Visit Varkala for a L'il Luxury, High Cliffs, Sandy Beaches & Tandoori Fish

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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.

Varkala is like that. Varkala is a coastal town and municipality in Thiruvananthapuram district situated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the suburban town of Thiruvananthapuram.

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 place, 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.

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!

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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, ocher, 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 extremely high cliffs. 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?

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.

Sambrita Basu
Sambrita Basu is a food-fascinated travel writer and photographer based out of Bangalore India. A background and a degree in hospitality and restaurant management paved her interest in food. As the secretary of the institution’s editorial club, she contributed regularly and wrote about food in their annual magazine, A la Carte.

Sambrita has published interviews of celebrity authors and business veterans in international publications like Infineon. Her contributions also include photographs on foods and restaurants of Bangalore for DNA—a leading newspaper publication in Bangalore. Sambrita’s creative expressions transport readers to alleys, hotels, hide-outs, restaurants, attics, and spice markets in several cities across the world.

Sam (as she is popularly known by her friends and family) doesn’t write for a living, but she lives to write.
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