Varkala Beach – Fun in the Sun in Kerala

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Varkala Beach is one of several well known beaches in Kerala, about 50 km north of Trivandrum. It is not as crowded as some of the other Kerala beaches, so is said to be a more relaxed place to visit and stay. It is the only beach in southern Kerala that is lined by a cliff. It is a major beach resort, attracting both Westerners and Indians. With all the visitors, the cliff is lined with shops selling clothing and jewelry, and restaurants with chairs lined up to see the ocean and famous sunset over the Arabian Sea. It is also a well known place for Ayurvedic treatments.

Varkala Beach is also called Papanasam Beach because it is believed that bathing here will wash away all of one’s sins. This is from one of the origin legends of Varkala: When a group of pilgrims approached Saint Narada and told him that they had sinned, Narada threw his valkalam (a “loin cloth made from the bark of a tree”) and it landed at this scenic village and so the place came to be known as Varkala. Narada told the pilgrims to pray for their redemption at Papanasam Beach, which literally means “redemption from sins.”

We visited Varkala Beach for two days as a part of our trip through southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala, shown in this post.  There will be two posts of Varkala Beach, this one, and one showing the Kathakali dance performance we attended while there.

The map below shows the route from Trivandrum (A) to Varkala Beach (B).

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The drive from Trivandrum was on a good road, though only one lane. I do not know when the new Indian National Highway will expand this to two lanes each way. I am pretty sure that it is in the plans, and that in maybe two years it will be much easier and faster to get around India by car on the new National Highway system.

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From the road, the area seemed pretty prosperous, with a number of high rise housing buildings. 

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And more being constructed. 

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This is a wooden pole store. These wooden poles are key to the cement construction done here, used as supports for ceilings while new cement and brick buildings are constructed. 

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Also lining the road are quite a number of very nice residential houses. 

After a bit more than one hour’s drive, and going from a big road to a small one, then a smaller one, then a one-lane track, we turned into the place we planned to spend the next two days, The Kerala Bamboo House, one of the few officially sanctioned Ayurvedic resorts.    

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The resort rooms were either clustered units, or stand-alone cottages. We started in a unit that was a cluster of 4 or 6 rooms. 

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Besides the Ayurvedic treatments, this place offers daily yoga classes and also cooking classes for those who want to learn Keralan cooking recipes and techniques. 

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This was the outside of our room. The railing was in the same “Travancore style” that we have now been seeing for the last few days, unique to Kerala. 

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The clustered units also featured open air bathrooms, and showers with a solar water heater. These heaters are good if you shower at the right time of day, when the tank is hot. Otherwise, just a standard Indian cold-water shower.

The rooms also were not well screened, and had mosquito nets that come down over the beds.

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The resort was right on the cliff. We walk through the pleasant grounds to get to the ocean. 

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Paper stars hang from above, left over from Christmas? Or just festive decoration? 

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Signs showing the Ayurvedic treatments available here line the walls of the entrance to the resort from the walk along the cliff. 

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Also pictures of some of the treatments are shown. I see the woman on the top right has the top of her head wrapped in a banana leaf. You can get this, too!

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Now we are at the walk along the cliff above the beach. 

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Here is the Blue Moon Cafe, a favorite place to sit, eat, maybe have a cold beer, and watch the ocean during the day, the sunset in the evening, and see the people walking by. 

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Walking along the cliff. Many shops. 

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The beach is below. 

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The beach looks nice, sheltered by the cliffs, with orderly rows of waves breaking along the beach. 

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Walking down stairs to the beach we are serenaded by two drum sellers. We did not buy anything, but enjoyed their playing. 

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Many people in the ocean, mostly white-skinned Westerners. The Arabian Sea is cooler and more pleasant, I think, than the Indian Ocean. 

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The cliffs, and shops lining the cliff walk. 

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White skinned Europeans, hungry for respite from the snowy winter at home, are all over the beach. Watch out for sunburn!

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Many people have beach umbrellas. I think they are rented from beach vendors.

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This man is doing yoga (I think) in the sand. 

A woman washes sand off her baby girl. 

Enjoying the water. 

Carol joins in, though she is not dressed very well for enjoying the surf. 

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People in the surf, with the colorful cliffs behind.

We stayed in the North Cliff area. This is the busiest, most crowded  part. You can see the South Cliff area in this photo, and where the cliffs and paths come right down to the water’s level. Some people like the South Cliff area much better. We liked being in the thick of things on the North Cliff. 

