Traveling Through India: Varkala Cliff

For more on my backpacking trip through India, check out Mumbai experience, Kallikadu, Sivananda ashram introduction, Indiathe basics, Sivananda ashram I, Sivananda ashram II, waterfalls and temples, the streets, and varkala posts.

The plan, as I was organizing my trip to India, was to stay at the ashram for the duration of my time abroad. Knowing that I would remain safe in the confines of the ashram helped me gain the courage I needed for this trip. I knew I wouldn’t get to see everything, but I was okay with that.

Once I got settled at the ashram it wasn’t long before I was pushing the boundaries I’d set for myself. I went for walks into the city, climbed to the top of a mountain to visit a temple, and braved a full day hike through the jungle. Each of these adventures challenged my independence and threatened my security… but it felt so good.

The biggest of my India adventures, and probably one of the bravest things I’ve ever done, was when I decided to leave the ashram and travel 80km North to Varkala Cliff. Having connected with many seasoned backpackers throughout my journey, this seems to be the way everyone travels – get bored, move on, find a new place you like along the way, stop, enjoy, repeat.

Although I only repeated it once, here’s an overview of my first real backpacking experience…

Did you arrange a hotel? How much did you pay?

I didn’t arrange accommodations before I left the ashram. I just figured I would arrive and figure out the rest. There were lots of accommodations, but many of them were over $40USD, a bit too high when all you have left in your bank account is $200USD. In the end, after about 2 hours of searching, I managed to find a home stay for the equivalent of $10USD a day. It was a bit pricey, but the room had a private bathroom, was on the second floor, and had a hammock which I made really good use of.

The owners of Believe (Kaithakuzhi) Home Stay were kind and social. They would make me masala chai often and check up on me to ensure I was okay.

What sorts of food did they have there?

All different kinds. Tibetan was the most popular and healthiest although I did treat myself to a plate of French fries and a diet Coke during my stay. I just needed a taste of home!

I’d met up with a couple of yogis while I was staying in Varkala and we had our usual hang out spots chosen in a matter of days.

Cafe del Mar had great shakes, salads, French fries, hummus, green tea lemonade (oh my gosh, I drank so much of that stuff), and cakes.

I remember the day I ordered this tuna salad. It was one of the happiest days of my life… protein!

We also frequented Little Tibet where they served really great naan, curries, fried rice, and cakes. Again with the cakes… I know!

There was also a great Italian place, Cafe Italiano, which had the best tomato basil salad… ever. It had been weeks since I’d enjoyed fresh vegetables. I’m pretty sure I ordered this salad every day I was staying at the Cliff.

How much did you pay per day to eat there?

I enjoyed fruit shakes in the morning at a local coffee spot, Cafe del Mar, for about 150 rupees ($2.60USD). The staff were great at accommodating my allergies and also were willing to add my protein powder into the blender while they made my drink.

For lunch and dinner, I usually stuck to salads, hard boiled eggs, or cooked rice topped with my secret stash of coconut oil and hemp seeds. These larger meals usually set me back 300 rupees each, about $5.

If I had to put a dollar amount to how much I spent on average per day on food, I’d say about $15 dollars. Having many of my own gluten-free travel friendly snacks with me definitely helped keep the cost down.

Did you feel safe?

Yes. There was an evening where I ended up staying out really late, past midnight. Instead of walking back to my room alone, I had a male friend escort me just to be safe but I’m sure I didn’t really need it.

Was the ocean safe to swim in?

I’d heard that the waves were really strong and they were known to injure people so I’m sad to say the only part of me that touched the water were my toes!

What did you do all day?

I woke up at around 5am, snacked on dried fruits while reading my book in my hammock, went for breakfast, did a 2 hour yoga class, read some more, hung out on the beach, went into the town to find new things and meet new people, napped, ate some more, did 2 hours of yoga again, meditated a bit, went for dinner, read a bunch more. All the while writing in my journal every step of the way. That thing was glued to me at all times!

I also drank my fair share of Limca. If you ever get a chance to try this stuff, do it. It’s like Sprite but lime and about 100 times sweeter. When in India!

Were the yoga classes expensive?

