Indian palaces and temples of sand
And so to Varkala, a lovely town on the coast about 4 hours south of Cochin – completely true that once you get here, you really don’t want to leave. It’s a combination of Hindu pilgrimage and sacred site, fishing village and low budget Goa vibe.
We stayed at the most gorgeous house (of which more later), mid way between the Indian part of the beach, and the blissed out backpacker end. At the Indian side we watched men bathing in the public water space (sometimes clothed), saw them gather at the huge Hindu temple, and – most importantly – observed priests perform sacred rituals on the beach for families celebrating a son’s rise to adulthood, or mourning and blessing the ashes of loved ones. Each priest had a mound made of sand on the beach, where he would sit and patiently wait for visitors. The rites he would then perform were complicated – sometimes involving immersion in the sea and always involving fire in some capacity. Whole generations would attend – women wearing the traditional Keralan sari of cream and gold. Honestly, we had no idea what was going on, but it looked fabulous.
A priest, his patch and his prayers
Across the helipad (allegedly built for a one-off visit on Indhira Ghandi) and the tuk tuk drivers lay north beach, a stretch of Tibetan / Kashmiri / Keralan tourist shops and restaurants perilously stacked on a crumbling cliff overlooking a beautiful beach. The beach was filled with Indian football players who whistled and gawped at western women in bikinis, yoga mavens in long flowing dresses and retired Australians / Brits, escaping the November chill, who had been told this was the new Goa. Back on the cliff we were henna-ed, tempted into numerous Auyvredic treatments and inveigled into buying any number of shirts / scarves / bowls / jewelry in the sweetest, low-key way. It was the first time we really relaxed in India, and we could quite see why stays of a few days often turned into weeks. As Thalie would say, chillaxing.
The owner of the house where we are staying is Debra, an American lady who has settled here after a lifetime of traveling. Her house is full of gorgeous finds from around the world, and she has themed each room according to her treasures – we got the African Room and the English Room. She truly throws her efforts into being a source of information and fun for her visitors – we have done one cultural walk and one3 hour, 6am beachside walk to look for animals and birds, then help the fishermen haul in their boats and watch the intricate but monosyllabic selling techniques. At night she turns on the music on her fabulous roof terrace and we dance. It’s a really special place and one we will all be sad to leave tomorrow.
We’ve really mooched around here. It’s been the first place where there has been peace and quiet to work, but we’ve also all slumped a bit as the exhaustion has caught up with us. Thalie and Luke have both caught a bug and I’m hoping that it’s a quick one / that we don’t all get it, as in 2 days we will be in Chennai, ready to go to work at Rising Star Outreach. I know that, lovely as it is, the children are all wondering slightly what we are doing here. Traveling has definitely lost its novelty and I’m hoping that the sense of what India is (as if one could define it!) is slowly seeping in, as we’re making slow headway in genuine interest in Hindu temples and the vagaries of Indian history. Ah well, more than 4 weeks to go!
Local wash house
Our tuk tuk home