This weekend, I decided to visit Varkala, (one of the ‘must visit’ places in India) with family. This town is situated 50 kilometers northwest of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital city. This town is known for picturesque long beaches, the most famous one being the Papanasam beach, considered to have holy waters which rejuvenate the body and clean the soul by washing sins away. Varkala is the only place in South Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. The cliffs forming a unique geological feature on the otherwise flat Kerala coast line is known among the geologists as the Varkala formation, and is a geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India. In 2015, the Ministry of mines, the Government of India and the geological Survey of India declared the Varkala cliff as a geo-heritage site. The town is known for the 2,000 year old Janardhana Swami temple, an important Vaishnavite shrine in India, and is often referred to as Dakshin Kashi(Benares of the South). Another landmark of Varkala is the Sivagiri mutt, established by the social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru. The town is dotted extensively with numerous Ayurvedic treatment centers and spas, meant to rejuvenate the visitors physically through oil massages and other modalities offered by the ancient Indigenous Indian medical science that Ayurveda is.
It is not history or geology why Varkala beckoned me and my family. We had to visit my mother’s sisters, living in Kollam, the erstwhile Quilon, one of whom was celebrating her 72nd birthday, located 37 kilometers away. My wife and daughters wanted to kill boredom by going sightseeing, and we chose Varkala. We set out from kollam at 1o am on an unusually hot and humid December morning. The drive to Varkala, on a reasonably well laid out road sandwiched between the Arabian sea and parts of the Astamudy Lake was a sight to behold, which thrilled our minds clogged with the dusty concrete jungle that city life offer us, and a huge relief for our lungs hardened by the polluted kochi air. We headed straight to the papanasam beach. The place was thronged by pilgrims visiting the Sivagiri mutt. Their destination was the pristine waters of the beach to purify body and soul. These pilgrims were clad in yellow. In India, the religion or even the caste to which pilgrims belong can be identified by the color of their attire! Amidst The Sea of humanity in yellow were spotted numerous foreign tourists clad variously and glaringly distinctly from the ‘piety’ around them. We were lucky to find a parking space overlooking the beach. Next to the parking lot stood a ‘pay and use’ latrine, which came as a heaven-sent to me, whose urinary bladder was begging to be emptied! A person considerably weakened by a stroke, I needed physical help from my wife to walk to the welcoming loo. The couple walked towards the ‘latrine’, leaving our daughters to lap up the sight offered by the picturesque beach farther away. The path way leading up to the latrine was paved with rock hewed into various sizes and shape. The occasional flat- surfaced ones betrayed the intended flat surface! Even though the facility was ‘pay and use’, nobody collected any money from us. I presumed the pretty stiff parking fee included the latrine’s charges as well. Clinging to my wife’s arm I made my way to relieve my bladder, almost at its breaking point. It was a challenging walk, almost like a trek up some mountain terrain usually undertaken by young adventurers. We were neither young, nor adventurous on a full bladder! Apart from the rocky surface to tread on, we had to contend with, rather avoid the dirty water mixed with urine overflowing from the latrine. One wrong step, and we would fall on the irregular rocky surface and be drenched in that dirty liquid flowing among the rocky terrain. Cursing the merciless sun that added to the ‘adventurism’, carefully placing my steps on the rocks circumspectly to avoid a fall, we finally managed to reach the ‘latrine’, which hardly merited to be termed one. This, in one of India’s ‘must visit’ places! The ambiance of the loo was the least of my bladder’s concern! Empty it I did in the darkness of the loo, presumably into an inlet of a drain, from the sound made by a stream of liquid meeting pent-up liquid. I couldn’t have asked for more. Much relieved like never before, I did not bother to indulge in the nicety of enquiring about the state of my wife’s bladder. That place was anyway unfit for a respectable woman’s use! We had a job in hand to do. We had to trek back to the car, without falling. Providence saw to it that we reached our car unscathed. Our daughters oblivious of their parents’ ‘adventure’ looked seemingly relieved to see us return without bloodshed or urine smudge from falling on those rocks which hosted a ‘urinary stream’! Back in the car, much relieved, I pondered angrily at the indifference of the government in providing basic, decent amenities for their taxpaying and deserving citizens, and for the foreigners who visit the country as our honored guests, falling to the advertisements of government agencies like the KTDC enticing them to such tourist spots. It amounted to plain cheating and nothing else. I felt ashamed at the gross lackadaisical approach and typically casual attitude of the government, central or the state, which pass on the responsibility to each other on such issues low down in their priority. This, when the citizens are required to pay the ‘Swachh Bharat Cess’ along with every transaction to finance the ‘swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ movement initiated by the Prime minister, well-meant to make the country cleaner. The citizens are ready to pay any money if that will give them promised returns, to make themselves proud by making India a much cleaner nation with basic amenities within their easy reach , which is not something which is unachievable. From the parking lot and the ‘latrine’ beside the papanasam beach we decided to spend some moments atop the famous Varkala cliff. The cliff gave us a fantastic view of an expansive beach below. The serene blue sea seemed to stretch itself to eternity. The beach was crowded with the yellow-clad pilgrims and foreign tourists, enjoying the cleansing bath. A signage directed us not to litter, which if breached would invite punishment. Empty cigarette covers and plastic ice-cream cups lay strewn Right under that warning board! If the visitors are asked not to litter, a trash can is to be provided. None was in sight. Adding one more to the list of disappointments I was charting down in my greatly disappointed and pained mind. The forenoon sun beat down on us mercilessly. With no kiosk in sight near the vicinity to provide shade or water, we decided to leave in search of a decent place for lunch to satiate our grumbling stomachs. The children suggested some eating places searching on their phones. But those that looked appealing to us on the net had no decent motorable roads to get us there. Even the GPS gave up! Finally, we decided to drive into a decent resort spotted by my wife, who had to deal with driving through an unfamiliar place, hunger and her irritated husband, incessantly nagging beside her. The resort gave us a much deserved respite from the travails of visiting a ‘must visit’ place. Its ambiance and cool interiors calmed our troubled souls and tired bodies. A not so inexpensive lunch satisfied our stomachs and taste buds. Disappointed at having undertaken that trip to a much talked about tourist spot, but for that lunch, and happy to get away from the place, we hit the road to head back to Kollam to celebrate my aunt’s birthday, which turned out to be a much more enjoyable occasion!