Kerala is called God’s Own Country because of its unmatched beauty and splendor. Varkala, some 50 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, may well be the crown jewel of Kerala. The shores of the Arabian Sea are fringed by a sudden outcrop of cliffs – a rather unique formation and a splendid sight.
Varkala is the perfect getaway if you are looking for a relaxed seaside destination where sunbathing, swimming in the sea, and trying out Ayurvedic spas are the norm. But if you are looking for more, Varkala has old temples, a culturally rich legacy, a number of restaurants and eateries, shopping centers, and nature tour options.
Getting to Varkala
By Air – Varkala is very close to the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The Trivandrum International Airport is about 50 km and has air connectivity with most of the major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, and Bengaluru. It also connects Varkala with a number of international destinations.
By Rail – The Varkala railway station receives trains from most southern cities but is not a major junction. It is recommended that you take the train to Thiruvananthapuram Junction or Kochuveli railway station and take a bus or rent a car for the remaining distance.
By Road – Most of southern India is well connected by bus services. Regular bus services connect Varkala with Thiruvananthapuram’s new bus terminal and other southern cities, including Kochi, Madurai, Salem, Chennai, Coimbatore and Kanyakumari. Cars are easily available on rent and the fares are reasonable.
Getting Around – Buses and autorickshaws are the best way to get around in Varkala. For the environment-friendly tourists, cycles are available on hire.
The Varkala Beach, also called the Papanasam Beach, is a long stretch of golden sand washed by the radiant waters of the Arabian Sea. The word Papanasam literally translates into “Destruction of sins”. The locals believe that a dip in the waters of the Papanasam beach washes away all the sins of the bather. Sunrise and sunset at the Papanasam beach are glorious hours. This is the time when the entire world around seems covered in shimmering gold dust and the fishermen go out to sea in small boats or return with the day’s catch.
Places to See
Janardhanaswamy Temple – This 2000-year-old temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Located right on the beach, the temple is an important pilgrimage center and also an aesthetic marvel.
Sarkara Devi Temple – Dedicated to the Goddess Bhadrakali, the Sarkara Devi Temple of Varkala is another important religious centre. The temple is famous for its Kaliyoot festival.
Kaduvayil Juma Masjid – Located 12 km from Varkala, this is one of the most important mosques of Kerala. It is dedicated to saint Kaduvayil Thangal.
Anjengo Fort – It was established by the British in 1696 as the first post of the East India Company in the Malabar region. Preserved by the National Heritage Monuments, the fort is still open to tourists.
Kappil Lake – It is a beautiful boating centre and a tourist attraction located 6 km from Varkala. It is where the backwaters meet the sea.
Sivagiri Mutt – The samadhi or final resting place of Sri Narayana Guru – the seer and spiritual leader – Sivagiri Mutt is about 3 km from Varkala.
Varkala Tunnel – The Varkala tunnel was built by the British between 1867 and 1880. It is in fact a set of two connected tunnels – the first is 2370 feet long and the next 1140 feet long.
Varkala Lighthouse – Varkala’s old lighthouse is a favorite with children who visit the beach.
Best Time to Visit
Varkala is located in the south western end of India. The weather here is tropical and the summer months between March and May are very hot and humid making it an unsuitable tourist destination. June through December are the monsoon months and like the rest of Kerala, this town experiences torrid rainfall. The rains, however, leave the place green and verdant and tourists prefer to visit from December through March. The weather remains pleasant. Kerala has a considerable Christian population and Christmas is celebrated with much gaiety here.
Kerala cuisine is rich and known for its generous use of coconut, rice, bananas, and seafood. On your trip to Varkala, do try some of the popular local dishes such as appam with vegetable stew, puttu with kadala (chana) curry, palada payasam, and Thalassery biryani. Varkala is best known for its seafood. Do try out the legendary prawn curry, karimeen (a type of fish) preparations, and fish moilee. And pick up packets of banana and tapioca fritters to munch on when you get back home.
Things You Must do in Varkala
Here are some experiences you must not miss when in Varkala –
- Catch a traditional Kathakali performance – a mesmerising temple dance form. Your hotel may be able to arrange for one if you are not able to catch the real show at the Janardhanaswamy Temple during your stay.
- Take the detox route with an authentic Ayurvedic spa and hot oil treatment. Kerala’s famed Ayurvedic treatments attract people from across the world. But it is best to check with the locals about the authenticity of the centre before you go in.
- Take a backwaters tour in a houseboat. The Edava Lakeside is the best place to enjoy the calm backwaters and the rich flora and fauna near Varkala.
Janardhanaswamy Arattu Festival
One of the biggest temple festivals held in Kerala is the Arattu Festival at the Janardhanaswamy Temple of Varkala. It is held each year in the month of Meenam (between March and April). For 10 days, the entire town wears its best colours. The festival starts with the traditional flag hoisting ceremony, called the Kodiyettam. Tens of thousands of people gather in Varkala to celebrate this temple festival. The highlight of the festival is the procession of five elephants decorated in all finery. The elephants carry silt umbrellas and peacock feather boards.
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