Varkala Amidst a Cyclone
Note: If you have read any of the Traversed Lands’ articles before, you will find this one different. It is not an experiment with my writing style. It is just a story that I thought I needed to tell. If you wish to only read about the planning, budgeting and places, please skip the prologue.
This was long due.
After leaving Indore for my graduation and moving to Hyderabad for 4 years, I had access to the most scenic places in Southern India. But back then, it didn’t seem important enough to travel and boy! do I regret it! After my graduation and some four jobs later, I get a call with an opportunity to move back to Bangalore and guess what was the first thing on my mind? Explore everything I missed three years ago. I finally moved to Bangalore in October 2017 and Vikas stayed back in Gurgaon. On my way to the city from the Bangalore Airport, Vikas and I planned our trip to Varkala over a phone call.
After exploring the Northern parts of India extensively, we were excited to explore our first destination in South. It was one thing to read about the beauty of Varkala and another to finally visit it and find it far more mesmerising than anything written about it over the internet. But wait, what is travel without a hint of thrill and adventure?
Does it ring a bell? No? Let me help you. A monstrous cyclone originated near the Southeastern coast of Sri Lanka that had hit India and Maldives. Yes, on the very same weekend we travelled to Varkala. I still can’t believe we didn’t know about it. Vikas was flying from Delhi and I was flying from Bangalore. The plan was to meet in Trivandrum and then drive to Varkala. When I was wrapping up my work at the office in Bangalore and was about to leave for the airport, I could see the dense grey clouds covering the city sky at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I just blamed it on Bangalore’s unpredictable weather and booked a cab. By the time I reached the airport, I got a call from Vikas who had already landed in Trivandrum. He told me about the heavy rain and I thought, ‘Well, it will be fine in a couple of hours.’ I had never been this wrong about anything in my entire life.
I boarded the plane, took off from Bangalore, only to experience the worst flight of my life. 30 minutes before landing in Trivandrum, our craft started to wiggle. I had experienced turbulences before but this was different, this was the worst. I could hear things moving every time our craft wiggled. The old lady sitting next to me looked into my eyes and held my hand. She muttered something in Kannada that I didn’t understand. She started praying and I gazed out of the window, into an abyss and a strike of lighting far, far away. The pilot made an announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be landing in Trivandrum in next 10 minutes. Please stay put, the weather condition is little dicey at the moment.” We took a deep breath and thanked our stars.
I saw Vikas waiting for me in the lobby. He looked glad (or I’d like to believe so) and we stepped out to get a taxi. It was a difficult night and people were inside their homes. After struggling for half an hour, we found a benevolent man who agreed to drive us to Varkala at 10 pm on a stormy night. On our way, he told us how the locals had no clue about the cyclone and they were informed only a few hours before it’d hit Trivandrum. We could see fishermen trying to pull their boats out of the sea amidst the exceptionally high tides, we could see women screaming, looking for their family.
We were heartbroken.
Now that you are done reading about our encounter with cyclone Ockhi, allow me to tell you what a gem of a place Varkala is.
Since Varkala is a very small town, you’d have to get to Trivandrum or Kochi in order to make it to Varkala. Both Kochi and Trivandrum have a great bus, train and flight connectivity. Since we were flying from Bangalore and Delhi, we decided to travel via Trivandrum, which was about 43 km from Varkala. It is much easier to visit Varkala if you are already based out of Kerala, Karnataka or any other Southern state of India.
Let me list down the commute option for you below:
1. Bus: If you are travelling from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh or somewhere in Kerala, you can take an overnight bus to Trivandrum and then a taxi to Varkala.
2. Train: Trivandrum has good railway connectivity. Again, if you are travelling from any southern state, taking a train can be an economic option. Once you reach Trivandrum, take a taxi to Varkala.
3. Flight: You can take a flight to Kochi or Trivandrum from almost any airport in India. The tickets can be a bit expensive depending on the distance and the time of the year. Since the frequency of flights to Trivandrum and Kochi are low, you may end up with a connecting flight as well. Bottom line is, book your tickets at least a month in advance.
Need tips for cheap flight tickets? Read this article and scroll down to find some useful tips!
After a heartbreaking experience with Cyclone Ockhi, we managed to get to our homestay. We found this cute little place on Lonely Planet, owned by an Italian man called Loris. You will find his contact details down in the Quick Bites section.
THINGS TO DO IN Varkala
Day 1 | The day after the cyclone
So you already know what happened when we reached Trivandrum. We somehow managed to get a taxi to Varkala. It was very late and we had to wake Loris up to open the gates for us. Loris, being the nice man that he is, arranged everything for us. We had quite a day and just needed to sleep. We had very little hope for the next day due to the cyclone. When we woke up in the morning, the rain had stopped. It was still cloudy but Hey! We were happy to able to step out.
