Hanging out in Varkala

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January 10th 2012
Published: January 15th 2012
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The "Chai Wagon"The "Chai Wagon"The "Chai Wagon"

A few of the locals enjoying the sunset whilst having a nice cupper.
Happy 2012 from the cliff tops in Varkala from two very chilled out souls. Read about the vibe here

Quick summary of the beautiful Varkala – our home for nearly a month and what we loved about it:

- Beautiful crystal clear ocean and clean beaches, even have dolphins swimming offshore at sunset. Pretty good waves for body surfing

- Amazing sunsets and equally amazing sunny days given it is winter at the moment, expect 35 degrees & upwards

- Waking up and going to sleep to sound of ocean and breezes of the palm / coconut trees from our home base. We have absolute ocean views from our bed.

- The stars are so bright as very little in the way of lights except myriad of little fairy lights that the restaurants have interwoven with the overhanging tree branches

- Enjoying yummy Keralan vegetarian and seafood dishes

- Walking along beach to and from dinner and sitting at beach shack cafes with your bare feet in the sand

- Helping the local fisherman drag in their massive nets full of fish onshore – SEE SEPARATE ENTRY

- Doing daily yoga

- Friendly people both locals and visitors

- Relaxing and more relaxing

If you want more detail of our time in paradise, read on

First stop immediately after we left the Sivananda Ashram was to take a 2 hour taxi ride north up the Keralan coast to Varkala and check into a seriously luxurious hotel suite overlooking the ocean at the Taj / Gateway Hotel. This spot was selected for its massive comfy king size bed and pillows – now before you cringe, it was for some serious snoozing and afternoon naps, in fact often after our morning yoga and brunch. This was the first bit of serious decadence since our gorgeous apartment in Amsterdam (early September) so we figured given the numerous basic beds/thin mattresses on this leg of our journey in Nepal and India, it was time up the ante in terms of comfort for our tired old selves.

Now Varkala is a very laid back spot anchored with beautiful beaches which are viewed from the cliffs above by the many little ayurvedic / accommodation resorts offering massages and treatments, guesthouses and beach shacks that look straight out of the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and many shops offering beach / holiday clothing, spices, teas and jewelry, pashimina shawls, beautiful coloured and embellished bedspreads and other handicrafts plus some German bakeries (surprise surprise!) some tailors, internet cafes and travel agents, couple of music and movie shops plus tons of restaurants serving various shades of the same being Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian incl. some Keralan local dishes, Italian, Swedish, Israeli, Thai etc. There is a large Nepalese and Tibetan community of both handicraft traders restaurateurs’ in this area make it their home during the tourist season, literally, they sleep in the shops and restaurants.

One of the charms of this spot is that it is not super commercial here which is really nice nor does it have the craziness / crowds like say Kuta or Legion in Bali or some parts of Goa like Baga.

Nearly all of the restaurants and cafes and most guest houses offer free WiFi so don’t despair you can stay in e-mail contact, Twitter or Skype your mates back home etc while sipping your cappuccino or latte
Fishing BoatFishing BoatFishing Boat

one of the many fishing boats

We initially were not sure how long we would stay here and then all of a sudden the thought of trying to travel during one of the busiest times (summer break, overseas visitors for Xmas/NY) in India settled it for us to just ‘lay low’ in Varkala. All destinations we were thinking about were either fully booked, 4 times the price as it the PEAK season for two weeks, trains are packed, etc so we thought we’d stay put.

You can quickly step into a daily rhythm here which if you’re not party people (out all nights drinking cocktails) like us could take the suggested shape below:

1. Wake up with sound of ocean and breeze hitting the thousands of palm trees; there are hardly any vehicles on the cliff paths due to inaccessibility, only the occasional motorbike sneaks in. Really wonderful to cut back on the noise especially the horn honking and endless loud music coming from temples. The hotels etc are accessible by riksaw or taxi via series of little dirt tracks and main roads running adjacent to the cliffs.

2. Do some yoga or go for a jog or walk
Baywatch IndiaBaywatch IndiaBaywatch India

not quite as glamorous as the original
along beach and adjacent paths, have a swim and/or watch the fisherman at work*. The body surfing can be excellent as the water is so warm and clear but some days the waves can be massive here and you have to be careful with rips. The two main beaches are manned with lifeguards who use their whistles and flags to manage the swimmers.