They weren’t cheap, that’s for sure. I paid 500 rupees ($10USD) a day for yoga. That included two 2 hour classes, one at 9am and the other at 4pm if I remember correctly. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for India standards it was a bit too high. The classes I attended were in the basement of a hotel and were called Yoga with Haridas. Great teacher!

What other activities are there to do in Varkala?

My favorite activity was sitting at Cafe del Mar people watching. I did this for probably 3 hours a day and enjoyed every minute of it. When I felt like being a bit more social, there were loads of things to participate in.

There was an endless amount of spas to get facials, massages, and henna…

Cooking classes were offered for $15 for a full day of cooking…

And there were multiple tours that were offered through the many tour guide offices on the Cliff.

How did you get back to the airport? How far of a drive is it?

I decided to stay as late as I could in Varkala so that I could spend as much time with my new friend Lina as possible. So, I hired a cab driver to take me from Varkala Cliff to Trivandrum. The ride was about 1.5 hours and cost me 700 rupees ($12USD).

I got to the Trivandrum airport about 2 hours before my flight. Hung out at the gate for awhile, had a nap, and made my way to my last stop… Mumbai.

But that’s a story for another time!

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. I spent some time in India many years ago. At the time, there was a three year waiting list for a telephone and basically, the country hadn’t opened its doors to imports, yet.

    Hence, not even Coke. :)

    I do remember Limca.

    From the sound of it, you had a great time, and I can hardly wait to hear about Mumbai.

    • Wow, it sounds like it’s changed considerably! There was internet everywhere, phones everywhere, it was challenging to disconnect. What a great experience you must have had! Do you think you’ll ever return?

      • Probably not. It has changed so much. Thinking back, it’s really quite unbelievable.

  2. Beautiful! You have no idea how much I’d love to spend a day (today in particular) lying in a hammock, reading, and doing yoga. When I was in Australia, most of my favourite exploring/sightseeing memories were from days when I was on my own. Isn’t it amazing to think that you might not have experienced these things if you hadn’t pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? I’ve loved reading all these stories.. can’t wait to hear about Mumbai!

    • Oh my gosh, me too! Your Australia trip is intriguing. I was never really interested in visiting until you started sharing your experience. All of the fabulous places to eat? Count me in!

      • Come to Aussie! You’ll LOVE it…. I volunteer as your personal tour guide (I also know where all the good food/yoga studios are :) ) !!

  3. India is a place that both my parents and I would one day love to visit. I’ve been enjoying your India posts a lot and this one is very intriguing as well. I love that picture of the resort you stayed. It looks so cozy and paradis-y with all those hammocks! You seem to have had lots of fun – your genuine smiles show it :)

  4. Traveling has taken on new meaning for me now that I have kids, so I’m always thinking about how a potential excursion would fly with kids in tow!

    To be honest, India fascinates me, but also scares the pants off me. A little intimidating (such a big place!). Love the colors & I would love to try some authentic Indian food, although your comment about everything having gluten in it was surprising. I imagined they ate a lot of rice & naturally gluten-free dishes, did you find that to be the case? I know many Indians are vegetarian–did you see that when you were there?

    Beautiful pictures, it’s what I imagined India would be. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’ll need to fix that part of my post! I meant to say that all the desserts had gluten, not the meals. I had no problem finding gluten-free meals everywhere, and lots of vegetarian options too. In fact, it was pretty challenging to find meat in some cities and villages.

  5. I absolutely love this series of posts Leanne. It is so fun to hear about your travels, but it also makes my dream of one day visiting India not seem quite so impossible. After we get this move to California out of the way, my first/next big goal is to take the necessary steps to becoming a yoga instructor and then I would love to make a trip to India my next long term big goal. I am sure I will be picking your brain when that time comes. Thanks as always for being so honest and sharing every bit of that trip. It’s so appreciated.

    • Weird, I thought you WERE a yoga teacher! I think it would be a natural (great) progression for you. I’d be more than happy for you to pick my brain when it comes time for you to plan your trip. I just know you will absolutely love it there!

  6. Oh wow, love this. Love that you’ve spaced these posts out so month(s) later, I still get to feel like I’m traveling to India :)

    the best tomato basil salad… ever <– looks like it!

    and having all this personal time to journal, grow, take classes, travel, without plans, a child to care for, without anyone "needing" you and you can just concentrate on you…WHAT a gift and I am so happy for you for it all!

    • Thank you, Averie! It’s been really nice for me too. Any time I feel like I’m struggling with something or feel lost, I go back to my pictures and India experiences and just write a post about it. Reminds me what’s important in life and what I should be focused on. A HUGE gift that everyone should give themselves in some way, shape or form :)

  7. What I love about this trip you took was that you documented everything about it in pictures and in writing (your journal). If …no, when… I get the chance to take a trip like this somewhere I plan on documenting as much as possible so I can take myself back to that moment when needed :)

    • I love that you corrected yourself. There is is no IF!

  8. Hi Leanne,
    Just a quick note to say thank you for your interesting and insightful posts. My husband and I both enjoy reading them. We have recently moved to Korea from New Zealand and find the daily blogs a great way to relax in such a fast paced culture. Your truthfulness is so refreshing.
    I would attempt to make something from the website but most of he ingredients I’m use to are nowhere to be found….Maybe one day though.
    Keep up the great work,
    Josh and Diney

    • Hi Diney – Wow, New Zealand to Korea, what a fabulous adventure! I’m happy HP is along for the ride and reading my blog is part of your daily routine. Thanks for your kind words, hope you’ve had a great evening :)

  9. I have to go back to Kerala ! I haven’t seen enough… and don’t even taste Limca !
    Thanks again for the great pics.

    • You didn’t have Limca? Oh no, you must go back! Perhaps we will be there at the same time again, would be lovely to see you!

  10. Wow..what a great trip! I haven’t traveled since my diagnosis (Jan) and the thought makes me a wee bit nervous..thanks for sharing!!!

  11. Wow!!! What an amazing, fulfilling experience, Leanne!! Thank you for breaking it down and answering all the questions that I’d be curious about myself. I hope to go on a trip like this someday. I’ve been sheltered all my life, and I laugh about it but it’s true – I live in a bubble. This is a reminder that there’s so much more out there, and I NEED to explore them at least once in my lifetime. Gotta start saving now, although I must address my fear before worrying about finances.

    • I was the very same way and honestly, the best way to address your fear is just GOING for it! I was scared the whole way to India. I cried, had a panic attack, but I did it! Had I waited to feel okay with going, I don’t think I ever would have gotten on that plane!

  12. I really enjoy reading about your India trip, it seems like such a leap into the unknown that gave you so much!
    I could really relate when you said that it taught you to not worry so much about food. I didn’t even realize that I did this until I read what you said. This weekend I was on a getaway with my friends out on the country side far away from any grocery stores and it was the gang out there organizing the whole thing. I really wanted to go because it was my good friends but I was so nervous and worried that there wouldn’t be food I could eat, and that I would have to eat things that make my stomach upset (I follow a Paleo diet due to my over sensitive stomach). I went anyway, and did sneak some of my own emergency snacks with me. I wound up having a great time and things worked out fine, but the worrying about food worries me. I would love it if you could share more about your experience and dealing with this. Thank you and thank you for a wonderful blog! – Lisa

  13. What a grand adventure. I’m so glad you challenged yourself like this. My “alone challenges” don’t stretch so far as foreign countries…..but there’s always room for growth.

  14. Sounds amazing!! I think traveling to places like India on my own is the one thing I regret not doing. Being married now, I feel a little guilty doing these trips alone and he’s just not into these sort of things. I thought about doing a retreat to an ashram but from NYC they’re kinda pricey and never include flight. Oh what to do! lol

    Looks like you had an absolute blast though! Oh and btw, I recently found your blog and I think it’s great. I look forward to future posts.

    • Hey Christina – I can relate to the guilt both personally and in chatting with some of the Mom’s at the ashram. For myself, any time I’m planning a trip that doesn’t include my partner I get a bit hesitant. He doesn’t like traveling to much, I do… so I do it alone and trust that the experience will help me grow as an individual and contribute even more to my relationships. There were many Mom’s and wives at the ashram that I was able to connect with – while they missed their family and hoped everything was going okay at home, they accepted the fact that just because they have a family didn’t mean they had to stop living out their dreams. Plus, how cool and inspiring would it be to know your Mom went to India when you were a kid? Mad respect!

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