A Trip To Varkala – Soft Sands, Cliffs And Sea Food

Varkkala split log canoes on the beach
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The  western coast of  India has a lot of beautiful beaches.  Here you find soft  fine  sand, clear  warm   waters  and  plenty of  sea food, provided  you like the  spicy kind !   Most  of the   beaches  are   close to  fishing    villages,  where for  generations  the  people  has  depended on   the  ocean    to make their  livelihood.    Varkala  too is one  such  beach – beautiful   coastline,  soft  sand , shallow  waters  and plenty of  sea food to go around !  

Varkala  is  in  coastal Kerala ,  about  50 KM  from  Thiruvananthapuram,   the  state  capital.    The Geological Survey of India  has  declared  the  Varkala  Cliffs as  a geological monument . This  is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea.   There are a  few popular  beaches  here –  Varkala Cliffs ,  Papasnanam,  and  Kappil.

Of  these Papanasanam (also known as Varkala Beach),  has  more  religious  significance.  Papanasanam in Malayalam  means  removal  of  sins. The natural spring  in this  beach is  believed to have healing powers, and a dip in the waters here is believed to  cleanse the body and  the  soul.   It is  a  popular  place  to  scatter  the  cremains.   This is  undoubtedly beautiful beach  but  tends  to get  crowded on  days  of  religious  significance.

Varkala boat on the beach
A traditional fisherman’s canoe waiting on the beach.

There is an old   temple – Janardhanaswamy Temple –  overlooking the  Papanasanam beach. It is  believed  to be  have been there for  around  2000  years.  The  day I visited the temple , I  witnessed  a  devotee  being  turned  away, rudely, because he didn’t look “hindu” .  The  gentleman had  been   practicing the  Hinduism for  over  10  years  and  had  been  to very many  religious  sites  all over  India.  Intervening  on his  behalf  I was  told  that “If I let  HIM in  – how  many more  do I have to allow  in ?”. Another  temple official intervened  and  after  asserting  that  he is in compliance  with the  posted  rules , he was  allowed in.

Fortunately this  is not the  case   everywhere. I would   also  like  to point  out  that  Sivagiri Mutt  is  close  to  Varkala.   This is the monument to Sree Narayana Guru, whose  ideology was  “one caste, one religion and one God”.   Very many people  of  Kerala, understand and  appreciate  this  message  and  work  together ignoring  these  social barriers.

All right, this  is  a travel post  and  I  digress .  Time  to get  back on track ..

Varkkala Beach Morning Stroll
This is the place for a morning stroll – Coffee in hand !

 

Varkkala - A Canoe on the beach
A boat and its owner ?

So you guessed  it  right – I was not  thrilled  with  this part of the  beach. But  Varkala  cliffs and  the  adjacent  areas were  quite  another  story.   We  were  lucky to get  reservation on a  property  right  next  to the  beach,  and  make  full use  of  it  we  did. Breakfast  on the  beach ,  dinner on the beach and   a  light  nap in the  afternoon , now  isn’t that the   recipe  for  good  life ?

Varkkala - A fisherman Setting out on a split log canoe
A fisherman setting out in the split log canoe – his sons lending him a a hand .

Many a  fishing  nets   are cast in the night or in the  wee hours of  the morning .  The  fishing community is  abuzz  before  sundown. Take a  stroll  on the beach in the morning and you hear  their  rhythmic  chants  as  they pull in the  large Purse Siene  nets.  Once the  catch is  inspected  and  determined   the haggling  begins …  They  say  this a  universal art of  deal making. Though I do not understand this language, I was  definitely  amused  by their  flair for  drama.

Varkala- Fisherman pulling the nets out in the morning
Tourists lending a hand to haul out the net

 

Fisherman on the beach - varkala

.. haul .. and haul …

 

 

Varkala - morning catch
.. and here comes the catch of the day

 

Notice  how  it  is  all “fishermen”. As  a  rule  the  ladies  do not  go  fishing,  but  they  do  sell the   fish.   They used  to carry  loads  of  fish  to the  villages   inland.  Many  housewives used   to  wait  up  for  the  catch of  the  day brought by them.  Once  they have  exhausted  their  stash  they get  on the next  bus  home  to  take  care  of other  household  duties.

Varkala - taking a stroll on the beach
Varkala – taking a stroll on the beach

 

Catching some waves at the Varkala Cliff Beach
Catching some waves at the Varkala Cliff Beach

The cliff is a tourist hub . Top of the   cliff is   lined   with   cafes and shops   selling souvenirs. If not in the mood for shopping you can   avoid these completely and climb down   to a beautiful   beach .  Take a walk   along the beach   to either   side   to leave the   tourist hub behind .  This is  the  place  for  you to break out your boards, or to  just   take a dip and sun bathe …

This is a   very shallow  beach – kid   friendly.   I think one of  my kids  learnt  to boogie board here.  And   according  to another – mommy on the  board  is  like a  chicken  leaning  to fly on a  rocket.  Whatever  that  means !!!.

This beach is  not  as  commercialized  as  the  popular  beach – Kovalam.     I would  still caution you to keep your  wits  around , especially if  you have   children   with  you  or  you are  travelling  single.

Varkala - Dinner on the beach
Trying to read the menu ..

Like I mentioned  earlier – dinner at the  beach !!   Ocean on one  side  and the  Christmas  decorations on the  other …

 

Where

How To Reach : Nearest  railway station is Varkkala Sivagiri Railway Station.  One could  fly into the  Kochi airport or Thiruvananthapuram  airport  and  drive  to Varkala  as  well.

Things To Do

  • Enjoy the  beach ,  sightseeing , para sailing ,  windsurfing …
  • Sample  the  local  cuisine,  but ask to  hold  the  chilies if  you don’t  prefer  spicy food.  Sample a  few of  the  Kerala  breads like palappam.
  • If you are  religiously/culturally/spiritually inclined  visit  the  nearby temples  and  Mutts.
  • There are  many ayurveda  (traditional medicine) centers  popular  for  restorative  massages here.  A  full  body massage  will  make  you tired ,  relaxed  and   ready for  the next   challenge 🙂

When To Visit

Late Dec  – beginning of March .  March – June  is  very humid  and  hot. June – August   and  mid  to late Oct –  Mid Dec are  the  monsoon months  when  Kerala  when  intense  showers are  common.   The  monsoon months in Kerala is  a unique  experience but  chances are that  the  beaches  are under water  most  of  this  time .

Why

This is an ideal  beach vacation in south India, without  the  usual tourist traps. From the religious to adventurous you can find something for everyone in the group here.

Things To Keep In Mind

The local people are nice, but if you are not from Kerala or do not speak the language, make sure that you are in familiar surroundings by night fall.

Where ever you are staying, bring a flashlight along.

 


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