Varkala: A tranquil, coastal corner in Kerala

Town of adventure, architecture & azure beaches

Tourism

January 7, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Varkala: A tranquil, coastal corner in Kerala

Varkala is the only beach in southern Kerala where cliffs stand adjacent to the Arabian Sea (Photo Credit: Kerelatourism.org)

Varkala is little less than a paradise for those in quest of peace in the lap of nature. This quaint hamlet, located in the southern part of Kerala, has a stillness and quietness that is rarely found in tourist destinations.

“Who doesn’t love the feeling of sand between toes and waves lapping at the feet, while lying on a sandy beach with a range of cliffs just behind? Well, one of the few places, where you will find this dream combination is in Varkala, in Kerala,” Rishabh Raj, a 25-year-old Delhi-based engineer who visited Varkala in December 2020 tells Media India Group.

Nestled in Thiruvananthapuram district in the southern part of Kerala, Varkala is a beautiful coastal town. Perched almost perilously along the edge of majestic 15 m high red laterite cliffs, 50 km northwest of the capital of Kerala, Varkala has a naturally beautiful setting that has allowed it to grow into Kerala’s most popular backpacker hang-out.

Apart from holding the charms of a quiet beach, Varkala is also a major pilgrim destination with the presence of Sivagiri Mutt and various ancient temples, including a Janardhana temple. One of the key factors that sets apart Varkala from other beaches of Sothern Kerala is the fascinating stretch of cliffs.

“I had never seen a beach by the cliff until I visited Varkala. The reddish-brown cliff, a beach perfect for surfing beach and the hippie vibes made me fall in love with Varkala almost instantly,” says Raj.

Varkala is the only beach in southern Kerala where cliffs stand adjacent to the Arabian Sea.  ‘The Varkala Formation’ as it is called by the geologists, is declared as a geological monument by the Geological survey of India.

Though visited by a fairly large number of tourists every day, Varkala still harbours a calm ambience and is devoid of the hustle and bustle that is usually associated with Kovalam, another important beach destination in southern Kerala.

Experience spirituality

The Janardhana Temple in Varkala is 2,000-year-old (Photo Credit: keralatourism.org)

There are a number of temples in and around Varkala, with some of the most famous being just by the beaches. The Sivagiri Mutt, the 2,000-year-old Janardhana Temple and the Shiv-Parvati temple are just a few of the religious sites that is a must-visit on Varkala itinerary. However, only Hindus are allowed inside the inner sanctum of the temple.

Papanasam beach, which is 10 kilometres away from Varkala, is renowned for a natural spring. The spring is considered to have medicinal and curative properties. A dip in the holy waters at this beach is believed to purge the body of impurities and the soul of all sins; hence the name Papanasam in Tamil, meaning ‘destruction of sins’.

A 2000-year-old shrine, Janardhanaswamy temple, stands on the cliff overlooking the beach, a short distance away. The Sivagiri Mutt, founded by religious reformer and philosopher Sree Narayana Guru (1856 – 1928) is also close by. The samadhi (the final resting place) of the Guru here attracts thousands of devotees every year.

Another prime shrine in Varkala is the Kaduvayyil Juma Masjid which is also known as Kaduvayil Palli. This is dedicated to the Muslim saint, Kaduvayil Thangal and the place is regarded as one of the significant Sunni pilgrimage centres. Not only local Muslims but many devotees belonging to other beliefs visit this place.

Pristine beaches for adventure & more

Paragliding, rafting and parasailing also make Varkala a hub for the adventure enthusiasts (Photo Credit: keralatourism.org)

The laid-back vibe, verdant vegetation, high cliffs and pristine beaches make beaches in Varkala a popular vacation spot both for the domestic and international tourists. Besides, it also has several fisheries, freshwater springs, hills and forts. In addition to that, the plethora of water activities available in the area like paragliding, rafting and parasailing also make Varkala a hub for the adventure enthusiasts. Tourists can also hit the beautiful beaches in Varkala to play some volleyball, soak in the sun, gaze at the natural environment or just to relax in the tranquil atmosphere.

“I had never seen a black beach before and when someone told us that after a 15 minutes’ walk from the north cliff in Varkala, we could see a small stretch of black beach, I was so excited to explore this side of Varkala. Indeed, I saw the black sand and not many people,” says Raj.

Further north from this beach is the Odayam beach, which is even more peaceful and offers a nice place for a dip and almost exclusive views of an exotic sunset.

Kappil beach is another popular beach where one can enjoy activities such as para-sailing and paragliding. Kappil Lake, situated close to the beach, is another famous site for an outing. With remarkable hillocks and thick rocks, this beach is a long stretch of land bordering the sea. It is an ideal place for sunset viewing. One can get a better view of the place from the bridge built over this lake. There is also a boat club here from where tourists can hire motor or pedal boats.

“Though the beach is not developed for tourist attraction, it is an ideal place for evening walks,” adds Raj.

Relax, rejuvenate & shop!

Tourists can keep themselves fit and focused at Kasi Yoga Anushtana Kendram (Photo Credit: keralatourism.org)

“When in Varkala, a beach yoga retreat is a must. Varkala has become a hub in South India for yoga teacher training course just as Rishikesh is in North India,” says Raj.

Tourists can keep themselves fit and focused at Kasi Yoga Anushtana Kendram. It is a training centre for yoga and retreat. Apart from this, one can visit the many yoga and massage centres for relaxation and rejuvenation. Programmes with one-week to one-month duration are available in these centres. Tourists can also attend the meditation courses offered at the Sivagiri Mutt.

The north cliff in Varkala has many cafes and small shops selling all kinds of hippie stuff. South cliff in Varkala, on the other hand, is quiet and untouched by tourism. “To get a Varkala feel, one needs to stroll around these cliffs and listen to worldly music being played in the cafes and people inviting you out either for a message or for some street shopping,” adds Raj.

Explore the colonial past

The 18th-century lighthouse is located inside the historic fort which depicts colonial style of architecture (Photo Credit: keralatourism.org)

Varkala Tunnel or Varkala Turuthu is another historical site in this region. The British constructed this tunnel to establish a waterway for trading purposes. Nearly 14 years were taken to complete the construction of this long tunnel. The tunnel showcases architectural skills and creativity of the engineers and workers of that period.

Varkala Lighthouse is one among the ideal spots from which you can get a complete view of the surroundings. If you want to enjoy the uninterrupted beauty of this place, a visit is a must here. The lighthouse constructed by the British in 18th century is a historic building which depicts the colonial style of architecture.

Varkala Kathakali Centre organises Kathakali performances every evening (Photo Credit: keralatourism.org)

The Varkala Kathakali Centre is another tourist destination. It organises Kathakali (classical dance form in Kerala) performances almost every evening at the centre for the holiday-mongers. The show begins by capturing the details of the make-up section. The audience gets to watch how time-consuming and detailed the Kathakali make-up can be. The centre also gives Mohiniattam (another classical dance form) performances.

“One cannot have enough of Varkala in one visit as there is so much to explore. It was my first time in the beautiful town but definitely not the last. I plan to go there again to experience the culture, spirituality and stroll on the beautiful, black sand,” adds Raj.

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