BEACH DIARIES: Far from the madding crowd in North Kerala

For those of you who are acquainted with India’s top tourist destinations,  the names that will instantly pop into your head are: Rajasthan( magnificent desert fortresses and colorful people), Agra (iconic 7th Wonder of the world- Taj Mahal), Goa (beaches and laid back Portuguese vibes) and last but not the least- Kerala( advertised as ‘God’ own country)

Ever since we moved back to India in 2010, we made it a point to visit Kerala at least once every year and I have been lucky to explore pretty much most of what I’d like to call affectionately- Coconut Country! From the spice trading Dutch styled town of Kochi to the tea laden hills of Munnar, from the backwaters in Ashtamudi to the half moon shaped beach of Varkala, from the  super crowded beaches of Kovalam to the wildlife sanctuary in Thekkady. In all of our visits we encountered hoards of tourists both from India & different corners of the globe to experience what our tourism board call’s – God’ own country. Most left happy but many like me couldn’t help feel that everything had an “overly” touristy feel- from the endless blocks of hotels & restaurants, shopkeepers selling their wares on the beaches, touts offering a relaxing massage( wink wink!), taxi drivers charging exorbitant rates for sightseeing!

The tiny fishing village and unspoilt beach nestled beneath Bekal fort, North Kerala
The tiny fishing village and unspoilt beach nestled beneath Bekal fort, North Kerala

A surprise win at a Silent Auction charity dinner in November saw us win a 2 night stay at Vivanta by Taj in Bekal, North Kerala. The first thing that popped to our mind was- where is Bekal and how do we get there? A quick search on the internet gave us somewhat of a clear idea on what to expect and quite honestly we weren’t expecting much. How glad I was to discover that we were totally wrong.  We flew into Mangalore ( the nearest airport to Bekal) mid morning and a 1.5hr hair raising, back bone breaking car journey (80 kms) passing through picturesque sleepy towns and villages & many burqa clad women and children. The North of Kerala is dominated by a substantial Muslim population but let that not put you off- the people are warm, friendly and blissfully unaware of how beautifully unspoiled their coastline is. The first thing that struck us along our drive was the absence of tourism boards and advertisement display boards one usually finds along the main highway. In fact, there was hardly any indication for a good 60 kms that we were heading to Bekal. Discreet signs by the Taj guided our taxi driver finally to the gates of paradise (Vivanta by Taj- our hotel and home for 3 days)

Designed by renowned Australian architect- Nick Juniper, this sprawling 26 acre property draws inspiration from the Kettuvallam house boats of Kerala. A closer look would reveal that they have clearly drawn inspiration from Bali. Nonetheless, the result is visually attractive. Each spacious room, retains a sense of privacy with a private courtyard replete with Spanish styled tiled deck chairs & Balinese swing  looking out to the calm lagoon & for the lucky few staying in the villas- a  private swimming pool.

Snapshots of the Vivanta by Taj
The stunning water landscaping renders a Baliesque feel to the entire property

    

Vivanta-Entrance to private villa   

  

Inside the expansive Jiva Grande Spa
Inside the expansive Jiva Grande Spa

   

       A short 5 minute walk through serene landscaping took us to the deserted Kappil beach, where we were delighted to enjoy the sunset all by ourselves.

 

 In pursuit of pleasure, we found ourselves relaxing by the pool or kayaking in the calm waters of the lagoon. The resort has many bicycles available on hire( free of charge for hotel guests), so we found ourselves riding out of the hotel premises to explore the quiet surroundings. We passed  many a traditional house and soaked in the rustic rural setting. Locals going about their daily chores, seemed oblivious to the coastal beauty that surrounded them. Kappil beach is truly unspoiled in the sense that there were hardly any visitors at any point of time of the day ( Note: due to the uneven sea floor it is not advised to swim on the beach, it however makes for a great setting for sunrise/sunset where you can soak up unending views of the Arabian Sea) This also meant that the beach was clean and free of any touts or annoying people niggling you to buy their wares or services…

Bekal fort as seen from the beach below

A fun 20 minute auto ride takes you to the Bekal fort ( where scenes from the iconic Bollywood movie ‘Bombay’ were shot) Bekal fort is considered to be one of the largest forts in Kerala. The fort by itself has been robbed of all its treasures but offers panoramic views of the coastline below.

The view atop Bekal fort
Seagulls take flight in the deserted Bekal fort beach
Seagulls take flight in the deserted Bekal fort beach

Here are 3 reasons why you should head to Bekal before its too late:

1) To get a feel of the ‘real’ Kerala minus all the tourist trapping

2) Great beaches which you can enjoy all to yourself

3) Warm and friendly locals who are only too happy to help you discover their local treasures

WHERE TO STAY

The Vivanta by Taj, Bekal is your best choice for place of stay in Bekal. Another alternative is the Lalit, Bekal. Room rates start from INR 8,000 onwards for a double.
Food at both resorts are alright- not great ( many items weren’t available on the menu) but they cook up delicious local Keralan food- be sure to try the Syrian Roast Chicken or Appams with Chicken stew

HOW TO GET HERE

By flight- Mangalore airport which is 80 kms or 1.5 hours away by drive( expect a bumpy stomach churning ride!)
By train- Kasaragod station which is connected to the Konkan railways

I’ll leave you with a picture taken from the lagoon at sunset

lagoon stretching out to the sea-Bekal
Lagoon stretching out to the sea-Bekal
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