We Var at Varkala!

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Travel Tales | 19 comments

We Var at Varkala!

I have always been disillusioned with the dynamics between siblings. Having been a spoilt only-child myself, it is almost difficult for me to excavate this mystery. Ever since my twins surfaced, one of my hardest challenges had been to  understand and live with the fact that every time T and N  pull each others’ hair out, they spell love all the way!  Through the years, I have predictably grown wiser. Apart from that I have also realized that there will always be a balance of characters between the two. It will balance out and compliment each others’ personae like two open ends of a perfect jigsaw. Two distinct and different entities, that will seamlessly bond with unconditional love for each other.  I have discovered that amongst most siblings, the older one is filled with verve and exuberance, with an I-care-a damn of an attitude tuned in. And, the younger one is often the most under-estimated– full of restore, bold,poised and not the least bit reluctant to take their place in the sun._MG_9712

Varkala is like that. And, unlike to its elder twin, Kovalam, it is not just about the sunshine. It’s markedly intrepid, and in your face. The handsome cliffs and the rugged shoreline is anything but sophisticated. It has a raw appeal, almost sensuous in character. If you are all about sophistication, luxury, pampering and spa-treatments, and driven by the idea of the brand a place tags itself with rather than the place itself, give Varkala a pass. Not your plate, one morsel.

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The month of May is sweltering; almost blistering. At this time of the year, the tourist season is winding down. Towards the middle of the month, we went as a family to the beach cliffs of Varkala. The parents, who wanted a getaway and experience the scenic wonders of Kerala; the twins, who were excited as a rocket-ship shooting off; and us because we have always loved to travel! I had been pining to see the sea, and in spite of heat warnings I was ready to bear the searing of the summer sun. The crowds had been thinning out perceptibly; and we could make it out in the distraught faces of the trinket vendors,  that the money trail will soon end. And then, written on their faces was the endless wait until September, when the first backpackers start to trickle in again.

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Compared to Kovalam, Varkala is less gaudy, the people are more human, the bonhomie and innocence of a place that is new to the scene. Having said that, I do not want to say anything adverse about Kovalam. I have loved Kovalam. Ever since I visited, earlier in 2010. But if you visit Kovalam you need to be equipped to handle luxury and stay at the The Leela Kovalam. Nothing , and nowhere else will you get to see and soak Kovalam the way you can if you have stayed there!  I think, Kovalam has something of an image problem, at least among backpackers, who think it’s far too touristy. This is rather unfair, because although Kovalam does have a slight air of package holiday about it, it’s still a charming little place with much to recommend, particularly if you’re looking for a restful and stress-free spot for a few days.

When I was little, sun and sand meant mostly clinging on to Baba while he bravely maneuvers the waves in the ocean. I would shriek in joy and squint my eyes to accommodate the salt water. Wet from the sea, I would come ashore, dig my right foot in the warm coffee coloured sand,all the way till my ankle,and start building a sand castle; later decorating the little mound with sea-shells collected during the beach-walk the previous evening. Nostalgic as this was, I thought that this would have also been what my dumplings would want to do! But they had their own plans! Of course, the vastness of the sea, which in their reality was really a big and endless swimming pool, intrigued and fascinated them at the same time! But what they probably cherished more was the freedom! No “don’ts” for them. No rules. No one to tell them that mud is dirty, and running bare feet will result in germs creeping through the toe-nails into their throats! So, every morning, they woke up eager to wear their swim suits and hats. Assimilate their tools and material (Read: red and blue buckets, yellow and pink spades and green and purple moulds in the shape of stars and shells!) and head out to the beach. Pick up sand in the buckets, walk nine-and-a-half steps to the right, pour the sand. Pick up sand that they dropped, fill their buckets again, and walk back nine-and-a-half steps, and then pour the sand back. Repeat. Repeat. And, repeat.  And after every three-and-a-half minutes wash their feet in the sea.  But the joy in their faces, just by being able to do this simple act, made my heart melt. I love them so much!

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Every early morning for the next three days, we stepped out of the cozy, well landscaped resort, onto the amiable beach, and took the graveled steps upto the red cliff.  The jerky and craggy cliffs offered an imposing view of the ocean. The contrast of the maroon soil, alongside the verdant green grass and palm fringes along the walkways, the teal and turquoise waters of the sea against the backdrop of the blue-grey skies- was like an artist’s palette! The patches of dew-washed polka greens on the sides, brushed its cheeks with the tall and handsome palm trees. Cottages and resorts on rent appeared all along the cliff. Purple, ochre, and rama-blue. Sometimes fuchsia pink with inviting paintings adorning its barricades! We spotted a farm. A cow. Several sea-gulls. Fisher-women hanging nets that the menfolk of their household would have brought in, as early as day-break. Bed and breakfast owners washed their white linen. Deep yellow marigold gardens; the rusted path in between, with that lashing sea pushed our hearts to beat a tad bit faster, wanting us to emote and captivate the ‘screenshot’ so that it can remain in our souls forever!

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A 45 minutes walk away from where we were staying was the Kappil beach- a haven where backwaters meet the sea. Beneath a propped-up wooden fishing boat, colourful paint peeling off in strips, two men sat musing over untangling their fishing nets. The frenzied activity of Kappil beach swirls around them: fish were laid out to dry and bartered over, long chains of humans with shining lean muscles laboriously drew the fishing boats to the home-shore.  To the right, beyond the boats and fishing nets, the Keralan coastline disappeared into sea spray, fading into coconut palms as the last visible markers of where ocean meets the land.

