KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Varkala (pronounced Var-ka-la) is not even on most maps of India. It is the newest favorite beach of the young, hip crowd but the word has been out long enough now that even old timers like us are finding their way here. It is not a destination for the package tour groups for two main reasons. Varkala is 60 km north of Trivandrum so the distance is a consideration, but the other reason is that all the services are located at the top of very steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. To get to the beach, people have to be able to climb down a series of narrow, winding stairs cut into the cliff-face. It takes strong legs and even stronger nerves to make the descent. There is now a small road that goes part way down to the beach at the south end of the cliffs but the small bridge that passes over a creek has collapsed and poses a challenge to bathers as well.
The pictures I have taken do not do justice to the beauty of the area. The sand on the beach is like talc, the beach is spotless and the only hawkers allowed are women selling fresh fruit. I don't know if there were lifeguards here when my daughter Adia visited in 2003, but there are three active lifeguards on the beach these days and I'm glad for it as there are strong rip-tides that can carry even the most experienced swimmers out to sea if they are not careful to swim in the designated areas.
We arrived by hired car from Kovalam after enjoying a relaxed ride along the new highway. The only negative aspect of the drive was the fact that the deep ditch between the old road and the new highway has become a shocking collection of the region’s garbage. Not just paper and plastic waste, but old building materials, refrigerators and rusting autorickshaws. It is especially bad between Kovalam and the international airport just north of the beach area. There are direct flights from Europe to Trivandrum (the major city sixteen kilometers from Kovalam) and all the tourists flying in have to pass this disgraceful sight on the way to their fun in the sun. Kerala was always considered one of the cleanest parts of India, but massive development has changed that here too.
We found our hotel after looking at several others and finding them older and very expensive. The SS Beach Resort is only three years old and although it looks a little like a concrete block from the outside, the side facing away from the sea is all open walkways overlooking a grove of palms and small government guest houses. The rooms are airy, bright and clean. After settling in and taking a walk on the beach, we decided to extend our stay here a few days longer than originally planned. The shops and restaurants along the top of the cliffs provide anything anyone could want - there is almost no need to go into the town two kilometers away.
We find that we are really missing the food that we ate in Tamil Nadu - here the emphasis is on fresh seafood and all the fast foods favored by North Americans and Europeans. We have to look hard and long to find the idlies, dosas, and uttapams that we have been enjoying for the past several weeks. These south Indian delights are available at some places but only in the mornings, we were used to eating them for all our meals and never tire of their flavours.
This morning I was up really early after a good night's sleep and when I looked out over the sea, I could still see the lights from the hundreds of small fishing boats out on the water. In Kovalam, all the lights appear to be along the horizon, but because of the height of the cliffs here, it is possible to see boats over a wider area of the sea and it is magical. This, combined with the millions of stars in the sky is unforgettable. At 5:45 am it is still pitch-black, but by 6:30 the sun is up and the sea is a brilliant blue. The small boats that I photographed at Kovalam are here as well,
and as I rub the sleep from my eyes, the fishermen are returning from a night's fishing. The tiny boats, made of four logs tied together with string, have been their workplace for over thirteen hours. I was happy that the sea was like glass this morning to ease their way back to shore.