Sleepy Varkala

With my wonderful ashram experience behind me (and feeling as if I could stay for another week or more), I left the Sivananda ashram to see the rest of Kerala.  Before I left New York in November, I arranged for my tour up the coast of Kerala so I could relax and enjoy the time here.  I do think that it would have been nice to decide where to go and what to do spontaneously, especially since I wanted to extend my stay at the ashram a bit, but making plans in advance gave me the mental space and energy to just appreciate the present.

Having returned from the Kanyakumari trip at midnight the night before, I woke up early enough to at least do the closing chants.  And I’m glad that I did.  After saying goodbye to some of the familiar faces, I waited for my car and driver to arrive.  So far on this trip I prepared well in advance, expected the worst, and hoped for the best.  My pick up time was at 8AM and at 8:20AM (not bad for Indian time!), a nice big 6 passenger car arrived and the owner operator of the tour company I’m using, Mr. John Thomas, showed up himself to greet me.  I had corresponded with him via e-mail at least 20 times while putting my trip together and I guess I seemed a bit nervous about the whole thing (he wanted the entire payment up front and who wouldn’t be suspicious over that?)  He said he wanted to make sure I was off to a good start and since he had to go up to Periyar to look after a large French group (55 people running marathons through the wildlife reserve, I asked why.  He didn’t know) so he thought he’d take me up to Varkala on the way.  He and the driver were both very jovial and shared with me a lot about Kerala and about Trivandrum.  They even stopped to buy some unusual bananas (the skin was red not yellow) when they spotted them.  I learned that there are over 30 varieties of bananas in Kerala and to say hello in the native Keralan language of Malayalam, you say “namaskaram” but “namaste” would do just fine.  In the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is spoken and in Karnataka, Canara is spoken.  Mr. Thomas said that those two languages and Malayalam are similar enough that you can basically understand all of them, but the other languages up north, they are completely different.  You are taught Hindi and English in school (by the way, the state of Kerala has the highest literacy rate in the country).

Within two hours of chatting and looking out the window, I was in Varkala.  My hotel, Krishnatheeram, was at the very north end of the beach and I was thankful that it was away from the noise and the crowd.  After saying goodbye to Mr. Thomas, I checked out my room.  My room was in fact, a detached and modern bungalow.  AC?  Check.  My own bathroom?  Check.  Hot water?  Check.  Start of a non ashram life in India?  Check.  By American standards the bungalow was somewhat basic but for India, it was definitely nice and just perfect for me to spend the first day on my own.  I was so exhausted from the day before I had to take a quick nap before lunch.  I could have slept for a few more hours but I didn’t want to mess up my schedule so I dragged myself out of bed and walked down towards the beach.

Red cliffs of Varkala beach

The beach in Varkala is under these huge red cliffs and the hotels, restaurants, and all the shops are perched on top of the cliffs.  Within 10 minutes I walked the entire length of the shopping/eating stretch and figured out what was what and matched the placed with the names I had read in my guidebooks.  The actual town of Varkala and some of the other guesthouses are a bit farther away from the main beach drag, but for my needs I could stay right on the beach.  I had a bite to eat, had my first lassi of the trip (banana lassi), and spent the afternoon just looking out at the Arabia Sea.  I was heading back to the hotel to practice yoga when I ran into two British ladies from the ashram, and I ended up spending the rest of the day with them.  For dinner, we went to a great vegetarian restaurant just behind the beach called Gamma’s and for about $6 USD had three amazing vegetarian dishes (vegetable masala, al freezy, and malabari).  All three dishes were quite spicy.  Actually I couldn’t really tell whether they were very spicy or they seemed spicy to me because I hadn’t had anything spicy to eat for so long.  But regardless, it was a lovely meal taken outdoors under the stars and coconut trees.

There were restaurants playing loud western music and the shops were still open when I headed back to the hotel.  But when I got in bed, all I heard were the waves crashing outside and I fell asleep peacefully.  The next morning I woke myself up early to walk down the beach once more.  I was happy to see that the tourists hadn’t gotten up yet and everything was quite and tranquil.  But all the locals were on the beach for their morning prayers and the fishermen were taking in the last night’s catch.  It was just the kind of Indian beach stay I wanted.  When Mr. Thomas from Kerala Adventures dropped me off he said Varkala was like Goa. Vacationing foreigner wear their skimpy bathing suits swimming and sunning on the beach.  And because of it, there were a few Indian men who gathered to watch the unusual spectacle of half naked women.  I was content with strolling the beach fully covered…  My morning walk down the Varkala beach was a great start to another fantastic day in Kerala.  Exactly at 9AM I was picked up for a 3 hour drive to the backwaters.  More on that tomorrow…

By the way, the breakfast at Krishnatheeram was disappointing and just sad all around (some toast, pancakes, dry cereal, and tea, and terribly sweet and artificial strawberry milk).  If I go back to Varkala again, I would probably forgo a bit of mediocre luxury for a guest house experience…

Early morning prayers and offerings in Varkala

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This entry was posted in 2011, India, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Sleepy Varkala

  1. george says:

    am reliving our visit there through you!! we stayed at Surya Samudra hotel…on a cliff just above the water…spectacular sunsets…close to Kovalam..had my first aruvedic experience there …took 3 days to get all the oil off my skin!!..as you might not be in Madras beginning March..maybe breakfast at our place Monday morning 14th February…it will not be at 5.00am and there will be no chanting!! what better way to start your week!!!

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