India: Varkala

Varkala!! After striking out in Kochi for a cool place to stay we decided to head to Varkala, a cliffside beach town for a couple of days of R&R. As you can see from the other posts, we have been hard charging through India thus far. Spending a day at a place, seeing a ton, and then moving on. We needed to take a little time and relax. Also with the year coming to a close, we needed to find a place to celebrate!

The plan was to take a train from Kochi to Varkala. It was only 200km away on the map and there was an easy train station in Kochi. But since nothing can be super easy, we had to also anticipate a couple of hurdles. The first is that we didn’t have a place to stay in Varkala! We called all of the places and they were booked full. Not a room available. Reading the online forums and suchs it did seem like there were a lot of places that simply didn’t advertise on the net and weren’t in the lonely planet or other guide books. So we would just figure it out when we get there. The second challenge was that in the entire state of Kerala, the transportation industry (non governmental) were on strike. So that meant no taxis, rickshaws, hired cars, etc. So that meant a walk to the train station in Kochi which wasn’t so bad, just a few km. But in Varkala it was a much longer hike. We were betting that some type of black market would either spring up to help or we would just figure it out there. Chuckles was determined to get there after the seed had been planted, so off we went.

The indian train experience was shaping up to be an adventure. The trip to the station was hot and humid, and once there, it was still confusing. But the staff was helpful and we found our platform. It was packed with folks, but seemed orderly.

Waiting

As we waited for the train to come, we investigated one of the trains sitting parked on the tracks. It was a second class train, a meta, tube with just bars over the window openings to prevent decaptittion, but the loss of an arm or leg was totally game. It was dark, and the heat shimmered off the hot metal. Jeez, i am glad we sprung for the deluxe Sleeper Class. The train pulled in and ignited the mass rush to board. We had no idea where we were going. We just got on. All the cars in front of us said sleep class, but tell me why did it look just like that parked metal oven across the track. Uh oh, this was going to be a long ride. Since there were no seat assignments we could understand, we ended up just standing in the doorway, and of course the toilets were there to keep us company. Standing and braced against the wall we shoved off.

The scenery inspired the senses. The land was green and lush and the air was clear. Kerala really is beautiful. It felt much more like Thailand, cambodia, Vietnam, etc. vs. The dusty bowl of the north.

The guy below had such a strong face.

Pensive Keralan

Not to be outdone, the wafing of the train pulled Chuckles in as well, and we just enjoy a bit of rickety calm as the scenery passed by.

Pensive Chuckles

The interior of the train was basic. The metal shell, cut openings for windows, bars for anti-decapitation, and vinyl boards for chairs. In each area anywhere from 6 – 10 people could be wedged in. The official seating chart said 4.

Lounging Family

Feet & Heels

The car master Kept looking curiously at us as we stood for the ride. Eventually he came over to ask if we wanted our seats. We said we’re cool, but colloquial English expressions are often misinterpreted, so we were whisked to sit down. He cleared some women and children away and we felt awful. But he told us they were his children, and with the seat cleared we took it. That was a good idea. That train ride was not an hour and a half like we were told, but more like 4 hours. It was exhilarating to watch the trains pass. I swear they run closer than we do in the states, forcing debri from the tracks into the train.

Passing Trains

Arriving in Varkala we were stoked to be approached by a rickshaw driver! Either he didn’t get the memo on the strike, or he was willing to take the risk. We were down. It’s the first time in India that the touting was desired. As we crossed the tracks to get to his rickshaw we did pass other drivers. Looks like the strike was planned to try and have the least impact on tourism. Normally in India you do not let the rickshaw driver take you to hotels, as they get a commission and it’s rarely the places you want to stay. But remember we were all tapped on places. So we went along for the ride. The first place was nice, but it was off the beach and we really envisioned one of the magical beach bungalows we had read about. Determined to make the sale, the driver took us to another place, and it delivered! Bamboo hut, outdoor shower, 100ft from the main cliff side and beach and an awesome home base for the next couple of days. We took it, and the price ws reasonable. This is the peak of tourist season for Varkala so we were prepared to pay, but this place rocks for like $24!

We dropped our gear and went to grab some grub. Dinner was delicious. We had some fresh prawns, fried chicken, and a fish cooked in a banana leaf. On the prawn note, when the bill came we learned that the prawns here are made of unobtanium. You know the stuff from Pandora. Yup, it’s crazy expensive. The fish was like $3, the chicken $5, the beers $3 each, but the prawns. Damn, like $5 each!!! and of course we gorged on them because we didn’t know… Lesson learned. The best part of dinner though was the dance troop that came and performed some hip hop moves for us. In the middle of the restaurant, they broke out into a hip hop, so you think you can dance it, it was awesome. Led by the choreographer and obviously the best dancer, the troop weaved karalan, western, and african dance into a smooth progression of movement. While note the crispest show I have seen, it brought down the house. The fire dancer took the prize though when he appeared wielding fire and burning off ever strand of body hair. He set his turbine ablaze and the troop danced around in sync and in circle.

Fire Circle

Post dinner it was a quick nighttime beach visit and bed. The next morning it was up and time to do some laundry for Chuckles. He turned our outdoor oasis into a clothes jungle.

Clothes Jungle

Varkala during the day really is stunning. The cliff hugs the thin strand of beach, and the stairs up and down ensure you go down and spend a while.

Varkala

Down on the beach the familiar tourist hustle begins, with the office for an umbrella. With the sun really heating up and my skin starting to sizzle, it was a deal. The guide books and such make Varkala out to be a hidden gem. A little known wonder. Thats just not the case. This place was packed full of Europeans. With an umbrella and home made lounge chair, I kicked back while Chuckles went to the sea.

Beach View

Safety

We discovered that there were 2 distinct beaches in Varkala, divided by a guard and a string. One for the Indians and the other for tourists. The Indians played and frolicked on theirs like we did ours and of course Chuckles had to cross the divide and made some friends. Apparently at other beaches in India, male gawkers soil the beach scene so this seems to be a type of precaution against that. Though it did feel just weird.

Post beach it was time for beers and food, since it WAS new year’s eve. The sunset was unremarkable for Varkala, but amazing to us.

Sunset
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As the sun dipped and the food and beers flowed, I couldn’t help but have that moment of reflection on my life. Yea it’s cheesy I know. But damn, life is good.<

Categories: India, Travel

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