Up the main streets of Trivandrum that it felt like we had explored so long ago, we grabbed a late breakfast. My order of what called itself a ‘Rocket Roast’ in the very normal-looking canteen turned out to be not the classy, herb-infused light lunch that I had anticipated but rather a meter-long Dhosa. The Dhosa is a staple of South Indian cooking and is made using soaked lentils and rice that is then beaten and cooked pancake-style on a hotplate. It may be accompanied by a cool, ivory white, coconut sauce, a sweet, spicy tomato dip or vegetable chutney. In many cases, such as this, the roll of the Dhosa into a scroll-like presentation conceals a generous helping of softly-spiced warm potato curry. The approving smiles and nods of the various other diners whose eye my breakfast had caught suggested to me that I was about to embark upon a genuine South Indian challenge. Of course, I demolished the entire thing with enthusiasm and relish. Even as I write I fantasize about the handfuls of yellow potato curry cut with snippets of coriander and mustard seeds, squidging warm through the crispy, light folds of golden pancake between my fingers.
We caught the bus that afternoon up the long coastal highway to Varkala as the rain began. Seeping through the holes in the ceiling, it slightly felt like I was riding inside a cheese grater on wheels for all the water that was coming through the ceiling.
But we arrived in Varkala to a beautiful beach, devoid of litter and people and with as smooth-as-marble sand. As the road petered out towards the shore, the beach ran up the coast and out onto a wide stretch that rose off to our right and up into deep red mud cliffs. Off to our left, the waves were breaking far out into the sea, sending an endless stream of pulses over the water and up the smooth shallows. One by one they rolled up the beach in steady succession, each reaching an impossible length up the sand for their puny momentum before, ever so reluctantly, slipping backwards towards the waterline as another wave would consume it on its own way up the beach. Standing up to my ankles in the drizzle, the warm water tugged at my feet and the little cloud-like patterns that formed in the gentle water bent around me as they passed. The sand, I noticed, was not as pale as I’d first seen. It had fallen in a wavy black here and there, giving it fish-scale patterns that my toes had disturbed into charcoal-like smudges on the sand. Only here and there were there the pockets of black-marble sand on the surface, but a big toe drawn along the creamy-white brought up the black in sharp contrast.
As the light faded that evening we walked along the cliff-top pathway that overlooked my new favourite place in India. The scraggly path was dotted with palm-lined restaurants, the occasional provision store for the longer visitor, a handful of half-built hotels and makeshift bars that could have blown away had the wind picked up any more. In and amongst the Chinese lanterns, deckchairs and Cafe Del Mar on the sound-system, we had a plate of chips and a beer each. Further up the path I had my first ever cocktail in the ‘Rock Bar’. We climbed a ladder to get up to the sea-facing recliners that sat on the second floor of the hut. As with so much in life, moderation is the key; a certain amount of temples is fine, as is a certain amount of rum.