Varkala holds a very special place in my heart as my first completely solo vacation. My very own KO moment. When I wondered about the places I wanted to visit, I distinctly leaned towards the not so obvious one’s.
Which is why, I chose Varkala.
It’s not very well-known outside of the hippie network which lends a very “Goa before the Mongols invaded” feel to it. Trust me on this.
To get to Varkala, best get on a plane or bus or train or whatever to Trivandrum. I flew from Hyderabad to Trivandrum “International” Airport one balmy March day and spontaneously combusted on landing. Visit in winter months. Anything beyond 14th of Feb does not count. Its barking bloody hot as early as March.
Once you are here, Varkala is a short ride away either by train or bus. Ask an auto to drop you off at Indian Coffee House, both stations are in the vicinity and iconic lighthouse building is Instagram paradise.Two birds – One stone. KO.
ICH is built like a spire. The tables are built into the outer wall of the lighthouse and makes you feel strangely light-headed. Ditto same menu as all other ICH’s and wonderful coffee.
Snarf down breakfast & catch any local train heading to Varkala town at a measly 17Rs! They’re plentiful, no need to keep watching the clock.The train line hugs the coast and you can smell the sea, and feel the salty wind in your hair. As a bonus, you will also be sharing the local with daily wage laborers so a little modesty goes a long way. And deodorant. Don’t forget deodorant.Someone really should have told them that.
Varkala town is a completely different entity from Varkala the Hippie Hangout. They are in total denial of the each others’ existence, much like Gokarna.
The beach is a sheer drop from the cliff which is at a dizzying height, but the advantage is that you get to see the panorama of the ocean from any point on the cliff top. Restaurants have sprung up all along the edge and most have rooms on top overlooking the sea. Stay at one of these, if you can get a booking. Roads run perpendicular to said cliff and on either side of these perpendicular roads are hostel, hotels, boutique bungalows etc etc.
Life in Varkala revolves around the cliff. Locals run pseudo hippie shops selling small murti’s, agarbatti’s, clothes etc and annoy the bejesus outta you. They will fleece you for every penny you have, so bargain hard.
Breath out the negativity and focus on the three most important things to do in Varkala: Beer, Massage, Sea food.
Beer is always in short supply [the Kerala govt is keen to regress to the dark ages] but your local restaurant / hotel can arrange some at extra cost. Alcohol is expensive in Kerala, be prepared to spend twice as much as you would back home.
Oil though is available in plentiful and must be cheap also considering they pretty much drench you in it at a traditional Kerala massage center (no, they are not spa’s). Typically, I would not choose a Kerala massage ever but since I was in oil country, I decided to go for it. Luckily the place I chose has Shiatsu, Swedish, Thai, the works! I tried them all and found not once difference between one and an another. Not complaining, massages are awesome.
The food is Varkala is un-freaking-believable. ABBA is run by Swedes, Everest German Bakery serves the best cinnamon coffee, Café Italiano was started by an Italian lady who now sends herbs and olive oil from her home town – must be why their food is orgasmic! and Greek themed Blue Moon Café serves fresh sea food prepared the way you want it. The quality of sea food is Varkala is phenomenal – A massive crab is 300Rs inclusive of preparation and is by far the best crab I have ever had in my life. Honestly, its like a mini United Nations out there.
Those who want to check off maximum things on the list can visit popular tourist spots close by like Papanasanam Beach, Janardhan Temple, Sivagiri Mutt, Anjenco Fort etc etc etc. I don’t have the least idea how any of that looks.
I spent three days in Varkala doing pretty much the same thing: Wake, Bake, Chill, Swim, Massage, Food, Beer, Sleep, Swim, Beer, Food, Chill, Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.
Shiva Garden’s where I got a room with bath at 500Rs a day [ woot woot ]; they have a common gathering area where you will meet long stay travelers. Do not expect anything fancy though, the place comes well recommended but is fairly barebones.
Get back to the airport the same way you came. And sigh, and say goodbye to Varkala, promising to return real soon.
Don’t forget to Shanti.
See you soon.