The Magic of Varkala, Kerala

Varkala is a magic spot. The small holiday beach town is perched vicariously on the edge of an eroding cliff, overlooking the Arabian sea. You can get to Varkala by car from Fort Cochin, a long and very slow trip which winds through an ocean of traffic, pedestrians and cows, or you could fly into Thiruvananthapuram, then take a car north. The state of Kerala is known by the locals ‘Gods Own Country and I am inclined to agree. It is tropical and lush, productive and the locals are very welcoming.

Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.
Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.

There is not a great deal to do in Varkala and there lies its appeal. Pastimes include sitting under a shady verandah, replenishing your cup from a large pot of ginger and honey tea in the early hours of the day or drinking a chilled Kingfisher beer at sometime later. These two sipping pastimes converge in restaurants that lack liquor licences: you may be served beer in a large teapot.

A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.
A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.
Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.
Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.

The locals love to chat, which makes walking far more interesting and certainly adds a few hours to the journey.  There are yoga classes, Ayurvedic treatments and cooking schools to attend. If you stay for  a long time, you might be inclined to write that great novel or learn the art of total relaxation. Internet services are fast and free, the food is very good and the accommodation is cheap.

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Local transport. The Guardian Angel is aptly named. The other small 3 wheeled motorbike taxi was named Jesus. You need to invoke a bit of help from the gods as you negotiate the crumbling and disappearing footpath along the cliff.
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Watching the locals play as the sun comes down in Varkala.
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Local girls by the sea.
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Cooking school for two. We attempted to eat all this food, and really needed to share it with 5 others!

 

Keralan Lemon Rice

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Lemon Rice from Kerala, India

The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters, ¬†a ‘network of ¬†interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900¬†km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.

Life on board a rice barge, Keral India
Life on board a rice barge, Kerala, India
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A lone fisherman, backwaters, Kerala.

Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.

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A seriously good lunch on board a houseboat in Kerala.

Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is  also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.

Lemon rice
Lemon rice

Lemon Rice

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons channa dal
  • 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.

Notes. ¬†The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.

Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011

Cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, INda. Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it!!!
A cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, India. Lemon rice towards the back, two paratha, one vegetable curry, one spicy fish, pakoras, banana pancake.  Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it all!!!

Indian Waves. Varkala Beach, Kerala

At Varkala in Kerala, India, the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea, bringing sweet, fresh air from distant lands. No land lies between this beach and the east coast of Africa.

The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India
The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India

Indian families come to Varkala’s Papanasam beach on the weekends and tentatively tip toe into the water’s edge: youths play ball games on the sand, as they do all over the world.

Sunset at Varkala beach.
Sunset at Varkala beach.

We retreat to the shade of a nearby restaurant and consider the menu. Perhaps a Kingfisher beer or a large pot of tea, or, depending on their licence, a beer served in a large teapot!

Old Hippy by the arabian Sea.
Mr Tranquillo by the Arabian Sea.

On a nominated day in the month of Karkidakam (mid July to August), thousands of people gather at the beach to make ritual offerings to the departed. These offerings are placed on banana leaves and carried out to sea by the waves. It is believed that the souls of dead ancestors attain ‚Äėmoksha‚Äô or eternal release when ‚ÄėVavu Bali‚Äô offerings are made.

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Sunset over the Arabian Sea at Varkala, Kerala, India

A psychedelic Ganesha enjoys a day at the beach, pumping out Indian sound waves at a deafening volume, and providing that festive Indian touch.

Ganesha by the sea
Ganesha by the sea

Beautiful girls enjoy the waves, but rarely enter the sea.

Varkala girls by the sea
Varkala girls by the sea

Waves is the topic set by Ailsa this week at Where’s My Backpack.¬† Ailsa goes for a traditional New Year’s Day swim in the ice-cold waters of the Irish Sea. I’m staying on the edge, here with these Indian girls, and may take up wearing a silk sari too.

Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India
Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India

Graceful Women of Varkala, India

Gracefulness always comes to mind when I think of Indian women: they move so lightly on the ground and float in a sea of sari.

Beautiful girls stand on the edge of the Arabian Sea.
Beautiful girls stand on the edge of the Arabian Sea.

