This weekend I visited Varkala, a touristy destination for lovers of the beaches and the sun and a magnet for backpackers, gap year people and cold souls who spend their ‘winters’ here. I set off on Friday and instead of doing the journey by train, I had to resort to using the bus service to Trivandrum first, as the train I was supposed to catch was not going to get to the station any time soon. Although it took me a while to work out where to get on the correct bus, it was better than sitting at the train station twiddling my thumbs. Ironically, as it turned out, by the time I had found the bus and trundled to Trivandrum, I was on the train I would have caught in my town in the first place… Well, this time I did not travel in AC on the train, deciding to travel the way most Indians do; it was only a short journey anyway. To be quite honest, it could have been worse, but it did not help that I had to stand the whole time and chose a compartment near the men’s toilets – at least for once I had a good use for my unnecessary shawl… And today, on the way home, I arrived at the station just having missed a train and the next one was not due for another 2 or maybe three hours, but how long is a piece of string and today all the trains were delayed. So I decided that a bus journey might be preferable… It took me three hours to cover a one hour train journey, but at least I did not have to sit in the station being bored and I now know where to get buses in Trivandrum which will definitely be useful for the future. Although it is a bit of a pain to use public transport, the 50km journey to Varkala only cost me 50p on the way there and 60p on the way back – a powerful argument for someone on a budget.
I got up early yesterday morning, looking forward to a peaceful stroll on the beach beating the sun-worshippers. 7.30am seemed a reasonable time on a Saturday morning, or so I thought. I set off, camera in hand, and walked my two minutes to the deserted promenade overlooking palm fringed beaches and gently lapping waves. A few early bird shopkeepers were already busy hawking tourists, whilst others swept away the visitor debris from the previous night. But if I was expecting the beach just for me, I should have been up at 6.00am to witness sunrise. The beach is the perfect place for the early morning mind-emptying practice of meditation and unnatural yoga poses. Morning sees Hindu devotees making offerings to their Gods and fishermen drawing in their nets. Morning is the perfect time to catch the waves on a surfboard. The morning sun bronzes your skin before the heat of the day becomes unbearable. The morning breeze cools down beach-volley ball players before the sun burns too hot. So, I joined the many other tourists and locals and washed my feet in refreshingly cool sea water; I had not had the foresight of putting on my swimsuit leaving that pleasure for later on, sort of 10-ish or thereabouts.
I decided to have a shower in the meantime… But the only water I could produce from any tap was decidedly lukewarm. Just for a few brief seconds there was a semblance of hot water, which evaporated as soon as it came and left me with a bucket of water too cold to wash my hair. I suppose I should have taken note of the signs on some home stay boards which proudly advertised ‘with hot water’ that this kind of luxury did not come as standard… I went to investigate and asked the owner. It appeared that hot water is weather dependent and water is heated ‘au naturel’ by the power of the sun… Unfortunately, as Friday had been a rainy day, lack of sunshine caused a lack of hot water, so I delayed my shower until the sun had done its work, after about an hour or so. Just enough time to make it to the beach to soak up some sun rays and find a nice place for a healthy (Western??) breakfast before returning for a wash and an afternoon siesta. And that is what I did, I had a fruit salad and drank Black Masala tea without sugar; I let the sun rays warm my skin and cooled down in the invigorating waves and came back to steaming hot water in my bucket – the closest I was going to get to a shower.
I like Varkala. A place where backpackers and ‘gappers’ of all ages and normal tourists on a budget converge to tell tales of past and forthcoming travel. Where people talk to each other from the balconies of their home stays to lament a home-going after four months/eight months/a year of bliss and tranquillity and traversing far-flung corners of the earth. Where people go to mend broken hearts without constant reminders of a past too painful. Where people coast until the recession wears off and job opportunities improve. Where people return each year to escape cold winters. The place where I could indulge in Western and International food and could – finally after six weeks – have a green salad without having to worry about the consequences for my innards. The place where I met up again with Linka, who crossed my path last week at the train station on the way back from elephant hunting. Travelling alone opens the doors to new experiences and meeting new people. And not even the heavy afternoon downpour on Saturday afternoon dampened the spirit.
I am already counting down to my next visit – end of January???