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Published: March 1st 2016
The time has arrived … to disembark from the houseboat on completion of a romantic overnight stay onboard ….. at Kanjipadam Jetty off Alappuzha. It is already 10:30 and the atmosphere has started warming rapidly. We must gear up for the journey of about 3-hours to Varkala …. The beach destination.
What was the least anticipated …. the chauffer was missing from the parking lot. Wish we had called him earlier to inform him of our scheduled arrival. The cellular network has been quite strong throughout the waterway. There was neither a call-drop nor loosing stable data-signals. The waiting for the chauffer was inevitable.
We were left with no alternative but to take a small walk around to kill some time. The small roadside eateries, with large flex banners & paintings depicting fish varieties, were yet to open for the lunch. The toddy shops had already commenced the sale and were doing brisk business, mostly catering to the natives. There was an irresistible temptation of tasting this abundantly available natural elixir. Being unsure of its potency and the suitability of our body system to absorb the toddy, raised apprehensions in our minds. To be or not to be, was
the dilemma. The head ruled … and the decision was not to be.
The driver, apologetically, surfaced on the scene from nowhere. After the quick loading of our bags in the car, soon we touched NH-47. Apparently the road runs parallel to the railway line on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. The distance of approximately 100 Kms to cover and the ETA was revised to 02:00 pm. There were many small towns en route. Some of the known names were Chavara, Ashtamudi Lake, Kollam etc. The journey was much similar to the one on Kochi – Alappuhza road. Small houses, junction markets, toddy shops, fruits & vegetable vendors, fishermen, plastic and terracotta utensils on display were the major elements of the streetscape. The construction of houses was horizontal all along the highway and the only vertical objects were swaying palms, and cellular towers.
Every few miles, there were Government Beverage Shops, selling alcohol. It is very easy to identify such shops from the large number of motorcycles parked under a nearby tree. No unruly mob and no jumping of the queue. All customers were disciplined and patiently stood in the queue, waiting for their
turn. Many of them have arrived, in their regional attire, much before the shop actually opens. These are probably the places for their morning meet because all of them seem to be enjoying the morning chatter, probably discussing the political scenario, forthcoming elections and national future. Due to moderate prohibition policy in force, the alcohol is not served in bars & restaurants and is sold only in the government shops. Five-star hotels, with a view to policy to attract tourists, are the only one exempted and allowed to serve. Past noon is Kingfisher time again, King of Good Times.
As the car took a diversion onto a narrow road, the heavy goods traffic thinned. This road was lined with small bungalows; most of them having got converted into ‘Home-stays’, Resorts, Guest Houses, Yoga Centers or Ayurvedic Massage Parlours. The GPS was required to get activated for navigating to Thiruvambadi Beach Retreat. As we were nearing the resort, the road got further deserted with absolutely no vehicles in the sight.
At the end of the road, Thiruvambadi Beach Retreat emerged among the palm trees. It was heavenly located right on the Black Beach overlooking the cliff on the left.
The rooms allotted to us were large, clean and beach facing. The cable TV was of hardly any use to us but complimentary Wi-Fi service was much appreciated.
The search for the resort restaurant for meals with salt-water fish resulted in sheer disappointment. The receptionist-cum-manager, without any faint sign of regret, made announcement that there is no kitchen in the resort. Upon checking as to where typical Kerala Meal with fish will be available, we were directed towards the market, about 2 Kms from the beach.
It was a small stuffy restaurant with noisy fans circulating hot air. The counter, adjoining the Cashier’s desk, displayed all available dishes. Chicken Gravy, Fish Fried, Fish Gravy, Vegetables alongwith accompaniments and thick boiled rice in large bowl. The fish type, not being an expert, was unable to identify. They were small fishes marinated in local spices and fried. Apparently all dishes were cooked at the opening time of restaurant and it was past 2 in the afternoon. Whatever was available was consumed and returned back to the resort for a short siesta.
The sun was still quite harsh at 5:00 pm. Yet, we ventured out to explore the Black beach
…. the major attraction of Varkala. There were very few swimmers on the beach venturing out into the rough Arabian Sea. On the horizon there was a constant movement of large ships and clearly visible too. The sea at times becomes very rough, in the evening hours especially around the sunset. Unlike most beaches in Goa, there were no shacks operating on the beach and the sun soaked cliff appeared very scenic.
Kerala Fisheries Department has a Crab & Prawns Hatchery in the neighborhood. The entry to the outsiders was restricted and we had to return disappointed. It would have been definitely an informative peek.
After capturing the seascape of the Arabian Sea crashing ashore, in the camera, we moved on to the cliff pathway. The pathway ascends on the edge of the beautiful beach to the North Cliff. This stretch is full of restaurants and touristy shops all facing the sea. The restaurants had sparse occupancy and were mostly inundated by international tourists. While the sky blushed with golden-orange glow, the sun was getting mellowed down by the roaring sea. The locals managing the restaurants, in an artificially acquired ascent, were beckoning every passerby to visit them
for an evening drink or dinner. The loud music mostly played western numbers. It was an ideal setting for sipping chilled beer or an expensive tea, sans milk, with the names having funny sounding prefixes.
In an otherwise very clean state, the pathway offered a highly contrasting scene. The narrow lane was littered with cigarette butts & cases, water bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, palm shells, all carelessly scattered everywhere. The vendors on the pathway seem to have scant regard for cleanliness. Probably, the local body will arrange for trash collection tomorrow.
