Sun-kissed purity of Varkala

This piece was first published in the Nov-Dec 2013 issue of Travel Secrets Magazine. Some words vary. Published story has photographs contributed by a professional. 

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I am sitting in Café Del Mar, under an orange sky. The evening hums with the sights and sounds of small town life, the coffee is perfect, and I feel…complete.

No, I am not somewhere in Europe or California. The place is Varkala, a coastal town that sits 75 easy kilometers from Kovalam, Kerala’s more celebrated beach beauty.  Not many know about it or choose to visit it, but now that I am here, I can tell you Varkala is a brilliant travel secret!

The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner self, and a temple island draws you toward its quiet beauty. The town itself is slow and unspoilt ; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take  lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between the months of October and May;  wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add life and soul to the place, and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you elated till you decide to head back again.

The cafe gives you breath taking views of the sea and serves some delicious Bolognese pasta and coffee.

The cafe gives you breath taking views of the sea and serves some delicious Bolognese pasta and coffee.

I arrive in Varkala after a five-hour bus drive from Cochin. I check into the backpackers hotel called Vedanta Wake up! that has a beautiful property complete with a kitchen and entertainment lounge for its guests and convenient dormitory facilities for single travelers. At the reception, I am advised to walk towards the helipad close to the North Cliff beach, where most tourists hang out. I amble along, not expecting much, but imagine my surprise when I realise that the  ‘narrow lane’ is actually a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff.

Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost  a kilometer, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering  on the other side. Is it just me or do few people know that Kerala has a cliff beach? I walk on, resisting the invitation held out by the spas and shops, focusing instead on the sound of the waves crashing against the cliff and the sight of the distant sun hidden behind white clouds, till I reach the northern tip. Here,  coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand.

north cliff

The North Cliff sidewalk

Later, back in town,  I am fortunate to come across Tulasi Nair, an English speaking autodriver who readily agrees to  play my tour guide for the rest of the day. He tells me about the famous Varkala beach, locally called Papanasam beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end of the beach are mineral water springs whose medicinal properties  attract people from all over the world.

Riding past  Odayam Beach, we drive eight kilometers to  Kappil town, and onward to  Kappil Fishing Village. Rich Vettakada fishermen live here by a small lake. Low-roofed huts dot the beach, housing fish and fishing equipment.  Fishermen sit around, braving the strong sea breeze. Some are building their nets for the next catch, while some take a break to play a game of cards by their boats.

Kappil fishing village (2)

Huts used to store fishing equipment in Kappil fishing village

kappil fishing village

Fishermen at work

 

The seashore town of Kappil, that comes into complete view after we cross the fishing village, is a vision in blue and green. You could go boating  in the sea, cruise through the backwaters, discover the lagoon ahead or just laze by the beach – every option is a complete treat.

Kappil backwaters

View from the bridge – Kappil backwaters

Tulasi takes me to a few temples, among which I love the  Shiva- Parvathi Temple in the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island. You reach here by  boat from Nenduganda Village. I take the boat ride solely to make sure that a temple really exists. In the midst of a lush forest, with a chirpy bird life, the temple is a gem; one I would invite you to discover on your own, rather than give away its allure by sharing a picture. Locals call it the ‘Golden Temple’.

Golden Temple

A boat from here takes you to Golden Temple

Another essential stopover:  the historical Anjengo Fort that dates back to the East India Company. There’s a lovely  view from the lighthouse here. This is when Tulasi assures me that we are inching closer to the Anjengo fishing hamlet that I had been rooting for. Driving through this hamlet is a sensory feast—we scud past  vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, a group of church-goers saying their daily prayer, children dancing out of school, and glimpses of a beautiful stretch of sea that the Latin Christian Mukuva community lives beside. All of it makes me feel proud  that the community has  held on to its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything around it.

latin christian mukuva community

A member of the Latin Christian Mukuva community drying his catch of the day

Lagoon

Discovering a lagoon by the construction site of the bridge

At the end of  Anjengo, a bridge is coming up. They say it will make the drive to Trivandrum Airport easier. Here, I discover another untouched blue lagoon and as I take in the sight, I sincerely pray that nothing takes away from the simplicity of this beautiful place and its people. I pray for its sun-kissed purity.

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Also read Off I Go – On a week of backpacking around Kerala for more details about my experiences during the trip in September 2013.

Want to discoverVarkala? Read on:You can take a flight to Cochin International Airport and then go to the train station in Ernakulam where all the trains going towards Trivandrum have a stop at Varkala. It is a 4-5 hour scenic train journey away.

The easier way, however,would be to fly to Trivandrum International Airport instead and either take a train from Trivandrum Central Station or take a bus from the Central Bus Station located opoosite it. You can also take a cab to cover the short distance of 50 km to Varkala.

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