The car didn’t have locks – in hindsight this could have been reassuring if I wanted to escape, however at the time I was more concerned of people getting in. I had just arrived in India and was halfway through the car journey to my accommodation. The driver had stopped on a roadside somewhere and got out. Where he had gone, I wasn’t sure, but my mind didn’t hesitate to imagine the worst-case scenario. Believing he would return with a gang of men, I eyed the non-locking doors, sent a series of frantic texts to my boyfriend and prayed that I was just being my usual paranoid, dramatic self.
Prayers answered – I was in ‘God’s Own Country’ after all – he returned alone, smiling and passed me a cup of warm chai. I guiltily berated myself for assuming the worst about him, yet it didn’t stop me from taking tiny sips from the tea – he still could have drugged it. My mother’s voice had officially taken over my brain. I tried to push her imaginary remarks aside and forget all the stories I had heard about India; the extreme poverty and the dirtiness, but mainly the brutal attacks on women that I had read about.
Driving through Kerala, it was hard to imagine any of that here. Located in Southern India, the state is generally regarded as India’s most liberal and least hectic – India-lite some other travellers called it. I had been told that your first walk out of the airport in India would be the biggest culture shock you’ll ever see. ‘The heat, the poverty, the people, the smell – it will all hit you at once,’ said the man next to me on the plane. And yet walking out of Trivandrum airport, all I noticed were the palm trees.
The houses were huge and so colourful that I couldn’t take my eyes (or camera lens) off them for the duration of my stay. Girls in vivid saris sat sidesaddle on the back of motorbikes, followed by bold, detailed buses, often filled with a swarm of waving school children. When I did manage to look past the pigments, there were little things I noticed; rubbish in the streets where they had nowhere to dispose of it; abandoned puppies on the side of an alleyway; stares that didn’t always seem friendly. Little things like this reminded me that I was not seeing the whole picture. I was seeing just the touristy parts in the beach town of Varkala.
Varkala is both a blessing and a curse. For solo female travellers wanting to get a taste of India, it is a blessing. I had no worries walking around the town by myself and felt safe the whole time I was there. On the North Cliff you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants and wi-fi cafes, and the beaches are bliss. However it’s these aspects that may be disappointing too. If you’re looking for a destination that’s more off the beaten path or to understand more of the culture/history, I wouldn’t say this is the place to do it. I really wanted to have more local experiences and though this may be because I didn’t want to wander off completely out of Varkala by myself, I would still recommend exploring other parts of Kerala if you want a less-touristy experience. The main attraction for coming to Varkala (in my opinion) is Soul and Surf which you can read about here (I have also just added more pictures). Otherwise, see my top 3 highlights of Kerala below.
- Dinner at Kumuri’s, a local lady who cooks the most amazing vegetarian feast for her guests. For a small price of around £3 each, a group of you can dine in her garden where you’ll be bought out around ten different dishes to try alongside mountains of rice and poppadoms. Afterwards you’ll be given a cooling banana drink and you can feed your banana leaves (used as dinner plates) to the cow in the garden.
- The lighthouse. You have to climb a lot of stairs, plus a ladder at the top which isn’t ideal if wearing a long skirt, but the view is worth it. I’m terrified of heights but seeing the masses of palm trees and backwaters from above was amazing.
- The backwaters – my favourite part of the trip. They consist of a series of waterways, lakes and lagoons, all connected and lined with palm trees. The experience is completely tranquil. I would definitely advise going in the late afternoon; the heat won’t be as bad and when the sun sets the skies change pink.
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