Nishi Malhotra

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Kerala Diaries 5/6: Anarkali in Varkala

  • Nishi Malhotra
  • Travel
  • July 10, 2020
  • (0)

Varkala is probably the most dramatic beach I have been to, if not in the world then at least in Goa or elsewhere in India. It lies at the bottom of a line of red cliffs and there is a narrow path, a kind of promenade, which winds its way along the top of the cliffs and is lined with restaurants, shops and yoga and Ayurveda resorts. You can sit in a cafe there and watch the white surf crashing on the shore way below.

The day started off somewhat unexpectedly. M emerged from her room wearing an Anarkali suit and wrists full of tinkling glass bangles. This was 15 minutes before I was to leave, and she announced firmly that she was going to accompany me. Flummoxed at this sudden turn of events, I did not know what to say. But I adapted to the new reality quickly, even convincing myself that it might be fun.

The initial 45 minutes of the drive though had me extremely concerned. Baijju and M argued loudly and it seemed interminably in Malayalam over the best route to take to Varkala. At least that’s what I think it was (M's fluency in Malayalam never ceases to amaze me - it is a difficult language to pick up). After that she told me stories about the other apparently not-so-nice expats in the area who take tour groups of Europeans around South India like she does but don’t do nearly half as good a job as her.

In Varkala, she introduced me to a young, striking looking Indo-German woman who runs a 17-room homestay and Ayurveda resort on the clifftop. The woman's cook and manager, Khan, had travelled the world cooking and teaching to pay for his way. We hung out with them eating homemade fries and drinking lemon tea, before heading down to the beach. Here, young men played soccer alongside priests conducting rituals on behalf of people who had come to immerse the ashes of their recently departed family members in the sea.

Although M had carried her bathing suit along just in case, swimming was prohibited in the dangerous looking waters. I did not see a changing place on the beach and wondered idly if swimmers were expected to slip into their bathing suits in full view of the general public. Walking along the shoreline, we found splashing in the water women in sarees, men dressed in full pants and long sleeved shirts, and some children wearing, interestingly, socks and sandals (to "protect" them said their father when I asked).

On the way back to the villa we stopped at a Krishna temple where plastic dolls were hanging by cords from a tree in the courtyard - apparently they are strung up by women who cannot conceive and come here to pray so they may have children of their own. It was a pretty spooky voodoo-ish kind of sight, although the intent here is quite the opposite of witchcraft of any kind.

I have one more day of vacation left before I head back to Delhi. I plan to spend it just relaxing at the villa and perhaps visiting an Ayurvedic doctor in the morning.

(These Kerala diaries are from a trip I made to the Kovalam area in June 2017).

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