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

Coastal South India : Varkala to Kannur

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Day 6 : Varkala -> Kannur
When : May 2013 | How far: 437 kms | How long : 13 hrs

Life can be a beach

Could you repeat that, he said. We were driving up from Varkala to Kannur, a distance of nearly 500 kms in one day and our B&B host in Kannur couldn't believe that we could be so ambitious. Or so stupid. By the end of the day we were on his side.

Highway star

Aware of the arduous task lying before us we left Varkala at 7:30 am, early by our standards. The staff at Blue Ocean Resort were kind enough to wake up early and serve us breakfast. Hot food at the start of a long journey, served under swaying palm trees on a cliff overlooking the sea. A very good start we'd say! 

Unfortunately our good fortune didn't hold up. We'd barely pulled out of Varkala when a railway crossing stopped us in our tracks and kept us waiting for not one but three trains! This more or less set the pace for the rest of the day which was characterized by heavy traffic and other sundry delays.

Having experienced the joys of driving in Kerala for the last two days we decided to stop being adventurous and start being practical. The somewhat wide and well maintained NH47 was our route of choice to take us to Kochi. We were going down that road again! However non-stop traffic and a steady flow of oncoming vehicles made it almost impossible to overtake on this two lane national highway. Not sure if this was Sunday traffic or just regular fare but its definitely one Kerala experience you can do without. Our recommendation?Take the train.

The beach of it all

Our first stop was at Marari beach at Maraikulam 130 kms away from Varkala.  Since NH47 runs parallel to the coast most of the way, a single left turn from the highway took us straight to the beach. The road ends abruptly in a grove of palm trees shielding you from the glare of the hot, hot sun.  Looking to our left we saw that the grove extend as far as the eye could see. These trees served as an arbour for the villas and resorts lining the beach, giving beach bums a place to rest (from a hard day of bumming) in the shade. The beach was deserted for a Sunday afternoon and the villas shut. Given the absence of any eating places its easy to assume that Marari beach is more popular among tourists than local residents.

From Marari beach we headed towards Kochi, ~50 km away. Shortly after Maraikulam, the highway becomes a four lane, divided road  and continues all the way to Kochi. Since this part of Kerala had been explored on numerous earlier visits we circumvented the city and headed towards Cherai beach. The route is reasonably straight forward - continue on NH47 till Edapally and take the road going left towards Paravoor. From here, follow the road signs to Cherai which is ~5 km west of Paravoor. Kochi to Cherai is  barely 30 km but infernal traffic slowed us down. It took us an hour to cover the distance and we reached Cherai beach at 1 pm in time for lunch.

If only we could turn back time

This beach has the dubious distinction of being the only one that didn't fill us with wonder and awe and so would have been best avoided. It's a crowded city beach and being a Sunday, had a fleet of white sumo taxis piled high with shirtless revelers descending on the beach. We consulted the all-knowing internet for a lunch place recommendation and it turned out to be shut so we changed tactics and picked the first place that looked like it might have a decent loo. David Hasselhoff's magnum opus seems to have made quite an impression on this part of the country and we had more than one 'Baywatch dining and lodge' to choose from. Spicy prawn masala and too much fried rice later we headed towards Kannur.

The route from Cherai to Kannur via Kozhikode can get tricky if you haven’t consulted someone who's done the trip before. There are two options; A) continue along the coast via Paravoor on NH 17 or B) go via Thrissur on NH 47.  Google Maps recommends option A since it appears shorter but it doesn't take into consideration road and traffic conditions. And so after driving on a  narrow, busy, jammed road for about 20 min we SOSed a friend from Kozhikode and she directed us to option B . The easiest way to join NH 47 from Paravoor is to follow the road signs for the airport. The highway is a four or six lane divided road and it takes only 45 min to reach Thrissur once you're on it. Take the exit for Thrissur and continue through the town to join SH 69 which will take you to Kozhikode  (another ~3.5 hours). 

Google Maps moments

Thanks to the Google Maps snafu we had already lost an hour at Cherai and so it was dusk by the time we reached the outskirts of Kozhikode. We'd been on the road for ~11 hours but aware of the advantages of driving in daylight we pressed on via the Kozhikode bypass (just after Calicut University) with only a 5 min break to stretch our legs. The fading daylight reflected our mood and a few swigs of Tzinga consumed in this beautiful thicket of trees by the road gave us the pick-me-up we needed.  

The bypass continues till Aitholi where you turn left to join NH 17 which goes all the way north to Kannur/ Mangalore/ Panaji/ Mumbai. We were relieved on joining NH 17 as the bypass was getting narrow and truck traffic building up. The relief was short lived. Barely 1 km down NH 17 we came across a diversion sign for Kannur. And what a diversion it was.

Driving through pitch dark alleys we passed through the heart of  a small village with no lights and barely any roads. Smarting from our previous Google Maps experience, we hesitatingly opened the app to get a sense of where we were headed and it only confirmed what we already knew. We were in the middle of nowhere.

The road narrowed to unbelievable proportions and we were worried our car wouldn't clear the corners.    

At one point we could hear the surf thundering outside over the melodious strains of Pink Martini. Rolling down the window we saw that we were driving barely ten meters from the edge of solid land. Scary and a wee bit thrilling.

The final stretch to Kannur was mercifully uneventful. We passed through the town of Mahe which belongs to Pondicherry and shares its French heritage. It was past 8 pm and all that was visible were some tea and paan shops, sadly not much of the architecture. The area is dotted with lagoons and inland rivers but they were concealed from sight by the darkness. Finally with directions from our host at the Malabar Beach House we reached the village of Thottadu a little after 9 pm. That's more than 13 hours of driving along the Malabar coast.

A hard day's night

Dazed and exhausted we reached Malabar Beach House which looked like a friendly white apparition.  Sunil, our host, showed us around and chatted with us about our crazy drive over a delicious dinner of fried snapper and Malabar biryani, a north Kerala speciality. He had planned to take us to see a performance of Theyyam the next day, a martial art inspired dance form specific to Kannur, and was disappointed to hear that we were planning to leave soon after breakfast. We took him through our relatively short list (only because of the paucity of time) of things to see in Kannur and he helped us pare it down to St. Angelo's fort and the drive-in beach at Muzhappilangad. 

Our trip was coming to an end with just one day to go and we could already feel the withdrawal symptoms.
Cliched quotes about farewells and endings threatened to mar the evening (and this post) but we still had one more day, one more adventure and one more unexplored beach. 

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 -> Kovalam to Varkala
Day 6 -> You just read it
Day 7 -> Kannur to Bangalore 

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