Days 26 – 28: VARKALA & ODAYAM
PHOTOS - …photobucket.com/albums/…
The old KSRTC bus was speeding us towards Kollam and we had been lucky enough to catch one of the “Super Fast” versions. I don’t think super fast relates to the speed of the bus, but more to your heart beat!! The driver was obviously late for an urgent appointment and wasn’t going to let oncoming traffic slow him. Either that or he was practising for his test drive with Force India!! Anyway it didn’t trouble me, as the sooner we got there the better. As long as all my internal organs were still in the same place when we arrived, who was I to argue. Anyway, we were now veterans of Keralan bus travel.
Now Jose from the Malayalam Lake Resort had told us the best route to take was to catch a bus from Alleppey directly to a town called Kallambalam, passing through Kollam on the way. This is what we had done. He had said we could get off at Kollam and try and catch a private bus directly to Varkala, but there were more buses from Kallambalam. The journey the bus took was along the coast and I could occasionally glimpse sand and sea. But mostly the view was traffic. Saying that we did both spot some Tamil trucks which were so laden with straw it was only just possible to make out that they were actually vehicles. How they manage to balance all that straw way over the bed of the truck, would leave David Blaine scratching his head. They must have some sort of anti gravity device!!?
After one and a half hours we pulled into the bus depot at Kollam, which is located right next to the ferry dock. So, had we chosen the tourist ferry we would have been right in the bus station for our onward journey. But we had no regrets, as here we were at 11.30am and the tourist boat still had 7 hours to go until it reached this point.
The bus stopped for about 10 minutes for a comfort break and I managed to get a seat next to the wife. Then we were off again. We did pass through towns were there was a mass of roadwork’s going on. It appeared as if they were in the process of building a large overhead roadway or railway. All we could see were the huge uprights being constructed (and nearby buildings being demolished to make way for it).
That was about the most interesting part of this journey and 3 hours after leaving Alleppey we were told we were in Kallambalam and this was the point we should get off at. Again we knew, from Jose that we had to cross over the main road to catch the next bus for Varkala. So we trundled over and were pounced on by the waiting rickshaw drivers. At least this meant we were in the right place, as we were just in amongst a stretch of shops at the side of a very busy road. The rickshaw drivers were very persistent, and had obviously done this before! We said we purely wanted to catch a bus to Varkala. They said that the bus to Varkala only took you to the town and then you had to catch a rickshaw to the cliff area. We did know this was the case. They said that they only wanted 100 rupees to take us all the way to the cliff and that rickshaws in Varkala would charge 60 rupees, just from town to the cliff. I said the rickshaw drivers there may try and charge 60 rupees, but doubted if that was what they would end up getting!! Now at this point I should say that the 100 rupees fare from Kallambalam to Varkala cliffs may not be too bad a deal. However we had decided we really wanted to stay at Odayam (also known as Black Beach), which was yet further from Varkala. We had done all our forum research (thanks guys) and knew Odayam was more us. It was going to be quieter and away from the hustle of the cliff area, but still in walking distance, if we wanted the bigger beach. So we stuck to our guns and decided just to take the bus. But where did it go from? Whilst I fended off the rickshaws, my wife enquired in a nearby shop. They told us we were standing at the bus stop!! I took a break from defending myself and looked up at the post I was stood next to, sure enough it said Bus!! We were still ignoring the drivers when a bus pulled up – Varkala – yes, so we pushed our packs on and tried to follow them. Boy was this bus packed. We only just had enough room to stand, and I had to wait until the bus braked and everyone swayed forward, so I could get my hand in my pocket, to pay the 5 rupee each, fare!
