Like most countries, India’s north and south are worlds apart. While Delhi and Jaipur pedestal grand architecture and royal palaces, Kerala boasts that it is ‘God’s Own Country’. And it is as though God himself has picked this tiny part of the world for His own. The rice paddies, the tea plantations, the coconut groves, its backwaters, beaches, cliffs and the sunshine: Kerala really does have it all. And then, pinned to the chest of this southern state, there is Varkala.
It is our fifth consecutive day by the beach. The sun is hiding in its milky cloud sky and there is a powerful wind tormenting the waves. Irritable, foamy-white ocean meets sullen, sugar-white sky at the horizon. Opposite, at shore, water cascades onto itself again and again, over and over. Searocks and sandbags glimmer wet in the tired sun of the afternoon and palm trees lean back-breakingly close to the edge of the sea, the gale forcing them to bend, bend, bend until their leaves are almost dipping in the blue.
The lack of scorching sun and sticky air is annoying; I have come to look forward to baking in the beach heat and competitively tanning. The ache of lying too long on hard-packed sand, back muscles flat against the unshifting beach, is a small price to pay for having a tan in November. The lines of swimming heat between sunbathers and sea, the crimson ripple of skin, the salt of wet bodies, the sting of burnt lips; senses are set alight in Varkala. Seaweed smelling sarongs and damp board shorts merge with the almond scent of sun lotion. Warm water bottles waste in the sunlight, the air sucked out of them.
Later on, in the lemon infused hours of early evening, the tourists will emerge once more, reeking of apple soap, aloe vera and spiced shampoo. Those sense-filled, excited, delicious beach moments will belong to personal galleries of happy times, filed away and frequently sought out from the crevices of every memory. This afternoon, marooned on white plastic garden furniture at an ocean-side café, deafened by the raging Indian Sea and whipped by the untiring wind, belongs to such a gallery.
Two weeks later. Sitting cross-legged on Helipad Beach, metres from the toddler-tumbling sea, we watch the giant ball of burnt sun streak its way through turquoise sky. The clouds turn from cotton white to a colour so beautiful that even the lonely dogs lift their faces to the horizon. Shades of rose, tangerine, crimson, peach, apricot and coral leak into one another, staining the dusk. The space above, peacock blue, matches the rippling waves below, making it appear as though a paintbrush has just been dragged through the heavens.
There are no lines in this Varkala; no edges or boundaries or fences or roads. Just colours bumping into colours, sea giving way to sand, cliffs into beach and day into night. White hermit crabs scuttle silently in their thousands, moving tiny grains of sand while no-one is looking. And, just for those rosy minutes, honey-trapped in the moonset, India is still. The beach is the sky and the sun is the star; we toast God’s Own Country with a Kingfisher beer.