1-IMG_3253Graceful is Ailsa’s travel them this week at Where’s My Backpack.

 

 

Travel Theme: Doorways in Kerala

I love to wake up on Saturday mornings to find Ailsa’s weekly travel theme from¬†Where’s My Backpack waiting in my inbox. Today it’s doorways, so let’s go to Fort Cochin in Kerala, India, for 50 shades of Blue.

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Travel Theme: Colourful in Varkala

Two words are synonymous in my mind: colourful and India. At times the colours are shocking and overwhelming. These Ganesha were taken down to Varkala Beach, Kerala, India for part of Onam festival. If you think these colours are loud, imagine the volume of the speakers!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrighten your day by visiting Ailsa’s other colourful offerings this week.

Travel Theme: Belonging in Kerala, Onam Festival

Belonging in India during Onam festival means attending the various street parades and feasts throughout this four day event. We watched the procession of drummers and dancers in the streets of Kumily, in Kerala. The young drummers have a sense of pride and belonging as they lead the procession.1-IMG_3417

As part of Onam in southern India, dancers paint their bodies in the likeness of tigers to perform the annual ‚ÄėPulikali‚Äô or Tiger Dance.

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The festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the commemoration of Vamana avatara of Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali who Malayalees consider as their King. ¬†Onam is reminiscent of Kerala’s agrarian past, as it is considered to be a harvest festival.

1-IMG_3415Although we didn’t belong to this community, we were welcomed by the locals. Indians are very inclusive and community minded.¬†1-IMG_3426

Thanks Ailsa, for another travel prompt¬†in Where’s My Backpack. Where’s my backpack indeed!¬†I feel like heading off to Kerala right now.

Travel Theme: Bountiful Kerala

The Bountiful tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala,
The bountiful tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala.

When I think of bountiful, I think of Kerala: the words almost seem synonymous. Kerala is a stunningly beautiful state in Southern India. Spices have been exported from Kerala since 3000 BC. Driving through the lush hinterland, hills are covered in rubber, coffee, and tea plantations, followed by bananas, coconuts and palms. Vanilla and peppercorn vines climb towards the light from the forest floor: cardamom bushes form the lower story. It is indeed ‘God’s own Country’, a garden of Eden.

The State’s coast extends for 595 kilometres and around 1.1 million people are dependent on the fishing industry.

A holiday in Kerala is a most relaxing experience. Recommended is a stay on a houseboat/rice barge along the backwaters of Alleppey, a stay in a yoga retreat and spice garden in Munnar, and some beach time along the cliffs of Varkala, taking in the afternoon breeze of the Arabian Sea. The Keralans are so friendly, you will never want to leave. Thanks Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack for the prompt.

Dinner for two? A bountiful feast on board a rice barge in the backwaters of Kerala, India.
Dinner for two? A bountiful feast on board a rice barge in the backwaters of Kerala, India.

 

Travel Theme: Close-Up.

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack is Close up. Instead of a macro approach to this theme, I have chosen a slightly different approach. These were all taken at the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race snake boat race in Alleppey, in Kerala India.

Some handsome young police officers had a close – up view of the finishing line in one of the final round of trials. The races go all day!

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It is heart warming to see many sari clad women’s teams participating in this this huge event. Close- up view of a local women’s team.

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Those who can park their house boats on the lake get a fabulous close- up view of the finishing line.

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Sunday Stills. Yellow

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School holiday time and my house and kitchen have been turned upside down by the invading tribe of wild things. The ten year old wants to work outside all day as he is saving for a motorbike,( but its raining), the seven year old goes through ten costume changes a day and the five year old tries to keep up with her, the three year old likes to play outside in the rain. My table is covered with art materials, there are balls and blankets in the lounge room, chaos has descended.

Here is my escape into the world of yellow as part of the Sunday Stills challenge: Yellow

Marigolds above and sunflowers below in the gardens of Chenonceau, France.Image

A yellow painted vegetable stall in West Java, IndonesiaImage

A doorway in Bagan, Myanmar

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A fruit platter on board a houseboat in the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala, India

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