I had expected Varkala to be a laid back, shack filled little haven but here you’ll find swanky luxury and tiara wearing girls celebrating bachelorette parties.
The Beef Masala at Edava was quite a memorable experience after starving at Varkala and politely sharing the over-priced and insignificant portions of fish curry and rice available in the shacks on North Cliff. Everything mellowed down to a butter chicken kind of sweet orange gravy consistency to live up to the expectations of the foreign tourists who must stop by at Varkala on their 6 month India exploring trips.
But amidst these, I recommend the Darjeeling Café which is perfect for beer chuggers who are looking for a lively café with good music. Else, for those who are looking for something quieter, stop way before you reach Darjeeling Café. Look, instead for a dimly lit, deserted café which at a glance looks like a second hand book store. Italiano Café – no one disturbs you here. The folks take a long time to prepare your order and then miraculously forget about the bill. So you ask a couple of times and maybe they will ferry it to you.
The cheapest stay you find in Varkala is for Rs. 450 in early September. This is the so called off season but it’s neither empty not economical. The place is swarming with a constant influx of local tourists and their shy girlfriends or awkward groups of college friends, all checking out the sudden laxening of moral codes at the shops on the cliff selling beach wear, sarongs and cotton dresses. They stop to look but don’t buy. Where will they wear such daring outfits?
Not even here. Not anywhere. Because one can’t simply exchange their native conditioning with those of the ‘firangs’ who come here with their shorts and plunging necklines. Those who have come to the Janardhanaswami Temple, old chettas and shrinking chechis, walk with a smile past this culture shock but you can spot the discomfort in their eyes. This is their pious Varkala. This is where they wash away their sins, pour out the ashes of their departed loved ones into the heart of the ocean before praying for their wellbeing. Whatever happened to that plain old familiar Keralan Varkala? But no safronism here. No temple goons vandalizing any of the shops. Not even stares of disapproval.
Varkala with its shops run by men and women from Karnataka with a strange kind of Rajasthani swag about them say hello to passersby and sometimes when unsure tentatively ask – India? None of this really goes with this town. Not at least as far as I have seen till now. Varkala is suddenly, in the middle of a very traditional and orthodox landscape with its very Indian ways of life, an anomaly. It reminds me of the road in Bhagsunag or the one at Kasol. The same – hello. Stare. India? Seems thoroughly staged here.
Heading to Himachal from brand conscious, English speaking snooty Delhi this might seem cool and even utopic for newbie travellers but no, not in Kerala. After two weeks of dealing with the stark nativity of the region, Varkala’s sudden westernization seems shocking and alienating.
And I’m soon edging to move further ahead. With Pabla having returned from her Kovalam detour, the company is now of three, Hari with his red Datsun Go, Pabla with her turtle bag pack and me, the aimless introverted drifter.