Indian Tales 10 – Final days

Varkala was a tourist resort before the pandemic, but that changed everything. The Kerala regional government was proactive during the crisis. I can remember reading a long article about the Health Minister, K. K. Shailaja, who received international recognition for her state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Unlike the UK government, she had set up an effective track and trace process throughout Kerala by 27th January 2020.

Post pandemic, the government embarked on a policy of encouraging local tourism. They had supported businesses to survive during the crisis, and by encouraging Indian tourists they were able to withdraw this support as businesses flourished. We witnessed the outcome of this, which was confirmed by our host, Rekha. The cliffside shops and restaurants were packed every afternoon, evening and weekend.

There was a reason for this, which we discovered the usual British way. It was too hot to be in the sun before 4pm. Despite being lathered in sun protection and only out in the sun when swimming, I got burnt on our first full day at the beach. The next day I wore a T shirt in the sea, which would dry after soaking and before we left for lunch.

The main beach is accessed down steep cliffside steps. The first few reminded me of that moment before you launch yourself down a ski slope. Each step seemed huge, each one a game of trust that you will land. At the bottom, hawkers sell needed umbrellas and chairs, and we skipped over the blazing sand to our spot, and quickly into the big waves. I do love body surfing in the rollers, it’s one way of clearing your sinuses – a salt water rinse!

Dinah was comfortable on a towel, under our shade, whilst I needed a sun lounger to rest my old bones. We’d sit, read novels on Kindles, or watch the locals at play. The beach dogs sought out the shade of tourists’ sun beds, whilst visitors tried to surf in the short, punchy waves. One or two men stood around watching, still wearing their motorcycle helmets; it must have been like a sauna in there. Next to us a French family left their naked new-born in the protection of his brother and sister. When a phalanx of local women got curious, and wanted to cover him up (he was in the shade), the brother got very uncomfortable. Fortunately, their swimming Mum must have noticed, and she arrived to shoo them away.

It all had to come to an end. Rekha organised our taxi to the airport at Triv or Trivandrum (as its called by the locals). Thiruvananthapuram, to give it its full name, is the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The taxi was air conditioned luxury compared to some we had travelled in, and whisked down the coast in no time.

The flight back to Chennai’s chaos was unremarkable and we were met by the organised taxi, who was to take us to our overnight accommodation. On route our driver suggested lunch and took us to an Indian fast food place. If only we had their chain in the UK; so much choice; quick, hot and delicious.

Later that evening we decided to brave to the nearby main road, with its usual traffic madness. We stood and watched the blaring trucks, mopeds and cars fight their way downstream and waited for a tuk-tuk. Once secured he took us to the nearest bar, in a large city hotel, where we feasted on bar snacks and the ubiquitous Kingfisher beers. After one Dinah opted for a Planter’s Punch – how exotic.

The next morning, still dark at 5am, our driver arrived to take us to the airport. Still busy, but not as tumultuous, we arrived without incident and entered the cavernous, quiet building. Our adventure was over. It was time to succumb to the long flight and a temperature drop of thirty degrees. We’ll be back though. India is sensory madness, but there is so much to see and enjoy, and then of course there is the fantastic food. What a country.

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