#Kovalam #Kerala #India: Beaches, Hostels, and Wise Cracks
Kovalam is the kind of place that Lonely Planet writers like to disparage as having sold out to commercial interests long ago, with their chock-a-block cafes and resto–bars and boutiques a la Cannes, while noting how Varkala up the road manages to maintain its wild and rustic more authentic nature. I beg to differ. For one thing: Kovalam ain’t that bad. For another thing: Varkala ain’t that good. These are basically your two beach options within an hour’s ride of the Keralan capital Trivandrum, aka Thiruvananthapuram (say that three times really fast and try to pull your tongue through the loop).
True, Kovalam is a fairly homogenized and pasteurized version of an Indian beach town, leaning toward European models and menus, with paved sidewalks and handrails to boot, all clean and neat and ready for biz. But it’s also an upgrade. Is that such a bad thing? LP makes it sound like Kuta Beach in Bali, sprawling for miles down a previously pristine coast, serving banana pancakes in what were once temples, and drinking wine from monkey skulls. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, Kovalam is quite compact and contained in its position at the bottom of a steep drive down from the cliffs. Varkala, on the other hand, not only rambles endlessly over, up and down the cliffs up the coast, but forces sun worshipers to navigate treacherous trails to reach that Ultimate Goal of most foreign travel—sunny beaches. Not only that, but the electricity there is off almost half of the daylight hours, and even if it’s on, that doesn’t mean the Internet will be. Kovalam has few such problems.
To be certain, Varkala may be cheaper on average, but that only befits Kovalam’s position as, essentially, a city beach. You’re not going to be attending any seminars in Trivandrum while staying in Varkala. And that doesn’t mean that YOUR digs in Varkala will be any cheaper, anyway. Don’t forget that A/C isn’t worth much without electricity, not much at all, not to mention missed connections due to lack of connectivity.
Kovalam, in fact, has budget options of its own, perhaps most notable among them the ‘Vedanta! Wake Up!’ Hostel, which also has branches in the other beach towns in Kerala, but which are less cost-effective there, what with the lower costs to begin with. So, since I’m the hostel guy and I haven’t actually stayed in one for over a month, I figure I should do my job, and check this one out (BTW Anjuna Beach in Goa had at least one of another brand, but I opted elsewhere for various reasons). Glutton for punishment that I am, I even opted for the dorm room, hoping I’d be the only one there, of course.
Well, I’m happy to report that ‘Vedanta! Wake Up!’ operates some pretty slick hostelry. Things were professionally run, and they even had my reservation correctly filed, despite the fact that I’d booked and canceled—paid and refunded—twice, before finally booking on a different site that required payment in cash at the time of registration. Now that’s a bookkeeping challenge! There was only one little problem here. When the desk clerk took me to show me my room—a special service in itself—there was one person already there, asleep, in the dark, at 4 p.m. It gets weirder.
After all, there’s always one weird guy in a dorm room, either getting up at 3 a.m. or coming in at 3 a.m., thereby robbing you of some precious zzzz’s at a time when you just might not be able to pick up the thread again. But this guy was not some weird midnight vampire; not surprising, since he’s obviously around my age, and—like me—balding. This guy’s obviously been sleeping all day or napping heavily. But that’s not the real problem, either. The problem is that his butt crack is sticking out from beneath the sheet, a geodetic foot-long of waxing moon in waning sky, smiling at the passersby and star-crossed lovers everywhere.
Now picture this carefully. There’s a butt crack flashing at me from beneath the covers of a dorm bed in a hostel in Kovalam, India! Right in front of God and everything! What if it were in front of an 18-year old girl from Korea, just recently embarked on her first RTW tour? She’d probably turn around and go back home, scarred for life, and destined to roam, become a prostitute and abuser of hard drugs, or something even worse. What’s the deal? Haven’t you Europeans ever heard of underwear? You should try it; you might like it. It’ll even keep your pee stains all in one place. Hostels have mixed dorms, you know.
Well, I sneak a glance at the desk clerk and he’s about to bust a gut for sure, a grin tucked in so hard for protection that he’s about to chew his cheek off. The sleeping guy doesn’t wake up until 7 p.m., either, leaving as I was returning. He’s a Brit BTW and a really nice guy. We do coffee next day, while watching the fisher-folk scour the bay for anything edible, and come up with nothing much more than sardines. Besides that, there’s a lighthouse for views and sunsets, and plenty of seafood, of course.
But there’s still the problem of the hostel. The Brit checked out, and about the time I’m convinced the room is mine only for the night, here come a crew of local Indian blokes ready to change all the a/c settings and rearrange the furniture. That’s not so bad, but the 6 a.m. lights-on by the group’s alpha-male is too much. Fortunately I have a morning flight so no big deal; I’m up already. But still: do people have no feel or reference point for the discomfort of others? What can you do? Not much I guess. But no butt cracks! That’s going too far! Kovalam is okay. Check it out sometime.