Solo Trip to Kovalam and Varkala

It has been quite an eventful first half of the year with an outing almost every month. Starting off with my solo trip to Udupi in January, I visited Pondicherry in February, Hubli-Miraj-Pune in April, Wayanad in May and capped off with a trip down south to the district of Thiruvananthapuram (also known as Trivandrum) in Kerala. 

It was a long weekend in the last week of June with Monday being an off due to Ramadan festival and as is always in my case, I planned to make the best use of this break. I had heard a lot about some of the popular beaches in Kerala and planned to visit some of them during this weekend. My journey started by boarding a bus from Bengaluru on the night of 23rd June. I had pre-booked my stay at The Waters Edge resort in Kovalam. I reached Thiruvananthapuram 30 mins late thanks to the heavy rains en-route. As I reached Thiruvananthapuram, I hoped that rains would not play a spoilsport to my trip. I had booked a self-drive bike through Royal Brothers in advance. I had used their services during my trip to Udupi and was quite satisfied with the services and hence booked through them again. Collecting my Avenger 220CC bike, I headed first to have my breakfast. 

After breakfast, I headed south to Kovalam where I had booked my stay. Kovalam has 3 beaches – Samudra Beach at north end, Kovalam Beach at the center and the Lighthouse Beach at the south end. All the three beaches are separated from one another though hillocks. My stay was at the Samudra Beach. Checking in at the hotel, I was blown away by the view on offer. One side of the hotel was the sea and on one side was the beautiful backwaters.

View from Hotel

Relaxing for some time and freshening up later, I set out to begin exploring the place. I headed first to Kovalam Beach. The beach is quite beautiful with coconut groves in the backdrop and popular 5 star hotels overlooking the sea. This being the rainy season, the sea was quite rough and the beach itself was reduced to just a narrow strip at the edge. There were coast guards present to ensure nobody entered the waters and everyone was confined to just photographing from the narrow road along the beach.

Kovalam Beach
Kovalam Beach

Moving on from Kovalam beach, I headed in search of a restaurant for lunch. Just at the junction where the road from Kovalam beach joins the National highway, there was a pure veg restaurant – The Pantry. The restaurant service was quite good and fast. After gorging on a sumptuous meal here, I next headed to the Lighthouse beach. Before reaching the beach, there was a deviation to the Vizhinjam Harbor where you can see thousands of boats docked up after catching the sea fish.

Vizhinjam Fishing Harbour Port
Vizhinjam Fishing Harbour Port

The lighthouse beach is just about 5 mins drive from here. The lighthouse beach is quite popular among tourists for the spectacular panoramic views of the sea and coastal line. One can reach to the top of the lighthouse by climbing a narrow stairway. There is a lift as well for those who are unable to climb the stairs. However the last 10-15 steps still need to be climbed through a narrow staircase and for sure is lot of discomfort for senior citizens. Once you reach the top, the cool breeze almost immediately refreshes and re-energizes you.

Lighthouse
South End View from Lighthouse
North End View from Lighthouse
Surviving the strong winds

Capturing some photographs here, I headed back to the hotel to take a quick 30 mins power nap. 

Walking up by 5 in evening, I stepped out on the Samudra beach. The sky was cloudy and there was a slight drizzle in the air, which meant I would not get to see the sunset. However, a walk on the promenade with the drizzle and cool wind blowing was a soothing experience. A couple of hours later, I headed back to same restaurant to have my dinner before retiring for the night.

Pathway at Samudra Beach
Samudra Beach

Waking up early and after having breakfast, I checked out from the hotel and headed north to Varkala beach. On the way, I visited St. Andrews Beach, a beautiful secluded and clean beach. The beach was occupied by just about 4-5 people and had a long stretch of coconut groves bordering the beach. Here, as I was experimenting on photography with my camera, just for a couple of moments, I turned my back to the sea to capture a snap of the coconut groves and the sea as if waiting for the opportune moment decided to have a big wave smashing my feet and leaving my trousers wet till the knee level. I had to wait sometime to get my trousers dry. So I continued taking snaps albeit this time a little farther away from the sea. There are also a host of beautiful churches nearby – the namesake St. Andrews Church, St. Dominic Church, St. John Baptist Church and others. All of these churches have a beautiful architecture and are quite distinct from one another.

St.Andrews Beach
Boat docked at St.Andrews Beach
St. Dominic Church
St.Andrews Church

Moving on, a few kms ahead from the St. Andrews Beach I came across a beautiful stretch of land across the Muthala Pozhi Bridge. Here a river joins the sea and there is also a small harbor present. The river in itself is quite popular among tourists for a boat ride to the river islands.  There are various packaged tours operating here. About 7-8 kms ahead of the bridge, I arrived at the Anchuthengu Fort and Lighthouse. There is not much to see here though, as the sea view from the fort is impaired by housing settlements. The fort itself is nothing but a central garden surrounded by 4 walls which are in ruined state and a lighthouse in the backdrop. Thus without spending much time here, I continued on and reached Varkala by about 1.30 PM. 

