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Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where one can find cliffs adjacent to the Arabian sea. These tertiary sedimentary formation cliffs are a unique geological feature in the otherwise flat Kerala coast, and is known among geologists as Varkala Formation and a geological monument as declared by the Geological survey of India. There are numerous water spouts and spas on the sides of these cliffs.
A famous beach resort, Varkala is also famous for its 2,000 year old Janardanaswamy temple, which is an important Vaishnavaite shrine in India and is referred to as Dakshin Kashi (Benares of the south). The temple is located close to the Papanasam beach, which is considered to have holy waters which wash away sins, and is also an important Ayurveda treatment centre. The temple has an ancient bell removed from a shipwreck, donated by the captain of the Dutch vessel which sank near Varkala without causing any casualties.
Another major landmark in Varkala is the Sivagiri Mutt, established by the great social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. The hill-top mausoleum of Sree Narayana Guru, also located there, is one of the most famous monuments in Kerala. The adjacent hills house the East-West University of Brahmavidya and Sree Narayana Gurukulam. