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Varkala Travel Guide

Varkala Beach, Beaches in Varkala, Sunset scene at Varkala beach, Varkala Tourism

The beach resort of Varkala is connected by state and national highways to all major cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. You can hail a State Transport Bus from East Fort in Trivandrum to Varkala.

Varkala has a well-connected rail network. It is better to take the train if you are coming in from Trivandrum or Cochin. Most passing trains halt at Varkala. And on arrival at Varkala railway station you can hire a taxi or auto-rickshaw to the Papanasam beach, the hub, about 5 kilometers (3.12 miles) from here. Most resorts are around this area.

The nearest international airport is in Trivandrum.

Varkala Beach
A serene coastal town fringing the Arabian Sea, Varkala is a municipality in Trivandrum about 51 kilometers (32 miles) to its north-west. The soaring cliffs lining the azure sea and jutting into it in places make the Varkala landscape exceptional and striking. Behold this breathtaking scenery of cliffs thick with swaying palms standing sentinel over the sea, and down below a pristine stretch of sand laid-out like a ribbon washed by small white waves.

Sivagiri Mutt
Amid tall palm groves and neatly tended lawns nestles the architectural Sivagiri Mutt atop a steep cliff – Sivagiri hill - soaring over the bright blue sea of Varkala. This deeply revered pilgrimage centre of the Keralites is about 3 kilometers (1.87 miles) from the iconic Janardhana Swamy temple. Built in 1904 the Sivagiri Mutt is the headquarter of Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham Trust founded by the renowned spiritual leader and social reformer Sree Narayana Guru (1856 – 1928).

Janardhanaswamy Temple
Janardhanaswamy temple is a 2000-year-old Vishnu shrine perched on a steep cliff lining the Arabian Sea in Varkala. The original temple was destroyed by tidal waves only to be rebuilt many years later by a Pandyan king. A fine specimen of traditional South Indian architecture, the temple is a circular building with a red-tiled roof housing the main shrine, and speckled with colorful sculptures of deities from Hindu mythology.

Papanasam Beach
Papanasam (meaning redemption from sin) is a secluded 500-meter stretch of white sand between the steep red cliffs covered with coconut palms and the azure Arabian Sea. This is one of the main beaches of Varkala, and a deeply revered Hindu pilgrimage site. Locals believe that a dip in the holy waters of this beach washes away all sins and thereby purifies the body and spirit - hence the name. The sunsets here are truly glorious. Spend the evening lounging on the beach and watch the massive red orb slip into the sea leaving behind a tinge of orange in the sky. This stretch is lovely for a long walk and opens up places of immense scenic beauty.

Anjengo Fort
An important trading station of the British, Anjengo Fort is about 36 kilometers (22.5 miles) north of Trivandrum city and some 18 kilometers (11.25 miles) from Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala. This is a lovely seaside drive from the mutt and opens up innumerable photo opportunities. On a sightseeing excursion around Varkala, it is worth popping into this fort set up by the English East India Company as a strategic garrison in 1684.

Varkala Tunnel
Once considered an engineering marvel, the Varkala Tunnel is a 924-foot-long (277 meters) stretch of inland waterway built by the British as a trade route. It is a significant historical landmark in Varkala and a must-see on a sightseeing excursion. Etched out under a cliff, this century-old tunnel is about 41 kilometers (25.6 miles) from Trivandrum. A huge vent on the roof opens up this dark underground structure to fresh air and sunshine.

Kappil Lake
About 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) north of Varkala town is the scenic Kappil Lake that gives way to the enchanting world of Kerala backwaters. This serene estuary meanders through dense coconut groves before merging into the Arabian Sea. The bridge over the lake is quite a vantage point to view the backwater stretching white and grey to the distant blue horizon. Boating is another great way to browse this tranquil waterway.

Vettekkada Beach
This one is a short distance from Varkala town near Kappil backwaters. Vettekkada is an isolated stretch of fine sand affording stunning sunset views. Lounge on the beach and spend indolent hours gazing at the azure slopes while soaking up the tropical sun. Capture from different perspectives the blue sea merging with a clear blue sky.

Kaduvayil Thangal Dargah
The frequency of visitors at the Kaduvayil Thangal Dargah on the National Highway 47 establishes that there is more to Varkala than just pristine beaches and luscious environs. Many spiritually-inclined tourists also make a beeline for Varkala, courtesy the Sivagiri Mutt and this little mausoleum of a Sufi saint on the highway between Kallambalam and Attingal.

Ponnumthuruth (Golden Island)
The verdant Ponnumthuruth (meaning Golden Island) is in the middle of the placid backwaters near Varkala. Untouched now for centuries, this virgin island is a vibrant ecosystem home to a variety of flora and fauna. There is a still beauty about the place, occasionally broken by the rustling of wind through palm trees, the twittering of birds or the gentle lapping on water on the white beach.

