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Diary Notes of Varkala & Kovalam

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Written on the back of large A4 sheets of paper print outs of bus tickets. Continued on borrowed paper maps, tissues, and pamphlets hoarded during the course of the trip.


August 4 2018, Varkala

This year has not been my year. And this is me getting back on my feet. Funny, I have set out on this mission and already lost my wallet; the realization came to me when I got onto the bus and couldn’t find my ID proof . Great travel stories always begin this way, no?

cement leaf on lawn

Somewhere by the Sea. Home is anywhere but home. Get some color in the skin. Cherish something broken.

Smell the salt.

Take yourself out on a date.

And remember,

You alone are enough for you. ________________________ August 5

On the run from routine. Ocean so blue, a lake so still, and a road for me to live them both while I soar through the sea air.

Serene Lake Resort.

The owner or waiter proudly says to me, “Some of the backwater trees here are more than a thousand years old”. I peel my eyes out to the waters and the mangroves. I am transported in time and try to recreate with open eyes (and my imagination) what this exact place would have looked like. How the houses would’ve set themselves in mud, laundry drying off branches. Someone interrupts our shared reverie by asking him ‘Sir, do you have french fries. Make that two’.

Mental note while standing on The Varkala Cliff:

When the sun sets, stop whatever it is you’re doing. Each sunset is a different affair. You can’t ever say you’ll come back to this when you’ve taken care of things. Sat in a cafe, Darjeeling Cafe. It is 5km from my residence. I’ve come here alone with a tote bag over my shoulder that holds a book, a notebook, a pen, a lip balm, a polaroid camera, and some loose cash. I ordered a Hot Chocolate with marshmallows. When the waiter serves it, he asks a little about me. He sums up my little introduction with ‘so no boyfriend?’

August 6

Monday, no longer blue but the blue of the sea.

The loneliness is kicking in, I just have to make sure I come out stronger. I sat with a fisherman while he baited and waited in the early hours of the day. He told such beautiful stories, beautiful because they were simple. Uncluttered without the need to detangle to understand. A horseshoe and two prawn baits later, he caught enough to take back home - just enough for the day. It told me volumes about human greed and how it is often where nature is abundant that it is absent.

Temple entrance with idol

Janardhana temple

The locals who come here almost every day have two different versions of this temple. One - 2000 years ago, there was a misunderstanding involving Narada and Brahma. The prajapatis had laughed at the God and as punishment, Narada threw his garment or ‘valkalam’ and decreed the place of penance for their errors. A temple was constructed on earth where the garment fell and the nearby beach came to be known as Varkala today. _____________________________

The second version begins with Lord Brahma who appeared in the dreams of a Pandya King and instructed him to build this temple to honor the 10th avatar of Vishnu. He was instructed to go to the sea-side temple, search among the wild for an idol and attach a golden hand to it. The golden hand, holds Aabhojana, the last bite that if Vishnu swallowed will end the world. Story goes that the hand is getting closer to the idol’s face.

B’canti Boutique Beach Resort

I dined alone, off season traveling has such quirks, things are slower than a snail in some places. The resort itself seemed hush, or maybe I went there in the off hours. White beach tents pitched over the pool, the balconies without bath towels drying off the chairs. Food took a good one hour to make, I wasn’t complaining. I had an open expanse of the sea from where I was seated.

Anjengo Light House / Anchuthengu Fort

Named to convey a bunch of coconut trees or particularly five of them, the fort was one of the major depots for coir and pepper export for Britain ships in the 1960s. 196 steps and a ladder later up the lighthouse, I swear I felt like I had the eyes of a bird. Never before was I so high off the ground that I couldn’t make out the details. In the backwaters, among a network of waterways and coconut groves , I saw a small boat ferrying by. It never came by again and I felt blessed to have seen the striking beauty of nature with the inclusion of a human element in it.

book reading in a cafe

Bake House

Stopped to have some lemon tea and catch-up on my book ‘Americana’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Why did I relate so much with it? Because there is a constant search for understanding culture when you’re swinging like a pendulum from one continent to another. I still cannot say I feel like I belong, I am always a misfit. Got myself some green tea and soaked in the empty cafe while they brought it to my table. Jazz on the inside, sweeping winds on the outside - I watched my rented bike to rest a bit. 68 kms across swirling roads requires at least a 20 min pit-stop.

