Varkala: Rich Biodiversity, Poor Hospitality


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Of late, Varkala Beach is attracting a lot of attention, promising for being one of the ultimate hippie places in India. When one thinks about a hippie place, he/she expects it to be a carefree and friendly place, to say the least. Varkala has a rich flora and fauna with attractive backwaters, clean beaches and tall coconut trees painting the sky, various kinds of bird and the aquatic life.

Varkala

The Varkala cliff, lined with the variety of shops and restaurants overlooking the Arabian Sea is one of a kind! I can keep ranting about the aura and the natural beauty of the place but it is only a small part of the bigger picture. Natural beauty doesn’t alone make traveling a good experience. The few instances I encountered during my stay in Varkala changed my perception of the place.

Varkala Beach
The famous Varkala Beach, also known as the Papanasam Beach.

We had reached Varkala in the wee hours of the morning after relentlessly changing several buses from Kodaikanal and spending a sleepless night in the train. Although we had booked our stay online, the check-in time was after 10. We were exhausted and in no mood to call it an adventure anymore. We desperately needed some sleep and hence started searching for places to stay in Varkala. During the search, we came across one of the Varkala cliff hotels where the owner was least interested to attend to our queries and quoted an unreasonably high price. We tried to bargain but it appeared that the owner was not willing to rent us the room. We did not heed much attention then, as we were too tired to comprehend the situation at 5 am and kept searching for another option. Finally, a kind owner of the Hibiscus Garden Homestay provided us with not only a comfortable stay but also refused to discuss the price until we have proper rest.

Read: From Guhaghar, with love

Hibiscus Garden Homestay
Hibiscus Garden Homestay.
Hibiscus Garden Homestay
Highly recommend staying in this homestay.

It was only after another incident occurred on the same evening that we started feeling uncomfortable. We were sitting on a small beach towards the south of the cliff. The sun was not too hot and the occasional breeze accentuated our moods. There were only foreigners on the beach wearing minimal clothes. Some performed yoga, some read books, while some carelessly lay on the sand, bathing in the sun. The view added to the cool vibes of the place.

Varkala Cliff
The alternate shoreline of beaches and cliffs stretch as far as 6 km towards the south of the famous Varkala Beach. The Kappil Beach in the south marks the end of the stretch.

As we sat there soaking the vibes, we were alarmed by the security guards to not take any photos and were also told that the entry on the beach is denied at this time of the day. It was clear that he was addressing us and none of the other Caucasian tourists on the beach. Upon asking the reason for the same, we were told about nuisance created by us (Indians) resulting in raising several complaints by the foreigners and he came to say up to the extent that the foreigners pay for their security. Now we can possibly understand why photography was not allowed but there was no signboard on the beach that said it was a private area to be guarded by the guards who worked in the favour of the foreign tourists.

Varkala Beach
The so-called private beach in Varkala.

Later that day, we learned from the caretaker of our homestay that there is no private beach and the guards are only appointed to save people from the potential danger as the sea is rough. Since the foreigners are good at swimming, they are generally spared.

Read: Vengurla- The unruffled paradise!

Kappil Beach
Fishermen wrapping up their work as the sun begins to set.

Evening in Varkala

Sunset in Varkala
Spectacular views from the rooftop of a cafe.

After a giving up on quarreling, we quietly moved away from the beach to save our jovial moods for the rest of the evening. But the damage had been done. Few of my friends did not like discrimination. This gave rise to the discussions and debate amongst us as the sun cast its red-orange lights in the backdrop. My brother recollected the early morning incident and linked it with the same issue. I had to agree with them but I still wanted to believe in humanity. I tried to defend my friends on a few points about the orthodox behaviour of us, Indians. I had heard complaints from a few female tourists talking about the awkward stare which makes them feel uneasy.

Rock N' Roll Cafe
The staff of the Rock N’ Roll café pretended to be busy every time we called them for placing the order. Even after taking the order, it arrived late despite the handful number of people sitting in the café. Finally, we walked out when a group of foreigners sitting adjacent to our table arrived late, yet got all the special attention, which even we would have loved. Indians, be warned! Do not go to this café, until you want to screw your moods.

But my own beliefs were shattered, the next morning. I had set out for a walk alone and decided to stop by the shack near Edava Beach for breakfast, but the staff denied entry saying that it was only meant for the “Private Customers” who stay in their resort. I had no reason to believe them as it was located separately in the open area; very close to the beach (needless to say, there were only foreigners inside).

Edava Beach
Edava Beach.

Varkala

We felt dejected in our own country land. It felt like a different era when foreign invaders ruled our country. I hope that as much as it welcomes the foreign tourists, it treats everyone equal. I’m sure even many Indians must have had a great time in Varkala. But, I wish the same for all.

Varkala cliff
The sharp aroma of incense hit my nose, as I walk on the cliff. Also, there is a smell of food and spices, soft noise of plates clattering on the tables of the cafes, music that barely escape the café frontiers to reach the ears and the tiny shops selling souvenirs, glitter in vibrant colors. The constant splashing of the waves at the bottom of the cliff reminds me to look at the infinite spread of blue waters. Serenity pervades the air in Varkala but it is hatred and discrimination that negates the energy.

I do not mean to hurt anyone’s sentiment, neither do I want to demotivate the travellers aspiring to visit Varkala. The place is beautiful, but I could simply not deceive my personal feelings and opinion towards it. The debate, of course, can be endless! Rather than feeling sad/angry about it, we must travel more to such places so that this kind of attitude is changed towards our own people.

FAQs

How to reach?

Trivandrum International Airport is 39 km from Varkala. The nearest railway station is Varkala Sivagiri.

Where to stay?

Highly recommend staying at Hibiscus Garden Homestay. The rooms are spacious, well maintained, have a kitchen facility, a small garden outside to relax and the host is warm and welcoming. I suggest solo travellers stay in a hostel to avoid any kind of mishap.

What to eat?

Check out for the local food eatery away from the beach where generally the locals eat. They serve the authentic local cuisine. A fish plate costs around Rs 100-120.

Varkala is a paradise for seafood lovers. Many restaurants exhibit a variety of seafood for customers to choose themselves and relish the freshly cooked food.

Trattorias Restaurant is my personal favourite. The service is excellent and everything that I tried here was a pleasant surprise to the taste buds. I ended up sitting here most of the time.

Any recommendations?

Rejuvenate yourselves with Ayurvedic therapy as Varkala is a hub for ayurvedic massage, spa, and yoga. Explore Edava Beach and Kappil Beach to the south of Varkala Beach, if you enjoy less crowd and solitude. Check out for the backwaters near Kappil beach which is approx 7 km from Varkala. One can either take a rikshaw to reach Edava/ Kappil Beach or can rent a scooty to explore the nearby places. Renting a scooty can cost up to Rs 300/400. Janardanaswamy temple close to Varkala Beach is a popular temple since it is the oldest temple in Varkala.

Author: Hariom PrabhakarSingh

Finding solace in travel and writing.

13 thoughts

  1. Wow. If this is what foreigners really want I am embarrassed to be one of them. What a horrible experience. Whether it is what other foreigners want or what the guards think they want I hope it changes soon. What a toxic environment!

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