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