A trip to Kerala is like 3 holidays in one – first you can enjoy the captivating scenery of the hills and tea plantations in Munnar, then the serene backwaters and finally you have the chance to really relax and chill out on the beaches.
The four of us left all went to two of the more popular beaches in Kerala, deciding to travel by train to the most southern one first and make our way along the coast back to Kochi.
The first of these beaches was Kovalam. There are in fact 3 beaches in Kovalam but we stayed at the Lighthouse Beach. After all the travelling around in Munnar and the backwaters and the packing and unpacking in several hotels it was good to chill out for a while and just spend the next few days doing whatever we felt like.
Despite the Lighthouse Beach being considered very touristy with hotels and restaurants built up along the shore it still was very charming, being a very small crest shaped beach which only took about 5 mins to walk around from one tip to the other. At the southern end it was possible to walk up to the top of the lighthouse during the day and look at the adjoining beach beaches either side. The main view from the Lighthouse was one of coconut trees spreading into the distance.
Although most of us were there to mainly chill and relax there were still lots of things to do such as try out yoga lessons (the early ones at 7am were highly recommended), have ayurvedic massages and medical consultations, have clothes or shoes made (one of us had a suit made and another a pair of sandals,) or shop for souvenirs. When we were not doing any of these we were either lazing on sunbeds and swimming in the sea or booking further trips ahead, depending when each of us was flying back home.
Being the most touristy of the three beaches there were several places to eat, some better than others. Breakfast in the German Bakery, on the first floor balcony overlooking the sea was very pleasant. Drinking alcohol became an experience due to the Government having recently taken away the alcohol licences from most restaurants and bars to crack down on alcoholism (although still keeping their own licences to sell alcohol from shops apparently). It didn’t stop the restaurants from selling beer to us but the bottles amusingly had to be wrapped in newspaper and kept on the floor under the table and the beer had to be drunk not from a glass but from a large coffee cup. It wasn’t certain how this would fool any official – although it felt that the officials were actually relaxed about tourists drinking. Cocktails were served as you would expect, as they looked like soft drinks, but they were not going to win any mixotology awards. Despite that it didn’t detract from us spending every evening watching the glorious sunsets from one of the beach restaurants with a cocktail in hand.
Nightlife was relaxing – we walked along the shore front picking a restaurant to eat from. They did seem to close early though by western standards but we could always make our way back to the hotel and drink on the main hotel balcony while the lighthouse shined its beams and some of the local dogs came to life on the beach after spending all day sleeping in the sun.
Before moving onto the next beach the itinery included a day of sight-seeing in Trivandrum – the most notable attraction was the Kowdiar Palace where the last ruling Maharaja of the area had lived. Although in great need of refurbishment in places there were lots of original detail of the building to see and with a bit of imagination you could visualise the Maharaja coming out of the grand entrance to the garden and maybe taking a seat on top of an elephant waiting at the bottom of the steps. Apparently there are 150 rooms in the Palace but as it is still owned and lived in by the Royal family only a few of these rooms are on show to the public.
Next door to the Palace was the Padmanabhaswamy temple which looked spectacular but unfortunately non-Hindus were not allowed inside.
Some of us also went to one of the many Indian coffee houses where the waiters are dressed in original uniforms complete with fancy turbans. Our waiter was always very willing to stand and pose proudly while to have his photograph taken. A polite enquiry discovered that the green uniform was that of the senior waiter while the red uniform was worn by the junior waiter.
The next beach we all went to was Varkala. This was a more beautiful beach backed by a rocky cliff scattered with green foliage – about 60km north of Kovalam but still facing the Arabian Sea. The restaurants and bars were on top of the cliff out of the way which meant that you had to climb up the steps of the cliff if you wanted cool refreshments while sunbathing and then if you brought a beer from one of the non-licenced restaurants you had to promise to say you’d brought it from the market in case anyone asked.
In Varkala there was the intriguing building of the Sivagiri Mutt – a famous ashram which was at one end of the beach close to the beach’s helipad. There was also the Sarkara Temple, a famous 2,000 year old temple.
Although, there were restaurants and shops stretching much further along the cliff path than they had been at Kovalam we all stayed for our first night here at one of the beach resorts just north of Varkala. The resort had an open air restaurant in the garden not far from the cliff edge. Dining on sea food here in the tranquil evening air with the faint sound of the sea in the background felt very idyllic and was a nice change, although expensive change, in comparison to some of the more basic hotels we enjoyed staying at.