Our homestay was on the North Cliff and the view of the troubled sea was only a 100 meters away. We got ready to take a stroll down the cliff road and see if any cafe was open and serving breakfast. As soon as we reached the cliff road, we were surprised. Shops were open, tourists were out, we could smell Coffee and French toast. On the opposite side was the sea that scared everyone to death only a few hours ago. We stood there for a while, gazing at the huge waves come and go. After browsing for some time, we decided to have breakfast at The Tibetan Cafe, a quiet place near the helipad. We walked around the entire gloomy day. In the evening we decided to visit Darjeeling Cafe, which was recommended to us by one of our readers (Hi Abinaya, if you are reading this, we loved the cafe!). It was really hard to miss. By the time we were done with dinner, it started raining again. It was time to pack our things and head to our homestay.
Day 2 | The Cafe Crawl
We woke up to the sound of chirping birds and bright sunlight. It was going to be a good day!
After quickly getting ready, we were back on the cliff road. It was busier than the previous day. The sea seemed calm but people still weren’t allowed to go to the beach. We decided to visit a few cafes that we spotted on our first day and thought we’d try them.
Here is a list of all of ‘em:
Coffee Temple: If you walk down the cliff road from the helipad, Coffee Temple would be the first cafe you’d spot. If you are a vegan, you are in for a treat. It is one of the busiest cafes in Varkala.
Must try: Ginger Chai, Coffee
Eco Puccini Lala Art Cafe: This is a very tiny cafe and you’d have to look hard because you may end up missing it while walking down the cliff road. If you like spending some quality time with books and art, this cafe is perfect for you.
Must try: Ah! It is hard to pick. We’d say, try their organic salads.
Darjeeling Cafe: Hands down, this cafe has the best view of the sea. If you are looking for a place to sit and watch the sunset while enjoying iced coconut shake with Nutella, this is your place. Trust me when I say this, we never wanted to leave this cafe.
Must try: EVERYTHING!
The Juice Shack: Well, we were walking down the cliff road and someone (a total stranger) waved at us and asked us to come in. It was a strange thing to do but honestly, we didn’t care and decided to give it a try. It would be better if you visit the cafe in the evening, right after the sunset because they put on the fairy lights and the cafe looks magical.
Must try: Smoothies
Rock N Roll Cafe: (This is our favourite) As the name suggests, they play the best music in Varkala. If you are fond of 80s rock, this would be your kind of place. If you visit this cafe at night, you will be able to see the Neon Graffiti and people enjoying the 80s underground party vibes.
Must try: Just tell them to serve you anything local.
After eating at so many places, we were done for the day. We walked around for a while, bought some sun-dried fruits, herbal tea and bohemian jewellery from the local stores and called it a night.
Day 3 | The beach and places around
Honestly, we didn’t have anything planned for the day. We asked Loris if the warning was off and if we could go to the beach. He gave us the good news, we grabbed our flip-flops and ran to the beach. The sky was bright and blue, the sea was calm and people were sunbathing. After baking ourselves in the sun for 2 hours, we packed our things and left to explore the town. First on our list was Ponnumthuruthu Island, popularly known as the Golden Island. It has a stunning view and you can hire a boat for mere Rs.500 to get there and come back. There isn’t much to do on the island so if you don’t have enough time on hand, we’d suggest you to skip this trip and save 2 hours.
The next stop was the picturesque Kappil lake which was about 8 km from the cliff. We drove to the lake which honestly was better than the lake itself. You can paddle boat in the huge lake but we chose to park our car and enjoy the view instead.
Tha last stop before packing our bags was Sivagiri, Mutt of Guru Narayana. It is about 5 km from the cliff. It is a tranquil shrine which lets you take a break from the touristy vibe of the Varkala cliff.
Soon after reaching Sivagiri, we realized how late we were. We quickly ruck back to our homestay, packed our bags and left for Trivandrum. The back to the airport was very different from the day we got here. People were out and back at their businesses. We reached airport almost on time and boarded the planes to our respective homes.
Budget (for one)
Flights Delhi ⇄ Trivandrum: Rs. 11,800
Flights Bangalore ⇄ Trivandrum: Rs. 9,500
Cab for Trivandrum Airport ⇄ Varkala Cliff: Rs. 2800
Keratheeram Beach Resort: Rs. 1500/night (Rs. 500 extra for an AC room)
Food: Rs. 1200/day
Places to see
Varkala Beach (Papanasam Beach)
Ponnumthuruthu Island: 10.8 km from the cliff
Kappil Lake: 8 km from the cliff
Sivagiri: 5 km from the cliff
And all the cafes we listed above.
1. Do not wear a bikini near the temple area on the south cliff. It is regarded as holy premises.
2. Almost every cafe in the north cliff area serves alcohol but only if you ask them. The licence to serve alcohol is very expensive and to save a buck, the cafe owners will serve you your poison in an opaque ceramic mug.
3. A lot of shops and cafes only accept cash and there aren’t many ATMs around so make sure you have even dough in your pocket for the trip.
4. Bargain hard because the street shop owners will quote double the price for everything they have to offer.
Well, we can’t say we didn’t have fun in Varkala even though it was hit by a Cyclone on the day of our arrival but we did promise ourselves to visit again and for a longer duration.
Until next time.