Varkala in Kerala is paradise.
Remember that feeling you used to get when you was a kid on the morning of your last day on holiday? It was like a deep sadness up in your throat. I haven’t experienced that feeling since about the age of 11 but I certainly felt it on leaving Varkala.
The same cannot be said for our journey to Varkala however…
Our trip began with a long journey on what’s billed as an ‘ultra deluxe’ bus. Let’s just say neither of these words are fitting for either the bus itself or the journey. There were bus strikes that day so already we were worried we may not even leave Trichy, luckily (or so we thought) the bus was running however. After a gruesomely long and uncomfortable ride with way too many stops that prolonged the journey, minus one exciting rest room stop where me and Sapph both agreed we’d peed in cleaner squats after paying 2 rupees for the pleasure of pissing in a shit stained shack with rats. Pardon my french, but I cannot think of any better way to describe it. We finally arrived at A destination, one around an hours drive from Trivandrum where the bus was supposed to finish but the driver decided he was going to go no further.
We were stuck in a town we didn’t even know the name of and no one around was of much help. We eventually managed to find a bus that was running through the strikes and which also finished its route not too far from Trivandrum. We had no other options so jumped onboard for a ride that took about an hour and a half. I won’t lie and say it was all bad though, we saw some amazing scenery on the way. Lots of lush greenery and lakes. We arrived at the last stop and got a rickshaw from there to Trivandrum station. Then from Trivandrum there was a train to Varkala (yay!) which took about 30 minutes. When we arrived in Varkala, all the rickshaws were charging over the odds to drive us to where we were staying because of the bus strikes. We had no choice but to pay - thank heavens as the trip there was truly worth it!
We chose to stay somewhere relatively cheap this time compared to Puducherry, but out of the two I think we can all agree the accommodation in Varkala reigned supreme. We had two chalets between four perched on the cliff top overlooking the Papanasam beach, the view was beautiful and the chalets were perfect. We had a prime spot to watch the sunset and rise over the sea.
Papanasam literally means ‘wash away sins’. It is believed a dip in its waters will wash away all ones sins in life, so good for me I guess! The beach is first and foremost a holy site, family members come here to scatter the ashes of their loved ones because the waters are believed to be so sacred. We witnessed this ritual several times every day.
There is a strip along the cliff top full of shops, restaurants, beauty parlours and hotels. Don’t be under the impression that all this has ruined Varkala though if anything they have added immensly to Varkala’s character as none of them are invasive on the landscape and each offer their own niche. The seafood is fresh in every day and really good, I tasted barracuda for the first time ever and it was damn tasty! Many a vanilla mint milkshake was consumed at Cafe del Mar as well.
One day we decided to go on a backwaters canoe trip. It took us a while to get there from Varkala, but it was gorgeous. We began in the lake then cruised through the narrow back waters for about 2 hours. Our ‘driver’ was a laugh too and let us each have a go at trying to steer the canoe with the long paddle, I was by far the worst as I couldn’t even keep my balance and nearly fell on the poor man and pushed him into the waters! There was one really odd point where he made us get out, watch a woman make a bit of string out of coconut fibres then pay her for it. Many a baffled look was exchanged. We came across a really typically touristy family from Australia too, taking photos of the villagers who lived along the waters washing their clothes. We found this entertaining because we have to do this anyway where we live in India. Trust me, i’ll never underappreciate having a washing machine ever again! I couldn’t possibly begin to try and describe the beauty of the backwaters, they’re what Kerala are famous for - so i’ll let the photos do the talking!
We went straight from our backwaters trip to an elephant reserve. In total we saw 5 elephants there, one of them being the largest in South Kerala - he was HUGE. We got to feed the elephants bananas which was cute. Though as i’m sure you can imagine there is just no pleasing an elephant when it comes too food! After that we got to ride one of the elephants, it’s the first time i’ve ever done it so I really enjoyed it. Have to say, I never expected elephants to be so bristly and boney, they aren’t the comfiest to ride but it was fun. We finished up the elephant experience by giving the one we rode a wash, she loved it and sometimes sprayed the wate back at us!
Another day we chose to go to Kovalum, where we would of stayed if it wasn’t for a good friend of Sapph’s reccomending us Varkala instead. All I can say is THANK YOU on that one after visiting Kovalum we were so grateful to be staying in Varkala. Kovalum is extremely built up and geared towards tourism, the ‘Benidorm of Kerala’ as I tagged it. It just didn’t have the sparkle or character that Varkala does. Don’t get me wrong we had an enjoyable few hours there, but after that we’d had enough and just wanted to get back!
We made friends with quite a few of the waiters, bar owners and other tourists which was nice; although one guy went bat shit crazy at Mitul and Sapph one night because he expected us to be in his bar at 9pm yet we was eating elsewhere. The truth was we WERE eating dinner, but were going to go to his bar for drinks afterwards but by the time we got there he took it as an insult even though we’d never set anything in stone. I wasn’t at all surprised though, every time we saw him he looked high off his face and was most probably paranoid because of it hence the way he reacted.
Each day (we were there for a total of 5) I swore I was going to get a massage but the day always caught up with me, despite doing very little for the majority of our trip. Just chilling out in the sun, eating and chatting to people. So on the final day I made it my mission! I chose to go for a back massage, facial treatment and eyebrow threading and it was lusssssssssh. For pretty much my entire time in India my back has been in pain because the average Indian is just not 5’10”! A typical example being the bed on the train down, I couldn’t even lie straight in it without my feet sticking out into the aisle - many a person walked by and chose to touch or grab my feet when I was trying to sleep! And the seats on the buses are ridiculous too, I often find myself sitting in some twisted position because I can’t get ‘all of me’ in - so when I can I just occupy two seats now so I can sit comfortably. (No I’m not fat, just lanky and in hindsight not even THAT lanky compared to a lot of people I know so how they cope in Asia is beyond me.) So yeah the back massage out of all three was a welcomed relief and i’ve not been that relaxed since I went to a Hamam in Turkey early last year.
There were a lot of strays in Varkala, they’d crowd you at night which could get quite intimidating. We befriended a dog that we named Boophati who was one of the bar owners, he walked us home on several occassions and was so loyal. He even took a bite for us on the way up to our hotel - an actual saviour!
The journey back was a lot better than the journey to Varkala, in respects that the bus went straight to its destination rather than giving up an hour away from its final stop. However, little can be said again for the comfort if anything it was worse for me thanks to an ignorant man sat in front of me. You can recline the chairs pretty much all the way down on these coaches, making it very uncomfortable for the person behind unless they’re also reclined all the way down; but in turn then the person behind that person is also very uncomfortable… and so on, blah blah blah. Anyway, I passed out pretty quickly to only be woken up by the guy repeatedly trying to smash the chair into my knees so they’d buckle and he could recline all the way. I was in agony! I shouted at him then managed to get back to sleep only to come round to him doing it again, over and over! I was livid and lost my temper with him; did this guy really have no common sense or respect for others? It’s not like he had to sit upright all the way to Trichy, he was already reclined back a fair bit - he was just an absolute arsehole to say the least.
Common sense certainly lacks in a lot of Indian folk that i’ve met, not to generalise of course - but the majority that I’VE come across have none and it is so frustrating!
Since being back we’ve done a lot, but also come across many obstacles that often make me feel like losing the will to live! I’ll save that banter for another time though. ;)
Rox - x
Disclaimer: Our trip to Varkala was funded fully by ourselves and not in any way by ICS or Skillshare International.