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marianne Varkala - A travel report by Marianne
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Varkala,  India - flag India
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marianne's travel reports

Varkala: Sun and Other Worshippers (Kerala)

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Varkala is firstly a pilgrim’s town and secondly a seaside resort. Locals come to the beach to worship their ancestors and Westerns come to worship the sun.

Varkala, or Panasam beach, is about one kilometre long.
Varkala, or Panasam beach, is about one kilometre long.
When we got off the bus at Temple junction, the first thing we saw was Jarardhanaswany Temple and commission-seeking touts. We gave them a wide berth and headed for Beach Road as we did not want to stay on the cliff top, the tourist part of Varkala.

The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and a centre of pilgrimage. The temple has a rich history and we were told that temple chronicles go back 800 years. Like all Hindu temples in Kerala, it is out-of-bounds for non-Hindus.

Varkala, or Panasam beach, is about one kilometre long and neatly divided into two parts. The northern end is reserved for sun-worshippers and the southern end for Hindu devotees. The demarcation line is a small stream fed by a spring and used as a toilet.

The tourists stay on their end. The pilgrims, after praying in the temple, go to their end of the beach. They bring the ashes of their relatives to scatter them across the beach.

North of Panasam beach is a second, very small beach with black sand. It can be reached via the beach at low tide, but at high tide it involves clambering across some rocks.

The Keralan Tourist Board and overseas tour operators present Varkala as on of Kerala’s best gems. If you want to join the package-tour Westerners, stay in overpriced guesthouses, love souvenir shops and like to eat ‘multi-cuisine’, Varkala is your place.

Favourite spots:
The view from our hotel veranda was partly blocked.
The view from our hotel veranda was partly blocked.
What I liked best was the view from our hotel veranda, but the view is partly blockeds by the newly-built six-storey Hindu Beach Resort.

Next best is a walk along the cliff top path, about one kilometre. The view is breathtaking; rolling waves of the Arabian Sea and the rugged Keralan coastline.

A soft breeze ruffles my hair. The sun shines from an azure sky. The ocean sparkles like diamonds. Several times dolphins jump up from the waves and slid back again. Below, on the beach, lifeguards have marked the no-swim zone by red flags. Trespassers are whistled back. Tourists sit in small groups, reading or lazing in the hot sun, cultivating a tan to show off in the European winter.

I did not like the encouragements of the fish restaurant owners to taste their fish. Dead fish stared at me with open eyes. In the evening the same fish gazed at me with lifeless eyes. Next day same fish, not kept on ice. Unbelievable, but some tourists treated themselves to yesterday’s catch.

What's really great:
The beach is backed by a sheer cliff wall.
The beach is backed by a sheer cliff wall.
The beach is backed by a sheer cliff wall. Several steps are cut into the cliff and lead to the cliff top path, where Kashmiri souvenir sellers, fish restaurants owners and vendors vie with each other for tourist Euros.

The cliff top path overlooks the entire beach, which is not quite one kilometre long and 20 m wide. It made me wonder how all package tourists could find a spot in December and January, the high season.

The beach itself is almost free from harrassment exept for the ocassional ‘hello coconut’ hawker. But the scourge of the beach is the money-happy umbrella man. He rents sun umbrellas and sunbeds at the exorbitant price of Rs 500 (€10). This was more expensive than our room for which we paid Rp 400. Umbrella only is Rp 300 (€6) and haggling is impossible.

Green make-up for the Gods and black for the villains.
Green make-up for the Gods and black for the villains.
What to do apart from sunbathing?

Close to Temple Junction is Varkala Cultural Centre with frequent Kathakali performances. Kathakali is a traditional dance-drama. The artist’s face is painted green or black, according to whom he represents. Green for the Gods and black for the villains. The artist wears a huge headgear and a costume that makes him rotund. Female parts are played by male actors.

Ayurveda massage is also very popular. It restores balance in a person, and balance stands for good health. A massage is relaxing but offers no long-term benefit because Ayurveda treatment means a two-week or longer committment. It involves a special diet, exercises and massages.