Once the bus reached Varkala, it stopped at a couple of points and we were unsure at which stop to get off at. Finally we got off at the train station and wondered what to do. We were used to finding lots of rickshaws outside railways stations. But here it was like a desert. Do they only turn up when they know there is a train due? Makes sense, I suppose, if they do. Anyway we dragged our bags over to a nearby bakery and tried to buy some snacks, but after waiting 10 minutes we still hadn’t been served. Not a good start to Varkala. Eventually we managed to buy some cakes and back out to find a rickshaw. We had to stand back up on the road for about another 10 minutes until one stopped. We knew the first place we wanted to have a look at, in Odayam, was Pink Aana (Pink Elephant), but whilst we were in the town area, I also wanted to visit the liquor store to stock up on few Kingfishers and some more Old Cask rum, to take home. I tried everyway I could, telling the driver we wanted the liquor store and then Pink Aana. He said 60 rupees and we agreed and off we went. However, he set off going away from town. I asked about the liquor store and he said yes at Odayam. This was news to me, I’d not read anyone mentioning this. Anyway when we pulled up at the top of the Pink Aana I was kind of guessing that we weren’t getting the liquor store after all. The driver got out, told us to wait, and started to ring the number for the Pink Aana. Not sure if he was going to say he had brought us and wanted a bit of grease. But we just walked past him and down the steps and met the manager. He showed us to a hexagonal bungalow at the end nearest to the beach. Again it was the biggest and best bungalow he had (it was only a small place with 4 bungalows) . It was only fairly basic with a large double bed and freestanding fan. The bathroom was spacious and very clean. But it was the view which again was the clincher. It was slightly elevated and had views over the small beach and sea. We asked how much and he told us normally he charged 1,400 rupees a night including a fruit salad breakfast, but was open to offers. We had been paying around the 1,000 rupees mark, so suggested this rate. He agreed instantly. Infact he agreed too quickly. So I thought about it some more and talked it over with the wife. We said for that rate we had always had hot water, and Pink Aana didn’t have this. Also, we had two full nights here and then on the third night we had to be at Trivandrum airport for 2.30am. We asked if we could have a package for 2,750 rupees. We were amazed when he said he would do it for 2,500 rupees!! There wasn’t any decision to be made; we were going to end our trip here!!
So we went back to collect our bags from the rickshaw. I asked the manager if he would ask the driver why he hadn’t taken us to the liquor store (gosh I sound like an alcoholic). The reply was that he thought I’d said Lucky Store, which was a shop nearby. Hmmmmm!! However for another 100 rupees he would take us back into town and then back again. No way. I’d rather walk there than give him the satisfaction. So we paid him off and put it down to experience.
The manager introduced himself as Khalkhal and then his brother came over to meet us. His name was Shahan, and between them they ran the resort. Khalkhal then brought us over a menu and asked if we’d like dinner that evening. We, by now, had had time to take in the view and thought this would be a lovely spot in which to dine. The clincher was when he said that all our meals would be served from the table on our porch. This was just a stones throw from the water and really peaceful. How could we refuse? He explained that they didn’t really keep much food in stock and that once we’d chosen; he would go into town and buy what was needed. Meals were always cooked fresh.
He also brought over the usual documentation for us to complete, which he had to present to the local police. Once we’d finished he said that as he had to go into town, he would go to the liquor store for us and make the necessary purchases of rum and Kingfisher. What a thoroughly charming offer. I would be able to have a cold beer tonight after all!!
We unpacked, had a brief rest and then decided we needed to explore for the rest of the afternoon. It was almost the end of our trip and we needed to buy some souvenirs to take home. So we set off for Varkala cliffs. The path took us infront of the nearby Mosque, along the seafront stone road and brought us to a small fishing village. Passing by the cluster of huts, the path started to climb and we past a small sandy beach where some people were playing in the waves. After 15 to 20 minutes we had arrived at the foot of the path leading up the cliffs and we were about to get our first taste of Varkala proper.
We climbed up the steps and were welcomed by the continuous strip of stalls, restaurants, resorts and litter. Everyone, (luckily), wants different things from a holiday, and I’m certain that quite a lot of people would have hated our type of trip. But Varkala, as we had thought, was not our sort of place. If I’d been in my 20’s, or even older, and single, then this was the place to be. Varkala certainly had a vast array of places to eat and chill out. But we are the sort of people who are happy with our own company and prefer solitude plus peace and quiet. So we had certainly made the right choice, for us, by staying in Odayam.
