Varkala

Image of Varkala BeachVarkala is a beautiful sandy beach about an hour’s drive from Thirivananthapuram.About 45 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, Varkala has a laidback, relaxed atmosphere and a rather compact beach that does not take too long to explore.Varkala is real vacation as no one there really works! Everyone is just chilled out. Even the people at the shacks were just chilling most of the times.

One you branch off from the highway, the road that leads to the beach is narrow and winding and suddenly you find yourself facing the mighty ocean. There are sadhus sitting under huge umbrellas offering their services for hose interested in praying for their departed ancestors. On one side of the beach is an overhanging cliff and it was interesting to find a helipad perched on this cliff. You have a a great time on the beach playing with the unending waves.

The beach at Varkala has no shops or restaurants. Most of the hotels and eateries are spread across the two cliffs north and south of the spacious cove that forms the famous Papanasam Beach. The wide plateau stop the steep laterite cliffs also offer a wonderful view of the sea. A dip in these waters is believed to wash away sins (papam).Priests at the Janardhana Temple,2,000 years old, offer help with ritual pooja.The remains of Sree Narayana Guru, the well known social reformer and saint, are interred at Sivagiri Mutt at the eastern edge of town.

Image of Varkala BeachSunset, as everyone in the west coast knows, is the best time to be at the beach. Sunset viewing on a holiday is quite a life changing experience. The sunset hues set in, taking in different forms and helping everyone relax and change the pace of breathing itself. As the sky got darker, the horizon started twinkling with the innumerable ships at sea. All this while the lights and lantern at the shacks began to be lit up too .It is truly beautiful.

Renting a bike is a good decision to see the less touristy places around Varkala.Stretch of area a little off Varkala where the backwaters and the sea run side by side, separated by a mere stretch of land.

European backpackers and tourists with a lower budget, who find the low tariff and cost of food a big bonus, form the bulk of the tourist population to Varkala. Varkala is one of the major destination in Kerala tourism.

SIGHTS

Sivagiri Mutt

Located 3 km away on the eastern edge of town, is the ashram that was the final resting place of Kerala’s famous saint and social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru. This mutt, with its distinctive multi tiered white turret, is believed to be sacred. Lower down, is Sree Narayana Guru’s old residence, which now displays some of his personal belongings. Nearby is the Sharda Temple, dedicated to Saraswati, whose idol was installed by the guru himself.

Janardhana Temple

Believed to be nearly 2,000 years old, and devoted to Lord Vishnu, this shrine stands at the entrance to the beach road. A flight of broad steps lead to the temple grounds past a high entrance arch. Cluster of brightly painted idols of Shiva, Hanuman and others are arranged around the sanctorum. Lighted wicks burn from oil trays cut into tall granite posts, while heavy brass bells strung from ceiling and poles glean in the sunlight. The main temple bell, presented by the Dutch captain of a sailing ship, is believed to date back to the middle of the 17th century.

Ponnumthuruthu Island

This is a delightful island, located 20 km away, surrounded by the Anjengo backwaters. Approachable by boat from the makeshift jetty at the nearby Nedunganda village, the island is uninhabited, save for a 100 year old Shiva Parvati temple. Exposed to the vagaries of nature and time, it was in a state of disrepair until most of it was built about 10 years ago. The entire Island is temple property.

Anjengo Fort

Anchuthengu Fort or Anjengo FortBuilt in 1695 by the Portuguese, this fort stands on a strip of land called ‘Anjengo’, sandwiched between the sea and the backwaters. Used originally as a depot to store merchandise, the British, under Captain Keeling, converted it in to a fort. It does not have the formidable look of other forts in Kerala though, being more of an enclosed bastion with a bulwark of high laterite walls and lookout points. There are many tombstones at Anjengo, the earliest one dating back to 1704, with inscriptions offering a glimpse into the past.

Anchuthengu, formerly known as Anjengo, is a place situated about 12 km from Varkala en route to Kadakkavur. Varkala is its famous neighbor, where tourists keep coming, where the famous author Anees Salim grew up as a child. But if, at one tiny T Junction, you take the left instead of the right, you reach Anchuthengu.This is when you come to Varkala from Thiruvananthapuram.You don’t need directions after that, the Anchuthengu Fort stands big opposite a lighthouse. Both are hard to miss and come with great histories. If you miss both, there is still the big wide beach, lying unexplored and clean with fishing boats parked on the shore.

But you should make a stop before this, on a bridge you cross to reach the place. You will see on both sides of the road, a large river bordered on all sides by green trees would like painted scenery. In the fort, of course, you have good view to look at, steps to climb to the top and watch the historical place. Anchuthengu was the first trade settlement of the East India Company. The Fort was then built in 1695.There was a local unrest two years later, when the natives attacked the British facory.The place also played a role in the bigger Attingal rebellion of 1721.

Anchuthengu has still more history to talk of. The lighthouse, 130 ft. tall, is believed to have guided the ships coming from Britain. Then there are the old churches built in the European architectural style, and a more then 100 years old, convent school.

Lighthouse

The lighthouse here is 130 ft tall. The ruins of one of the earliest factories set up by the British East India Company, built in 1684,can also be found at Anjengo.The 15 km route from Varkala winds past charming coastal villages and the beautiful Chilakoor Beach, which offers glorious views of the sunset.

Kappil Beach and Backwaters

A confluence of the sea and the Kappil River, the tongues of backwaters, the extensive estuary, and the magical interplay of land and water all add up to make this an idyllic spot. The small palm covered islets within the estuary further enhance its charms. The coastal road passing through this area practically holds the sea and the estuary apart for a long stretch, offering delightful views of the waters on either side. There are no tourists, vendors or shops, and absolutely no traffic whatsoever. Lacking all tourist amenities except for boating, Kappil in fact, seems to be a closely guarded secret.

For the regular visitors of the Varkala Beach, skipping that turn that takes you to the cliff and taking the road beyond might not be all that easy. Used as one could be to the charms of the big and beautiful beach. But then if you do take a few kilometers off – seven to be precise – you will find a pretty little beachside, with water bodies on both sides of the road and that dear friends, is Kapil.

It is much less crowded than its touristy neighbor. But what is not taken up by people is largely taken up by scores and scores of tres.Coconut trees jutting out to the waters – Arabian Sea on one side and Edava Narayana Lake on the other. There is a bridge running across the lake that gives you the whole picture. And beneath the lake, if you turn from the main road and take a side path, you reach the point of confluence of the lake and the sea – with rocks making a little wall between the two. But then these rocky barriers protect against the harsh tides of the season.

On this side path you will also find a grove of trees that look ideal for a picnic spot where children can play hide and seek. It faces the lake, and sitting below the canopy keeps you away from the scorching sun in the day.

If you are the walking type, you can take the walkway from Varkala beach and reach Kappil.But there is the risk of losing your way, so it might be a better idea to stick to the roads. Boat rides are not so common at Kappil, but you could hire them at the boat club.

There is also a Kappil Beach in Kasargod but that is another story.

Getting There

By Air : The nearest is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport,55 Km away

By Rail : Varkala has its own railway station. Take a train for Kollam or Kochi from Thiruvananthapuram.Check beforehand if the train stops at Varkala.

By Road : Varkala is connected to Kollam (nearer),Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram.  

Where to stay

For details of hotels and resorts in Varkala,see accommodation listing on http://halokerala.com/hotels/varkala/  

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