Villa Jakaranda

Arriving in Varkala was another truly memorable 5 hour journey.

It started with the driver stowing 5 suitcases on the roof rack of his taxi. In India they have a method for balancing cases on car roofs as they don’t use any ropes, just karma. I couldn’t help when hearing the odd thump on the trip just glancing behind me to check it wasn’t a flying case but it never was.

You soon got used to all the beeping whilst being driven too. Cars and all transport don’t follow lanes but – kind of like bumper cars – jump from lane to lane, tooting all the time.

Villa Jacaranda lies in a quiet spot just a short stroll to the Papanasham beach in Varkala. It was run by a very lovely host Ajay who was attentive yet discreet. The rooms were beautifully furnished, each with a private terrace and the old house set in an amazing garden surrounded by tropical fruit trees and unusual flowers including the jacaranda of course. A small pond hosted the resident ducks – Mr & Mrs Duck – who were often seen being banished from the kitchen by Ajay or Sunny his assistant.

They served us breakfasts of fresh papaya, pineapple, tiny bananas, mango, fresh breads and pressed juices, followed by masala omelettes. We also had dinner one night, which was a real treat with rice dishes, dahl, crunchy salads and lovely dosas and roti, all vegetarian.

The house was one of the many home stays we stayed in which are family size houses where the owner invites guests into their house and cook for them, this was one of the best and my favourite type of place to stay. It is a great income and allows families to keep the houses in the family, although Ajay was a retired lawyer who had lived in the UK for a number of years and who just liked living in Varkala.

Varkala beach is treasured by Hindus and by day is frequented by holy men with small stalls under umbrellas where ashes are taken to be blessed before scattering in the waves. It is unusual as it has cliffs which aren’t found as a rule in Kerala and we walked one evening up many uneven steps to reach the top which is a paradise of small craft shops, yoga retreats, bars and restaurants, it is described as a mini Goa and is well worth visiting.

On the second day we took a tuktuk – five of us squeezed into the tiny Indian taxi – to Golden Island which is reached by a one oared rowing boat manned by an older gentleman dressed only in his “dothi”. This was a tiny island with a brightly coloured temple, full of wildlife and colourful flora. He told us stories of the island and kept warning us and referred to the “poisonous mango trees” of the island amongst his stories.

Varkala was also the scene of the Great Tonic Adventure.

We bought a litre bottle of gin at the airport – as you do. Kerala restaurants don’t serve alcohol at all. The only ones that do were Western resort hotel restaurants which we weren’t planning on visiting but in home stays most owners are happy for you to take your own wine or beer or spirit along to enjoy

We thought we would go and buy some tonics to go with the gin. We looked and asked everywhere but to no avail, then we thought we would ask the tuk-tuk drivers to take us to find some as they knew everything it seemed.

They took us to a chemist – where we were offered every type of “tonic” except tonic water. To a government run alcohol store, which sold spirits but no mixers. To gangs of their friends. Everyone they could think of with our mobile phone clutched in their hand with a picture of a bottle of Schweppes tonic. Sadly, we returned back after our fruitless search and made do with fresh lime and soda.

Lime sodas are a refreshing delicious drink you are offered on arrival at most home stays and are for sale over India for a few rupees. They are offered with sugar or with salt. I can’t to this day understand salty lime sodas but became completely in love with the classic sweet version.