Onwards we walked, and it was just like Periyar Part 2, with all the stall holders trying to cajole us into their premises. However, this time we had no choice, as we needed to look for presents. So we battled our way along the cliff edge, trying to find something to take back that wasn’t gaudy, junk or clothing that was a throwback to the hippy era. I don’t think we were helped by the fact that Varkala wasn’t that busy. With it now being the end of March and extremely hot. Yes, there were tourists about. But apparently not enough to keep all the retailers in business. We did make a purchase, two ice creams and a bottle of water, and very welcome they were to! Prices, as you would expect, were much higher along the cliff top, when compared to everywhere else.
After the onslaught of shopping we emerged from the North Cliff area and came to a very large car park, which we assumed was the helicopter pad. Here we spotted the taxi rank and noted from the sign that a taxi to Trivandrum Airport was 800 rupees. Crossing the car park, we followed a path which initially led us down hill past some hotels and onto a road. Here we had the option of going onto the beach or following the road uphill. Of course we went uphill. Again, passing quite a few hotels we reached the Sea Pearl Chalets, which had been our second choice, if Odayam wasn’t any good. We wandered in and had a nosey around. It looked a good place, but only one cottage had a really great view. We were glad we’d opted for Odayam, but we still took a picture of the beach below, from outside the best bungalow.
Back out to the road and we continued uphill. However this soon led us to a T junction and it looked like both directions just had isolated properties. So we turned around and went back down to the bottom again. Left was the beach, but we thought we’d try right, along the road leading away from here. We hadn’t gone far when we came across a stall selling coconuts. My wife had never had coconut milk, so we bought one. Quite surprised how much milk they had in them. The lady selling them, then cut the top off and scrapped out the flesh for us. Lovely.
Eventually this road led us to a large tank on the left, where the locals had gathered to do their washing or just bath. Almost opposite was a temple which we assumed was the Janardhana Temple. There was music blaring out and it looked like there was something going on. However, we had read that it is closed to non-Hindus. So the nearest we could get was to climb some steps and look at the gates.
We were now at another T junction, where there were a few stalls. Here we bought some snacks (at a far better price than on the cliffs). We knew the way back to Odayam must be left, so that’s the way we headed. Hoping the road would simply lead us back to the cliff area, we were sadly disappointed. As the road started to twist away from the cliff area and headed uphill and inland. Not really what we wanted. It lead us past some other resorts, like the Bohemian Massala, but finally we ended up at the large car park/ helipad at the end of the North Cliffs. Then it was all the way back to the Pink Aana and a well earned rest. Khalkhal came over and gave us the beer and rum he had got for me and the receipt. What a splendid chap. A Kingfisher in his fridge for later, and we sat on our veranda watching the sun set. We couldn’t help but think that if we’d caught the tourist ferry from Alleppey, we’d only just be pulling into Kollam!! We’d done the right thing for us, by catching the bus.
We showered, not really missing hot water, as it was extremely hot here in Varkala, and sat outside reading. Dinner was supposed to be at 8.30pm. But as there was only Khalkhal working in the kitchen, meals came when he could manage. He had guests in two of the three other bungalows and everyone was eating in tonight. So we had to be patient. We were quite chilled by now, so we just accepted that food would arrive sometime. It was well worth the wait. His cooking was superb. Infact he told us he had another brother who was a chef working in the Ibis Hotel in Austria. My wife had ordered a vegetable Kofta, not knowing what it really was. When it arrived, (after the power cut), it was nothing like we’d seen before. I can only describe it as a kind of Easter egg, in sauce. It was delicious. I almost considered becoming vegetarian, that is, until I tasted my prawn curry!! Afterwards we had fruit salad with ice cream and it ended a lovely day.
