Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge)

On June 17, 2012 · 5 Comments

Articles often influence new 12MC articles that I never anticipated originally, as is the case today. Actually, this one come from a comment on All Ways – Every Cardinal Direction by reader "Snabelabe." I got fixated somehow on a link embedded in the comment, a list of countries and territories by border/area ratio.

I always gravitate towards extremes on these lists, the items at the very top and the very bottom. The bottom in this one featured self-contained island nations, all with ratios of zero because they didn’t have any land borders with other nations. I found that meaningless from an oddity perspective so my eyes wandered up the list to the first non-zero value. Sri Lanka had the lowest border-to-area ratio of any nation or territory listed, at 0.0000015 m/km2.

Sri Lanka? — I was muttering to myself because I hadn’t yet had my first cup of coffee for the morning — that’s an island. What land border? Yet, according to the list, it abuts another nation for 0.1 km.



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The obvious candidate is India. Sri Lanka rests like a little teardrop off of the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Really, it’s not all that distant when one ponders the situation. Only the Palk Straight separates the Tamil Nadu state of India and the Mannar district of Sri Lanka, with a total distance of maybe 100km at its widest? Drill down and one notices other places that come considerably closer. The area known as Rama Setu or Adam’s Bridge comes closest yet. This chain of islets, shoals, sandbars and shallows nearly connects Sri Lanka to India contiguously. It’s alleged that land pokes just high enough above water at a crucial point to provide a brief overland boundary between the two nations.



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I guess maybe I must have heard about Rama Setu at one point or another. It seems like the type of geo-oddity that would grab my attention. I must have either overlooked it or forgotten about it, so it was an unexpected joy to either find it or become reacquainted with it.

Rama Setu used to connect Sri Lanka to India in a literal sense. "It was reportedly passable on foot up to the 15th century until storms deepened the channel: temple records seem to say that Rama’s Bridge was completely above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in 1480 CE."

The origin of Rama Setu is still a bit of a geological mystery. One set of theories centers on a ridge created as Sri Lanka pulled away from India. Another focus on longshore drifting and tombolos (I do love a good tombolo!). A Hindu religious origin has been ascribed to it in a Sanskrit epic, which doesn’t surprise me considering the formation has been around for a long time and it’s pretty impressive. Modern-day fringe researchers also postulate that Adam’s Bridge is literally a bridge, constructed by intelligent yet unknown hands (aliens, lost civilizations, the usual suspects). I’m not going to wade into those later waters. If you want to hit the search engines and poke around a bit, go for it.


Adams Bridge aerial
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5)

What everyone can agree upon, however, is that Rama Setu impedes commercial shipping albeit they disagree on whether that matters or not. Only the smallest, lowest draft vessels can make it through. Everything else has to go around Sri Lanka and that’s why the government of India wishes to build the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal.

Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project which envisages dredging of a ship channel across the Palk straits between India and Srilanka is finally taking shape. The project will allow ships sailing between the east and west costs of India to have a straight passage through India’s territorial waters, instead of having to circumvent Sri Lanka. This will lead to a saving of up to 424 nautical miles (780 Km) and up to to 30 hours in sailing time. Two channels will be created — one across north of Adam’s Bridge… and another through the shallows of Palk Bay, deepening the Palk straights.

It seems like a straightforward idea although it’s wrapped in controversies from one end to the other. Some object to the project from a religious perspective (Rama Setu is a sacred structure to Hindus) and others from an environmental perspective (it has the potential to alter alignment of ocean currents in a biologically sensitive area). Still others argue that it’s simply not cost effective economically.

Is there truly a land boundary between India and Sri Lanka as claimed? That’s proved to be more elusive than I figured. It’s possible that a border perhaps crosses one of the islets or sandbars, either continuously or intermittently. I’m not convinced it’s entirely meaningful.

I wonder if there are other international borders that may (or may nearly) have been erased by natural forces?

On June 17, 2012 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge)”

  1. I can think of one that was created by natural forces: the Spanish-Moroccan border at Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, which didn’t exist until a 1934 storm.

  2. Greg says:

    The (current) United States/Russia border in the Bering Strait comes to mind as a border destroyed by natural forces.

    • January First-of-May says:

      Well, it became a border well after it was destroyed 🙂 but still could count.
      For another example, I thought there could be a bisected island somewhere in Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea, but apparently that’s not the case (or at least I wasn’t able to find any). Still, the situation in the Talbot Islands is confusing enough that there could’ve easily been a border that got eroded later on (especially between the mainland and Kussa Island).

  3. Calgully says:

    There is definitely no land border in Torres Strait. Australia has no international land borders. There are Australian Islands located tantalisingly close to PNG however – see this link http://www.nma.gov.au/av/zoomify/bipotaim/TorresStraitMap.html

  4. Sergio Macías says:

    There is a border between Spain and Morocco with a 50m lenght. Formerly an island, an earthquake in 1930 join the island with the mainland with a sandbar. This information is available in the Spanish Wikipedia. The English Wikipedia doesn’t record the earthquake:

    https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pe%C3%B1%C3%B3n_de_V%C3%A9lez_de_la_Gomera
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pe%C3%B1%C3%B3n_de_V%C3%A9lez_de_la_Gomera

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