Kerala’s Coasts – Varkala

Varkala is a beach which embraces and exhibits conflicts. Conflicts that emerge when two opposite forces meet and meddle with each other, in an ever so peaceful manner.

The land and the sea

Unlike other coastlines in Kerala, the land here doesn’t just merge calmly, flat-out with the ocean. There is a small beach which is literally ‘trapped’ between a bow-shaped cliff formation in the east and the Arabian sea in the west. In the north and the south ends of this beach, it’s the cliff that abruptly marks the end of the landmass. Geologists have named this unique structure as the ‘Varkala formation’ and the Geological Survey of India has declared this place as a geological monument.

Tussle between the land and the sea
A view from the north cliff

Even though other beaches separate the realms of the land and the ocean, it is done ever more conspicuously here at Varkala.  There is a constant tussle going on between the land and the sea. The powerful waves constantly nibble away at the bottom of the vertical cliff, causing its foundation to erode slowly and making large chunks of it eventually (over several years) collapse into the water.

 

For a visitor, this continuous battle is music to the ears. The roar of the sea combined by the splash of waves on the cliff, sounds like a war cry. The constant echoing amplifies the sound even more. But surprisingly, it’s peaceful. May be because one can hardly hear any man-made noise.

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Walkway at the top of the north cliff.

I took the road which bisects the northern and southern cliffs, ending up on the beach. From the beach, there are steps, which lead up to the top of the north cliff. From the top of the cliff, its a beautiful view of the vast ocean on one side, and numerous shops, resorts and restaurants on the other. There’s a beautiful walkway, paved with red stones, in between the two. I took a stroll through the edge of the cliff, enjoying the vehemence of the sea and the liveliness of the settlement at the same time. The music of the waves crashing on the cliff seduced me to look down from the edge of the cliff
every now and then. Enjoying eateries at one of the restaurants here is a must.

 

The spiritual and the physical

The second such face-off that is on display at Varkala is between the spiritual and the physical experiences. The beach is religiously very significant for the majority Hindu population of Kerala. It is believed that if the posthumous ceremony is conducted here, the spirit of the dead will be pardoned off all the sins and will achieve ‘moksha’, an escape from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hence, the beach is also known as ‘Papanasam’ meaning, atonement. The place is also famous for Sivagiri pilgrimage. Sivagiri – an ashram (sort of a monastery ) located near Varkala – is the deathplace of Sree Narayana Guru, who was a spiritual leader. Apart from its religious significance, Varkala is known for Yoga, Ayurveda and other such wellness programs.

In sharp contrast with this, Varkala also hosts night parties, surfing trips, club games, elephant rides, and many other avenues of entertainment (Many of these activities are carried out only during the tourist season of October-March). There are a string of pubs and clubs at the top of the cliff where one can enjoy the festivities with a full view of the magnificence of the sea. This place thus blurs away the differences between these conflicting (should I say complementary?) practices of spiritual and physical fulfillment.

If you plan to visit, spend at least two-three days. You will be in for a multi-sensory affair. It is the fusion of such vastly different experiences that makes this place a must visit.

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