3. Take a late brunch at the Juice Shack run by Umesh, his wife Mercy and their family where we read the daily Hindu Times paper, chat to other visitors (many of them were at the Sivananda Ashram when we were there). Every day here we enjoy their fantastic fresh fruit smoothies and juices, muesli with fruit salad, curd/home made yoghurt & honey, maybe some porridge and they make the most wonderful super thick brown bread toast with peanut butter (Dave’s favourite)

4. We do some reading in cool of our home base when the sun was at full strength even though it is technically winter, you get days with 40 degrees celsius plus; or play scramble sometimes in French; take a nap (big surprise)

5. Maybe have a massage or take an afternoon yoga class**; maybe go to Varkala town by riksaw for spot of shopping (coffee, fruit and/or other little groceries) or haircut*** for Dave. It makes you feel like you’re achieved something if you have a task(s) to complete. We also did a couple of cooking class sessions with the dude chef, Khan to learn how to make some of the yummy Keralan vegetarian and fish and calamari in banana leaf we’ve been enjoying. Highlights included learning some BOLLYWOOD dance moves based on cooking techniques (guaranteed to make the girls go wild). making parotha bread, coconut rice, vegetable curry and calamari coconut thoran and also making fresh coconut milk using groovy grater which we purchased from a hardware shop in Varkala town to bring home. Check out the photos. Khan has been cooking since he was very young boy of 7 years in a kitchen and has worked as chef in Germany and Italy incl. doing television shows, He is very relaxed dude who makes magic in his amazing simple kitchen – nothing packaged all fresh aside from some dried herbs and spices. We had one class on New Year’s Day and the dude had not even been to bed but was in fine form, his afro still full of glitter from NYE partying. On his down time, he plays freestyle ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ at the beach with his mates and their Italian coach and they’re GOOOOD.

6. Head down for swim at 4.30pm when the sun’s heat has dropped off a bit and watch sunset at beach or watch the local guys watching the visiting foreign yoginis doing their asanas’ in their bikinis, then listen for the beach police tooting their whistles to move the said Indian gentlemen to move along.

· Every night the sunsets have been beautiful and even get to sometimes see pods of dolphins playing off the coastline.

· Also lots of various activities on the beach other than yoga, for instance, Frisbees, hula hooping, musicians jamming with their recently purchased drums and flutes; kids flying their kites, beach tennis, beach petanque / boules and so worth

· Vendors selling fresh fruit (pineapples, watermelon), guys selling marsala chai tea from the urns attached on the back of their bicycles; guys selling flutes, drums, necklaces and toys for the kids

7. Back to our base for a quick shower, change and off and out for a very casual bite to eat and couple of cold beers for Dave. Now due to some liquor licensing practices the beers may be served from a tea pot and coffee mugs and/or beer bottle wrapped in newspaper when poured as police patrol the restaurant strip so if your table is clearly visible the more obscure it will be. The practice is because the price of a liquor license is very expensive for the café owners. Funnily though all the cafes have their signage sponsored by Kingfisher beer.

8. Then we arrive home for some reading or watch a movie or read and then off to sleep

9. Each day, repeat steps 1 to 8 again.

We realize this regime sounds very lazy and we’re not doing much of anything and we totally agree with you, but then rather than beat ourselves up about not ‘doing anything’ we figured you know what between us we’ve worked cumulatively for 45 years full time so a little laziness is in order, why not!

*** On Wed 21 December Dave had the best haircut at the Modern Gents Hairdressing and Beauty Parlor (see photos) and receive nice clip from Jaysingh plus he cracked Dave’s neck just like his chiropractor would do at home. Dave has been trying to find anyone/someone who would do this movement with no luck until now in all our travels. Our back up plan was to wait until we got back to Bali to visit the best neck-cracking place Dave has located near the airport. Dave is going back just for another neck crack while we are in Varkala, it was so good. The other guys at the salon were in fits of laughter when they heard Dave cry out “Oh Man, that is soooo good, I’ve been waiting for this for ages!” probably thinking he was referring to the haircut, which was pretty cool. Haircut was 100 rupees so Dave dropped 500 rupees as he’d have paid more just to track down someone to do the neck crack he has been hanging out for. A win-win situation for all concerned.

Also we did the ‘Rhinocourt run’ which involved Dave picking up a year long supply of his allergy medication spray from all available stock in town. Here in India, it is 3 times the strength than we get OTC for 2/3rd less of cost than at home!!!

P.s Christmas in Varkala, well aside from definite increase in the number visitors arriving from Christmas Eve onwards mainly Europeans – Brits, German, French, Italians, loads of backpackers and ex. Ashram guests plus loads of Russians (there is a huge power plant being built in Kerala by Russians and Ukrainians), Christmas was practically non-existent aside from beautiful fairy lights and paper lanterns that were strung up at the cafes and guesthouses. Very low key which was wonderful.

