Wow! I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I left Vancouver Island and flew to Kuala Lumpur. I had the best intentions of updating my blog weekly, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. The server I use blocks many Malaysian IP addresses to decrease hacking, but also makes it very difficult to be a traveling blogger. Since being in India, I’ve had better luck accessing the blog, so hopefully I can update on a more consistent basis (and catch-up on some older posts).
I’ll start off with a post about one of the places I visited most recently: Varkala. Varkala is a much-famed beach town on the South-West coast of Kerala, India. After hearing a lot about it from other travelers, I thought it would be a good place to go and relax after being at the Sivananda Ashram for 12 days (more about this in my next post). Many of the guests at the Ashram thought the same thing – so it was really nice to see some familiar faces and meet-up with friends too.
Getting to Varkala
To get to Varkala I took the train from Trivandrum Railway Station. I paid a grand total of 10 Rupees for the ticket (about 20 CAD cents). Sensing my shock the ticket master assured me it was a local train, so I prepared myself for my first Indian railway experience. After finding the platform I wasn’t exactly sure where the train was going, so asked a man on board. He confirmed it would reach Varkala and then kindly gave me his seat. After yet another confirmation that I was on the right train from a sadhu man sitting across from me, I started to relax a bit.
There aren’t any destination announcements or signs to help you to know when you’ll reach your stop. I kept a close eye on the signage at each of the stations we stopped at. A couple of the other passengers helped to make sure I got off at Varkala too. Overall I enjoyed my first Indian train experience, most of it being due to the people that helped me.
Finding a Place to Stay
Varkala spreads across two cliff-top settlements: the North Cliff being much more lively and tourist focused and the South Cliff being generally more quiet and relaxed. Being me, I chose to stay near the South Cliff area. After getting good reviews from a friend, I stayed at a budget hotel (500 Rs a night) called Panchavadi “We Care.” These guys really do care about their guests. I asked to change my room twice and they kindly accommodated. It’s best to get a room facing the West for more natural light.
I really enjoyed staying in this part of Varkala. It was easy enough to walk to the North Cliff to go shopping or take one of the many yoga classes offered, but I liked coming back to my quiet little abode. I ended up meeting-up with the friend who recommend staying there, and also had two friends from the Ashram come stay there as well.
What do do
The beach and amazing views are one of the biggest attractions in Varkala. I tended to frequent the beach in the early morning and late afternoon/evening to avoid the harsh midday sun. In the morning the beach is very quiet. You can see the daily catch of the hardworking fishermen and watch some interesting Puja ceremonies taking place. During the afternoon and evening the main beach is full of people, Indian and non-Indian tourists, all coming to enjoy this amazing destination. I loved people watching here.
On the North Cliff you can walk along a gorgeous cliff top pathway, looking out over the Arabian Sea on one side and being tempted by all kinds of shops, retailers, and restaurants on the other. For being a heavily touristic place I found that people weren’t too pushy to get you to buy things or come into their restaurant, which was much appreciated.
Of course there are many yoga classes to take in Varkala as well. I tried out a few classes, and can recommend some good lessons at Soul & Surf and Arabian Soul. Price for classes ranges from 300 to 550 Rs. Most classes happen in the morning or early evening, so you can have some amazing sunrise/sunset views from the rooftop studios.
I was also curious to go to Varkala to check-out the surf scene there, but during my time the waves were really heavy, causing some crazy currents. I chose not to surf here because my next destination was completely surf focused. However a couple friends had good experiences taking surf lessons at Soul & Surf. They take you to a different beach with better waves and have both beginner and intermediate levels. Prices are a bit steep at 2300 Rs per 2 hour lesson, but worth it if you’re keen to get surfing in India.
Another fun/interesting thing to try in Varkala, or anywhere in Kerala, is an Ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic medicine has it’s roots in Kerala, so treatments are very popular here. I went to the Ayurvedic Hospital (next to Kaiya House) from a friends recommendation. Most places off only a full body massage (front and back side!), but I was able to ask for a head and back massage here for 700Rs. Although I’ve never had a massage at home, I imagine an Ayurveda massage is very different. Probably over a cup of warm oil is wiped and swiped all over your body. There’s not much kneading of the muscles, more just vigorous wiping. It was an interesting experience to have, but not one that I’ll likely repeat too soon.
Where to eat
There’s a crazy trend in Varkala restaurants to try to serve all the types of food. Seriously all of them. You’ve got your typical North and South Indian foods, but also Tibetan, Italian, American (burgers, etc.), Mexican, and probably a few others too. Menus are very long and it always makes me wonder how fresh the food is.
I found one excellent option for fresh local food directly in front of Panchavadi Hotel, where I was staying. In a little wooden shelter, a husband and wife duo serve-up vegetarian thalis and fresh, grilled fish everyday at lunchtime. A lot of the local workers eat here as well as a few tourists. Prices are super reasonable compared to the surrounding area (75 Rs for a thali, less than $2) and the owners are very happy to have you eat there. Just a bit further up the road, the Ashkay Resort makes a super masala dosa for breakfast.
A fun afternoon hangout spot is the garden cafe at Soul & Surf. You can relax in the shade, enjoying fresh juice and cake or try some of their fantastic plantain tacos (they also have a fish taco option). I decided to check-out their Tuesday Pizza and Movie evening, but was mightily disappointed with the cheese-laden pizza they served. There are probably better options if you’re craving pizza in Varkala.
To escape the evening craziness on the North Cliff, there’s a really nice restaurant called Green Pepper on the South Cliff. While they also have an extensive menu, I would recommend trying their South Indian dishes, asking the waiter for recommendations. Both times I visited I came with friends and we shared an assortment of curries. Their coconut rice is amazing too!
Time goes quickly
With many friends to hang-out with and things to do in Varkala, my four days there went by really quickly. I had hoped to catch-up my blog a bit more, but it didn’t happen. Hoping I can give a few more updates before I start Yoga Teacher Training on March 4th. It’s going to be really intense I think!
Thanks for reading! Until next time.