Varkala, Kerala, not Ready for Prime Time: Bank Notes and Skank Notes

Beach at Varkala, Kerala, India

Beach at Varkala, Kerala, India

The state of Kerala, way down south, is where those beach-combing backpackers-in-the-know go when Mumbai leaves them feeling cold and Goa leaves them feeling guilty.  Here you’re back in the ‘real India’, at least, both good and bad.  The good is that you’re actually in a foreign country, not just a tourist colony.  The bad, depending on your tastes, is that alcohol once again is a precious commodity.  That’s no problem for me, but it is for some people.

But the worst part is that the banks don’t work.  You never really know until you enter a country or a province whether your ATM card is going to work or not.  Theoretically they always do, but sometimes they don’t, depending on whether they’re inter-connected with international systems.  In Pakistan I could only find one, plus all their branches, of course.  In India I’ve had no problem, until Kerala.  My ATM card worked at the train station in Trivandrum, so I figured no problem.  In Varkala, I have no such luck. 

Janardhana Temple, Varkala, Kerala, India

Janardhana Temple, Varkala, Kerala, India

And I only need so much cash in the first place because the hotels won’t take a charge on my credit card through booking sites.  Some even want deposits wired in to guarantee your room.  Now that’s absurd, and ridiculous.  Whether this is all part of Kerala’s rep as a socialist state, I don’t know.  But it sucks, and is a joke for modern-day tourism.  After all, it’s no cheaper than anywhere else. And even when they work, an ATM in India will usually only give less than $200 at a time anyway, so you really don’t want to press your luck.  Independent travel means budget travel for that reason: less hassle.

The beaches here aren’t bad, though; better than Goa, or what I saw there, anyway.  And the cliffs are pretty spectacular.  That’s even something of a focus for the locus of the social scene here, along the little backpackers’ ‘miracle mile’ that meanders along the top of the cliff.  Of course, there’s rarely a railing there, so caveat viator.  And the paths down to the beach itself are usually no better, typical for India, tricky and treacherous, and not recommended for wheelchairs… or anyone older than I.

Gurus on the Beach: Varkala, Kerala, India

Gurus on the Beach: Varkala, Kerala, India

There are temples and other sites of religious significance, this being a minor pilgrimage location and all.  But the main object of adoration seems to be the sun itself, here fully tropical and without the atmospheric fogs and particulates that plague other areas of India.  Here you’ll go to the beach to cool off, not to warm up. Here you’ll have to ritually douse yourself with cool water after every foray into the sun and humidity, three or four times a day at last count.   Might as well wash your clothes at the same time, since they’ll already be soaked.

But ultimately its shortcomings define the place, for me at least. If you’re lucky enough for the power to be up, then the Internet will likely be down.  It’s aggravating, and time-consuming, not so bad if all you want is a cheap groovers’ paradise, but not so good if you’re trying to get some work done, too.  And you’ll have to ask around to find those brewskies.  Aha!  That’s why I haven’t seen any Russians.

Begging on the Miracle Mile: Varkala, Kerala, India

Begging on the Miracle Mile: Varkala, Kerala, India

Life is a little harder here than up the coast, no doubt, but that’s no excuse for tourism to be reduced to underground economies that benefit merchants but impact travelers.  If merchants had proper bank accounts and paid their taxes, then not only would the ATM’s work, but skanky bank notes would get filtered out of the system.  The beggars here are worse off, too.  Then I realize that here they’re obviously ‘untouchable’, one of the most disgusting of humanity’s prejudices, and usually defined by dark skin.  So I hug them all, and donate.  Next stop is Alleppey, unless the cash runs out.  C U there.

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