each other’s rash-guard. I decided to join, not to put more jelly in their rash guards but to be in the water. Initially I was very very careful moving inside the water, trying to move the jellyfishes away from me by pushing the water but soon realised its of no use. It was the most strangest feeling in the world when these jelly like lumps were coming in touch with my body. I kept my hands up and outside the water for as long as I could and I started to sing, but my eyes were still locked at the jellyfishes surrounding my body and with each jelly fish touching me, my tone would go up. I took a deep breath and I thought to myself – “today, the sun came up and so did the fish. I am at a beach unknown to the world that is full of jellies and rock sized coral shells, I am surrounded by some crazy water people and thousands of jellyfish. I don’t have my phone or my water bottle but just a kayak. It’s my birthday, that has turned into an adventure and I couldn’t not have wished to be anywhere else at this moment. So just surrender…”

I dived in the water and I swam under the surface with them jellyfishes. 

Thank you the jellyfishes, for coming up today. The day would’ve been so boring without you. I took a sip of water from Govind’s water bottle and stuffed some corals in his storage box and kayaked our way back to our beach. By now I was aware of how far we have to go. I was expecting my body to break soon enough, but it wasn’t that bad. We went back to Kathadi and I ran to my favourite spot in the resort – the bathroom. It was a the time to take a cold shower on under a hot afternoon sun.

At lunch table, one of the Kathadi’s scuba diver came to me to return my ID card that I had submitted upon my arrival and he asked me if it was my birthday. I smiled and said yes. Within moments I was yet again surrounded by strangers wishing me and singing the birthday song. And everyone who was out in the sea with me asked me why I didn’t tell them before that it was my birthday. I replied, I didn’t want tot jinx the weather 😀

I met a 22 year old kid from Bombay who was interning at Kathadi. Her name is Umehaane. I was so much impressed by that kid, she was such a water baby and an adventure enthusiast. She had don’t a handful of courses and hold a lot of certificates in various water sports from around the world. We talked for a very long time about each other’s lives. I was interested in her’s and the was interested in mine. We were sharing our travel stories with each other and I was really really inspired by her. I wish we meet again. 

Umehaane

Upasna and I took a walk around the property and told me the story about the place. How they build every corner of Kathadi from scratch and what inspires them to leave their comfort homes in Bombay and come here. Also how tough it is to source cheese here.. Yea damn right she is! They are involved in several programmes that include training locals to become adventure sport instructors so that they get employment. They are also educating them how to fish sustainably. And working with the local authorities to restore the forest. They even have their own fresh water reserve in Kathadi. A natural pond that collects all the rain water from the property. It’s about 7 feets deep and you can swim and dive in it. It’s such a beautiful self sufficient tropical paradise. I couldn’t have enough of it. I bid my farewell to everyone and Upasna was kind enough have someone drop me till the bus stop.

I decided to leave for Rameshwaram in the evening. It was just 45 mins from Uchipuli. The plan was to sleep early and go see Dhanushkodi as early in the morning as possible. It was the Diwali weekend and I have heard there are a lot of pilgrims flock to Rameshwaram during this time. Saw a glimpse of Pamban bridge in the dark, a train was stationed on it. The train lights were lightning up the waves underneath and you can see and hear the rough sea underneath. The bridge was almost 2 kilometres long. I remember it fell like a never ending bridge. Upon reaching Rameshwaram, my hunt for a nice fish for dinner began. Within moments I realised that Rameshwaram is purely Hindu town and no one serves fish there. I was in SHOCK!! How can a place that is surrounded by ocean from all three sides, not have fish?? I couldn’t believe what a trap I fell in. I could’ve skipped Rameshwaram all together and spent another night in Kathadi. I was so so so angry I just wanted to get the hell out of Rameshwaram. I decided not to visit any place in Rameshwaram and go straight to Dhanushkodi, and back to Madurai. Someone told me that there is one fisherman in Dhanushkodi that serves fresh fish in his home-cum-shack. My hopes were up again. I left at 5:30 am in an auto rickshaw to see the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. It was like an underwater town. That village has been underwater for so long that the sea has claimed it. The ruins of the town look like they have emerged out of the sea. It was a ghastly feeling watching those ruins. The silence of the town, the remoteness and emptiness of it. The signs of the ruins – the school, the residence, the railway station, the church, the post office were a reminder that it was a fully equipped town once upon a time and how nature can re-claim what it wants in a matter of moments. 

The drive to Dhanushkodi was a memorable one. With Indian Ocean to its right, and bay of bengal to its left, one side fierce and one side calm. It’s a 9 km straight road that goes to the farthest point of mainland India from where you can see the ram setu bridge that some religious fanatics claims our super powerful gods made.
If only gods could make roads and build schools too, I’d be religious all my life.

I enjoyed the drive more than the end point. It looked like any other beach and the colours were dull in the morning. I will have to come at a different time next time, I thought. I told my driver to take me to that fisherman shack for some fish. Reaching there we got to know that he is out in the ocean catching fish and will not return till 1pm in the afternoon. I looked up at the sky and yelled “F**k my life” and requested my driver to quickly take me back to the hotel and then drop me off to the bust station. Im taking the first bus out of Rameshwaram. Poor guy is still telling me that I at least visit the main temple and the APJ Kalam memorial. But I was just too angry and didn’t want to spend any more time in Ramshwaram. I took a local bus since the nicer AC buses were leaving late in the afternoon. I would’ve much rather preferred to take a comfortable bus for this 4 hour journey but didn’t wanted to wait till afternoon, so I found myself a window seat from where I can get a clear look at the Pamban bridge. The water was so blue by this time, the sight of the bridge would be spectacular I thought. The bust left very late. I was tired and it was hot and my body ached, I passed out unknowingly and missed the Pamban bridge – most of it and only got a glimpse of maybe the last 10 metres of a rusty bridge over rich blue sea. I took a deep breath and I thought no more and dosed off quickly. I just wanted to reach the airport as soon as possible so that I can get some sleep. Ask me how to waste a day, I will tell you this tale all over again. I know I will have to visit this part of India once again so I don’t leave it telling happy. 

Here are a few images of the spectacular Pamban bridge from the internet.

Until next time! Jai Shree Raam!


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