If peace is your thing, let Varkala be the destination. This small town has something about it that makes it surreally peaceful. Remember our experiences in Coonoor? This place is even quieter, if that’s possible, though not in an odd manner. Peace seems to prevail naturally in this place. The people here are calmer than any other place we visited in South India. Social reformer Narayan Guru also got salvation at this place (Sivagiri Mutt). Perhaps Ayurveda’s deep roots in the town have something to do with that.
Though I had left Alleppey around 4pm and Varkala is just about 120km from there, multiple stoppages in and around Kollam got me late enough to ride 1 hour in dark. I was headed towards Vedanta Hostel which is well known in the area, but finding your way through the narrow streets of Kerala in dark is a tough task. Finally, I reached the hostel around 9pm, only to know that they were full that night. Now, 9pm is late for South India, plus I was not in the mood of searching another accommodation, so I asked them if I could camp in their premises for the night. They happily complied.
As I set up the tent, some fellow hostelers suggested me to check the cliff beach bazaar during the night. It was 10 minutes walk from the hostel. There’s a helipad next to the cliff, which sets a grand stage for the beach’s entry and on one side you can see a small road glowing with a bazaar kind of setting. Well, not everything shuts down at 9pm in Kerala. In fact, some of the restaurants in this bazaar remain open till as late as 1am in the morning. The bazaar is a typical Goan / Tibetan hippie market, something that attracts foreign tourists cannot resist but don’t make much sense to us desi. Anyways, it was 12:30 & a good time for me to sleep. And though there was a big group of noisy travelers having late night party in the hostel near my tent, being tired, I had slept sound.
Now, talking about the best of Varkala & things that can be skipped.
Varkala Beach – Can be easily skipped. Attracts a lot of local crowds. Not kept well.
North Cliff beach – Worth a visit. The sunset from the cliff is a thing you will remember for long. Plus if you into bazaars and late-night parties at shacks, this is the place for you in Varkala.
Sunset – Counting this in things to do might look absurd but Varkala definitely has one of the reddest sunsets (whatever that means) in Kerala.
Shivagiri Mutt – Superbly peaceful place. Social reformer Narayan Guru took Samadhi here. Not many people know that this ashram offers good rooms for 200 bucks per night. Plus you get to interact with a lot of spiritual people here.
Accommodation – Most of the tourists stay in and around the Helipad area. There are enough homestays in that area, and the bazaar road has many resorts. These are the expensive options.
For budget options, there is a Tibetan street in the bazaar on the beach. You can easily find rooms starting 500 per night there. And of course, there is Vedanta hostel with beds in AC dorms for 350 per night. (Definitely the best option).
Food – The food options on the cliff are plenty …..and boring (it’s a personal thing. I now have an increasing aversion to shacks serving porridge and pancakes in dim red lights. Takes away the local charm of the place).
There are a couple of really good places on the temple road (everybody knows temple road there), near the Janardhan Swamy Temple Pond. Though very popular among tourists, you will have to make an effort to spot these as most of the people here prefer sitting in deep interiors near the temple pond. More importantly, food is good.
Rent a bike and go north towards Kappil Beach – Kappil beach is a famous tourist spot with huge Puravur backwaters and the ocean separated by a beautiful road. You will find a lot of tourists going there. Some people also visit Kappil during the low tide along the coast (an 8-9 km walk).
If you like to explore more, keep going further north. Unfortunately, Google maps are misinformed here and tell you that the road ends a few kilometers further but that is not the case. This road goes up to Kollam and as you go further it gets prettier. There is a Mayyanad beach about 3-4 km North of Kappil which has a better beach, larger backwaters, no tourists and few fishermen. We camped here for a night.
Rent a bike and go South of Varkala – Ask for Anjengo fort. Not many will know this. So you can just follow the coastal road towards South. The fort is not important, but the villages on this road are. Since this road is the dead end after 6-7 km, and hence sees no passing traffic, the people here live more freely on the roads. The beaches are nice. Also, since the waves are bigger in Varkala, and there are a lot of stone fencing along the coast, you will find water splashing & drizzle over the road when it goes too close to the ocean.
Surfing – A lot of people surf at cliff beach. I think Varkala has the biggest waves that you will find on the western coast. Surfing classes are also available. (But the rates here are double of what you will find on the eastern coast which has much better conditions and waves for surfing).
Overall, Varkala is a great place to visit. It is peaceful and picturesque enough to make your stay a memorable one. We stayed here for 2 nights and then moved towards India’s southernmost point, Kanyakumari.