The next morning we emerged onto our veranda and saw that there were two groups of local fishermen hauling in their nets. It wasn’t even 8.00am, and they looked like they had been at it for ages. We thought it would be a great photo opportunity, so wandered over. As we approached, we could see that it was mainly older men pulling on the lines. One of them shouted to me to come and help.” Five minutes, five minutes”, he kept saying. I thought what the heck, OK it’s a bit of fun for them to see a tourist pulling the nets and they will most probably want a few rupees off us, but so what. I was soon to realise that I was mistaken. Five minutes – five minutes!! Must be some sort of communication problem here, or they use a different measurement of time!! I must have been there for over half an hour, helping them pull the nets in. It wasn’t two groups pulling in separate nets it was just one huge net in a semi-circle, which both groups were hauling in. And boy was it one big net!! All they wanted from me was some extra grunt, as it was extremely hard work. You gripped the net and walked backwards in the sand. When you got to the last man, you then went to the front and started again. It was getting hotter and hotter and I was wilting, but wouldn’t give up. There were some men actually out in the water and they kept getting pounded by the incoming rollers. So my job on dry land wasn’t so bad after all. Finally we hauled the net up onto the beach and I got ready to see what we had caught. I reckoned some huge tuna and maybe a shark or two, judging on the weight we’d pulled. But all they had were some really small fish and even then not that many of them. All that work for so little reward. It wasn’t so bad for me, as when I had finished, I was back to the bungalow for a rest and breakfast. But they had to pack up the catch and then spent a couple of hours laying the net and ropes out in the sun to dry and then later had to pack them all away in a boat, ready for the next time. What a hard life.
After breakfast, we sat and watched them doing all this hard work in the blazing heat. Khalkhal came over with the menu for dinner that night. We weren’t going to try elsewhere, as we were happy here, so had a look. But we chatted and asked him what some items were. In the end it was almost like being in a posh restaurant, as we asked him what he suggested. The wife had enjoyed the Kofta so much that he said he would make her one out of potato and paneer (cheese). I went with a Kingfish curry, which he said he would buy for me. Sorted!!
We sat admiring the serenity of the location until about 11.00am, when her who shall be obeyed, reminded me we still had to buy presents. So reluctantly, we headed back along the coastal path to the North Cliff and did our shopping as quickly and as cheaply as possible (lots of bartering). Then it was on across the helipad and down the path down towards the South Cliff, where we decided we really should see what the beach was all about. So we walked back along the shore line, paddling in the warm water. The beach did look lovely and it was quite deserted, but we didn’t want to hire an umbrella etc, just for an hour or so (which is about all we could have taken). So we climbed up the steep steps, back to the cliff top. Passing a highly painted palm trunk (which I just had to photograph), we headed back. Just as we passed through the fishing village we noticed a man washing his cow by a stream! Not something you see everyday!!
We sat resting for about 1 and half hours, but then we got curious of what lay in the opposite direction to Varkala. We had read that there was a beach called Edava that way, so just before 2.00pm, we thought we would investigate.
The path ran past the Blue Wave Resort (which people said was expensive with small rooms) and then followed the coast. Mostly the path was easy going as it followed the coast and was paved with concrete blocks. Luckily we had a cooling sea breeze for most of the way, otherwise we would have melted. We passed a few other, mainly deserted, bungalow resorts dotted along the coast. Some looked really basic and some a little more upmarket. We presumed these resorts were accessed from a road which must run parallel to the coast. There were also a few small sandy beaches/coves along this coast, again all deserted. However after about an hour we came to what we assume was Edava Beach. The start of this beach was a largish Muslim fishing area. Here there were a cluster of huts in the sand and brightly painted boats lining the shore. The beach then narrowed (it wasn’t very wide to begin with) and became quite steep. Looking back we saw the most vividly coloured mosque we had seen!!
A little further along and the beach widened and behind it was a large lagoon, with a footpath running between the two. We carried along this beach, but were starting to get tired. Up ahead we could see a bridge crossing the lagoon which presumably led to the road. We had a choice of trying to return by rickshaw or back along the coast. We chose coast, and retraced our steps back to the sanctuary which was Pink Aana. We gratefully sank onto the chairs and didn’t move for the remainder of the day! As dusk approached, the clouds started to get darker and masses of Red Kites started hovering above us. We thought a storm was coming, but it remained out at sea.
Dinner was a repeat of the night before. Food arrived whenever Khalkhal could prepare it. My wife’s potato and paneer kofta, looked absolutely revolting but tasted fabulous, as did my fish curry. But I would have liked more chilli, which Khalkhal couldn’t understand. I think he thought he would make it too hot, but I kept telling him to make my meals as hot as he’d eat it!!