A serene coastal town fringing the Arabian Sea, Varkala is a municipality in Trivandrum about 51 kilometers (32 miles) to its north-west. The soaring cliffs lining the azure sea and jutting into it in places make the Varkala landscape exceptional and striking. On either side the cliffs are speckled with mineral water sprouts and spas. Legend has it that sage Narada was once accosted by a few friars who conceded to having sinned. On hearing this he hurled his ‘valkkalam’ (the bark of tree worn by mythical sages) into the air. And the place where it landed later came to be known as Varkala. Narada then asked the friars to pray for their redemption at this newly created site by the seashore; the place is Papanasam beach to be more precise.

Popularly referred to as ‘Dakshin Kashi’ or Benaras of the South, the history of Varkala can be traced from the 3500-year-old Vaishnavite shrine. Characterized by red sedimentary cliffs lining the Arabian Sea, the topography of this beachside town points to the fact that it is an old geographical region. Geologists have coined the term ‘Varkala formation’ for these massive cliffs that are a unique geological feature in the otherwise flat Kerala coast. So much so the Geological Survey of India has declared it a geological monument. The 19th century Varkala Tunnel – a stretch of inland waterway built by the British as a trade route – stands testimony to Varkala’s forgotten trade channel and commercial past. It took 14 years to build this 924-foot-long tunnel and was used to ferry goods and people between Trivandrum and Kollam in the pre-independence times. Sree Narayana Guru is another historical personality who shaped Varkala’s history.

Built in 1904, the Sivagiri Mutt is the headquarter of Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham Trust founded by the renowned spiritual leader and social reformer Sree Narayana Guru (1856 – 1928). Today the mutt is home to the memorial or samadhi of the great philosopher and receives throngs of believers, all clad in saffron attire, from across Kerala and outside during the annual festival (30th December to 1st January). The mutt also serves as a meeting place of his disciples and saints, and works towards spreading his concept of ‘One caste, one religion, one god’.

Varkala is growing in popularity as a sun-and-sand getaway close to Trivandrum, but unlike Kovalam this one offers seclusion.

Getting Around
The beach town of Varkala is about 5 kilometers (3.12 miles) inland centered around a railway station. You can take an auto-rickshaw from there for INR 40-50 to the northern or southern cliffs. The resorts are predominantly along the two cliffs – north and south – overlooking the many sunny beaches. Papanasam beach, the popular one of the lot, is between these, while the less touristy Black Beach is to the north. You can access the entire area by strolling down the sandy sidewalk along the face of the cliff.

Tourist Traps in the City
When souvenir shopping in Varkala, do strike a hard bargain for the prices more often than not are steep. The occasional vendors on the beach tend to get a tad too pushy. If you are not keen on buying anything from him, say a firm no right in the beginning before he begins persuading you.

Local Custom
The locals have a traditional outlook, so when visiting the Sivagiri Mutt- an important pilgrimage point in Varkala - dress modestly and avoid wearing short or revealing clothes. While sunning on a beach you are free to be the way you wish and dress in anything you find comfortable.

Varkala is not really about shopping, but if you still wish to pick up a few memorable souvenirs head to the cliff face. There you will come across an endless row of makeshift shanties selling pretty silver trinkets to local coconut shell handicraft. The beach resort is, however, known for the many places specializing in yoga and Ayurvedic therapies. Some beach areas are flecked with humble souvenir shops and eating joints. Stroll the beach bazaar in the evening when it gets livelier and looks quaint against the sunset sky. Merry tourists and casual locals take up the space before these colorful little souvenir kiosks, old bookstalls and handloom shops.

Shop for armloads of traditional Kerala handicraft and utilities made of coir. Most tourists love to take back coconut shell artifacts as souvenir. Pan some more and you will find rare horn-carved showpieces. The exquisite carving and the level of detailing on these horn artifacts leaves you impressed. Not to mention, you will also find typical beach jewellery made of shells and craft made of oysters.

You will also come across some very beautiful, one-off conch shell handicraft. Pretty trinkets and bric-a-brac come in a great assortment at this beach bazaar, and make a thoughtful souvenir for your friends back home. Round up your shopping expedition with a few pouches of exotic and aromatic spices, vanilla, tea and coffee, for which Kerala is known. If your bags are not full yet, try the Tibetan shops, buy a traditional attire or some pieces of local jewelry. Besides, there are shops selling semi-precious stone jewelry from Rajasthan and Kashmir. At all times, it is imperative to put up a good bargain as the prices quoted by the local shopkeepers to tourists especially foreigners are high. And it is important to remember that Varkala is not a place to look for brands!


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