The sun had set and we commenced our descent towards the resort, for an evening with Glenlivet-18. On the steps of the pathway, the manager of “Luna Azul Café House of Sea Food” invited us for dinner … though not complimentary. The temptation was that we can get our Glenlivet-18 along and there was a live band in the night. As a topping, he offered us a, reasonably priced, 1-Kg roasted crab. The place was right on the cliff top and has a good lawn right in front, so you have a relaxed time in the evening. The sea view and the sultry breeze were heavenly
from this place and the offer was simply irresistible.
A quick hot water bath at the resort and we were back at this restaurant having a weird name … café house of sea food. As we were midway through the session, and eagerly awaiting the roasted crab, the manager came to our table, to express his inability to serve crab today. The reason given was no crab available in the market. We quickly realized that the crab was the bait he used for getting us in. The tasteless Chicken Fried Rolls served to us earlier as a starter, was oily contained hardly any chicken meat in it.
A local guitarist, with strobe lights on, with his heart & soul, was crooning western numbers. There were hardly any patrons in the restaurant. The occupancy of the restaurant was very low and we were the only domestic tourists. The music failed to enliven our spirits.
We needed to look out for an alternative and scrolled the menu. It contained numerous food items with international names, which were Greek & Latin to us. Though listed, none of the fish dishes were available. The next available option was to settle the
bill and venture out into neighboring restaurant, which we promptly exercised.
There were a number of restaurants on the descent. We somehow, decided to enter Malabar Restaurant, which was quite close to the resort where we stayed. It was small restaurant, on beachfront, attached to a resort on the main road. We did get a fish dish, but were not content with frustrating dining experience that night. The lunch too was functional and we did not relish much. Our desire to taste authentic local Kerala cuisine remained unfulfilled.
The horizon was dotted with the lights of the faraway ships. The night life in Varkala is quite sedate and most venues down their shutter by 11:00 pm. The whole of town seemed to have retired for the day and so it was now our turn to call off the day.
As is with the routine, woke up around 5:00 am and looked out of the balcony. The whole world still appeared in the deep embrace of lady slumber. No bed tea. No nothing. In Mumbai streets … just venture out and you will find a number of tea-stall serving the early morning risers. But this is no city.
It’s a tourist gateway. The Wi-Fi facilitated the virtual surf and to check as to what is happening on the global front. Google news provided important inputs as to what is happening back home. The glowing sky and the reflection on the blue water was signaling the daybreak. With the sneakers on, ventured out, in search of steaming heavenly brew to give impetus to the new day. 30 minutes of stroll and a small stall was located which was brewing the desired potion. One cup was followed by yet another …. rejuvenating and truly rendering enough energy for facing the new day in the alien land.
Ayurveda and Yoga, seem to be the major passion for the tourist visiting Varkala. Every second structure housed either a Ayurveda Massage parlour or an institution imparting Yoga lessons. Most international tourists, scantily dressed as per local standards, were heading towards the beach. Many of them carrying the Yoga-mat duly rolled and tucked under their arms. My pre-conceived notion that Dolphins are easy to spot along this coast line was proving wrong and my patience were wearing out while waiting on the beach.
The next stop was in-house Ayurveda Massage Centre. The
appointment was sought for 1-hour session on the earlier day. The interiors though dimly lit, were quite clean and had aroma of various herbs and oils. The masseur was quite a friendly person and made the whole process very comforting. The gentle scrubbing of aromatic oils in a liberal quantity, and its gradual absorption in every square millimeter of the body, was a divine experience. The massage was followed by a sauna bath. I was not sure, if it really had any effect on the body and skin, but I did emerged much lighter from the parlor. An hour of post-massage lingering on bed, recharged the batteries.
The breakfast was followed by visit to Papanasham Beach. A dip in the sea is considered to be very holy, which absolves of all past sins. There was a crowd of devout Hindus taking holy dip. A group of priests was either busy performing rituals or soliciting potential performers. After visiting local temples, we had to retreat to the resort to evade the ever warming sultry weather.
The evening was kept marked to get a sneak peak into the famous Kerala Culture. The ancient martial art Kalaripayattu and the elaborate performing
art - Kathakali.
The Kalaripayattu masters, with strong body and focused mind, displayed their martial prowess, through aerobatic movements. To watch the direct fight, between the trained artists, using bare hands to the dangerous daggers and swords, was a real treat to the eyes. The efforts, experience and dedication to perform were truly praiseworthy.
The elaborate process of getting the make-up done and donning of the colorful costumes, were the main features preceded the dance-drama, Kathakali. The story–line was simple and known to practically every Indian tourist, as it was based on the great Indian epics. The vibrant make-up highlighted the mudras and the facial expressions. The music, though seemed loud, was appropriate and truly enjoyable. The Nav Rasa, depiction of nine different expressions by the performers, was simply awesome.
The clean air, lush palms and the topical breeze were luring us to the beach, but the Glenlivet-18 was awaiting our return. We returned to the resort, but not before ordering a simple meal for the dinner. The lunch and dinner earlier day had checked the endurance and immunity of our digestive system and few from our group had failed the test miserably.
The bags were
packed, so that for tomorrow’s long drive to Kanyakumari; the southern tip of the country, where three seas meet, can start at the daybreak.
With the images of the picturesque seascapes itched permanently in the mind … did not realize when the eyelids met for the day … not to open till next morning.
With its pristine beaches and the scenic cliff is located north of Thiruvanthapuram (55 km) and is off NH-47 (11 km). Many Ayurvedic Massage Parlours and Yoga Centers line the promenade above the beach.
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