________________________ August 7

Blissfully tanned, I embark on the next leg of my journey. I’m supposed to head from Varkala to Kovalam, a mere 50 odd kilometers. But it is strike day and I’ve spent all of last night summoning solutions. I thought of taking trains, but it nearly doubled my travel time and I had luggage to think of too. Maybe I’ll just stay another night? Maybe I’ll hitchhike? When morning dawned, the people I had shared my troubles with had arranged a personal transport for me. Whew, now with an ‘airport taxi’ sign slapped on the window we breezed past safely to Kovalam. Dumped my bags in the room, not too happy with it, might need to move to a better one soon. Such epic fails do happen, I just wanted a room with a view of the lighthouse. It is a whole lot bigger and filled with mosquitoes. Sulked over to have breakfast and my mood was instantly lifted thanks to <drumroll> sourdough bread. I’ve never had sourdough like this and I’m told the recipe comes from a German guest who tasted his bread and suggested improvements. I have such a weakness for bread, a softness when I think of melting yellow butter over warm bread.

dog on beach side

Beatles Cafe

Met another Indie dog who is clearly the queen of the restaurant. She is called Lucy, and that’s the second time on this trip I’ve heard the same. Whatever happened to Scooby, Rocky, Brownie and the like? Must not frown too hard or they will know I’m a displeased copywriter. _______________________ The love of lighthouses

Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted, I would answer ‘A lighthouse by the sea’. They thought I meant owning it, I did too. But now I know I only wanted to be in the proximity of one, and stare at it.

August 8

It poured all day long. I finally did what writers do on vacays: emote, write, rewrite, and sigh.

I couldn’t visit the baby blue lighthouse because it rained so much and the pathway is now a part of the ocean. I shall allow it to be so, who am I to unearth anything and tear it away from the waters for my satisfaction. I also moved into the lodging arrangements that Beatle’s cafe had, aptly called ‘Beatle’s Inn’ and named after the band’s different signers. I have the angry Arabian below my beach house balcony, and even though there’s no people in view, I am shy of the waves. Being in nature makes you small yet significant, and that’s different from being in a crowd and feeling inconsequential. A romance with monsoon rain.

umbrella on beach in rain

A body of angst.

Too high a tide.

Private frames.

For you and I. ____________

Visited The Leela, Kovalam today. Passage was not allowed and this I discovered only later. My purple umbrella and I bobbed all the way in the pouring rain and the sights were stellar. I wish to always be in the right place at the wrong time. Zero human activity save for the guards who politely fetched my far-flung umbrella, took pictures, and escorted me out.


Came to the room like a wet cat. My hair was soaking, my limbs were painfully cold. I wrapped myself up, and spoke to the sea of all that I had lost. And asked if she ever kept track of losses at every shore, with every wave. I had a shower of salt over my white-tiled balcony as a response. It felt like she said ‘I lose some, but you gain some’. August 9

Komorebi - a word used to describe specifically the sunlight that filters through the trees, through the overstory. Today I steeled myself to get out of bed and go on a side quest. It got hot and humid pretty fast and the photowalk suddenly felt like an endurance game. Saw a lot of forgotten structures, overgrown with moss and grass. The boys playing cricket stopped to redirect me, and I said I was walking straight through, thank you very much.

Stopped for lunch at one of the many resto-bars along Kovalam beach. I asked for rice and beef ularthiyathu. Sadly the waiter came to report after 15 minutes that all the rice was already over for the lunch hour. He looked at me, and then slowly to the table behind me. As if on cue, I heard one of the men at the table for 12 yell for more rice. They spoke Bengali, so I shook my head and asked the waiter for more beer so I could just eat the beef. Aug 10

Came to say goodbye to my favorite Beatles Cafe and everyone who made it feel like home there. The waiter knew on the second visit that a watermelon juice refreshes me, a basket of fries brings joy and so whenever I went, these would already be something he scribbled down. I took a picture with Lucy, whose real name is actually Mia.


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