The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner-self, and a temple island draws you towards its quiet beauty.
The town itself is slow and unspoiled; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between October and May; wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add soul to the place and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you happy till you decide to head back again.
Following a receptionist’s advice, our correspondent Sarita walked towards “a narrow lane” and to her surprise stumbled on a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff, the North Cliff Beach. Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost a kilometre, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering on the other side.
Here, coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand. Varkala beach is locally called Papanasam Beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end are the mineral water springs whose medicinal properties attract people from all over the world.
Another gem in the heart of Varkala is the Shiva- Parvathi temple. It is on the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island, midst the lush forest and a chirpy bird life. Here you can reach by boat from Nenduganda Village.
Driving through this hamlet in the evening you’ll pass through vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, group of church-goers saying their daily prayers and glimpses of beautiful stretches of the sea that the Latin Christian Makuva community lives beside. It’s good to see that the community has held its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything.
Luckily, we can, because Honda Cars India took us along on a “Drive to Discover” trip on the same stretch. Fasten your seat belts and join us for the ride!
The road from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari is a superb meandering track that doesn’t allow for too many driving antics. You are bullied by KSRTC buses and honked out of your senses, with procession-after-thronging-procession of pilgrims dancing on your heads! But keep your spirits up and this 90 km/three-hour stretch will unveil plenty of colour and quirky sights.
The town of Nagercoil is about 70 km from Trivandrum. Upto here, the traffic is crazy. But cross Nagercoil, and everything changes. In fact, it gets really good. The cities disappear, giving way to lush green, open valleys. The noise melts away. The next few kilometres breeze by in a cavalcade of banana fields and lakes studded with water lilies. It’s a feast for weary senses.
Kanyakumari, with its statuesque beacons – the Vivekananda-Rock Memorial and the towering idol of Thiruvalluvar, stands in dramatic contrast to the blue seas. Through a clutter of shanties, vendors and devotees, drive down to the ferry docks to get an
uninterrupted sighting of the endless waters. This is the one place on the mainland with both a sunrise and sunset view; gingerly amble through the rocks eastward of the ferry for your sunrise; go west along the coast, out of town, only a couple of kilometres and settle down for a quiet sunset at the Hidden Twin beach.
After lunch at Kanyakumari, Rameshwaram, our night halt, is still 300 km away. We head north towards Tirunelveli, and the dual carriageway is perfect for speed testing our cars. On the left, silhouetted against the evening sun, are the Eastern Ghats. The landscape is flat, the vista endless and windy. Dotted with windmill fields and salt pools, this part of the journey whizzes past, throttle on floor. We merge on to the East Coast Road (ECR) at Kulathoor.
The ECR has character; a blaringly confused one: single-way thoroughfare, breathtaking when it’s by the sea, intriguing through villages, scenic in the greens, curvy at all the right places and all the wrong ones; blindly misplaced speed bumps, uneven surfaces, plenty of our four-legged friends, vehicles big and small: simple, honest beauty and utter chaos! The thousand voices of the ECR all vie for the driver’s attention, yet for those-who-drive-for-pleasure they blend to form the sweet-song of a river; which simply needs to be negotiated with alertness.
Pit stop at Ramanathapuram. Refuel, rechai. 57 km from here, across India’s first ever and now second longest sea bridge, the ‘Pamban Bridge’, on an island lies Rameshwaram. A small, dusty settlement with the Ramanathaswamy Temple as centerpiece, it draws attention to the sprightly, contrasting colours of Tamil Nadu villages. I hear the houses are painted keeping ‘Vastu’ in mind.
Some 20 kms along, a crooked, spindly finger points to Sri Lanka. It reminds you of Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ fresco; how the tectonic Indian plate must’ve rumbled, tossing up Ceylon! This long stretch leads you to the Kodhanda Ram Kovil Temple, where if you’re brave enough to climb the rusty, abandoned watchtower, you’ll catch an enchanting glimpse of a fabled little town.
At Dhanushkodi, India has one of the smallest land borders in the world with Sri Lanka; just 45 meters long. It was a flourishing tourist and pilgrimage town with regular ferries to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, which is just 30 km away. The cyclone of December 1964 destroyed it completely, leaving it with a stark, still-startled look. The Dhanushkodi railway station, post-office and church present a haunting somberness. Fishermen and tchotchke sellers occasionally stay here in makeshift huts.
