From Kanyakamuri, we took the train up the Keralan coast to Varkala for a couple of days. The resort is perched perilously along the edge of 15 metre high cliffs. There is a cliff-top path which is lined with bars, restaurants and shops selling baggy trousers, sarongs and jewellery. Walking along, you get a real feeling of having landed up in hippy heaven. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly.
There is a large Tibetan community in Varkala, with many of the restaurants and shops being run by Tibetan families. We particularly liked ‘The Tibetan Kitchen’, where we enjoyed delicious hummus and home-made flatbreads.
Our hotel was set back from the cliff top, but within easy walking distance of it, so we were able to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
The pleasant sandy beach is accessed via a series of steep stone steps which are broken away in places, so care is needed when negotiating them. You also need to beware of the strong sea currents, but with proper vigilance, the beach is a lovely place to while away a day or two. Due to its inaccessibility, you are less likely to be hassled by beach sellers than you are in other resorts.
Whilst in Varkala, we took a trip to Ponnumthurthu Island, also known as Golden Island, to get our first taste of the Keralan backwaters. An auto-rickshaw took us on the 30-minute drive to the backwater lake, most of it along a road running parallel with a pristine, undeveloped beach. Once at the lake, we transferred to a punt-powered boat guided by an ancient Indian who clearly had the strength and stamina of a much younger man. It was so relaxing to glide silently through the water to the island in the middle of the lake. We saw countless birds, including fish eagles. We also saw flying fish (impossible to photograph!) and a man diving for minute molluscs – he had a boat full!
On the island, we were guided to the Shiva-Parvati Temple and were thoroughly blessed – three times, in fact! The first time was with red bindi powder and the other two occasions with turmeric which was nigh on impossible to get off and not particularly attractive when mixed with the sweat running down our faces!
We were in Varkala towards the end of the peak tourist season, so had our fair share of downpours and spectacular thunderstorms. These were all short-lived, though, and still left us with plenty of sunny weather to enjoy.