Published: February 22nd 2005February 22nd 2005
The famous beach and the cliffs in the background
In order to get the ticket reservation done quickly, we moved to the credit card line. After filling in the elaborate form, we got our tickets on the night train from Madurai to Varkala
, two sleeping berths included, for little more than EUR 4. I guess we are not VISA's favourite customers.
We had reserved the opposite upper berths, as recommended in all the guide books. When we arrived at around 10:45 p.m., people were still eating late supper, filling the air with all sorts of exotic smells. There are no compartments as we know them from Europe, in the sleeper class a whole carriage is filled with berths, separated only by light wooden planks, each box has six beds in it, one side open to the corridor, where you are advised to put your feet. On the ceiling you will find three fans, very close to the upper berths, fortunately stirring the air without turning! On the other side of the corridor, there are two more berths, these turned into the direction the train moves. No bedding is provided (you can't really expect this at such a price, can you?), apart from that we slept astonishingly well. After mastering
Exercise on the beach
Kerala is well-known for yoga, as you can see some westerners have already reached a high level
the last obstacle, the way up, where Klaudia had some problems because the first step of the ladder is quite far from the floor, we were tired enough to get some refreshing sleep. The train's scheduled arrival was at 8:21 a.m. next morning, but we had almost an hour delay, as is normal with trains in India, we heard. Maybe the delay was due to the fact that we crossed the "border" between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala!
Dear readers, welcome to Kerala
, the state with picturesque beaches, lush green nature, rather Western places and a literacy rate of 100%, of which they are very proud. As a matter of fact, more people here speak good English than in Tamil Nadu.
As we needed a break from the exhausting days before, we first stopped in Varkala, famous for its nice beach and its coconut groves. The village itself is not directly at the seaside, where most of the tourists stay, so you see rather little of it. There are two main parts, the North Cliff and the South Cliff. We stayed at a place on the North Cliff that had an alluring French name and boasted
If you wait long enough, you can see the sirene coming out of the sea at sunset
French pastry and cooking - at least in the books. We went for breakfast there, and Klaudia could not resist ordering a pain au chocolat
. It looked very much like what we know but it tasted quite different. Although being generously filled with chocolate, the dough was a bread dough - we let you figure out the strange taste. The cliffs are really beautiful, made of red brown stone and really steep and rugged. No way jumping directly into the sea from there, it is very shallow for many metres!
After breakfast, we set out to explore the coastal line, where the different shops and restaurants are lined up like pearls on a string. We originally planned to leave the coast and get to the village, but on our way there we ran into a young Indian man, who turned out to be a masseur. He offered both of us an Ayurvedic massage
, and as we had already considered it, we agreed... He ushered us into a big house and after some initial questions, we were led into a big room that was separated by big pieces of cloth, Stephan being massaged by the young man and Klaudia by
Behind the North Cliff and its shopping street, you can see the typical landscape of Kerala with coconut groves
a woman. Klaudia still has some problems with the joint of her left shoulder, and she hoped for relief.
First of all, we were stripped of all our clothes and jewellery, then they clad us into a tiny white loin-cloth to protect our private parts, then they tried to bring home the Ayurvedic message to us. It all started at the head, over which some drops of warm oil were sprinkled, then gently rubbed into our hair and skin, ears included. For a full hour, each square mm of our bodies was covered with oil being rubbed in with varying movements. After a couple of minutes, the berths where we had to sit or lie on, were so covered with oil that we feared to simply glide off them! Due to her pain in the shoulder, Klaudia was given an additional treatment with a herbal punch. A huge amount of aromatic herbs was filled into a porous piece of cloth so that it looked like a nice mushroom, and drenched in very hot oil. Then it was stamped on her left shoulder for a quarter of an hour. Now she was ready for the frying pan! Throughout the whole
When they are not in use, the fishing boats are covered with palm mats in order to protect them against the sun and the rain, if any
massage, Klaudia has wondered how they would get into their clothes, oily as they were. Solution: we were washed by our respective masseur. First they applied a paste similar to curry
that worked as an exfoliating scrub. Afterwards, our new skin was washed and dried. We were meant to feel like somebody else, but on us the trick had not worked. It was undeniably a new experience, but one that we have no wish to repeat.
Next morning, we had breakfast in the last restaurant on the North Cliff. From there, we had an astonishing view of the bay, the reason why the place is called Bay Watch (hopefully, the American TV series is not the reason). While we enjoyed ourselves, eating cornflakes and watching the waves of the Arabian Sea roll, we realised that something was going on at the sea. The fishermen from the next village
had united to pull their nets in. We quickly finished our meal, in a hurry to get a closer look. We simply climbed over the rocks and felt like in the middle of a report in National Geographic
or on Discovery Channel
. The fisherman pulled on thick ropes, all manually, and
Klaudia and Stephan
The digital camera age has not yet reached the fishermen, so they still have some problems with them
a lot of birds tried to get a share of the catch. There were crows, India's national bird as it seems, some egrets, and many beautiful eagles. These rather small red-brown birds with a white head and belly, very much impressed us by their flying skills. One moment, they glided in the sky almost without moving their wings, the next second, they shot like an arrow towards the surface of the sea, even touching the water with their claws. Were they practising? Stephan went to help the fishermen pull, and Klaudia watched the whole scene with eyes as big as saucers. It took some time, the net being almost 1000m long! The suspense kept rising, the birds and all the white people waited for the big catch. In fact, they caught very many fish, but of tiny size, even smaller than sardines, only for the local people since we could not find them in any restaurant. Immediately after pulling the fish unto shore, the catch was divided among the participating fishermen and sold on to fishmongers. We had a wonderful time close to the beach, but as we did not have the camera with us you will not find any pictures attached.
Varkala has one big beach of brown sand, and also several smaller beaches further north of black volcanic sand. We went swimming on both kinds, preferring the smaller beaches because of their privacy. The waves are quite strong and usually break very close to the beach. We always tried to swim further out, to swim in tranquility. Swimming was great fun, apart from the fact that a big wave tore away Klaudia's cap, with which she used to protect her head against the sun, never to be found again. But she managed to find a nice replacement, as you will see later on.