A Trip to Varkala, Kerala
When I thought of India, my first thought was I must travel to Kerala.
It’s palm fringed beaches and tranquil backwaters promised a gentler introduction to India & one I couldn’t wait to experience. So in my mid 20’s, I booked a cheap package holiday SOLO to Kovalem, the largest resort along the Keralan coast. Yup, solo. I love a challenge!
It was on that first visit that Varkala, a small clifftop ‘resort’, won my heart.
After Varkala first captured my heart in my 20’s, I went back to visit year after year. There’s something about this traveller’s low key clifftop location in Kerala that is both charming and still very much a part of India. Admittedly, it is a more sanitized version of India than the big city experience (as is the whole of Kerala), and I fell for it’s beautiful landscape and simple charms. Mornings started with a yoga class on the clifftop, followed by banana pancakes, and then days spent lazing in hammocks reading books for hours on end. A little light bartering on the clifftop shops, followed by an afternoon snooze, tea and cake, and then sunset drinks & dinner (a gin and tonic hidden in a teapot as technically the cafes are not allowed to serve alcohol).
Sweet and simple, my Varkala memories are filled with Jack Johnson tunes, hammocks, excellent cake and chai, and colours. Lots of colours.
These images are from my last trip there 3 years ago. I visited Kerala many times, and then on this last trip it felt like I had moved on and my time there was complete. These epic clifftop views and incredible beach will forever stay in my memories.
I just adore the bamboo cottages. They varied between £8 and £30 a night – in peak season. I love how ornate and decorative they are, and the care and artistry given to such simple accommodation.
Sweet as the cottages were, I actually preferred to stay in one of the clifftop hotels, with their air conditioning, plentiful hot water and quieter rooms (my love of luxury started a long time ago). This man worked at my hotel. My recall for names could be better, but as a photographer, faces are etched in my memory forever.
The photo says it all – this man was a character. His story has faded into the history books, but I remember his vibrant positive energy and his wonderful attitude so clearly. I used to think I would retire to India when I got older. Now I am not so sure. But if I was an older man, he might just be my role model.
Morning mist is one of my favourite things. So magical.
This is the fishing boats at Cochin, at the top of Kerala. You can travel there up the backwaters, which is epically beautiful. Life at a slow pace: the landscape serene, expansive and still.
This man and his art fascinates me. I didn’t realize how much until I got the images back and really took the time to look closely. That one with the man’s head and the women hanging over the top, and then almost his shadow side behind…. a psychoanalysts’s dream…..
But more than that, I love the idea that he is sharing his talents in exchange for donations. I wish I knew his story.
The Tibetans run the best bakeries here. Amazing homemade cake and bread freshly made each morning. The man in blue worked at my favourite cafe. Varkala is full of little gems to discover. It’s not fancy, and that’s point. It’s quirky, charming and very chilled.
A shot of the backwaters. Yes, it was cloudy and misty pretty much the whole time on this trip, as you can see. But good even light for photographs and much easier than shooting in bright sunlight.
This young guy worked at GG’s Tailors where I used to get my made-to-measure holiday clothes made. And yoga bags. And gifts. And anything else I could think of. Trip to GG’s were a holiday ritual and offered the opportunity to experience made-to-measure style on a shoestring.
I just love this sea view and the muted tones. The gloom and mist just makes it even more serene.
SUMMARY OF VARKALA
Varkala is a great super affordable low key beach resort. If massages and yoga, and homemade curries and hammocks are your thing, you’ll love Varkala. Each year it gets more developed so visit now before it loses it’s charms.