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Varkala & Munroe Islands during the rains

7 min read • 21st July 2019
13 Kannaara Paalam

Varkala is a major commercial, industrial and tourism region in the Thiruvananthapuram district, situated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the northern suburb of Trivandrum City. In 2019, Varkala Beach was selected as the second most stunning cliff beach in the world.

The moment you see Varkala during the rains, most of us would think, is it the right time to visit? Would most shops be shut? How much of the actual Varkala would we miss out on? Yes, though this hesitation is partly true, on the flipside, Varkala during the off-season is a totally different paradise. It is the one that has only the locals, a handful of tourists and a lot of time to ourselves. Perhaps, the best time to relax and walk down the calm cliff lanes and visit the less crowded cafes. July — the "off-season" that's perfect for helping you turn off your city blues?

Link to this sectionSchencottah — Punalur

Link to this sectionThe amazing train journey through the Western ghats

During 2006 – 2007, the Southern Railway announced the conversion of the Tenkasi — Schencottah — Punalur — Kollam meter gauge to broad gauge. This would mean the route will remain closed for rail traffic. A lot of travel enthusiasts started sharing pictures of the 13 Arch Bridge (13 Kannara Palam). This was a 19th-century marvel constructed by the British. The history follower in me wanted to take this route or explore it by a walk along the roads. Yet it never happened. Thirteen years later — in 2019, I decided not to hold back from experiencing this rail route.

Those who have travelled across this route (when it was meter gauge) know its value. Above all, my only expectation was to catch the 13 Arch Bridge with a train atop it. I have been imagining this for a very long time and wanted to capture its beauty in person.

Link to this sectionThe moments when we enter Kerala from the eastern side

While conversing with a couple of co-passengers in the train, they mentioned that the journey would be astonishing after Schencottah. Perhaps, I did not want to raise my expectations too high and feel sorry for it later.

Link to this sectionThe engineering marvel called Aryankavu tunnel

The next day, I woke up at 4 am while the train was about 200 km before the Bridge. This was probably the first time in my life that I had woken up this early. My Watch had begun to keep track of where we were. Despite heavy rains on the way, we made sure not to close the shutters. The rains stopped all of a sudden, which is when we realized that we were moving inside a tunnel. Apparently, this is the 1 km long Aryankavu Tunnel which takes ten minutes to complete.

Link to this sectionThe second marvel called the 13 arch bridge

A few minutes later, we could hear the squeaking of the wheels indicating that the train is under tight curves. The smell of the diesel smoke, the sound of the engine, its blaring honk and squeaks at the curves gave me goosebumps. Slowly as the sun started rising when we were in Aryankavu, we observed what was in front of us. The beautiful valley, the gorgeous mountains, and the Kallada river were so amazing. Google maps indicated that the Bridge is approaching us and we decided not to open our mouths to talk anymore. Five minutes later and wow, what a mesmerizing view it was!

13 arch bridge
13 Kannaara Paalam

Link to this sectionPunalur

The train then twisted and turned on the curves like a snake. Sometimes it hid inside the tunnels. Finally, we reached Punalur which is an old town on the Western ghats side of Kerala. It is also known to be the gateway to Sabarimala.

Train entering Punalur railway station
Punalur railway station

The train was on time at all stations and sometimes even well ahead of the destined time. Hence, we were sure we would reach our destination — Kollam — at 08:45 AM precisely. As Varkala was our primary destination and we had two days in hand, we were looking at Tripadvisor for places we could visit in Kollam. Munroe Islands came up as the first choice. But before that, a 2-hour nap would mean we would not be tired when we get there.

Link to this sectionKollam — Munroe Island

Overshooting our nap by 5 minutes and still being at the Kollam railway station, the next immediate thing on our minds was good breakfast — preferably the traditional Puttu (steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut) and Kadala Curry (Chickpea gravy).

Quickly finishing our breakfast, we figured out that District Tourism Promotion Council or DTPC office, Kollam (a Govt. of Kerala Agency) organizes Canoe tours at the backwaters around Munroe Islands, also called as Mundrothuruthu. The office is located on the Northwestern side of the Kollam Bus station. Our guide also made sure he answered our queries and was totally patient while doing so. We were taken for a 45-minute ride to Mundrothuruthu canoe start point. From there, it was a 1 hour 30 minutes of backwater canoeing by a very humble boatman who had an amazing experience on the island. He gave us inputs about the flora and fauna in the region, the local folks' daily job and also made sure we were not fearful of the depth of the waterways.

Link to this sectionVarkala

Up next from Munroe Island and a heavy lunch at the Bright Hotel, it was time to move next to Varkala. Varkala is a beach town located 50 km from the capital city — Thiruvananthapuram. We took a train to reach Varkala and an autorickshaw from the railway station to reach our hostel. The next big thing on our list was to visit the Cliff, the Beach, and the cafes for food. As we decided to make a peaceful walk on the Cliff, it started drizzling. The combination of beach waves and the rains has been on our list for long.

With a calm walk along the shore and making sure it was indeed a good detox, we headed for our dinner with a view that gave us the background music of the tides hitting the shore.

Link to this sectionThe Sunday plan

The Sunday that followed went to spending time at Janardhana Swamy Temple and a 4-hour long lunch — snacks session at Cafe Italiano. If you get a chance to visit this Cafe, you shouldn't miss the astounding gallery view!

Finally, with a heavy heart and loads of memories, we left Varkala. Munroe, Kollam, and Varkala made sure the detox it did, recharged my brain cells to cent per cent ?

If you are a person that throws away chewing gum papers, plastic and waste on the floor as you go, please do not visit this place and spoil the nature here.

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