Devout Hindus have for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years travelled to VARKALA, 54km north up the coast from Thiruvananthapuram, to immerse ashes of recently deceased relatives in the surf. Against a backdrop of superb, burnt-clay coloured cliffs, the ancient rituals are still performed daily on Papanasam beach, despite the presence just a stone’s throw away of a fully fledged tourist resort, focused around the northern end of the bay.

The dramatic location, coupled with comparatively low-key development, makes Varkala a more appealing place to spend a beach holiday than Kovalam. Tightly crammed along the rim of crumbling North Cliff, its row of restaurants and small hotels stare out across a vast sweep of ocean – a view that can seem almost transcendental after sunset, when a myriad tiny fishing boats light up their lanterns.

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