Annular Solar Eclipse at Rameswaram 

It all started off sometime in 2008, when we discovered that there will be an annular eclipse in Jan 2010 that doesn’t require too much of travelling. We had initially planned to observe from Madurai. Later plans changed and the want of being closer to the central line of the eclipse, took us to Rameswaram.

We conveniently forgot about the eclipse until November 2009 when we realised that the train tickets were already running into waiting list! Immediately, we initiated the whole planning procedure, which started off with a Google Spreadsheet where interested persons signed up for the trip. Towards the end of November, Akarsh and me booked tickets for the 40 odd people who had signed up. Since we were sort of late, our seats were scattered all along the length of the train, with at least a few of us in every compartment.

Back to college after the December vacation, we had around 15 days to actually plan the trip. In order to do this, Akarsh suggested that we should visit Rameswaram once beforehand. This turned out to be a really useful idea. Vinay Hegde and me visited Rameswaram onΒ  the weekend before the eclipse. We started from Chennai on Friday night, and after a 12 hour overnight bus journey, reached Ramnad the next morning. Our first item on the priority list was to get some accommodation for the huge group. We spent the whole morning on this, but in vain. Due to thai amavAsai, there was virtually no place to stay anywhere in Rameswaram. We informed Akarsh about this who was back home in IITM, and he decided to do something about this while we went on the next item – finding an observation site. We had ruled out any area near the Rameswaram temple or Dhanushkodi because of the scary stories we heard from the locals about huge crowds and stampedes. But we wanted to stay on the island, otherwise we would be losing out on precious annularity time. We took a bus to Pamban (west coast of the island) and started surveying the beaches there. We found them to be extremely dirty.

We came across the local police station and decided to go in and ask for help. The inspector in the station suggested Vivekananda Mani Mandapam. We took an auto rickshaw to the place and immediately fell in love with it. The Mani Mandapam was away from all human habitation, very clean and extremely silent. And the beaches behind the Mandapam were simply beautiful. We talked to Mr. Radhakrishnan, the care taker of the place, who was very receptive to the idea of a group from Chennai coming down there to observe the eclipse.

So, Observation site – Check. It was around 3 pm and we hadn’t had lunch. But we had absolutely no time to lose. Meanwhile, Akarsh had spoken to his dad, who with the help of his friend, directed us to Aruna Stores in Ramnad. We caught the next bus to Ramnad, and reached Aruna Stores by 4 pm. With their help, we booked accommodation for all the 40 of us in Jodhi Lodge. The owner took us to an “Iyengar” Hotel nearby and showed us around his book store.Β  He seemed to be very proud of the fact that Dr. Abdul Kalam used to buy books from this store. πŸ™‚

Accommodation – Check. It was 6:30 pm. We still had some time to catch the train. We decided to look out for local travel options. We found a street with lots of vans. We approached one of the drivers. He agreed to arrange for two vans to pick us up from the Railway station and take us to the observation site. This completed our Things to do for the day. We had a satisfactory dinner and waited for the train to arrive. On – site planning – Check.

Back home, we had lots of things to get ready – telescope projection setup and get various letters signed by various people. With great help from Vinay, Akshay, Smruthi, Naveen (even though he was not coming to Ramseswaram) and a few others, we got all this done. The projection setup for the telescope was inspired by this. The raw materials used for this – A dustbin, a PVC pipe and some butter paper! It was really interesting to drill holes through the dustbin using focused sunlight through the telescope!

Two days before we left, we convened a meeting to decide on our itinerary and to brief everyone about various issues involved with the trip. On 14th Jan 2010, we were off !

We had an ‘attendance sheet’ with us and to make sure that everyone was on the train, Vinay and me did a quick run along the length of the train two minutes before the departure to make sure everyone was inside. I enjoyed this!

