Wondering where can you bask under the golden rays of the sun on an empty beach? Welcome to Varkala in Kerala. A four hour drive from Fort Kochi, Varkala is a quiet seaside destination on the shores of the Arabian Sea, about 50 km north of Thiruvananthapuram. The high cliffs offer a spectacular view of the sea below.
I must admit, this is one of the cleanest beaches I have been to. Lifeguards and cops patrol the entire stretch of the beach, to ensure your safety. You can relax and enjoy yourselves bouncing in the waves.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Keral Heerum Hotel at North Cliff. Most of these homestays are small houses/cottages on the cliff, where you can just walk in and ask for rooms. Sea-facing rooms cost about Rs 350 per night during off-season. Peak season (October to February) rates would be about Rs 500 per night. Non-sea facing rooms are Rs 200 to Rs 250 per night. Summer is a good time to go for a peaceful holiday. It is warm during the day, but you can laze with a book and a drink on a hammock in your hotel or at a beachside restaurant. As the hot sun begins to recede, head out to the beach for some fun and frolic. The best time to visit the sea, I would say, is in the morning, before 10 am.
Varkala is quite a favourite with foreign tourists, who come here to tan themselves. We, by contrast, of course, stay away from the sun and ventured out to the beach only after 5 pm. Around 6.30 pm we were asked to leave the beach by the lifeguards and the police. You can, of course, go to the beach unattended by the lifeguards. But that is best avoided because the sea becomes choppy. During high tide the waves reach as high as the foot of the cliffs. There are red flags to notify the danger zones in the sea. If the currents are too strong, no one is allowed to enter the sea.
What to eat
We started our day lazing on the beach. When the sun climbed up into the sky we left the beach and ascended the stairs back to the cliff. We loved breakfast at the Cafe Del Mar, one of the first restaurants you bump into on the North Cliff. Here you can get an English or American breakfast for Rs 90 and Rs 80, respectively. Don’t miss the seafood around here. It is fresh, delicious and simply exotic. And you can have it grilled, steaks, fried or curried. Your restaurant will oblige. Many folks may find Varkala not too different from Goa. But I think this place is in a class of its own. We tried prawn curry with rice or Naan (complimentary with the main dish) for lunch which was again delicious.
After sunset, as the restaurant and shop lights are turned on, we took a leisurely walk around. Restaurant owners will call out to you showing the fresh catch of the day. Red and white snapper, tiger prawns, barracuda, squids and tuna — name it — it’s all there. Look around for a good deal. Normally, a portion of four to six tiger prawns will set you back anywhere between Rs 400 and Rs 500. It is worth it. We tried steak barracuda in lemon garlic sauce, grilled tiger prawns, prawn pakoras and cold drinks at the Dolphin Bay restaurant. As we walked back along the narrow path the only sound was of the sea waves crashing against the rocks. Varkala is simple awesome. You can go in a group. Or as a couple. You will love the place.
~ There are cyber cafes, government tourist booths and money exchange facilities.
~ There is only one ATM, the Centurion Bank. It is better to carry cash, as not all places accept credit/debit cards.
~ Don’t forget to carry a sun block, an umbrella and sun glasses.
~ Avoid taking valuables like jewellery, cameras etc to the beach.
~ Most people leave their change of clothing in a bag on the beach and go for a swim. ~ Make sure children are not left unattended on the beach.
How to get there
By road: Varkala is 180 km from Fort Kochi and 50 km from Thiruvananthapuram.
From Fort Kochi, take the NH 47 to reach Varkala. You can stop at Huts, a highway restaurant for a meal. Huts Restaurant NH Bypass CherthalaPhones: (00478) 2817277, 3956683
By air: The closest airport is Thiruvananthapuram
Rail: The nearest railway station is Varkala
For details, visit: http://www.southernrailway.org/
Peak season: October to February Off-season: March to November. This is the best time to visit. It is less crowded and less expensive.
Places to visit around Varkala
~ The Janardhana Swamy temple and Sivagiri Mutt. The Janardhana Swamy temple is on the way to the Papanasam beach.
~ Anjengoan (five coconut trees) old English Fort about 20 km from Varkala
Cafe Del Mar
Dolphin Bay Restaurant
Varkala Phone: 0984646940
~ Most of the homestays and hotels are on the cliff. It is not very difficult to find rooms at Varkala Beach.
Keral Heerum Hotel
Next to Amma Dental Spa
Hindustan Beach Resort
PO Varkala — 685 141
Phones: (0474) 2604254, 2604255 e-mail: email@example.com Web site:http://www.hindustanbeachretreat.com/
For more hotels at Varkala, please visithttp://www.hotelskerala.com/varkala.htm
For Rediff.com, 24th April, 2007.