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Dogs & Dining in Varkala

April 5, 2014 Comments off

Sanchez the beach dogAnother beach dog

My last post told you about our trip to Papanasum Beach in Varkala, state of Kerala.  Herewith a few closing odds and ends about this most delightful trip.  I’ll begin with a dog-bites-man (almost!) story.

At Varkala Beach, like everywhere in India, there are wild dogs – though like everywhere else, there are not wild-wild, they are in a kind of symbiosis with people.  The first day on the beach one of these dogs sauntered over to where we were, gave Kim, Morgan and me a quick look, then settled in for a snooze in the shade of my chair.  This dog, in the left pic above, Morgan named “Sanchez” (sand-chaise, get it?)  Two days later a similar dog came and snuggled up next to a couple sitting close to us on the sand; same time, a whitish dog came and sat in the shade of my chair.

These dogs seemed really mild; you can pat them, scratch them, or just leave them be and they are content.  They will take food if you give it, but they don’t go rooting through your stuff looking for snacks.  Just nice dogs.

Anyway, all of us are sitting all peaceful-like with our doggy brothers and sisters when into the vicinity comes an Indian guy hawking leaflets of some kind.  There’s various such people off by the shops and restaurants, but they are not very welcome on the beach itself.  I take note of this guy, and maybe 50 yards away he offers a leaflet to someone.  Then he takes a step in our direction …

It was that instant the doggy Delta Force leapt into action.  Both my dog and the other couple’s dog tore off at top speed at this hawker, barking like Ravana himself had arrived from Sri Lanka.  The hawker scooted away and the dogs came to a stop.  Hawker gingerly steps in original direction – dogs launch themselves, nipping at his heels, very nearly getting a healthy portion of hawker-calf.  The dogs stood sentinel a few moments more then, satisfied they had properly defended what needed defending, they return back to the shade to sleep.

Not a single other person did they treat this way.  Either the dogs have a refined sense of beach propriety – no hawkers allowed! – or they know this particular guy.  As the hawker stood out of range, other people drew away from him, either having no interest in leaflets and/or not wanting to get caught in a canine crossfire.

Final tally: Beach dogs 1, hawker, 0.  Go, beach dogs!

On to other matters … next, food! Along the edge of the beach is a cliff, and at the top of this cliff is a path of 1-2 kms where there are many shops and restaurants:

Varkala North Cliff

Varkala is on the Arabian Sea, and seafood of all kinds is abundant; each night we saw many lights out to sea that seemed to be a fishing “fleet”, but my camera could not well capture them.

But there’s no difficulty in capturing the spoils of these fish hunters.  Every restaurant along the cliff displays a big table of ice and fresh seafood, intended to entice the hungry diner.  Our favorite was the Sea Queen:

Sea Queen RestaurantFresh fish

Red grouper, red and yellow snapper (but a different sort than we get in the Atlantic), dorado, crab, prawn, squid and octopus … and on other days they had some kind of sword-fish, kingfish, and one specimen a restaurant-tout assured us was barracuda – but they are salesmen and not ichthyologists, so we learned not to put too much confidence in those guys’ fish identification.

But the taste spoke for itself:

Fried squidWhole fish from the tandoor

The Kraken released, into butter/garlic.Seafood, Varkala-style

In order, fried calamari, a snapper done in the tandoor, then octopus (just barely sautéed in butter/garlic, perfect tenderness!), and last – our dinner from a different night – a platter of 2 fish, more calamari, prawns, chips and salad.  I have to say this was all the best seafood we have yet had in India.

Well, there’s more to say about our  trip, but that’s for yet-another post.  I’ll leave you with this, sunset over the Arabian Sea:

Sunset from Varkala

Till next time …

Categories: Pictures, Travel Tags: , ,

Papanasam Beach at Varkala, Kerala

March 31, 2014 1 comment

Papanasam Beach facing south Papanasam Beach facing north

Our vacation in Kerala is done and an excellent time it was.  As you can see from these pix of Papanasam Beach, where we were, there were clear skies and ample beach with soft sand … just the thing for relaxation, by Salazar tastes.  It was also a great time to see a slice of South India, in many ways the same but in other ways, quite different from the north, such as Pune in Maharashtra where we live.

For one thing, men everywhere much more are in traditional dress, specifically the lungi, or mundu, a long rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist to make a skirt:

Man wearing lungi on the beachAt the tea stallMan wearing lungi at the airport

A pretty versatile garment, there’s several ways to go about in your lungi.  You might let it drape down, which gives a cool, slightly formal look.  Or, you might hold one corner, maybe as our airport-goer on the right is doing; this keeps the folds from binding your knees if you want to walk quickly – in fact many men sort of lightly flap their lungi with a kind of jaunty motion as they walk.  Finally, you can grab both edges, fold them up, and knot them in front, as our beach-walker is doing – this is the way for walking fast or doing work.

I thought about trying the lungi myself.  In the end, despite the clear comfort – it’s the tropics, after all – I decided against it.  I think we westerners often look comical in Indian dress, and with the possibility of wardrobe malfunction from an improperly secured lungi, I decided to hold off, perhaps till another visit.

On to the beach itself.  As I said in my previous post, Papanasam Beach is a holy place for Hindus.  They go there to make a special puja, called karkidaka vavu.  These prayers offer food for the dead, and also cleanse the sins from the living as well as the departed.  A key part of the puja is to place an offering of food, spices and other items in a banana leaf, place it on your head, then go down into the sacred water, as this man is doing:

Devotions at Papanasam

Once the water is reached, they will turn around and drop the offering behind.  Then they will rinse themselves all over with the water.

It is late in the season and by talking to some locals we understood there were few people making offerings. In January there would be 100s of supplicants, and on a special day typically in August, 1000s of people will come to the beach.  Still every morning there were 20-30 parties preparing for their prayers on the beach:

Papanasam Beach

Which brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of the whole trip.  Papanasam is indeed a holy place, but it is also a great beach, a place where tourists want to come and spend money.  We saw many Indian couples on the beach like this:

Indian beach-goers

So, there are two kinds of visitors: first the Indians coming to pray and/or relax, and then the foreigners, who come for many reasons, including praying, but also a great many non-prayerful things like drinking, shopping, swimming and sunning.  On this beach everywhere you look you see this contradiction, like here:

West and East

Western women in bikinis, and Indian men in long-sleeve shirts and lungis and Indian women in saris or kameez.  At Varkala both sides peacefully coexist, but the divide between the two worlds is as constantly glaring as the tropical sun itself.

As to the beach: Fantastic!  Not at all crowded; it is the tail-end of the season after all.  The sand was soft, and at both high and low tides there was ample gently sloping beach.  The swells of the Arabian Sea really were modest, but as in the pic on the left, some of the breakers are head-high or more and if you’re standing right at the break-line, you can get knocked over and scraped along the sand:

Surf at PapanasamAlong the beach

The waves in fact support surfing; there’s a surf school and we saw some successful surfers:

Papanasam Surf SchoolSurfer at Papanasam

The last thing I’ll say in this post is about the cliffs.  The beach is about 1.5 km south to north, and to the east is all a high cliff of about 20 meters:

North Cliff

Atop these cliffs are guest houses, shops and restaurants.  You can reach them from the beach via stairs – somewhat eroded and without rails for some places, the stairs are tricky to navigate in the dark.

Here I’ll end my first post about Varkala.  Next time: Elephants, Waterways, Communists, some of the greatest seafood we have ever ate, and the Attack of the Keralan Beach Dog!  Till then …

Categories: Pictures, Travel Tags: , ,