Our bus from Cochin is long, hot, and crowded, but there are kind smiles everywhere, and we feel comfortable even though we cannot understand the language. Most of the road signs are written only in Hindi. The few who know English help us to get off at the right stop in Kollam, where we are immediately approached by a tuk tuk driver who helps us with our bags and whisks us down a street heading West. He does not know our hotel, The Lemon Tree, but he stops to ask many people who point him this way or that. We turn around and go down another street, then another. As we get closer to the sea, the lanes grow smaller, and the homes grow larger. Westerners abound, dressed in yoga clothes and toting mats. No saris here.
We finally make it to what is called the “helipad,” a huge flat parking lot where tuk tuk s line up in a neat row under some shade trees. We pay the driver, and I hoist on my backpack and head down the path which is lined on the right with cafes and Tibetan stores, vegan restaurants and an occasional grocery store the size of a matchbox. On my left is a few feet of land and a sheer drop off to the beach. It is stunningly beautiful, and for a second I just stand in the beating sun and stare at the surf below.
The cliffs rise 70 feet above Papanasam Beach, where you can look out over the Arabian Sea as far as the eye can see. They say here you can purge the body of all impurities and the soul of all sins because of a holy spring that flows from the cliffs into the sea. I can’t wait to get into that water.
People are already coming out for sunset, rolling out blankets and playing frisbee in the slant of the sun. It is a cool 94 degrees at 3 pm. We have walked up and down the sidewalk and still not found our lodging, until finally a young man says the Lemon Tree is a new name for what was the Sea View Hotel. We literally turn around and the sign is right there. Rashi’s big smile and sparkling eyes welcome us. He says to call him Rambo, and I laugh because he is entirely unlike the movie character. And he has the cutest puppy named Lucky! Omg!
The room is sparse and perfect in its simplicity, with a little balcony overlooking the backyard of the Tibetan shop next door. Through the palm trees I can see the glistening water over a few red rooftops. I kick off my sneakers, change into a bathing suit, and head down the 110 steps to the beach.
At the bottom of the stairs a woman stocks a tray of pineapple and papaya, which she then places on her head and walks down the beach to sell her treats.
The Arabian Sea greets my body like a mother’s touch: warm and strong, and with a rhythmic rocking that dissipates the hours of sitting stuffed on the bus. My arms surf the rolling waves, and the sand massages my feet. It is a blissful time.
After awhile we walk down the beach past kids playing in the waves, pick-up soccer games, and frisbees soaring in the breeze. It’s as if all the world is at peace; everyone is smiling, laughing, walking arm in arm. You can forget politics and war in a place like this. These two friend chatting on their bellies in the sand capture the atmosphere:
We pass a shrine to Vishnu that I hear from a local is 2,000 years old. It sits into the cliff, a bunch of yurts overhead, blending the old and the new in this hybrid place where you can hear five languages at once in all directions.
We pass restaurants waiting for the sunset crowds to come for dinner, but no one is leaving the beach. The most miraculous sunset is happening, and all eyes are watching with reverence. I feel as if I can reach out and touch it, and Brendan catches the moment as I practice a little yoga on the shoreline.
I can’t help myself as I take photo after photo trying to capture what I see. Red rays swim on the surface of the water and paint the waves with fire.
A giant fireball drops into the great gray sea, buoyant, and burning, and beautiful.
Later on the lights from all the shops turn the cliff into a carnival, and I catch the reflection as a wave pulls back the sand:
We are here for four sunsets, and each is brilliant; but I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few other highlights…
This pack of buff colored dogs in formation trotting down the beach with their tails curled over their backs:
Morning croissants with loads of butter and melted dark chocolate. And Americano divine!
Another wonderful moment: walking down the beach and finding a little blowfish that had been tumbled by the incoming tide, his tiny yellow fins flapping the air! Brendan scooped him up on a coconut shell and walked him out four separate times past the breakers and threw him back into the sea before he finally disappeared from our eyes:
Of course, like anywhere on this planet I go, there are the most wonderful people. Abbi is one of those gems, a sweetheart whose Dad owns a restaurant here in Varkala where we had our first dinner and enjoyed our last breakfast before heading to the train station. Goodbye for now, Varkala. I will see you again one day soon.