I have trouble sleeping and when my alarm woke me, I cursed. One staggering where-did-I-leave-my-bloody-sandals hour later, we left for the airport. After traffic jam, semi-asphyxiation and an unpleasant encounter with an irritable traffic constable, we waited two hours on the runway with gruelling temperatures, no refreshment and catatonic airhostesses.
Finally we took off for Trivandrum and the Karikkathi Beach House, winner of a Kerala state tourism award for excellence. “Make sure you get some photographs with a ‘human element’ in them,” I had been told, and as we drove the coconut tree-lined 15km from the airport to Karikkathi, I imagined numerous sunburnt pink Germans, the occasional flag-waving Marxist, seedy ayurvedic massage parlours, rave parties, and Gulf returnees with too much gold on their necks. As Adarsh, my travelling companion, said, “Sex, drugs and coconut oil.”
Rajesh and Santosh, the manager and assistant chef, carried our bags the few hundred metres to the thatched beach house, through coconut groves, not a soul in sight. The Karikkathi Beach House has no road access and Sajjad, a bank clerk-turned-hotelier, and his wife Shaina said that they want to keep it that way. “A road brings too many people.”
At Karikkathi, there were no drugs, disillusioned Marxists or raves. I noted anxiously that there were hardly any human elements either. The beach is private, white sanded, secluded and clean with large rock formations on either end, blocking anyone who might want to stroll by and peddle you beads. The two-bedroom Karikkathi Beach House is built on a rock balcony of sorts overlooking the Arabian Sea. The surf crashes into the beach 50 metres away and, except for the resident myna, that’s all you hear.
“So, what’s there to do here?” I asked Sajjad and noticed one of his eyebrows rise slightly. “Well, there’s the beach and in-house ayurvedic massages. You can go boating, we could organise a trip to the temples in Trivandrum. And for now you can ask the chef for anything you might like to eat, just ring that bell.”
“Well, I meant, what’s there to do here?”
Sajjad’s eyebrow went up higher. He smiled and said, “Nothing.”
I rang the bell and Rajesh appeared almost immediately with Krishna, the chef, in tow. Two tender coconuts, an amazing fish curry and home-baked bread later, I leant back in my cane armchair, the sound of surf in my ears, a magnificent sunset ahead, and decided that I appreciated the word ‘nothing’ most immensely.
A Swiss architect Karl Damschen designed the Karikkathi Beach House and used local materials for its construction. Both rooms are airy, clean and have wonderful sea views. They are simply furnished with cane mosquito-netted beds and old teak furniture. There is no air-conditioning. That night I left the windows open and I didn’t need a fan. For the first time in days, I slept like a baby.
The next morning I realised that no one had called me in a while. (Reason 7 why I don’t sleep very well.) Cell phones do not work in the Karikkathi Beach House. Strangely, they work 50 metres to the right and left of the property. I put my phone in the drawer by the bed and went down to the beach.
The beach was clean, no plastic packets washed up anywhere and the one bit of garbage I saw, a slipper, was picked up later that day by the lady who left it behind. The water was warm and deep a few metres away from the surf. For some time, I was the only person I could find in any direction.
My footprints were the only things that followed me that afternoon and Sukumar, a local fisherman, came by in his catamaran. I found myself reaching for my cell phone that wasn’t there. Had I paid the electricity bill? Why hasn’t she called? What’s the bloody cricket score?
That evening, I sat alone on the beach with three very friendly dogs and a beautiful sunset for company. I decided that maybe she wasn’t worth it after all, India would probably win the match and the electricity bill could go to hell. Besides, I had meen porichathu extra spicy, more homemade bread and an ayurvedic massage to look forward to.
Manu the masseur beat the hell out of me that evening in a massage room behind the beach house with strange oils from strange bottles. I dozed off in the middle and later I exited the steaming bathroom, still smelling of herbs and headed down to the balcony for dinner and conversation.
There are never more than four guests here and the only two other people there were middle-aged Australians, Margaret and Eric, who seemed content to lie about on deckchairs staring at the sea and reading a magazine for hours on end. They told me they liked Karikkathi as it was away from the chaos of most Indian tourist destinations. “The massages are excellent,” said Margaret, “and do try the meen purichattoo.”
The Karikkathi Beach House lies a few hundred metres away from the Surya Samudra resort, the most expensive hotel in these parts, according to Sajjad. I met with Daniel and Gilda, photographers from New Mexico, who had walked down from there to the secluded Karikkathi beach for “peace and quiet time”. In the distance, Sukumar the fisherman fished for stingray with a handline. Daniel went for a swim and Sukumar shook his head. (“These foreigners are crazy.”) I photographed him. I watched the water make strange patterns in the sand around my feet. I got sunburnt.
The next day, I walked about the coconut groves, watched a man pluck coconuts and thought that maybe everyone in Kerala had left on a giant Airbus to the Gulf never to return. Maybe communism had truly failed. Maybe I was the only person left on the planet. Maybe I should call her. Maybe I should just learn how to relax.
I’ve been to a lot of beach resorts and if you like the formality, facilities and hustle of a resort, Karikkathi is not for you. It offers a secluded and beautiful beach, good service (Rajesh, Krishna and Santosh were prompt, courteous and seemed to appear from nowhere when called), great food and peace and quiet, away from any flag-waving Marxists, ravers, peddlers, beggars or pink Germans.
I left Karikkathi and stopped by some of Trivandrum’s very beautiful temples. If you are ‘non-Hindu’ don’t expect to be let into these temples. However, they’re still beautiful from the outside. The city was noisy and chaotic but maybe I was getting used to the beach. I went into a restaurant and ate more meen porichathu. It wasn’t as good as Krishna’s.
I flew back to Bangalore. The airhostesses were still catatonic and didn’t get me more tamarind sweets when I asked but I didn’t care. I even napped a bit and in the taxi, on the way home, I realised that I still hadn’t switched on my cell phone. I decided to leave it off, just for a little longer.
Karikkathi Beach House is 8km from Kovalam, and 19km/half an hour from the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. There are daily flights from Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. The city is also well connected by train. The biweekly Trivandrum Rajdhani is a fast link from both Delhi and Mumbai. Chennai Mail and Ananthapuri Express are daily trains from Chennai.
Karikkathi Beach House
The nearest road is 400m away and a pathway through palm groves takes you to the Karikkathi Beach House (www.karikkathibeachhouse.com). It has two double bedrooms. There is no air-conditioning and neither bedroom is provided with a television. The roof is thatched and the kitchen is part of the house. There is a mini cottage in the property, which is rented out if need be. Guests have access to the private beach. For bookings, mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Around & about
Karikkathi is great for doing nothing. Activities are lazy and indulgent: ayurvedic massages (available at an extra cost or as part of a package); strolling about the private beach; boating. Just in case the seclusion gets too much, you could visit nearby Kovalam. You can also make a trip into Trivandrum and visit the city and its many temples and churches.