Devout Hindus have for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years travelled to Varkala, 54km north up the coast from Thiruvananthapuram, to scatter ashes of recently deceased relatives on Papanasam beach. The beach, 4km from Varkala town itself, is dramatically set against a backdrop of superb, burnt-clay-coloured cliffs, which, 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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