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The resort was a homely affair. Run by the friendly duo Gopal and Babu, the Palm Tree Heritage is a cozy and comfortable place to spend a few unwinding days. The have a small sandy cove right in front of the entrance which is very convenient. However, this spot wasn’t very close to the hip and happening cliff top location, nor the real Papanasam beach, for which Varkala is famous for. If early long walks and swims in the sea to increase your appetite, are not your cup of tea, all you might end up doing, is to relax in the cane chairs, sipping on a cooler, staring out  at the miles of ocean ahead, the sun relentless, palm and Casuarina leaves fluttering in the incoming breeze, and, possibly, a spaced-out conversation with the strangers next to you.

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The actual ‘touristy/backpacker’ part of Varkala is sprawled across the top of cliffs directly above the sea, about 3-5km from the main town itself.  A place great for an evening stroll. If you are there, try the food at Clafouti. Have a cuppa Americana in Cafe Del Mar. Along with restaurants, hotels and guest houses line this side of the cliff, facing the sea together with shop after shop selling jewellery and textiles like clothes, bedsheets, wall hangings, etc.  And this is just the first row.  Further back among the coconut palm trees you can find many more rows of hotels of every price range (there is road and vehicle access back there) and occasionally more shops too.

The feeling you have while in Varkala is a bit surreal, probably due to the cliffs themselves.  They are HIGH.  As we casually strolled along the coconut palm lined path, we didn’t have to worry about traffic, crowds or our twins although we did have to give them a stern warning about not going too close to the edge as at times it comes precariously close, often without any barriers to separate us from definite disaster.  Even the locals are wary about using the path at night, when many parts are not lit.  But the night views are incredible, with dotted twinkles of boat lights far ahead in the horizon, and the sound of the misty waves crashing below.

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Varkala was beyond anything that we had envisioned—in a good way. Trustworthy; considering it had avenues for all of us to explore. The parents were happy with a private beach, the slow-paced candlelight dinners, a place where the only disturbance was the sound of sea-breeze. The dumplings loved playing and building castles in the autumn sands and the friendly sea, and the younger parents(us) loved the long walks across the ruddy landscape at a height overlooking a breath-taking sea. And, did I say,time-alone?

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This is the kind of a vacation that leaves an after-taste and wants you to come back for more, and explore. And, while you linger with that taste, the thought invariably segues into your day-dream wishing it wouldn’t end, but just go on and on…

If only we could have gone for a few more days of swimming, more of that Tandoori fish we had, it would have been perfect.

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19 Comments

  1. Absolutely lovely. The kids look happy, maybe we should all move to a beach. Ah if only we didn’t have to earn money in an office everyday.

    How come no significant mention of food this time??

  2. Thank you!
    Good catch 🙂
    Well, food wasn’t the highlight this time. It was all about ice creams for lunch, lemon rice for breakfast and pizza and fries for dinner!
    You will soon know!!
    The only thing worth mentioning was the delightful and fresh tandoori sea bass, that has found it’s way as a mention on this blog!

  3. Lovely. would like to be there someday

  4. Thank you Tumpa di!
    Your photography skills will come to definite use, when you go shutter-bugging there!

  5. Reads like a completely fulfilling vacation that would make anyone envious ! Photos are perfect enough to have anyone consider visiting…Cheers

  6. Thanks much for endorsing the envy through this post. If indeed, it caused you that emotion, my writing feels fulfilled! 🙂
    Great to see you here, Sri! We miss you at work!

  7. It was hard to decide what to see, the stunning landscape or the cartoon show of the kids!
    Only once did they not try to outdo the scenery; and that was when they got Pizza and Pepsi (almost like pleasure-twins !) instead of dreary everyday “adult” food !

  8. Beautiful!

    The pictures are awesome – and you’ve captured the essence of what and where a holiday should be 🙂

  9. Thank you Nasser! Glad you stopped by. You should start penning down your paragliding experience soon! 🙂

  10. After the mountains, with this piece I am now craving the beach! Maybe would be a perfect place for the next trip.

  11. Great blog, Sambrita! Cool pictures too.

    My favorite portions are the places where you describe the varied colors and textures of nature and the pictures of the painting on the hut, the shadows, and the sand spray on your son! All pics had a human touch and looked like just how we see them, and the light has been captured beautifully. Way to go!!

  12. Very nice review about varkala.next time you should try to visit #ponnumthuruthi island or golden isle in English which 10km from varkala beach. This is a very beautiful island owned by my family!

  13. Thanks for stopping by,Shankar! The vacation was so much fun for the kids that I decided to focus the description also, using them as an analogy and putting the spotlight on them! Glad you liked the post and the pictures!

  14. Thanks Chaitu! Absolutely.. Hear your calling! If it’s the beach.. Go for it!

  15. Hi Sharath! Good to meet you! Ya, we heard about the golden island.. But didn’t have the time this time around. But you say your family owns that island? Now, that’s a super link.. That I must explore through you!:-)

  16. Enchanting! I had debated between Varkala and Wayanad last month and opted for the latter. After reading your blog, I will most likely visit Varkala next… Cheers!

  17. Hey Bala! Good to hear from you and see you here! How have you been?
    You must visit Varkala, but you know what Wayanad has it’s own charm as well. I don’t have a write up on that, but monsoon at Wayanad is one surreal experience! Don’t miss it, if you have planned for it!
    But then again, any seaside with a cliff, against a backdrop of pregnant monsoon grey clouds and the sound of the roaring sea, is no mean treat at all!
    PS- I might not have helped you much with your decision, now-have I ?:-)

  18. Very nicely written.Although I was not very fit to actively wander around I still cannot forget the lovely dinner on the beach. The place was so serene & beautiful.
    ..

  19. lovely…The pictures are very very beautiful….And the description, specially on the sibling chemistry is too good….U should now start thinking of your book of travels…

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