“I am coming to Kerala,’ said the voice on the other side of the phone; “on one condition,” that voice added sternly, “we must stay at Varkala at least for one night.” The voice belonged to none other than one of my closest friends. As exciting as the idea sounded I was a bit anxious, though we have been to Varkala many times before, the prospect of staying in a resort there alone with a female friend of mine would not be very exciting for my parents. Kerala is slowly becoming open to the idea of Indian women holidaying alone but parents still fear for the safety of their girls because the patriarchal society is not often sensitive to the needs of female travelers and small towns in Kerala are still in the process of getting used to their independent, wander lusting young women who travel without a male guardian. However, I had not met my friend in a long time and it was high time we did something together and we could not think of a better place than Varkala.
Varkala is a coastal town in Thiruvanathapuram district of Kerala. It is approximately 50 kilometers from Thiruvanathapuram and around 32 kilometers from Kollam town. State government run air-conditioned buses run between Thiruvanathapuram and Varkala everyday though not very frequently. You can check the bus timetable before planning your holiday. Travelers can also take a train to Varkala from Thiruvanathapuram but ensure that the train stops at the Varkala railway station before booking your ticket, from the Varkala station you can take an auto rickshaw to the most exciting part of Varkala, the cliff with the beautiful blue sea below. The Varkala beach is called the ‘Papanasham’ beach and it is believed that a dip in the holy waters of this beach can wash away all your sins.
My friend was flying into Kochi from Bangalore, so we took a train from Ernakulam to Trivandrum. It takes about 4.5 hours by train from Ernakulam but when two great friends meet after a long time, 4.5 hours can seem like 4.5 minutes. Much to our dismay, we reached Varkala after sunset but the disappointment did not last too long. We were used to seeing Varkala by day and this was a different scene altogether. The shacks were getting ready to welcome guests for dinner, they were beautifully lit with fairy lights and candle lights on tables transformed the otherwise ordinary looking shacks to one of those magical places you would want to take your date to, for an unforgettable evening. We had to walk for about ten to fifteen minutes to get to our resort on the cliff and the walk was made easier by the music that came from these shacks and the sound of the sea below the cliff. The cliff has a well laid out path and is decorated by the shacks and resorts on one side and the sea on the other.
We checked-in to our room, left our bags and could not wait to go and get some dinner. We sat down in one of the shacks and then our waiter suggested that we choose the prawns that we would like for dinner. You can choose from the fresh Seafood displayed outside the shack and they will cook it for you, the way you would like to have it. We had some yummy prawns and a pizza and started imaging what our next day would be like. We had always wanted to do this and finally we were here. We had dreamt of waking up near the beach and going for an early morning stroll.
The next morning we did exactly what we had planned. We went for a walk, climbed down the steep steps that lead to the beach from the cliff. My friend is a fitness freak so she did her exercises and tried to get me to move my inflexible body, after a few attempts that failed, I let her continue with her exercises while I decided to relive my childhood days making sand castles and just generally enjoying one of my favorite views- the waves washing the sand. We decided that it was time for breakfast and we climbed back up. Most of the shacks here serve continental breakfast and you can also get pancakes (not the fluffy pancakes these look more like crepes) with banana and Nutella which is a favorite of mine and which can be found in most touristy beach towns in India. I ordered a yummy cold chocolate milkshake to go with it. There is something about drinking cold chocolate milkshake by the beach on a hot sunny day. It just feels wonderful. After breakfast we decided to explore the rest of the shacks.
Shacks sell a lot of beach wear ranging from sarongs, kaftans, tops and most of them come with interesting psychedelic patterns and prints very typical of India. Some shops sell articles made of leather from footwear to bags to lovely leather bound journals. There are various places that offer Ayurvedic massages and you can choose from the various packages they offer from a relaxing head massage to a rejuvenating full body massage. There are also shacks that sell jewelry made of semi precious stones and silver. However, one should be aware that some of these shops might sell jewelry made of other materials claiming that it is original silver and hence try and verify before buying. If you keep walking on the cliff you will reach a beautiful coconut grove. You can rest under the shade of these trees on the beautiful green grass and enjoy the view of the sea from there as well. We sat for a while under the trees and walked back to our resort.
We had booked our resort for just one day and hence we had to check-out by 12.00pm. We had a few more hours before leaving for the train station; we decided to spend it at one of the shacks at the beginning of the cliff, a favorite among many tourists. We had lunch there. You can have a traditional Kerala lunch with Kerala rice, veggies and Pappadam (an Indian flat bread) if you feel like it or even Tex-Mex. After lunch I decided to indulge in some more cold chocolate while my friend sipped on some hot green tea. The golden rays of the sun added a special glow to our faces and we decided to make use of the magic hour to click some pictures. It was time to leave but we knew that Varkala was going to see our pretty faces often.
In addition to the cliff and the beach, there is a very famous 2000 year old temple in Varkala that can be visited. It is called Janardana Swami temple. You can also visit the famous backwaters of Paravur, which is about 12-15 kilometers from Varkala and see the Paravur Lake meeting the Arabian Sea. One can also visit the Ponnumthuruthu Island (Golden Island) by taking a boat from a place called Nedunganda (about 7 kilometers from Varkala). A lovely ferry/country boat cruise for about thirty minutes through the backwaters will get you to the island which has a temple. There is also a lighthouse in a place called Anchuthengu (Anjengo) which is about 5 kilometers from Varkala. You can climb the steps leading to the top of the lighthouse for an amazing view of the area. The lighthouse is open after 3pm. You can also visit the remains of an old fort built by the British East India Company. Hiring a bike/scooter is a nice way to explore Varkala and its surrounding areas.
There are many resorts to choose from to stay in Varkala, some are located on the cliff and then there are others in the interior areas. Varkala offers a Goan feel in Kerala minus the Feni and the big parties. However, if you want to bask in the sun on a beautiful sandy beach, do some Yoga, sit in the shacks and look at the sea, swim,surf and paraglide (mainly during season- Nov to Jan) in a not too crowded beach, Varkala is your place.