Indian Tales 9 – Varkala

It was hot. We were on Ernakulam station waiting for them to announce which platform the train to Varkala would arrive on. This time we had seats in an AC carriage confirmed. Meanwhile, we sat under an ineffectual fan and imagined the air was cooler.

The morning had been concerned with finding an ATM with cash, and buying some quality lunch for the journey. A tuk-tuk journey had helped with both, and we had arrived at the station equipped with pastries, pies and water ready for the hopeful five hour journey to the coast town of Varkala.

The plan was to spend four days beachside after our long travels. Varkala is a town in the south Indian state of Kerala. It’s on the Arabian Sea and known for Varkala Beach, backed by palm-covered red cliffs. Just south, Papanasam Beach is believed to have holy waters. We’d booked a lovely looking homestay, five minutes walk from the clifftop shops, overlooking the main beach.

Of course the train was late. Although only an hour, not bad by recent experiences. A couple of locals, also travelling the same way, helped us onto the train; the old folks didn’t really need help, but accepted with gratitude. Unexpectedly, the train picked up the pace, past the coastal towns, rivers and fields full of cows and their egrets. By the time we arrived at our destination we had pulled back thirty minutes.

We descended to the platform, got confused which way to exit and were hailed by a local tuk-tuk driver. He was parked in a lane alongside the tracks a hundred metres back. Reaching us, stood on tracks below the platform, he agreed to take us into town for an agreed fee and lifted one of our suitcases onto his back.

“Do we follow you?”

“No,” he said pointing at a walkway over the tracks, “You go that way. Leave other bag. I collect.”

By the time we reached the tuk-tuk he was all loaded up. We shared the address and after some confusion found our homestay. Nirrvaan was situated behind a wall and short drive, through well maintained gardens. As we walked up to the entrance, two guests were exiting.

“You’ve chosen a lovely place to stay,” they said, and they were right. The house was serene and spotless. Wooden stairs and a Christmas tree greeted us along with our delightful host, Rekha. She took us up to our lovely room past buddhas and other gods, checked if we needed anything and then left us to recover and clean up.

By the time we were ready to go exploring it was dark. Dinah had visited Varkala with her son, some seven years earlier, the town was much changed. The shops, restaurants, bars and accommodation that decorate the long lane on the clifftop had grown. The path was now paved, occasionally, and was busy with tourists. Mainly Indians, though there were more Europeans about than in any of our previous stops.

We stopped in a bar for a couple of beers. The town has a relaxed, but closed attitude to drink. Beers are served in large ceramic tankards. It’s fooling no one, but the beer is not visible. Later we were drawn into a restaurant by the reggae music, more tankard beer, delicious pakoras and the usual curry, rice and breads.

Next morning, after a breakfast of lovely pea curry, poppadum and fruit, we decided to walk down to the next beach, along the clifftop path. Restaurants and hotels now extended for over a mile, along a winding track. Eventually, we reached the beach, ready for a dip in the warm sea. I leapt out, off the last clambered rock, and my left sandal fell apart. Flapping to a quiet spot, we stripped down to our swimming costumes, and raced out over hot sand to the sparkling blue waters. It was far less busy than the main beach, where most of the Indian tourists remained.

On the way back we decided to stop for a mocktail. Two fruity non-alcoholic cocktails were ordered. Mine was called DaDarling; a refreshing blend of soda, lime, honey, ginger, pomegranate, mint and ice. I took one suck through my disintegrating straw and was impressed by its powerful kick. It must be the ginger, I thought.

When the bill arrived it seemed expensive. I chatted to the chief at the payment desk, explained what we had ordered. He checked the bill and realised we had been charged for an alcoholic version of my drink. It had a similar name, and the waiter was on his first day. Then the barman, aware of our conversation, laughed, and said that was what he had made. My drink had been a cocktail and had vodka in it.

“You ok with alcohol?” asked the boss. It was before twelve.

“I’ll be ok.”

“Maybe, sleep on the beach.” The staff all thought it was hilarious and we only were charged for the cheaper drinks. A win win!

No sleep was necessary. More resting, drinking and eating followed. Later that night, back at the homestay, whilst cleaning my teeth, I was revisited by a flashback of that evening’s flavours. Aloo Palak, Momo (like gyoza), mushroom masala, lemon rice and naan – you can see the tankards far right in the photo below. It was a hard life, and we still had a couple of more days to go.

2 replies
  1. Les Hall
    Les Hall says:

    Oh man I’m so jealous. Looks and sounds fantastic. I have to ask… any ‘negative’ effects from the food. I don’t know what they call Montezuma’s Revenge in India. Ha – I just checked and it’s Delhi belly!

    • leeaspland
      leeaspland says:

      One or two days adjustment to all the spice, no meat consumed, all fantastic. Since I’ve got all the spices and try to replicate the dishes. It’s going well!


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