After spending a whole week slipping into the extremely chilled out way of life around Varkala Beach and North Cliff, Soph and I found it very hard to leave. We had even toyed with the idea of staying a few days longer, which would have been very, very easy in such a relaxed place – it suited us down to the ground!
Varkala offers a range of different activities “for body and soul” including surfing, yoga, Ayurvedic treatments, and my two favourites, drinking and eating (shock…). Although we had over a week there, we did not bother with the surfing side of things, it would have been good, I’m sure, but for the cost of lessons in relation to our budget, and the reluctancy of the guys who rent the boards out to let you go off with a board without at least one lesson, meant it was a little out of our price range! The cheapest lessons we found were £15 for an hour, and offered by a very unconvincing “surf master” who was just a portly Indian man who may have just read a book about surfing once to proclaim himself a master. He certainly did not look like he has ever been able balance on his own two legs for too long, let alone on a surfboard. I assessed the situation and declined his gracious offer of “expert” lessons.
We did however indulge in a few of Varkala’s cheaper activities. We both got massages. Mine was great. Soph’s was not. I never thought I would enjoy a small Indian man rubbing me up (back and shoulders only please – I know what these people are like with personal space, etc.), but it was fucking awesome. Given that my back and neck appear to be in pretty shocking state after 3 months of sleeping on some pretty dire beds (I am sure 20 years of rugby hasn’t helped either!), a deep tissue massage hurt like shit. He pretty much beat me up for half an hour. But it was good.
Soph, on the other hand, did not quite get what she expected. We both wanted deep tissue massages to sort out our decrepit backs, ready for leaving Varkala and starting our travels again. Soph ended up with a head rub, facial tickle, and a bit of a light rub up and down her back and legs. Far from what she asked for, what I got, and what she expected. Typically, we later found out the girl who had massaged Soph hadn’t been trained in deep tissue massage. That’s India for you…
I also tried Yoga. That is never something I thought I would say / do, but when in the Yoga capital of the World (by the looks of it anyway – pretty much every other place along the cliff holds daily classes), and after a bit of peer pressure from Soph and an Aussie couple we met, it would be rude not to really. You don’t know if you like something or not without trying it, as the old saying goes. Well… as suspected the whole breathing and meditation bollocks that goes with it was, well how can I put this, strange, pointless, just not my thing. The rest (the stretching and poses) was fine, and actually quite enjoyable. So, I am still to neither here nor there about Yoga to be honest. Maybe there is a type of Yoga that doesn’t require you to get all hippy and in touch with your inner chakra, and all that jazz. Oh well, it was worth a try.
So, by day Varkala is a little hippy, surfer paradise, with a beautiful beach, plenty of places to grab some cheap, tasty lunch – when we were not cooking our own – one place offered an all you can eat buffet for Rs 150 (Organic, Vegetarian – obviously; got to keep the hippies happy). By night, following a typically epic sunset, which was best viewed from one of the many restaurants that garnish the edge of the North Cliff – our favourite spot being a place called Caffé Italiano (not Italian in the slightest), the Indian Ocean offered up quite a spectacle. As soon as darkness falls a myriad lights appear to twinkle far out at sea, resembling some kind of cityscape, as the fishing boats begin their nightly work. This provides an incredible setting for a quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) meal and drinks. After a little research, we found out that Kerala, once known as the state that consumes the most alcohol in India, is now a ‘dry’ state – probably to counteract the fact that all the men were outright pissheads. This does not mean you can’t get booze, it just makes getting beer a little tricky (in other areas of Kerala – Varkala was easy), and a little expensive at Rs 180 per big bottle.
We are now in Kochi, enjoying yet another noisy, budget guesthouse room in the popular Fort Kochi area (Brisbane Lodge; only Rs 500 per night – you get what you pay for here, which is not a lot). After a day exploring here, including trying to find the notoriously elusive government alcohol shop (the only way to legally buy beer in Kochi, apart from in hotels), we will be heading into the mountains tomorrow, to the hill station of Munnar, for more tea farms and trekking.
Here are some photos from our time in Varkala: