For those travellers who are on the constant lookout for a lesser-explored place, especially one that is located alongside the coast, Varkala is just the perfect place to spend those hard earned 3 days of vacation as well as being not so heavy on your pocket either. Located in the state of Kerala, some 2850 kms away from Delhi, to reach there you have to take a flight to Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram and brace yourself for either a 2 hour long drive (cabs are available easily from the airport) or a train journey to Varkala. Don’t get me wrong, this is no crazy party-all-night and go-go bar place, although I’m sure some places might be open till late, i.e. only if you familiarize yourself with some locals.
This one is a place to take it easy, walk along the shores of unbelievably blue waters, gape at the huge cliffs (which have been declared a geological monument by GSI as they date back to the Cenozoic era), sip a drink in one of the restaurants by the cliff and watch the sun set over the horizon.
Varkala is a fairly small stretch of land on the cliffs that roll down to the most gorgeous beaches with blue water lapping on the shores, its most popular being the Papanasam beach. Close to this is the 2000 year old Janardana Swami temple, because of which there will be a lot of people visiting to offer their prayers and spilling over to the beach as well, especially on religious occasions. However there are still a fair number of people basking in the sun or under a beach umbrella, taking intermittent dips into the sea.
It is almost like a small cove flanked by 15m high cliffs, with most of the ‘liveliness’ happening at the north cliff. Here it’s a beautiful short walk along the cliff with one side having souvenir shops and places to eat while the other side is an unhindered view of the Arabian Sea. However there is the lesser explored ‘South Cliff’ with resorts both luxurious and affordable dotting the edge of the cliff and a pristine stretch of beach below. The beaches here may not be as tranquil as it is on Papanasam but they are clean, quiet, devoid of people, have small springs of water emerging from the cliffs (which is useful to wash the salty sea water off you), offer beach umbrellas for a small price and have lifeguards keeping their eyes open. This one is absolutely gorgeous and highly recommended.
Although Kerala is one of the few places in the country with Kaolin or China Clay mines, most of the products are made for export. Ironically, most of the ceramics being used as cutlery are brought in from other states, primarily from north of the country. However if you take a walk down to the south cliff, you will find a quaint resort with some studio pottery on display where you can also pick up small souvenirs from Varkala. The artists derive their inspiration from the ocean, which is why most of their designs will be reminiscent of sea creatures such as sea anemones and starfish. I’m assuming once they set up shop you can attend workshops also by the sea, which would be pretty phenomenal.
For those who slog it out at work everyday and return home with sore eyes, bodyache and a foul attitude (reminds me of Mr Peas), Varkala is medicine for the soul. There are innumerous Ayurvedic spas and naturopathy treatment centres here, you can probably stay at any one and let them ‘treat’ you, or take a short ayurvedic massage from either a standalone place or walk into one of the bigger resorts and avail of the treatment being offered there, people here don’t discriminate in the name of wellness. For vegan / vegetarian food aficionados, numerous places will offer local Malyali, North Indian and Western cuisines, however for those who relish their seafood and meat, please go there hungry. Many restaurants will display their ‘catch-of-the-day’ outside, and this will mostly have massive sized merlin fish, crabs and king prawns, plus the food here has so many flavours that it will blow you away.
Going off track, we tried ‘toddy’, a form of palm wine, after hearing about it for many years. Sap collected early morning from coconut trees is left to ferment during the day and served as an alcoholic drink in Kerala. You will have to look hard for this, perhaps take a local into confidence to get to one of these places. If you do find them, do not forget to try food there, we had crabs and ohh boy were they spicy.
There is no need to rent a car as you can pretty much get around everywhere on foot, also don’t forget to carry an insect repellant and sunscreen. Do carry back goodies like cinnamon and tapioca chips from here as you don’t get them like these elsewhere. All in all, if you’re looking for a place relatively unexplored and very light on the pocket, this is the one.