As I write this, I ask myself why I am not still in Varkala, spending my days relaxing by the beach, eating, meeting new people and shaking maracas around a fire in a bin, whilst a very old German man plays “hallelujah” on guitar.
The introduction to Varkala was perfect. A stroll down the end of the guesthouse garden and our position
atop a staggeringly high cliff was revealed by a sudden steep drop, and then nothing but the blue sea, stretching out in front like a vast infinity pool. The cliff was so high, that even the eagles soared lower, and the only way to see the beach below was to curl your toes over the cliff edge and lean over as far as you dare.
It was a spotlessly clean guesthouse, in which you couldn’t move a chair without permission and the cleaning lady told me off for wearing the same tee shirt everyday. I’d worn it every day for the past month and I wasn’t going to stop for her. Things couldn’t go on like this, so we moved to the livelier end of the cliff; where things much less permissible than wearing the same smelly tee shirt day-in day-out went on.
The North cliff action took place along a path that meandered along the cliff edge. This was lined with pretty good food and the usual pretty crap shops – with some painfully steep steps down to the beach and slightly portly, but endlessly cheery fruit sellers, singing “Hello! Pineapple! Watermelon! Eating eating, nom nom nom nom!”
Asides from the normal beach routine, Varkala was the perfect environment for rest and introspection; rather than racing around India trying to tick as many boxes as possible. The only box that mattered here was the one between your ears, and everyone here was exploring different ways to be kind to themselves – and this might have meant having oil dripped on your forehead, meditating in public places or else seeking the help of a guru. The focus on inner goals meant that no one cared what apparent fools people were making of themselves outwardly – at first, I was aghast at the sight of people bursting into spontaneous yoga positions on the beach. Coming from such a self concious society, where people constantly worry about how they look, or whether they are being looked at enough, I found the approach of people here quite liberating. The less time I spent snickering at others, the more I was able to pursue what pleased me. However, fortunately for me, this didn’t warrant public displays of spirituality. It did involve attending a jam session, where you are handed a musical instrument at the doorstep and permitted to wreak havoc with it, alongside your own tuneless vocal chords, to the sound of an amateur guitarist and amidst scenes of people quite literally letting their hair down and wafting it and their limbs about all over the place.
We were quickly welcomed into the fold of longer term residents, and I was amazed at the wide range of interesting characters – most of them slightly lost in life, but all of them incredibly open. The orchestrator of many a meet cute was our hostess Vanessa; who tore around introducing everyone and creating the kind of environment which I now closely associate with Varkala – one that evaporates inhibitions and engenders relaxation for the over active mind.
I felt like a huge weight, probably imposed by the demands of living and working in London, lift from my shoulders and learnt the important life lesson, that the less you worry about what other people are doing, the more free you are to be happy yourself. Most importantly you should never let fear of how you might look, deter you from doing something you want to do, because someone probably thinks you look stupid no matter what you do (and you could be missing out on hours of maraca-shaking). Even without the aid of a guru, finding fulfilment in Varkala was incredibly easy and I hope I get to return one day.