Sadly the next morning dawned all too soon, as this was to be our last day in Kerala. How quickly the month had gone. We vowed that today would be a totally lazy day. Different fishermen were out on the water, and I lay in the hammock watching them between the coconut trees. After breakfast we had a chat with Khalkhal about getting a taxi to Trivandrum airport. Our flight left at 04.30am, so we had to be there for 02.30am. He said he could organise us a taxi to leave about 01.00am and it would cost 900 rupees. We had seen in Varkala that it was a standard 800 rupees, never mind the extra from Odayam and the time of the morning. Also we were happy for him to sort it out, as if there was a problem, then he could fix it. If we booked one ourselves and he never turned up for some reason, then we were snookered. We also asked if he would like us to choose our dinner for that evening. He said “Yes please, the sooner you tell me, the more love I can put into it”!! What a lovely way of putting it. We had already discarded the menu and were happy for him to recommend something for us. I asked him if I could have my meal with more chilli and he looked at me and said he had made it as hot as he could eat it!! He said it wasn’t good to eat it any hotter as it only made you sweat more. Even he was finding the temperature very hot.
However before we could laze around, I was told that we had to return to the North Cliffs (again) as a cricket shirt we had bought for our nephew was going to be too small, and we had to get a larger size. After a quick march there and back, we could now relax. We sat baking on our porch and I thought I would put our clock out into the sun, to see just how hot it was...... 47.5 degrees at 10.46am!! Phew, what a scorcher!!. Khalkhal said April temperatures had come early (well it was April 2nd).
After watching the beautiful sea from our porch, we decided we would do something we hadn’t done all holiday and that was going for a swim!!.Luckily our injuries from the scooter accident, back in Cochin, had healed (this will only makes sense to those of you who have followed all the reports). So we could now venture into the water. We had to run across the sand as it was like a hot plate and without any hesitation we were into the Arabian Sea. It was just like bath water!! It was great fun frolicking in the waves and we had the whole place to ourselves. However after 30 minutes we had to get out, as even with high factor sun cream on we could feel our lily white skin cooking in the fierce midday sun. Hopping between what little shade we could find, we made it back to the bungalow and that is where we stayed for the rest of the day. Taking turns on the hammock and seeing who could relax the most (wasn’t difficult). We did manage to drag ourselves down to the beach again, later in the afternoon and went for a swim again. Shame we hadn’t been able to do this in Kannur (but our injuries were still fresh, there).
The day passed all too quickly (does everyone find that you don’t seem to get a full 24 hours on the last day of a holiday you’ve greatly enjoyed!!?) and we had to go and sit on the beach to watch our last Keralan sunset. We found a length of wood to sit on and watched the sun sink lower and lower. However just before it had finally gone a man came up to us and asked us to move? We stood, and he pulled over two more lengths of wood , lashed them together, and then paddled his 3 piece canoe out to sea!!
The sun gone, we returned to do our packing and sit on the porch, sipping our last rum and coke, for this trip. Dinner arrived and Khalkhal had done himself proud. He had made me a superb salad with chips and spiced fish, the wife had coconut rice filled with vegetables and a raita. What a send off. He said he had sorted the taxi out for us and he would wake us at 12.45am. So at least we managed to get a few hours of sleep before leaving.
It was with great sorrow that we stood above the Pink Aana, at 1.00am, with Khalkhal, waiting for the taxi. A friend of his had to go over to a nearby house and wake up the driver!! Glad we got Khalkhal to sort the taxi. Anyway that was it. Our Ambassador turned up and we waved goodbye.
An hour later, and even with a stop for fuel, we were in the car park of Trivandrum airport. We thought at that time of the morning it would be quiet. But yet again we were amazed to see half of Kerala there to either board a plane or wave us goodbye!! We even had to queue to get inside the terminal!
Well that was it our trip was over and we’d had our first taste of India. We were sorry to be leaving. But we had to come home, as we now have to start researching for our next adventure, for which we’d booked cheap flights, before we left for Kerala.
MALAYSIA and AUSTRALIA, for 3 months, starting in October.....stand by on the other forums.......here we come!!!!!
(P.S. A short epilogue will follow shortly)
Website (Basic): http://www.pinkaana.at/
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Khalkhal : (0091) 98 95 05 6543
Shahan : (0091) 99 95 42 4936