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The Varkala Clifftop Saunter

I previously recounted my virgin experience on Indian trains, what I neglected to tell you about was the spoils to be found at the end of it. We had departed Cochin in central Kerala after exploring the backwaters and were heading to Varkala beach in the south, well known for the clifftop saunter and ayurvedic treatments. The journey should have taken 4 hours but ended up being more like 6 – Indian trains have a special skill of departing on time but gaining several hours onto the journey somewhere in the middle.
In Varkala we had chosen to prebook a hotel at the entrance of the clifftop walk known as the helipad. Sanctum Spring Beach Resort (a hotel – not a resort!) was perfectly adequate, being both clean and cool but customer service was sporadic and after speaking to other travellers we discovered it would have been a lot cheaper to stroll the cliffs and book a room upon arrival instead.
Varkala beach is not the most accessible place. The reason it is known for the clifftop saunter is because all the rooms, restaurants and shops are dotted along the winding cliffs and are only accessible by foot.
The beach is reached via a choice of steep staircases cut into the rock. The beauty of this restricted accessibility, however, is that Varkala is not subject to the influx of cows, stray dogs and hawkers found on the beaches of Goa.
The narrow strip of sand is golden and clean and indeed the waters seemed to be bluer than the greeny/brown beach at Palolem. The locals appear to gather around the south of the beach, keeping themselves to themselves until 4 pm when it seems, unable to resist any longer, the young men move in packs further towards the predominantly female tourists at the north end. We discovered that if you huff loud enough about their shadows blocking your sunlight and inch your towel away they eventually get bored and move on.

The waters can be dangerous though, there is a strong rip tide at the edges of the bay, which one day trapped 3 adult men, one after the other. There are lifeguards on the beach but they are volunteers and ill equipped. They try their best just to keep bathers away from the rip tide, and this is slightly more effective than their rescue skills, which involve forming a human chain from shore to trapped swimmer and attempting to drag them back to safety.

We stuck to quick dips close to the shore and managed to avoid harm, jumping the waves and holding onto your bikini is actually quite good fun. One day instead of watching lifeguard rescues the bay was visited by a dolphin who frolicked about, much to our delight. We had paid to do a dolphin trip in Goa, which was nowhere near as fruitful as watching the Varkala horizon.

Apart from the allure of the clean beach I believe it is the Ayurveda treatments that attracts the large number of female travellers to Varkala.

Ayurveda has its roots in sanskrit and is said to have been around for at least 2000 years. It aims to restore internal balance, mainly through internal purification and herbal massage. Clinics and spas offering both types of treatments litter the clifftop. In search of an Indian head massage I accidentally entered one of these clinics. I was ushered into a waiting room seat by a smiling assistant and handed an ayurvedic menu. The other women in the waiting room, all Western, looked almost nervous but smiled at me reassuringly. I scanned the page, not taking anything in as I tried to focus on treatments with the word head in them. Rather oddly, I thought, there was nothing. I began to read the intro text properly and soon discovered I was in a fertility clinic. It was quite awkward as I tried to make my excuses and leave.

The head massage, when I did find one, was glorious.

The clifftop restaurants offer a range of international cuisine with an unobstructed view of the ocean. My highlights were Bombay toast for breakfast at Cafe del Mar, Thai curry at Hungry Eye Kitchen and anything from the grill at Calfouti.
Alcohol is illegal in this region but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sold. Whether in tea pots, beakers or a bottle wrapped in newspaper, alcohol is available, although the prices slightly higher than elsewhere in India – perhaps to cover the cost of police bribes.
The Chill Out Lounge is one of the best and only late night venues. A collection of snugs, one area includes a bonfire to gather around, and live music is provided by whoever happens to have a guitar on them at the time. Word of warning: the local moonshine is potent, it might be wiser to pay extra for the established alcohol brands.

Cafe Del Mar

As I have said before, India is not a beach destination. If you are looking for a powder white sand and crystal clear waters cliche you are in the wrong country. But what Varkala does offer is a beachside location from which to enjoy traditional Indian treatments, tantalising food and a clifftop saunter like none other.

About Author

Travel blogger and freelancer writer who loves boutique hotels and brunching. I've been blogging for 10 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. Now travelling with a baby and trying to make it as stylish and stress-free as can be!

8 Comments

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    June 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Sounds like my kinda place! I'm putting it on the list!!!

    Reply
  • Jayne
    June 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    haha thanks Andi! I bet your list is as long as mine 🙂

    Reply
  • Heather
    June 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    What flavors are in the Bombay toast? Looks yum.Accidentally strolled into a fertility clinic?! hehe — glad you were able to make a graceful exit.

    Reply
  • Kyle
    June 14, 2011 at 12:32 am

    That sounds like such a crazy trip, but sooooo worth it. Those beaches look beautiful.Also, I second what Heather said…accidentally strolled into a fertility clinic. I am lol'ing hard over here!

    Reply
  • Jayne
    June 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Sorry Heather and Kyle I had answered these comments but the blog deleted them – sabotage!The Bombay toast is french toast with banana, cashew nuts, sultanas and syrup! Yum!And yes we laughed about my accidental visit to the fertility clinic for a long time afterwards – it wasn't funny at the time though 🙂

    Reply
  • Roy | Cruisesurfingz
    June 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    mmm Bombay toast…

    Reply
  • Jayne
    June 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    mmmm indeed Roy. Can't beat Indian food 🙂

    Reply
  • […] To find out what awaited us at the end of the journey see The Varkala Clifftop Saunter. […]

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