Varkala Beach, also known as Papanasham Beach. The word Papanasham means wash away sins. It is believed that a dip in the waters of Papanasham Beach washes away all the sins in one’s life. Varkala beach is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea.  Despite the afternoon time, the beach was quite crowded. I was surprised to see a lot of foreigners here and also several shops having names written in foreign language. After an hour or so at the beach, I headed to the Varkala cliff. The cliff presents a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea and the beach below. The beach in itself does not house any shacks or shops and all the commercial spaces are found up on the cliff. One can find loads of accommodation facilities here which made me wonder, why I had booked a place in advance. The cliff also has helipad and thus there is sufficient room for vehicle parking.

View from Varkala Cliff

Capturing some photos from the cliff, I headed to the hotel which I had booked in advance – Mango House. This was probably my first disappointment on the trip. The place seemed to be in quite a shady place with an extremely narrow pathway to enter. With extreme difficulty, a bike can make it through. The hotel in itself was very ordinary and was quite old and not very well maintained. I had booked a room with a balcony. But on reaching there, the hosts said that the rooms which had balcony were under renovation and were not open for occupation. I was instead given a different room with an attached toilet. 

I somehow managed to have a quick nap and in the evening headed out to the beach again. The beach is accessible from the cliff by accessing one of the many stairways. The cliff in itself was about 1 – 1.5 kms in length and is decked with various multi-cuisine restaurants offering a variety of food across the globe. Climbing down one of the stairways located at the center of the beach, I was greeted with sound of sea waves lashing on the shore. There was still time for sunset and so I had a stroll up and down the beach as the gentle waves splashed across my feet. There were a group of kids playing beach cricket and beach volleyball. I watched them enjoy the game for some time and sat down at a north end to capture the mandatory sunset photographs 😉 

A couple enjoying at Varkala Beach
Varkala Beach

After the sunset, I headed back to the cliff and had a good walk exploring the full length of the cliff. To my surprise, on my way back, I noticed that most of the shops and some of the hotels as well started closing their business. I looked at the watch and the time was still 7.30 PM. I realized that having a late dinner was not an option here and so decided to have my dinner early at Cafe Del’ Mar. The music played here was quite soothing and place was quite lively. As I finished dinner and walked back, my hunch was proved right as almost 80% of the hotels had already shut shop 😯

I reached my hotel back by 9.30 in the night and had to be content with watching a movie on my mobile as the room didn’t even have a TV. The next morning, I checked out from the hotel and my plan was to visit the famous Vikram Sarabhai Space Center near Trivandrum. The center is the largest space research center of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), focusing on rocket and space vehicles for India’s satellite programme. The complex houses a museum and a few meters from the coastline, St. Mary Magdalene Church, lined with high-tech artifacts and visuals which speak the tell tales on the birth of Indian Space Programme. It was in this church that the first rocket systems were assembled and integrated in 1962. Sounding rockets are generally launched from the space center monthly on every third Wednesday at 11:45 hrs for scientific purposes. To enthuse public on space related activities, visitors are allowed to witness the launch. As I neared the museum and was just about to take the last turn something just struck me. It was a Monday and a holiday on account of Ramadan. Wondering, I reached the reception area and sure enough, the museum was closed on account of the festival. I was utterly disappointed for overseeing the fact that the museum was likely to be closed. I could have planned a bit better to have a chance at seeing the place. 

I still had half day on my hands to explore before catching my return train to Bangalore. Wondering what to do, I quickly checked on the net for places of interest around me. The results showed another beach, zoo, art gallery and of course the famous Padmanabhaswamy temple. I first headed to the beach – Shankumugham Beach. The beach is located right behind the international airport and apart from the long stretch of white sand, is popular for the statue of Sagarakanyaka – Mermaid. This giant statue is more than 35m long. The beach though was occupied mainly by hawkers and was very poorly maintained. Almost all the benches were broken and the shore was not kept clean. Being rainy season and the sea being rough, people were not allowed to enter the waters and had to be content with sitting on the broken benches to enjoy the cool breeze and sound of the mighty waves. 

Next I headed to the zoo complex which also housed the Napier art museum,  Keralam – Museum Of History & Heritage. As my luck would have had it, the zoo complex was also closed and is so every Monday.  I had to be content with walking around the vast complex capturing some photographs of flora.

A weird shaped tree
Natural History Museum

Next up, I visited the Padmanabhaswamy temple. The temple is probably the wealthiest temple in the world with an estimated $22 billion worth of gold and jewels stored in underground vaults (Source: Wikipedia). I didn’t enter the temple as such because it being a holiday, there was quite a huge queue of people. I instead offered my salutations from outside and headed to have my lunch at a nearby restaurant. I then returned the rented bike and headed to the railway station to board my return train. The return journey was quite normal with nothing special to talk about apart from it being over an hour late. I reached back in Bangalore the next morning by 10.30 and boarded the newly inaugurated metro line to head home and bring an end to yet another exciting solo trip. My next trip was already planned and is going to be my longest and biggest solo trip as I set out to explore the beautiful deserted lands of Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. But, more of that trip in my next blog so keep hooked 🙂