A group of women and children, sitting by rocks on the edge of the beach. There were a number of families with children enjoying the beach today. 

The man doing yoga. I think this is a ‘melt-into-the-earth’ posture. Even I can do this one. 

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Beach, cliffs and shops. 

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Man sitting in meditation pose, amidst all the other beach-goers. 

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A group of three elderly Indian men, together, enjoying the surf. 

An Indian family in the surf. No revealing bathing suits that show lots of skin for them. 

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Everywhere you find a beach, you will find children digging in the sand. This kid has dug a great hole to sit in. Maybe he had help from his mom. 

Lots of people in the water. Carol looks like she is ready to join them. 

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Two sisters play by the water’s edge. They are writing with their toes in the sand, only to have their words washed away when the next wave comes in. I wonder what they are writing?

Here is Mr Yoga again. He is keeping at it. 

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The stairs up to the cliff walk. 

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Looking through rocks into the surf coming in. 

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The afternoon sun reflecting on the water. 

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Carol leads me up the steps. 

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Shops, shops, shops. Want to buy some clothes? It interests me that usually the clothes sold in these shops for Westerners in India are nothing like the clothes that Indians wear themselves. I wonder why Westerners who try to dress up for India have their own style, not Indian? 

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It is Saturday, I think, and ESPN has English football on all during the afternoon and evening. Some restaurants show this on big-screen TVs to attract lots of beer-drinking Europeans. 

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We have an afternoon snack in another nice cliff-top eatery, looking out at the ocean. 

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More Ayurvedic treatments advertised. Want to have someone walk on your back? 

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Shade is provided in this section, perhaps cooler so that people will stop and browse the merchandise. 

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The late afternoon sun rays add more red to the color of the cliffs. Nice. 

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Sitting at the Blue Moon Cafe, watching people go by. 

Carol sits and watches. Not many people here right now. 

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Ah, the setting sun!

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Now the cliff top restaurants start setting out their fresh seafood, for passers-by to ogle and select. Here is a plate of three nice looking crabs. 

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Tiger shrimp and jumbo prawns are popular items. You ask about the price of a plate, then order what you want. They will cook them however you like, and serve up a nice meal. 

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Some big fish, with smaller fish and prawns, under ice, at another eating place.

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Swordfish and other goodies. A big piece has already been cut out of the swordfish for some customer. Tonight we think we will try the swordfish, cooked in butter and garlic. 

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We sit by the cliff walk, illumined by candles, and eat. At the place we chose, I guess they do not have a liquor license, so they served beer, but in a teapot, drinking from big coffee cups. Many places have extra lights, for a most pleasant illumination. 

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The lit walkway and shops. 

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A vendor walks by, swinging some light toy in a circle. 

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Another place, with blue lights. 

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We stop here to have some dessert. More eating, after a very good meal. 

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As we get back to our room, we see the starts we saw earlier, but this time lit up. 

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Now we are out the next day. We walk down to the South Beach, and sit at a waterside place, drinking watermelon juice and watching the beach. 

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Girl watching has always been a standard beach activity for men. 

Carol gets ready to get into the surf again. She has her foot on a boat made of logs, tied together. 

A man lies in one of these boats, reading a book. 

People walking on the beach. 

Here are the three Beach Patrol Guards, all sitting in the shade of a beach umbrella. Do you feel safe now, with their protection? 

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A pretty girl sitting on the sand.

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Carol heads into the surf. 

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Later we walk to a section north of the North Cliff area. 

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There is a very attractive waterside restaurant, with the tables well-dressed for dinner. 

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The walkway is not so lined with shops here, and is closer to the ocean. I think there are some hotels down here, for people who want a different atmosphere. 

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Ocean waves break on the shore. 

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I think this fancy house is really a hotel. 

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Walking along the palm-tree lined path. 

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It is nearing sunset. Here is a black sand beach. 

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A group of men in the water. 

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Women sit on the beach, maybe waiting for their menfolk to come out of the water. 

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We had a good time at Varkala beach. It seems not much like India, though, more like a beach resort anywhere in the world. One reason I say this is that in India, I am used to seeing temples and shrines everywhere, and I did not see one anywhere along the cliff walk.

This is a nice getaway from India. But we want to get back to our beloved country.                                                     

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