The contrast is quite stark. Varkala's beach has been known for religious reasons for centuries, say well over 2000 years! Of late it is a much talked about tourism destination.
Let's see the traditional facets of Varlala beach first and later the tourism actions.
Devote Hindus consider the beach of Varkala as Papanasham , literally means the 'cleanser of sins'. This is a place where the close relatives of recently deceased come to perform the rituals. This includes, apart from many prayers, immersion of a tiny portion of ashes brought from the funeral pyre.
One certain days of the months and years, significant to Hinduism, people come to the beaches of Varkala in larger numbers to offer prayer to their ancestor.
The rituals generally centers around the ancient Janardhana Swamy Temple and the beach close to the South Cliff. You can see many points on the souther side of the beach where the priests assist people to perform the prayers.
While it is not considered offensive watching those rituals at the beach, observer the basic decorum deemed in such situations. It may be tempting, but you'll be on the right side of the etiquette for not photographing. Well, that's just a tip for those of you who are not very familiar with the local culture.
About 10 minutes walk from the South Cliff, along the beach towards the north you'll reach the strip where the feverish beach life firing on all cylinders. Before that would cross a small stream that empties into the sea. The section of the beach just mentioned is located beneath a palm fringed cliff, often called as the Northern Cliff in Varkala.
Further up north around the headland is the small Thiruvambadi Beach, also called the Black Beach. Probably you've guessed it right, the sand over here is blackish unlike the silver sand south of the Northern Cliff.
Further up north of Thiruvambadi, about a kilometers walk will take you out of the touristy scene. What you see will be fishermen folks villages and small small beach on the edges of the Odayam village.
This is well off the beaten track of Varkala's beach attractions. With its rural ambient, Odayam Beach is for those of you developed that aversion for those typical crowded touristy beaches.
About 8km from the Varkala is the Kappil Beach. Though you may not be able to trek along the coastline, you can take a bus or hire local taxi to Kappil from Varkala. Also you can hire 2wheelers at Varkala for the village tour and excursion to Kappil.
There are quite a few reasons why Varkala often ranks well compared to other popular beach destinations. Varkala still is a sort of virgin destination, with all the clumsiness of a new arrival in the beach scene. Some like the rustic ambient of Varkala together with its unique natural backdrops.
From a tourism perspective, the beaches of Varkala stand first.
Here in an interesting mythology about how Varkala got its name.