From the parking stand at Dhanushkodi you’ll need to hire a 4×4 jeep or a minibus, usually 100 per head, to take you about four km along the coast to the town ruins. The drive is an adventure with the vehicle negotiating soft sand and sloshing through sandy waterbed. Forlorn vestiges of boats and huts half-sunk in the sand peek at you. See if the driver will let you ride atop the roof!
About a kilometer further is the tip of the crooked finger. A narrow sliver of sand leads you to a veritable dagger head. Take a few moments to stand here and listen to the ocean; watch the azure waters. Serenity at its deepest…
At this ‘land’s end’ terminus, known as Arichulmunai or Erosion Point, begins the chain of rocks and islets known as Rama Setu. These lead approximately 30km across the Palk Strait to Mannar Island on the northwestern tip of Sri Lanka. My cellphone flashed an ‘International Roaming’ warning here!
Like the prodigal son, the ECR returns: to torment with wayward traffic, blinding high beams, sudden pedestrians, random cattle. Pondicherry’s French Quarter is a seafront promenade, with stately colonial mansions on leafy French style boulevards, high garden walls, arched windows and elaborate gates.
Peppered with boutiques, bistros, lounges, pubs and cafes, it is European indeed. However, there is the native Tamil Town which coexists with its ‘talking streets’ – so called because of their intimate scale and interactive nature. Connecting elements like the thinnai (public portico with benches for visitors) make the entire street stretch homogeneous.
A quick dip into the universally conscious, verdurous philosophy of Auroville, and you are ready to reconnect with the ECR, which now surprises you with a comfortable familysized width, smooth surface and tree lined beauty while maintaining its core personality of chaos!
We hand over our cars at the acclaimed Taj Fisherman’s Cove, a splendid beach resort outside Chennai.
This article by Anhad Varma was published in the Jan-Feb 2014 issue of Travel Secrets Magazine.
Disconnect from the world, and reconnect with your loved ones at these stunning retreats sprinkled across the globe.
Kıdrak Mevkii, Ölüdeniz
48340 Fethiye – Türkey
It sits pretty at the foot of the Lycian mountains,by the edge of a private sand and pebble beach. A place of heart-stopping beauty, this. Inhale the whiff of history sprinkled all around you: Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Seljuk, Greek and modern Turkish accents meet and merge here. When you crave a few moments just to be able to sigh at the turquoise glory of the Aegean, LykiaWorld will whisk the kids away to the aptly named Children’s Paradise; a 22,000 square metre zone customised for pure fun: 8 swimming pools with 20 water slides, a Treasure Island to explore, a Pirate’s Forest to get temporarily lost in, Hidden Caves to venture into. And guess what: there’s even a beach for babies!
When it comes to family fun, Disney does know best. The sound of crickets beneath bridges, the gem-like beauty of The Overlook Point at night, riding a Pontoon Boat, biking through the wilderness, fun-filled fishing, and the sight of the Fire Rock Geyser shooting a water plume 120-feet up into the air…what’s not to love?
Leave the youngsters to watch Disney movies and dabble in art,craft and video games at the Cub’s Den, while you head out for a just-the-two-of-us evening. Gather round the campfire for songs and fun, then watch a classic Disney movie under the stars. Soak in the scent of pines and junipers while you play checkers with the family. The fun never sets in Disneyworld.
The kids get a welcome Whistler Bear as soon as they walk in. And like every family-friendly resort, they have a customised programme called Kidding Around, packed with arts and crafts, movies, games and stories. Deceptively tame stuff! The real McCoy here is the mind-blowing outdoorsy fun you’re going to have: bear watching, kayaking, cycling, ziptrekking, rock climbing, glacier hiking, horse-drawn sleigh-riding, Hummer tours, dog-sledding, snowtubing…adrenaline-pumping, testosterone-triggering fun with your family in the world’s most picture-perfect setting.
