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Weekend Itinerary For Fort Kochi And Varkala: Backpacker Gems Of South India

Updated: May 8

Sometimes greatest things are discovered by accident. Having just about 5 days on hand, and having covered most of the weekend getaways like Pondicherry, Araku, Hampi, and Badami in the south of India, we might as well have rolled a dice. The outcome was an impromptu trip to Kochi, a major city in Kerala, about 600kms south of Bangalore, and a side trip to Varkala, a hippie beach town also in Kerala. Here's my Bangalore to Fort Kochi and Varkala weekend itinerary to help plan and contextualise a short trip.

How to get to Kochi from Bangalore

To get to Kochi from Bangalore, we just took the first available overnight bus from the KSRTC bus stop in Majestic, Bengaluru and got to the city after a comfortable 12-hour journey. While Kochi is a proper city in Kerala with flyovers, malls and India’s only solar-powered airport, the real travel draw is Fort Kochi, a tiny island off a few kilometers by a ferry. (Also, India's first fully solar powered ferry.)

We took the first ferry out to Fort Kochi and the heat and humidity notwithstanding, after checking into our humble guesthouse (Jenny’s homestay), we set out to explore the tiny, but promising town.

But first, some breakfast! There’s an array of restaurant and cafes -- while not as many or as exciting as the cafes in Rishikesh or Dharamshala -- dishing out the usual travel fare, with a few seafood specialities of the coastal town. We however found our breakfast fix in one of stalls lining up a street that do basic omlets, sea food items and chai.

Street art in Kochi thanks to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale

The first thing you’d notice on taking a stroll around Fort Kochi is its colourful and kitschy street art as well sophisticated wall murals. It's all thanks to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an art festival Kochi has hosted for the last 10 years. During the biennale, hundreds of artists from across India and abroad descend on the town, create and display contemporary works of art. Even the city's infrastructure is used as a canvas, and tree trunks, walls, and shop fronts get an arty uplift! The biennale is a great time to plan a trip to Fort Kochi, as the city is awash with art exhibits, music gigs, flea markets, skits, talks, and the combined energy of artistic and art-inclined people from all over the world really elevates a short weekender into an inspired trip.

Bangalore to Fort Kochi and Varkala itinerary

I'd go so far to say a trip to Fort Kochi is worth it just for the art alone.

Kochi really comes alive in the early evenings, when the fishermen are out at the sea casting their Chinese nets about to get their catch of the day especially against a stunning sunset.

Once the sun is down, there’s not much to do in here, apart from stroll around, take in the sounds and smells wafting from the various cafes and settle down for a slow dinner. We plonked ourselves in a quaint cafe over a pizza and a window view for ours.

Kochi's Jewish and Dutch Influences

Unbenownst to most, Jews are the oldest immigrant communities in India, and most of them lived in the Malabar region or Kerala as far back as 2000 years ago. At one point, thousands of Jews called Kochi home, while some 60 remain today. (Not to be confused with the Israeli travelers one encounters in Kasol and Dharamkot today.) At one point there were as many as ten synagogues in the region of which just one survives to the day and is available for a visit should one wish to.

Bangalore to Fort Kochi and Varkala itinerary

Kochi was also a Dutch colony in the 1800’s and to show for it, there is a Dutch palace and ruins of a Dutch cemetery lie in the bylanes of Fort Kochi, which we didn’t check out.

Getting from Kochi To Varkala

Done with seeing or doing all that Kochi had to offer in a day and half, we made another impromptu trip out to Varkala, the Goa of the South. But I’d be damned to let the cat out of the bag because Varkala still holds on to a pristine and unspoiled charm that unfortunately Goa is past.

Varkala is a comfortable 4-5 hour train journey from Kochi, a rather beautiful train ride through the charming villages and lush greenery of coastal Kerala. The Varkala beachfront is 5-6 kilometres away from the railway station area and the only way to get to the beach is to take an auto-rikshaw, or if you’re feeling adventurous, walk the distance.

The real surprise of the trip, Varkala is a beach town with a mile long cliff overlooking the Arabian sea, with a smattering of a beach down below. Hundreds of shacks, cottages, yoga shalas, cafes, and souvenir shops line the cliff making for an easy, hippie backpacker paradise.  This entire area is easily accessible by walking the fine sidewalk along the cliff edges.

Sleeping overnight in an empty beach shack

Realising that both of us were short on cash and the ATM was 5 kilometers away and it being 10 in the night, we had 2 options in front of us. Dinner or check in to a hotel.

Feeling too lazy to bother to make the effort to withdraw cash, we decided to just wing it and convinced ourselves that enjoying a lovely Italian beach at a shack with candlelight and waves edging our feet was worth forfeiting a comfortable stay in a guesthouse for. And so we did the unthinkable and crashed on a makeshift table under a defunct shack! Luckily, I carry a couple of sheets on most of my travels so the night was pretty comfortable, romantic even, and the only little hitch was the cops curiously coming over to the shack to have a look at the two clearly-not-homeless people flopped down on the tables!

Bangalore to Fort Kochi and Varkala itinerary

The best part of sleeping on the beach is, you have no option but to wake up early -- the locals start streaming in, yoga mats are pulled out, and cafes start getting to business. Catching the rising sun beyond the Arabian sea was quite the unexpected reward of our adventure.

Varkala sea facing cafe

Breakfast blurred into lunch as we perched ourselves at one of the sea facing cafes on the cliff, (pretty much every cafe in Varkala is sea facing!) and lingered on over sandwiches, coffee, and of course a banana pancake with long, enduring views of the sea in front.

Varkala cliff

Much like the other places on the "Great Indian Hippie Trail" like Rishikesh, Goa, Pushkar, Varkala is also a great place to join a Yoga or Ayurvedic detox retreat or a yoga course in Kerala. But be careful to plan the timings well because Varkala can get unbearably hot March onwards and hit by monsoons from June.

So the best time to be in Varkala is really a short window of around November to January.

We did return to Varkala a couple of years later to spend New Years' Eve and saw a very different side of the same place. The place was overun with both foreign and Indian tourists, most of the guesthouses were full despite charging 3x normal rates, and NYE was chaotic with hundreds of local men having descended on the cliff to stare at the outsiders (and even harass them a bit.) Still, it was a great experience nonetheless and Varkala still holds a special place in my heart.


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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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