Kerala's Beaches

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Kerala's Beaches
Kerala’s coastline stretches for more than 360 miles, a trail of soft golden sands fringed by palm trees and the occasional temple, with small fishing villages huddled near the shore and little boats bobbing on the water.
By Neha Puntambekar , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Stuart Black/age fotostock
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    Kerala’s Iconic Beaches
    With such a long coastline, Kerala has numerous beaches from which to choose. City beaches tend to be busier, livelier, and well- equipped with water sports facilities, restaurants, and souvenir stalls. Kovalam, with its three coves of Hawa, Lighthouse, and Samudra, is one of the most popular beaches here, as is Fort Kochi Beach, which has a bustling promenade; it also hosts the city’s New Year’s Eve beach carnival. At the other end of the spectrum are the quieter beaches, more natural—even wild—in setting, such as Bekal Beach and its sprawling fort.
    Photo by Stuart Black/age fotostock
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    Active Beach Adventures
    To get a different view of Kerala’s coastline, you need a vantage point away from the soft, sandy beaches. The best perspective is from up above, soaring over the water; some of the bigger beaches, including Kovalam and Cherai, offer parasailing. If you want a view closer to the water, then go snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, or waterskiing at Varkala Beach, which is also a put-in point for scuba divers. These waters are rich in fish, making them good for anglers, too. You can set up your own rods and wait for a catch or you can try to hitch a ride with a local fisherman, particularly in Kochi, where you can learn to use Chinese fishing nets.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Kochi’s Chinese Fishing Nets
    You can't miss the sight of Kochi's iconic Chinese fishing nets as you walk near the fort area. These vertically installed nets, also known as shore-operated nets, came to Kerala in the late 1300s with the Chinese explorer Zheng. The contraptions consist of wooden poles about 30 feet high that are fixed close to or on the shore, with ropes and nets that drop over 65 meters. The nets are manned by teams of four or more fishermen, who work early in the mornings and evenings. If you time your visit with the haul, stop by the fish market that sets up close to the nets; it's somewhat pungent, but you can choose the freshest catch and take it to one of the adjoining food stalls or shacks, where cooks will prepare and serve the dish for you.
    Photo by Philippe Michel/age fotostock
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    See Where Vasco da Gama Landed
    Kerala’s coastline was the first entry point into the Indian subcontinent for European trading vessels and companies, and it all began with the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the first man to charter a sea route from Europe to India’s lucrative Malabar Coast. Vasco da Gama reached what is now known as Kappad Beach (near Kozhikode) in May 1498 with the intention of establishing a trading partnership in spices and textiles with the local rulers. Today, a small pillar made of stone, shadowed by palm fronds, stands as a reminder of that monumental feat. Where Portuguese ships once moored, now fishing vessels ply their trade, heading out every morning and evening to cast their nets and return with the day’s catch.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Beach Festivals
    Some of Kerala's beaches play host to festivals, where stalls serving local delicacies pop up, banners are hung, and music can he heard far and wide. Kovalam celebrates a village fair in January; the beach turns into an open-air exhibition of color, costumes, and arts. April is an important month at Muzhappilangad, a drive-in beach in Kannur district. This is when car drivers and cyclists line up on the sand to show off their skills behind the wheel (or handlebars), pulling off impressive stunts in front of spectators and fellow competitors. Celebrations such as Onam—an ancient Hindu festival observed in August/September, and the largest in Kerala—and New Year's Eve tend to spill over to Kerala's beaches, too, particularly in the cities.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Secluded Beaches
    One of the benefits of a long coastline is that the farther you get away from the cities, the quieter the beaches become. Some of Kerala's best beaches are found next to nondescript villages or are forgotten extensions of more popular stretches of sand, and allow you to swim, snorkel, and relax in peace. Marari Beach, close to Alappuzha, is one such spot; the adjoining fishing village lends it added appeal. Alternatively, pull away from civilization completely and take a boat to Poovar Island. Located about 40 minutes from Kovalam, this small fishing community offers access to the backwaters and to quiet, unspoiled sandy beaches. The trees here seem taller and the silence—punctuated by birdsong—is as sweet as the sea breeze.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Beachside Forts and Temples
    Some of Kerala's beaches are blessed with historic forts or serene temples, the perfect backdrop to what is already a postcard-worthy scene. The beautiful sands of Bekal Beach, for instance, exude an air of mystery thanks to the Bekal Fort, the largest of its kind in Kerala. Similarly, the Portuguese built St. Angelo Fort on Kannur Beach; it offers superb views of both the sea and the town. There are also a number of beachside temples, such as the 2,000-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu at Varkala Beach. A steady stream of pilgrims line up to seek blessings here, particularly during the festive season.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    Yoga on the Beach
    Yoga and the beach go hand in hand—the fresh sea air encourages you to breathe deeply and clear out all the mental and emotional cobwebs. While many yoga retreats are located along the backwaters and in spice country, some operate right by the ocean, rolling out their mats on quiet stretches of beach. One such outfit is Sharanagati Yogahaus on Varkala Beach. It is set a little way away from the public beach and offers daily yoga classes and longer courses, as well as vipassana meditation classes. Another interesting yoga set-up at Varkala, Soul & Surf, caters to the niche crowd of surfers who are also devoted to yoga. Soul & Surf also conducts yoga workshops at offshore locations, including Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands.
    Photo by Tommy Seiter/age fotostock
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    Seaside Sunsets
    The swirl of colors that erupts in the evening sky; the flocks of birds preparing to roost for the night, moving in patterns much like the small boats bringing back fishermen after the day shift—there is poetry in watching the sun set over the sea. Most locals swear by the sunset at Varkala, where the play of fading light against the rocky cliffs that run alongside the water makes for a great photo-op. Similarly, Fort Kochi tends to attract quite a crowd at this time of the evening. The beach, the sky, the sun, and the Chinese fishing nets all combine to form an extremely pretty picture.
    Photo by Paule Seux/age fotostock