Coastal South India : Kovalam to Varkala, Kerala | Horn please, OK?

Coastal South India : Kovalam to Varkala, Kerala

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Day 5 : Kovalam -> Varkala
When : May 2013 | How far : 60 kms | How long : 1 hr 30 mins

Kerala: Everybody's free to wear sunscreen

The veracity of Baz Luhrman’s advice on sunscreen was tested and it turns out he was wrong. They haven’t yet made a brand of sunscreen that's effective in coastal India. Burnt and brown we forged ahead.

Beaches in Kovalam

Kerala has some of the best beaches in India. Its long coastline is peppered with beaches with their own unique characteristics.

Today was our day off from long distance-driving. The 60 kms from Kovalam to Varkala can take anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours depending on traffic. Deciding to make the trip post lunch we used the morning to catch up on some sleep and explore the beaches of Kovalam.

Kovalam has three popular beaches, Kovalam beach, Hawah or Eve’s beach and Lighthouse beach.  Our previous day’s exploration had taken us to the first two of which Eve's beach caught our fancy. It deserved a second visit.

Lighthouse beach
Hawah or Eve's beach

The Kovalam coast line is fast becoming a popular surfing destination. It boasts of India's first artificial reef just 6 km from Kovalam beach. The reef makes the waves go higher (in surfing terms, bigger swell) and break farther out in the sea. While the reef itself has run into controversy with the local fisherman, surfing enthusiasm remains high as the town hosted the national surfing competition just a week ago. Another surfing first for Kovalam in India! South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes took to the waves to promote the sport which is still remains TV fiction for most people in our country. [Details available here]

If you're keen on surfing, and we would strongly recommend trying it, Kovalam in Kerala is a great place to learn. Hawah beach provides good white water breaks ideal for learners. After you've mastered that you can graduate to the artificial reef generated green waves at Poonthura beach.

We got to the beach in time to see an army of fishermen reeling in their morning catch. It needed considerable strength to pull in the nets, more for the underwater currents than the size of the catch. Almost as though the fishermen were playing a game of tug-of-war with an invisible opponent camouflaged by the sea.

The morning's catch

The beach has a small rock garden, essentially a cluster of rocks which offers a clear elevated view of the coastline. After some posing and prancing around in the rock garden we found ourselves a couple of loungers to recline in and watch the world. 

Being low season, there was just one shack on the beach serving food. You'll find other eating options on a promenade like walkway near the rock garden. We didn't see water sports but were offered a ride on a speedboat along the coastline with the option to stop at whichever beach appealed. Sounded like fun but short on time, we sadly declined.   

Travel Tip: If you're looking for tourist places in Kerala make sure you add Kovalam to your travel itinerary. Its golden yellow beaches will make you forget Goa. 

Bait @ Taj Kovalam : Hungry hungry hippos

We realise that meal details have not made an appearance on the blog yet. That, dear reader was intentionally done to save you from the embarrassment of drooling on your laptops (we know you read our blog at work). But we've decided to give in to popular demand and tell you about the best meal we've had on the trip so far. 

A view of the backwaters from Bait, the restaurant

Bait, Taj Kovalam's seafood restaurant sits on a strip of land with the sea on one side and the backwaters on the other. It has an expansive view of both water bodies and an equally expansive (and surprisingly not expensive) menu. We ordered the fish and crab samplers which treated us to at least five different curries and gravies, each trying to outdo the other in taste and texture. Only Kerala can combine sweet, spicy and creamy in perfect proportion to make this

Crab pepper masala 
Crab curry

All roads lead to Varkala

This was our first run in with the Kerala traffic. Kovalam to Varkala is about 60 km if you take NH47, however be prepared to drive through the most annoying traffic you can imagine. We started mid afternoon hoping that everyone would be indoors enjoying a little afternoon siesta but we were mistaken. Every single person in Kerala had come out to meet us or block our way, as the case may be. After perhaps ten minutes on the road we gave up on NH47 and fell back on our old faithful "scenic route" along the coast. While the road is narrow and riddled with gigantic potholes, it is indeed scenic as it winds through villages and kisses the sea. We made a quick stop at the Anjengo Fort, a small British outpost standing at the edge of the sea, clearly forgotten by most except a lone gardener tending to a small but well kept garden. It took us about 2.5 hours to reach our B&B in Varkala. So if you're not in a hurry we recommend the longer route which is a lot less stressful than NH47.

Anjengo fort
 A view of the backwaters and sea

Varkala Beach : Cliffhanger

Take a long sunny beach, add water, a large chunk of cliffs and throw in some body surfers and voila you have Varkala beach! 
Papanasam beach better known as Varkala beach sits snug against towering cliffs overlooking the sea. Its considered to be one of the best seasonal beaches in the world by Discovery Channel and taking a dip in the waters, it is said will wash away your sins. 

Sin-free from our last dip at Rameswaram, we explored the cliffs and the endless line of shops and restaurants clustered at the top, overlooking the beach. Peak season must see this place abuzz with activity. Not so in May. Many of the restaurants were closed and the one's that weren't looked desolate. We found ourselves a table at Abba, the only busy (and apparently Swedish) restaurant. The menu didn't have too many Indian dishes and we grudgingly settled for grilled chicken and a burger. The food was average and the service extremely slow. 

The sunset paints the sky in extraordinary shades of pink, orange and purple, so bright it could give Anushka Sharma a complex. 

The anticipation of a 500 km long drive the next day sent us to bed early, dreaming of beaches and the prawn masala we were denied at Abba. 

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Bangalore to Pondicherry
Day 2 -> Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram
Day 3 -> Pondicherry to Rameswaram
Day 4 -> Rameswaram to Kovalam
Day 5 -> You just read it
Day 6 -> Varkala to Kannur
Day 7 -> Kannur to Bangalore 

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