We reached Ramnad at around 8 AM on 15th Jan, and as promised, found two vans waiting for us outside the Railway station. The skies were totally cloudy, but Akarsh reassured us that it would clear up by noon. We went to the lodge, quickly freshened ourselves up and left for Pamban. We were stopped just before Pamban Bridge in order to allow the Tamil Nadu Governor to get into Rameswaram, who was apparently getting there to watch the eclipse himself. Fortunately, the wait ended in just around 20 mins and we continued towards Pamban.

All of us enjoyed clicking the amazing view from the Pamban bridge!

We reached the observation site around 11:15 am. I could never forget the chorus ‘wow’ as we approached the Vivekanandar Manimandapam. It was indeed a beautiful place.

By the time we arrived at the place, the partial phase of the eclipse had already started. We quickly set up all our instruments and started observing. Our dustbin – butter paper projection system was a great hit!

Photo Credit :Β  Rahul Poruri

We patiently observed the entire (almost) length of the eclipse. There were absolutely no clouds anywhere during the eclipse! Highlights of the show were Bailey’s Beads and the eclipse tree. Again, I can’t forget the collective Wow during the Bailey’s Beads. Below is a photo from Siddheshwar Patri.

We also had fun with pinhole projections and the eclipse tree under which we could see uncountable eclipsed suns!

Photo Credit :Β  Rahul Poruri

Here are my versions of the entire eclipse sequence.

Lots of local people enjoyed watching the eclipse with us. I particularly liked this photo πŸ™‚

Photo Credit : Akarsh Simha

After the eclipse was over, a part of the crowd from IITM jumped into the water, unable to resist the temptation offered by very clean waters.

Some of us were really hungry. We decided to leave the people in the water alone and go in search of food. It was too late (3 pm) for lunch. So we had to make do with cakes and tea at a bakery. The tea was exceptionally good. We came back to our Manimandapam to pick up the ones in the water and head to Ramnad to fill our stomachs. There were plans of overnight observation from the Manimandapam. Moreover, I had to attend a telephonic interview. So I chose to stay back with the telescope and attend the interview while others went off to Ramnad. I was really pleased when Sivaraman, Smruthi, Sathish and Rahul volunteered to stay back with me πŸ™‚ . I was very happy after my interview and already began to feel really satisfied with the trip. Till the others returned, we decided to have fun with some photos to forget our hunger. This particular photo generated a lot of LOLs (@ Sathish) πŸ˜€

As it turned dark, we sat on the beach with mouths wide open looking at the sky. The sky was simply amazing! Unwilling to stay put, we started taking fixed tripod photos until others arrived.

Around 8:30 PM, Akarsh and Akshay arrived. More importantly, they got us food! While we gorged, Akarsh and Akshay set up the telescope on the beach. We observed the Orion Nebula, some open and globular clusters. But the highlight of the night was most definitely the Large Magellanic Cloud. Being extremely South in the sky, it is very difficult to observe from the Northern Hemisphere. But we took advantage of the latitude of the place (9 deg N) and seas towards the southern direction. Many of us were able to see it naked eye. I took a photo of it to help confirm the naked eye observation.

We had a great night of observation with intermittent naps. Next day morning, we got up, took some groups photos on the beach and left for Ramnad

The next day, 16th Jan, all of us split up and went our own ways. One group went to Dhanushkodi (Tip of Rameshwaram Island, stone’s throw from Sri Lanka). Since there’s no proper road to the place, they had to travel in weird vehicles.I’m guessing they had a lot of fun!

Photo Credit :Β  Rahul Poruri

Another group went into the Rameswaram Temple. Sathish, Smruthi and me left towards Karaikkudi to attempt our first confluence visit (10 N, 79 E). Blog post about that later. We boarded the train really late into the night at Trichy almost half way from Ramnad to Chennai! We reached Chennai next morning. Here’s a pic taken at Chennai Egmore after we got down. This was one trip that I’ll never forget! Everything just worked fine, and I really had the satisfaction of having helped organise something not so trivial and succeeded!

Photo Credit : Akarsh Simha