It is not difficult to find places for Ayurveda massages in Varkala. They are clearly indicated, but there is no way of knowing whether they are good or not.

Basuri Beach Resort is a newly built hotel.
Basuri Beach Resort is a newly built hotel.
We stayed in Basuri Beach Resort (see tips). Don’t be mislead by the name resort. In Kerala ‘Resort’ is used for any hotel near a beach. In this case the beach is some 500 m away, the sea is hidden from view by a six-storey hotel.

Basuri Beach is newly built and immaculously clean with good-sized bedrooms, which means that there is space left beside the beds to walk about freely. Well-equipped attached bathroom, no air-conditioning but a fan and no television. Double room at Rs 400 (€8)

We preferred Basuri Beach Resort to Nikhil Beach Resort which is (of course) not on the beach but halfway along Beach Road. The room was bigger and had a fridge, AC, and a television but the only streetlamp of Beach Road was right in front of this room and the curtains were very thin.

The cliff-top path is lined with restaurants and shops.
The cliff-top path is lined with restaurants and shops.

Nightlife in Varkala is pretty laid-back and revolves around the cliff top restaurants that serve Kingfisher beer and toddy. When they close, the beach is a good place to watch the stars.

Varkala travelogue picture

It is only a short ride to Varkala town and the train station. Autorickshaws wait on Beach Road or the helipad.

View down on Beach Road from Mama Chompos.
View down on Beach Road from Mama Chompos.
Restaurants at the cliff top are slightly more expensive than those on Beach Road, but the cliff top has the best view.

We liked Mama Chompos on Beach Road. It is down a slope from Basuri Beach Resort and in the same grounds. It is Tibetan run and serves besides Tibetan also Indian and Italian dishes. We especially liked their breakfast: fresh fruit musli and curd (yoghurt), more fruit than musli. Simply perfect!

Other recommendations:
Plenty of Internet places along Beach Road.
Plenty of Internet places along Beach Road.
The best time to visit is January to April/May The main monsoon is between June and September, the second monsoon between October and December. Especially during the first monsoon the beach disappears completely.

There are plenty of internet places both on the cliff top and on Beach Road.

The State Bank of India is in Varkala town and and has an ATM.

Varkala town and train station are 2 km from the beach. Autorickshaws and taxis go as far as the helipad. Here the cliff top path begins. If you need a porter they are waiting at the helipad for business.

By bus from Varkala to Trivandrum: hourly buses, journey takes 90 minutes

By bus from Varkala to Alleppey: Take the bus to Kallaballam (a few km south of Kollam), from here there are frequent buses to Allepey (this is the Trivandrum – Allepey route.

If you like to go by train, here are the websites with departure times:

Konkan Railway:

India rail:

Published on Saturday April 29th, 2006

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Thu, May 04 2006 - 04:07 AM rating by gloriajames

what a joy to read! loved the pics!

Tue, May 02 2006 - 05:24 PM rating by eirekay

Marianne, I really enjoyed your descriptions! Breeze ruffling your hair, dolphins jumping. It all sounds so lovely! Thank you for another wonderful report!

Mon, May 01 2006 - 08:01 AM rating by tokyomike

Wow, very nice to read. Good photos. Just a great report overall! Thanks!

Mon, May 01 2006 - 05:26 AM rating by bear495

Ah, Marianne, your report is full of information. What a pleasure to read of your travel experiences.


Sat, Apr 29 2006 - 02:46 PM rating by rangutan

Very well written report and pictures of a pretty quite place. Difficult, the place lacks a highlight or sparkle to it.

Sat, Apr 29 2006 - 09:07 AM rating by davidx

Another excellent report. It's good that a lot of people should be able to go to such a beautiful place but a disaster when it leads to the destruction of what they all hope to see.

Sat, Apr 29 2006 - 09:06 AM rating by st.vincent

Varkala seems to have found the right balance between accommodating tourists and keeping traditional Hindu culture alive. I liked the way you described the cliff top walk, it gave me a good sense of what it must have been like being there. Good information on trains, buses, prices etc.

Sat, Apr 29 2006 - 08:56 AM rating by jorgesanchez

You have a good series of excellent reports about India.

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