Geographically located in Thiruvananthapuram, and about 30 kilometres from the city of Kollam, Varkala is Kerala’s best kept secret. Home to various temples, shrines and a breathtaking beach, Varkala’s highlight is the long laterrite Cliff overlooking the beach, the only one in Kerala. The walk along the cliff is an approximate 600 meters with the beach view on one side and numerous spas, restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops on the other. To get down to the beach, one could trek down through a pathway on the extreme end of the cliff or head down a steep flight of stairs directly into the beach. If you are with someone who has knee issues, don’t choose option 2.
An ideal holiday to Varkala is to be busy doing nothing – waking up to the sound of the waves, swimming in the beach, a heavy lunch, the afternoon siesta, shopping and dinner with trans music playing in the back. A natural spring, the purest form of water on the side of the cliff, will serve as your pre and post beach shower and quench your thirst. It will be easy to spot this, trust me.
However, since you have anyway travelled to his beauty, you might as well explore other tourist destinations and other little gems I found in and around. Rent a bike though.
- Sivagiri Mutt – Located 2 kilometres near the Varkala railway station, the mutt is the final resting place (Samadhi) of Shri Narayana Guru, a social reformer and Hindu philosopher. The pilgrimage days extend from 30 December to 1st January every year, where thousands of devotees dressed in bright yellow walk kilometres to reach the Samadhi in order to pay homage to their Guru. You may choose to wear conservative clothes should you visit it.
- Janadharnan Swami Kshetram – A 2000 year old temple dedicated to Lord Janardhana, one of the several names given to Lord Vishnu. Located on a table-top, be prepared to climb an overwhelming flight of steps to reach the deity. Non-hindus are not permitted to enter the sanctum but can wander around it, and of course, wear conservative clothes. (Men will be required to take off their shirts)
- Kaapil beach – An off-road from the Varkala-Paravur road bordered by the beach on one side and a lake on the other. During monsoons, the beach and the lake coalesce at a point to form a single body which makes it highly dangerous for a swim during this time. You can also see the Varkala cliff on your left and Kollam beach on your right.
- Paravur beach (Theeradesham) – Located hardly any distance from Varkala is this breathtaking and almost unknown beach. There are several rock groynes built from the shore to interrupt the waves crashing. Walk up to the end of the groyne, the view is overwhelming.
- Elephant shed (Aana kottil) – Situated in Poothakulam on Paravur -Parapally road, the shed gained popularity owing to birth of Shivan Kutty – first elephant to be born to domesticated elephants. While you can take pictures with them, make sure you hand over a crisp 100 Rupee note to the handler. Feed them bananas too, you’ll get them from a shop 100 mts away.
- Buy your own fish – To watch them fisherman fight the waves on a fibre boat, slightly larger than a canoe, and bring in the fresh fish of the day is quite something. Ranging from sting rays, crabs and sardines alike, buying fish could not get fresher for good number of locals and hotel agents. If someone has a mammoth catch, you will be lucky to witness a live auction. The fish is then either sold for much higher prices at the local market or to you. Oh, btw did I mention you need to be at Paravur beach by 6 am to see this?
Varkala has a sizeable number of people from all over the world visiting during New Years.If you do plan to join them on 31 Dec, it is advisable to head in early (7pm) to the Cliff and leave real late. The local crowd may increase in number and getting out of the cliff gates would get tough and suffocating. Having been to Varkala more than twice now, I do have a favourite restaurant there- Clafoutti. Goes without saying that you must try the sea food here. Also, try them local – find a toddy shop and try Kerala’s famous knocker – there has to be a reason why Kerala has the country’s highest alcohol consumption.
The ideal time to visit would be around October end to March. However, if you are looking for a much cheaper deal, you could choose to travel much before the peak season starts. A trip only to Varkala can last you 4-5 days, however others differ. For instance, Biji Ratheesh, who lets out her house, has a family from Russia come in every 6 months in a year. “They love it here. They’ve even adopted a stray who we take care of when they leave”, she says. Well, looks like Varkala is not going to be a secret for long.
Featured image -Flickr