Thursday, August 9, 2012


On January 9th, we left Kanyakumari on the train for Trivandrum, the capital city of the state of Kerala.  We had about eight hours in the city.  It isn't very large so we were able to see most of the centre from an auto-rickshaw.  These vehicles go everywhere in India. They are small, can turn on a dime, and are cheap and reasonably comfortable. They make traveling in India a pleasure. The locals call them autos or tuk-tuks.

We liked Trivandrum. It is clean, has lots of trees, and can be proud of its many beautiful new and traditional buildings. We spent much of our time at the Trivandrum zoological garden, perhaps the best in India. This zoo is beautifully landscaped with many unfamiliar trees and other vegetation. The animals we liked best were the lion, tiger, hippos, rhino, elephant, and jaguar. We felt very sorry for the lion.  He looked old and unhappy all by himself in his cage. Except for the lion and the big cats, animals are housed in large enclosures which, wherever possible, have been designed to resemble their natural habitat.

Trivandrum Zoo Entrance

 Trivandrum Zoo
Paul at the Zoo with the Family that Asked to Be Photographed with Him

 Hippos, Trivandrum Zoo

We boarded our train for Varkala around 9 p.m. expecting a four-hour train ride. Because we were tired, we decided to lie down for a nap in our compartment. Very soon after falling asleep we were awakened by two railway officials who said  we had missed our stop and urged us to disembark immediately if we were not to miss another. This was not good news especially at this hour of the evening. We were feeling quite foolish for not being sufficiently familiar with the map to have recognized an error in our itinerary. The railway official, while literally pushing us toward the exit, tried to be helpful, assuring us that we merely had to get a taxi back to Varkala. We felt very grateful - railway personnel don't normally keep watch over tourists and never announce the upcoming station - and thanked him as heartily as we could in our disoriented half-asleep state.

 Porters Carrying our Luggage

 In the Station

We were fortunate that the only inconvenience turned out to be a two-hour taxi trip. It did have its nerve-wracking moments, though.  As we approached Varkala, it became obvious that the taxi driver was not familiar with our hotel.  It didn't help that he had very little English. For perhaps twenty minutes after arriving in Varkala, we drove at what seemed a reckless speed through narrow, very rough, dirt roads. It was dark with only an occasional street light. Once in a while, we could see a house or hotel lit up behind a high fence. Later, we discovered we were both having the same thoughts, wondering if the driver would stop and motion to us to get out and find our own way, or if his old Ambassador taxi would break down from the rough treatment he was giving it. Eventually, he sought directions, and so well after midnight we arrived at our hotel, safe but exhausted.

Next day, we strolled along the cliff-top walk, looking down at the amazing views of the beach and the Arabian Sea 200 feet below. The beach, more than two miles long, is one of the best in India. 

Looking Down on the Beach at Varkala
 Steps down to Papasnanam Beach, Varkala.
Shops along Cliff-top Walkway, Varkala
Being tired after our stressful time the previous evening, we enjoyed an extended lunch at one of the restaurants on the cliff-top, admiring the view and watching the dolphins jumping up in the sea. Varkala, once a hippy hang-out, has recently become very popular with tourists wishing to avoid the crowds of Alleppey. In spite of its new found popularity, it has managed to retain a very relaxed, casual atmosphere.

That evening we had dinner with a couple from Calgary who we met at our hotel. We decided on the Cafe Italiano, thinking that it would be a welcome change from vegetable curry. This turned out to be a mistake. Pizza and pasta just don't go with Indian spices. I was excited to see wine on the menu after our time in Tamil Nadu, and chose a local variety, trying to avoid the outrageous price of imported vintages. One sip was all I could stand, though.  How I wished I had been wise like my companions and ordered the excellent Indian beer!

We spent January 11th on the beach. Most of India's coast is unsafe for swimming.  Here was one of the few safe beaches, complete with lifeguards. It was beautiful and clean with fine sand and lovely warm water. Best of all, it had  the big waves that I love.  It was a beautiful swim, though we were both tossed by the waves, losing control and landing with a thump, but fortunately not injured.  There was also a strong lateral current that it was necessary to fight in order to avoid being swept down the beach far from our umbrella. 

After a thoroughly enjoyable four hours or so, we had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the beach, and watched the sun set over the Arabian Sea.

 View of the Beach from Our Restaurant, Varkala

On January 12th we took a train and taxi to Kumarakom where we were looking forward to having an excursion in the backwaters.

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