Varkala in South Kerala, India
I spent two months in beautiful Varkala in the South of Kerala, India. Read how I got there from Goa and what I visited in and around Varkala!
How I traveled from Goa to the south of Kerala with public transport: Varkala was my home for December and January. From Arambol I took a public bus at the main street around 6:00 pm, the bus is packed, luckily I can put my backpack in the front and then enjoy the ride thanks to the nice music and happy people inside. In Mapusa station I change busses, after another 20 minutes I reach the cross where Tivim train station is supposed to be. After a few seconds I get used to the dark and fallow the street and quickly reach it. I generally try to travel with public transport and so far I was always lucky and safe, instead of 800 Rs I paid 40 RS for the two busses.. The train is supposed to be late and I find it hard to understand the voice from the speaker, so I talk to some People and find my train in the end. I reserved a sleeper spot, from outside I try to find the right part of the train and then inside it’s even harder to find my seat, it’s dark and everyone is sleeping. Then a man offers me help and I climb on one of the top beds and he reaches me my backpack. I put on my sleep mask and ear plugs, try to find a comfortable position and give my best to fall asleep. It’s loud, windy and hot, but at least I can lie down and so I just keep my eyes covered as long as I can, I remember dreams of strong rain. Around nine I give up and start to get to know my neighbours and enjoy the rest of this 18 hours train ride to Varkala, pretty far down south in India.
Volunteering at a Hotel: The next two months I’ll be volunteering at a beautiful Ayurveda Hotel on the quiet South Cliff, helping with general tasks here and there, some office and reception work, teaching restorative Yoga early in the mornings and helping some employees to improve their english. I feel very lucky: Amazing food, short pathway to the beach, nice people, small yoga classes, lots of space to practice Yoga and so much more. When I offer my help at a place like this, it doesn’t feel like holiday anymore and the days go over quickly after 5 hours of work. But it’s the nicest experience to be part of a team and I always learn so much.
Varkala: Varkala seems to be a big town, the tourists live mostly on North Cliff which is very busy with hotels and restaurants. On South Cliff it’s much more quiet just a few places to eat and sleep, very relaxed and beautiful. In between is Papanasam Beach Road going from the temple to the holy beach, along the street are a few more restaurants, shops and hotels. I personally would prefer this middle part to stay as a tourist, there you meet the most Indian tourists and find some authentic restaurants and an amazing small juice place. The beach below North Cliff is crowded and Papanasam Beach is a holy place to visit for Indian families. The beach to the south is often pretty empty even in the main season and the fishermen might ask you to help them push their boats in the water. I loved my time in Varkala and can’t wait to come back.
Many evenings I enjoyed the time after sunset in this beautiful temple, you have to ask if you are allowed to enter the main building. For me it was just the best to finish the day feeling the warm ancient stones under my bare feet, walking around and taking in the atmosphere. Everything full of lights and smells of flowers and incents. Often you meet people who love to show you around.
If you have some time in Varkala, just fallow the cliff promenade on North Cliff towards Black Beach. To get a break from the heat, we visit the little Aquarium there. It’s a beautiful, cool building and we were fascinated by the jellyfish who are presented in black light. The sunset at the rocky Black Beach is beautiful, most of the days some lonely fisherman is around and it will never get boring to observe their art of fishing.
Temple Festival: Another day we asked our driver friend to just show us his favourite temple in the area and we were even allowed to come inside. Luckily he also knew about a temple festival not far from there on the same day, so we spend the whole afternoon in a small village dancing and celebrating the carnival-like event. I have no words to describe the costumes or the dance moves there were presenting in super loud live music..! It was a beautiful mix of traditional story telling and young people presenting their hip hop dances, we loved it.
Sivagiri Ashram: One day we take a rickshaw to Sivagiri ashram. Not many western tourists seem to go, we don’t really know how to visit the place. One second later a man offers his help and explains us everything. We buy a Pooja and lunch ticket for 50 RS, the man at the counter writes our names in Malayalam language down on it. We take some time to visit the beautiful lower temples, houses and garden and then walk up to the main temple building with golden roof. Around 12:00 there seems to be a Pooja, it’s like a long prayer where the monk sings the names of the persons who put in their Pooja paper with name and shares offerings to the Gods in form of flowers and sweets. Sivagiri often emphasized the equality of all humans, in other Indian temples non Hindus are not very welcome but here we feel very invited and deeply enjoy the ceremony. Afterwards everyone goes to the huge lunch hall to enjoy a typical Kerala Food on banana leaves, 4 monks fill the room with their deep singing voices during the meal.
Golden Island: The rickshaw drivers in Varkala have a list of activities, they would love to do with you. It’s not the cheapest, but we enjoyed the time with our driver quite a lot. One day we drove to the Golden Island, after a beautiful way you reach the backwaters and need to pay about 600 RS for the boat ride, so it’s cheaper to be about 3-4 people. We were quite lucky, because the island was empty and the guide there waiting for tourists took a lot of time for us. He showed us the little Temple and Gods and not only explained everything, but also showed us how to pray with them. It’s a magic place.
A day in Trivandrum: Trivandrum can be easily reached from Varkala by train, it’s a hot, busy city. I just visited the beautiful wooden Palace next to the big temple, someone gave us a tour and explained all the detailed wooden artworks, it’s amazing. Sadly tourists are not allowed to enter the temple, but from outside it’s still pretty impressing and there is a lot of indian pilgrims visiting every day. I also visited the Zoo and the little museum nearby, if you have a lot of time I can recommend it. My favourite restaurant in Trivandrum was Mother Veg Plaza, they serve the typical Kerala food on banana leaves in a chaotic but beautiful order, definitely worth a try!
Writing this down, I miss Varkala and the people I got to know there quite a lot! It was my second trip to India, and while the first time I felt lonely after 6 weeks, 4 months was not enough this time. Volunteering defintitely makes the difference, you slowly become part of the place like in a family.
Let me know your experiences or favourite places in Varkala in the comments! 🙂 I’m happy to answer all questions.0