Heading South and kicking back in Varkala

41 days travelling and still no sign of a tan, despite being on a beach

1st November 2018 (Delhi)

We were absolutely shattered after our final overnight train in Northern India and were filled with mixed emotions. We had spent the last 3 weeks bonding with our group and now people were filing off in different directions from the station. Some of them were sensible enough to book themselves into some rather plush hotels to unwind after such a long and fast paced tour. We, and one other lady, were the only idiots to have booked ourselves onto another equally packed tour in the South of India, that started almost immediately after the first one finished. I don’t think we will ever learn.

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We checked back into the same hotel we started our tour in and it was as though the place had been transformed. Even though our original room was only next door, it was like a whole new hotel. We were so relieved to be reconnected with a decent shower that had consistent, immediate, hot water and good internet. Don’t get me started on the soft towels – either it’s the simple things in life that get us excited now or we’ve seriously lowered our standards.

We were more confident this time round in Delhi and we ended up having a pretty Western day. A few of us who remained hopped in an Uber (wish we had used them earlier as they were dirt cheap) and ventured out to Connaught Place, which had (wait for it..) both a H&M and M&S. It was almost like being back in the UK. A day like this wouldn’t be complete without a mandatory trip to McDonald’s. We walked through the nearby main bazar, which was a little underwhelming and finished the night off with a small intimate meal together, which was a little bit of an odd experience as they started taking our plates away literally whilst we still had food on our forks. I think they were keen to get rid of us.

2nd November 2018 (Trivandrum)

We took an early taxi to the airport, which I’m pretty sure we were overcharged for. It didn’t matter though, as we knew the domestic terminal in Delhi was pretty decent and we were happy to spend a bit of time there out of the hustle and bustle. My wife had her favourite snack again, vada pav (although it wasn’t as spicy this time round), and I tucked into an absolutely monstrously sized dosa – which kick started a bit of a weird love affair with the traditional breakfast treat. Today we were flying down South to Trivandrum for the start of the second part of our tour of India.

My “small” dosa from Delhi airport
My “small” dosa from Delhi airport

Our flight flew via Mumbai and was remarkably quiet, which meant we could spread out and enjoy some space. I wasn’t sure what to expect flying with IndiGO, but the plane we were on was brand new and better than any I’d flown on in Europe in recent years. We’d passed a few slums during our time in Delhi, but nothing quite like those that we saw sprawled around Mumbai airport. The sheer size of them really took me by surprised, seeing them hugging the border of the airport. Don’t think the image is something I will forget.

We had much more luck at the airport this time and didn’t fall victim to any taxi scam – we actually ended up paying a pretty reasonable price. Things were going a little too swimmingly, so the weather thought it would make up for things by showing off and flexing its muscles. I haven’t seen rain quite as heavy as that in a long time and was so happy that the only thing we had planned tonight was a welcome meeting with our new group and dinner in the hotel. It was only a shame that it was so dark and stormy outside, as I would have loved to have made use of the swimming pool.

The hotel was incredibly posh and our guide was quick to bring us all back to reality. Apparently it’s all down hill from here, so enjoy it while you can. My wife loved the buffet and had three banana tarts (she insisted that they were very small). I overdid it on the caramel and ice cream (a bit of an understatement) and ended up with a really dodgy belly. All in all a pretty successful day.

3rd November 2018 (Varkala)

I still felt a little rough from the night before so opted to skip breakfast just to play it safe. Thankfully it passed as quickly as it came and I hadn’t fallen victim to the dreaded Delhi belly. It was also nice to be reacquainted with our travel-partner-in-crime from the Northern half of our tour. There was something about the rain and lush greenery outside that reminded us of England and made us miss home slightly. Although here the greenery outside was very different, with towering palm trees packed tightly into a thick jungle. It was also incredibly humid, as you’d probably expect given the environment outside.

Some fishermen on a beach in Varkala
Some fishermen on a beach in Varkala

I hadn’t expected the South to be so different, in almost every way, to the North – it was just the change up that we needed. One of my favourite contrasts was that the local buses don’t have windows, just a shutter you can pull down in case there are heavy rains or winds. It’s just too humid and hot to have them, so you get a nice through breeze instead. Our private bus took us all the way to Varkala and we passed through dozens of towns, all of which merged into one so was hard to tell when one stopped and the other began.

After having some delicious Southern Indian cuisine for lunch (they use a lot of coconut in their dishes down South) we spent the afternoon lounging on the beautiful beach of Varkala. I didn’t realise how much I had needed some time to just relax and not be out pounding the streets, as we had been doing for the last three weeks. It was fun to crash around in the waves and it was clear that a lot of the local tourists did not know how to swim – which was worrying to watch them being thrown around by the waves and sometimes being separated from the group. Kudos to the lifeguards who kept a watchful eye on them and intervened when things got a little too close for comfort.

A beautiful beach in Varkala
A beautiful beach in Varkala

Dinner that night was set out on a long table overlooking the bay, with panoramic views of the thunder and lightening storm unfolding in the distance. As it got darker the horizon was peppered with the lights of what looked like hundreds of fishing boats. Technically Kerala is a dry state (from what I’ve been told), but the waiters brought bottled beers out for those who wanted to drink, wrapped in newspaper, which had to be hidden under the table and served in mugs. The whole thing was a bit comical and I have no idea if the police are as relaxed about it as the restaurants were – good thing we weren’t personally drinking then.

4th November 2018 (Varkala)

We woke up early (although nothing like when we did in the North) and went for a stroll along the coast to the next beach over. It didn’t take long before we were almost the only people on the beach, as it stretched out in front of us as far as the eye could see. I really loved how the sand abruptly met a steep rock face before melting into thick lush jungle. Somewhere along the way we managed to adopt a rather curious stray dog, that wouldn’t leave our side, and it was amusing to watch him chase after all the crabs that were frantically trying to make it from their home down to the waterfront – don’t worry, he was unsuccessful every time.

The stray dog we adopted for our morning walk
The stray dog we adopted for our morning walk

Starving, we headed back and had the most amazing smoothies for breakfast at a small place called White Rabbit. We actually went back there for lunch (and more juices, of course) and despite warnings of its size, I went for the hipster Buddha bowl. Huge would be an understatement – I think it could of fed all three of us. Swallowing my pride I had no choice but to throw the towel in and admit defeat. On the plus side, I got to enjoy a really good vanilla soy latte (what’s happened to me..).

The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the beach on our slightly ghetto loungers that we hired. There were a dozen or so beach dogs, several of which were adorable puppies. They had a habit of trying to sleep under your lounger and I felt bad for moving them along, but they continually scratch themselves and you never know what they are harbouring. We spend some more time crashing around in the waves when I felt my arm start stinging. I didn’t think much of it until we got out, by which time it had stopped hurting. Later that evening I realised it must have been a jelly fish tentacle that had wrapped itself around my arm, leaving a rather red mark in its wake.

The never ending beaches of Varkala
The never ending beaches of Varkala

Sadly our time in Varkala was coming to end. We had yet another group sunset meal, where I had the weirdest combination of fruits in a curry (grapes being one of them). The girls however were on a mission to find hummus, so we ducked out early and stumbled across a very bohemian chic cafe called Darjeeling. It had reggae music, incense burning and petals all over the table. I was well out of my depth here, so I just sat quietly whilst they tucked in.

Until next time.

P.S. I still have a faint mark on my wrist from the jellyfish sting, over a month later.

P.P.S. I forgot to mention that our hotel had adopted two abandoned puppies, even my heart melted each time we saw them.

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