In the south of Spain, surrounded by emerald hills and the intense blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the 1500-acre La Manga Club estate is the water lover’s paradise. Sailing, canoeing, swimming, jet-skiing, windsurfing, catamaranning, kite surfing…you name it. Crave some canoodling? Leave the kids to go-cart at the Junior Club and cosy up in a wild cove or frolic on the endless white beach. Evenings at La Manga are a sensory feast—stroll down picturesque fishing villages and enjoy gastronomical luxuries by the lively ports. Mmm…
Santa Margherita di Pula Cagliari – Sardinia – Italy
A great resort knows how to make itself small and close up, like a clam, to enclose you in a shell of intimacy. This one sure does. Century-old pines lean together conspiratorially, letting you savour secluded Sardinia in all its romantic beauty. Come dawn, and your seaside suite fills with a rosy glow. As the day unfolds, treat yourself to a nerve-untangling massage, then sail away on a yacht. Let the kids head to the fun-filled Kid City or the high-tech Leisure Land, whose electronically equipped go-karting track lets drivers measure their lap time. This is real Formula 1 driving: breathtaking bends, a starting grid, traffic lights and even a bottle of champagne for the winner! End the evening with a candlelit dinner by the seashore. Bliss.
This is an ‘out of the world’ experience in every sense of the phrase. At the Red Centre of the outback, you’ll set sight on some of the most astonishing landscapes on earth. Standing on a secluded sand, watching the sun etch red and gold over Uluru and Kata Tjuta, is the stuff lifetime memories are made of. Dine on the sands under the night sky, awash with a million stars. Take a scenic glider flight, sweeping over the spectacular rock formations for close up views. Go cruising on a Harley Davidson. Discover the amazing flora and fauna that survive in the often harsh Outback. The tough part? Choosing from the buffet of 65 action-packed tours of the Resort and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park…
Kumarakom North Post – Kottayam 686 566, Kerala, India
Kumarakom puts you in a delicious dilemma. Which would you like to book? The Float, Kerala’s traditional houseboats equipped with every modern luxury, bobbing on the bosom of the Lake Vembanad? Or one of the plush homestyle villas, with its own private courtyard, a private pool and Jacuzzi, and a panoramic view of the luminous Lake? But no contest, you simply have to take a sunset cruise down the lake, and try a banana boat ride. Come evening, and it’s time to pamper the palate with the fresh catch of the day, Syrian Christian Duck Roast, Karimeen Pollichathu and Appams. Take the kids to the bird sanctuary nearby, and go cycling down the village together. A truly divine holiday in God’s own country.
Picture Junior stirring up sinful chocolate fondue in this fairy-tale Swiss-Alps setting. That’s when he’s not baking a key lime pie or on the super-slide or in the sand-box or out on a local jet excursion. You’ll exhaust your Powershot card in a jiffy, trying to capture the tomatoey flush on your little one’s cheeks as she comes in from the snow, or sonny’s awestruck expression as he rides a horse-drawn carriage through the streets. For the teen, there’s a buffet of goose-bumpy delights, starting from rappelling and mountain biking to sailing, rap jumping and hydro speed. For simple feel-good family fun, enjoy a picnic on the glacier, or cosy up inside blankets by the campfire to the divine aroma of pot roast and the sounds of tinkling laughter. Afterwards, snuggle up under the night sky: you’ll be amazed at how well you sleep in a teepee.
Polo in the free-form pool. Waterfalls. Mountain bikes. Blue lagoons. Coconut groves. Rainforests. A lush green gold course. A pristine private beach along the shores of the Andaman Sea. Teak sun lounges. Thirsty beach towels. Cool refreshments. Kayaking. Windsurfing. Snorkelling. Scuba diving through coral reefs. A 24-hour fitness centre. Nature walks. Thai Boxing. Yoga. Outdoor playgrounds. Indoor fun at the VIK Club, with daily visits by the resort’s baby elephants Lilly and Lucky. Asian delicacies, beside the blue lagoon. Island paradise or five-star resort? You decide.
It’s like stepping into a Nickelodeon cartoon. Snuggle up in the world’s first Nick-branded resort featuring Nicktoon Kidsuites—Rugrats, SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron. Let the 4-D experience whoosh you into a world of underwater adventure. Hop on the shuttle for a ride to the Disney parks and Universal studios; take a seat at a show. Discover the wondrous Orlando Science Center. Check out The Lagoon – the first-of-its-kind zero-depth entry pool. Slip, slide, and splash around the four-storey water tower and 400-gallon water tank that cascades through seven slides. Enjoy a hearty buffet at the Character Breakfast, with visits from your favourite cartoon characters. Let the Kid’s Spa pamper the girls with pedicures and hair wraps, and ink the boys with temporary tattoos. What a world of fun, for everyone!