For our visit have stayed in three (3) spots in Varkala:

Four (4) nights at the Taj/Gateway Hotel when we first arrived. Nice pool and spot overall but little out of the way. Very similar feeling to staying at Sheraton Mirage style hotel.

Then we stayed the majority of our days at Thanal Beach Resort; www.thanalbeachresort.com a lovely boutique resort run by wonderful hosts, Subhash and his wife where we have absolute ocean views from our spotlessly clean and contemporary style suite. We think it has been one of
Varkala BeachVarkala BeachVarkala Beach

good consistent surf on most days - good for body surfing
the best spots we have stayed in India.

We even get to do our own yoga on their rooftop overlooking the ocean.

Then we had to pop out for 3 nights before Christmas Day as Thanal already had bookings so we went to The Bohemian Masala, an eco-resort that was beautiful. www.thebohemianmasala.com

Their resort is made up of 12 individual cottages have private verandas facing the growing garden of tropical plants, flowers, trees and herbs (which you can pick and nibble on), it is very natural and peaceful here. They do not offer air-conditioned rooms as they have instead used cooling mud and herbs to create this affect along with Vaastu principle (these are based on ancient Vedic architectural principles) to enhance airflow, tranquility and harmony in the cottage for maximum rest. The cottages are made by the help of natural knowledge from tribal people of Waayanad, build solid with handmade bricks, hand polished floors, reclaimed roof tiles, doors and windows. Furnished with hand crafted bamboo, coconut and recycled wood and beautiful finishing touches by supporting the dying arts of local artist and craftsmen.

They only serve organic Keralan vegetarian and seafood dishes and all made by the most wonderful friendly chefs and staff we have met. They ooze happiness here, actually most people here do in Varkala. We attended a wonderful evening at the resort of food culture and music. We tasted organic local Keralan vegetarian dishes accompanied by three very energetic classical musicians on their drums, free styling beat box vocals and Indian violin.

**We also did some Hatha / Sivananda style yoga at Bohemian Masala during our stay in Varkala as they have drop-in classes with Vasu Devananda, a lovely gentle and dedicated teacher in his large yoga shala space. www.yogavarkala.com

Vasu holds a weekly beginners course along with open classes and he has written a very informative yoga book to accompany these classes that he makes available. He also travels to Europe to hold retreats.

There are many hotels offering yoga and also stand alone places, many seem to be doing Sivananda style Hatha classes, not much Vinyasa Flow or Power yoga which is fine. We’ve been doing our own sessions some days or take classes with Vasu on other. We did try some other places but often the teachers we got the sense they were just very disinterested in being there so we caught that vibe and didn’t return. Life’s short right?

One of the nicest spots we ate was the Theeram restaurant which had yummy Keralan vegetarian food and was a cute little white beach shack right on the beach where you can sit with your feet in the sand and enjoy amazing meal and a cold beer with little Ruby their resident puppy sitting with you and their lovely staff looking after you. Also Oottopura, which is a lovely vegetarian restaurant near the Helidpad carpark that has been running for years. We have been having the owner create our meal with selection of different dishes – all so yummy and so inexpensive. Other spots we liked were People, Clafouti and Sunrise cafes all with tasty vegetarian options. We also had couple of ‘less than average’ experiences with meals but overall pretty good.

By the way, we have been essentially vegetarian since 13 September 2011 with exception of a couple bites of seafood and occasional scrambled eggs during our travels in Nepal and India and really we’ve not had any craving any red meat or chicken.

Well our next stops were in development.

Initially we thought we’d head back to Nepal (from 7 Jan) to complete some treks in the Annapurna Sanctuary and Lang Tang mountain region trails but then we had a change of heart as realization that it would be very very very chilly influenced our decision to head to Thailand with our 1st stop in Chiang Mai. We have found a great yoga intensive workshop to attend from 1st Feb aptly named "Unbutton your spine" and this city very well on paper as a place to spend time in.

After Thailand maybe Bali and then we think it will time for our move back to Sydney to ‘get back’ to our home base.

We’re always feeling homesick to be in Sydney especially when summer weather is ON as it is great to hang down at Bronte beach, go running along coastal paths and in Centennial Park, BBQs, in the afternoon scooting down to North Bondi for a late afternoon swim and a quiet beer on the hill, just sublime.

Wishing everyone a happy 2012.

Celebrate every
Bohemian Masala Bohemian Masala Bohemian Masala

our daily yoga spot with Vasu of Varkala Yoga.
single moment of every day!!!!

Ciao ciao xx

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 33


Jansingh the master barberJansingh the master barber
Jansingh the master barber

plus the complimentary "chiropractic next crack"

View from our place on the Varkala Cliffs

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