Sohaila Kapur on her delightful trip to the seaside town in Kerala, where she is woken up by the sound of gulls and noisy fishermen pulling their day's catch
My friend Sheena and I decided to visit an isolated Indian beach before the onset of summer and so after googling several places, she zeroed in on a little-known fisherman's beach (Odayam) at Varkala, in South Kerala. It is about 45 km from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital. The beach has a private resort, the Palm Tree Heritage, where we were headed.
We landed in the late evening and found a magical place, lit up with fairy lights. A beach stretched out before us, holding a lone boat, dancing in the frothy pull of the high tide. Melding into the landscape with its eco-friendly design that resembled a Tharavad, the Palm Tree Heritage has single and double rooms, that are spacious, clean and air conditioned, with a private verandah. We dined that night on fresh sea food (crabs and prawns), accompanied by red wine and then fell into a delicious sleep.
The next morning, we awoke to the sound of gulls and raucous voices. The tide had receded, leaving a lovely, sandy beach, which already had a dozen foreign couples lying around, sunning themselves. The noise was coming from the fishermen pulling in the day's catch, shouting instructions to each other; a couple of drunk ones indulging in a slanging match.
After breakfast, which consisted of muesli, fruit salad and yoghurt, Sheena went off to tan herself, while I went for a dip in the sea, accompanied by baby prawns jumping around my head like fireflies. This was their breeding season, hence their proximity to the beach, we were told. The water was calm and invigorating and I managed to swim quite far out, after gathering my courage.
Lunch was delicious pasta with salad. The resort offers western and Indian cuisine, made by specially trained cooks (some of the foreign tourists leave behind their recipes , we are told) and everything ranges from Rs. 70 to Rs. 500, whether it is a dish of farm fresh veggies, fresh sea food (sometimes the morning's catch), a thick fruit shake, a cocktail or a creamy, home-made desert. The most expensive items on the list were wine and lobster, which cost around Rs. 500. Cooking classes are also arranged on the campus for those enamoured by its fare.
For those with an adventurous spirit, the region offers plenty of temples, mosques and beaches. There are the Kappil (8 km north of Varkala) and Papanasam Beaches — the latter with its famous, red laterite cliffs. Varkala is also an important Hindu pilgrimage centre and has the famous 2,000-year-old Sree Janardhan Temple and the Narayanswami Samadhi and temple. There are also the Golden Island backwaters. I took a fisherman's boat that paddled me around for a small charge, throwing in a visit to one of the islands. The scenery is stunning. Amidst the thick foliage, I spotted numerous cranes and water birds, a Rudraksh tree, millions of blazing red Hibiscus bushes and local Mango trees heavy with fruit, apart from the ubiquitous coconut, banana and palm trees.
I completed the entire tour of temples, islands and beaches, in a day, in an autorickshaw arranged by the resort. It cost me Rs. 700. The resort also advertises activities such as elephant, catamaran and live Dolphin rides, as well as Ayurvedic massages that Kerala is famous for.
The minimum rental for A/C rooms is Rs. 4,000 for a single, Rs. 6,000 for a double and Rs. 8,000 for a two-room suite, with breakfast, during the season, which runs from October to March. For details, look up www.palmtreeheritage.com
If the resort is full, which it often is, Lake Sagar Xavier's, which is nearby (South Paravoor, Thekkumbhagam, Kollam), also offers rooms and a restaurant, and a lovely view of Varkala Beach and Paravoor Lake. The uniqueness of this residence is its Tree Houses, which are rented out in season. An A/C Deluxe costs Rs. 1,500, a non-A/C Deluxe Rs. 1,100 and a Tree House between Rs. 2,750 (Deluxe) and Rs. 2,250 (Non-Deluxe). More details visit lakesagarxaviers.com.