Yoga on the beach, souls in the sea

Kovalam Beach
Kovalam Beach. Photo: Wikipedia

The popular beaches along the south Kerala coast are just a short drive away from Thiruvananthapuram. Sunish Thomas takes a stroll along Mullur, Vizhinjam, Kovalam, Shamkhumukham and Varkala beaches **Mulloor** There’s a mob on Mulloor beach and they are not looking at the sea. An earthmover approaches an old house menacingly. There are policemen and people who have come to witness the demolition. The machine dramatically halts midway. That’s when we spotted the camera. It’s a movie shooting. It’s Mohanlal, someone says. The beach is tranquil again. Mulloor beach owes its newfound fame to a resort named Coconut Bay. Even before the resort became a landmark this was a coconut bay. Coconut trees line the bay, leaning over the breaking waves. The tall trees and the tourists give themselves in to the unending breeze. The brief walk on the narrow road from Mukkoli junction to Mulloor beach in the high noon is a distant memory now. Even the sun is lost in the breeze on the beach. The beach is dominated by foreigners. Most of them are lured by Kerala’s indigenous Ayurveda treatment. Families on vacation, professionals taking a sabbatical, lone adventurers…all of them come here to indulge in the natural beauty of the place and the rejuvenating treatment it offers. Most of them stay here at least for a month, basking in the sun and shrouded in the scent of herbal medicines. **Vizhinjam** A youngster rents out surf boards on the Vizhinjam Light House beach. “How much will it cost?” He ignores my curiosity. I persist, caressing one of the boards. “Why don’t you try something you can do,” he curtly dismisses me, sensing I have never been on a surf board. Then he points to a surfer maneuvering a wave. “This takes a lot of talent and training,” the vendor says.” Rent is only Rs 200 per hour. But if you venture into the sea with this the life guard will have a busy day.” He is right. Surfers ride the waves with uncommon balance. This skill doesn’t come in a day. The vendor offers me a float, the kind kids use in swimming pools. “Try this. You will not drown. Only Rs 150.” I leave him to chase the tiny waves receding from the sand. Stray dogs are everywhere, sleeping beneath the wooden lounges or waiting for the crumps thrown around by tourists. Is this the state’s national animal, someone wondered. **Kovalam** A travelling salesman shows a Serbian woman how to wrap a lungi around. He is compelling. The impressed tourist decides to buy the colourful handloom drapes but not without some serious bargaining. The seller asks Rs 2,000 for five lungis but the tourists stands her ground, as if she had been around this place for some time, and gives him Rs 500. Maria works in Doha and she had long planned to visit Kovalam, the most popular of all the beaches in Kerala. Her companion Simone is Jamaican. I ask the islander what pulls him to this beach. “I haven’t seen such deep-blue sea,” pat comes the reply. If the main beach is crowded with foreign tourists, natives have a less-advertised beach for evening walks. Not many people are there though, except a bus-full of picnicking school children. There are no vendors either, trying to sell overpriced articles to unsuspecting tourists. **Shankumugham** The beach is another hot destination for tourists. The place is also a favourite hangout of the natives because of its proximity to the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. But you have to wait till the sun mellows down to go there. There are not many shades on the beach. The Indian Coffee House adds to the charm of the place. **Varkala** The most beautiful beach is perhaps Varkala. As you come nearer, however, heaps of rubbish from the nearby shops clouds the bliss. Seagulls scavenging for food leave traces of waste amid tourists enjoying their sunbath. This beach could turn a big waste bin unless municipal authorities act fast. Foreigners and natives alike throng the beach. On a less crowded spot on the far end of the beach, a foreigner stands in a yoga pose. Between poses he checks a book. Yoga and Ayurveda are big draws along these beaches. But these areas have to be regulated to weed out quacks out to make a quick buck from uninformed outsiders. People throng small sheds near the entrance of the beach. They are here to perform rituals for their late ancestors. Hindus believe the departed souls get succor if after-death rituals are performed here. The Janardhana Swami Temple in Varkala worships Vishnu in all his ten avatars. I too end my beach-hopping at Varkala, where so many souls have come to rest in peace. Yonder the sun has also ended its day’s journey. **How to reach** From Thiruvananthapuram, proceed on the Vizhinjam-Poovar route until Mukkoli junction. Turn right and you reach Mullur beach after 5 km Vizhinjam beach is 22 km away from the city Shankumugham is in the city itself, 7 km off the railway station Kovalam is 15 km away Varkala is 53 km south of the city. Proceed on the Kollam route until Kallambalam. Turn left for the beach. Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram Central Other tourist attractions: Thiruvananthapuram zoo, Palace, Neyyar dam, Ponmudi, Kanyakumari Phone: District Tourism Promotional Council, Thiruvananthapuram 0471-2315397 **Food, accommodation** Be based in Thiruvananthapuram or Kovalam while you plan your beach-hopping. Kovalam and Vizhinjam are the most important and the most sought after. Mullur is advisable if you have your own vehicle or if you rent one. You can cover these in one day if you are in south Kerala. There are good restaurants around all these beaches. Though there are many resorts on the seaside, Thiruvananthapuram will be light on your purse. You will have to rely on taxies though. If you prefer seaside hotels or resorts, book in advance, particularly in the tourist season. **Caution while bathing in sea** Don’t get into the sea during the tide. Look out for signs for turbulence in the sea. Strictly follow life guard’s directions. It is dangerous to bathe while drunk. Even if you are a good swimmer in rivers and pools, sea is a different ball game. No one can predict the force of the waves or the depth of the seabed. Take a shower after bathing in the salty sea. Don’t keep your belongings on the beach when you go for a dip.

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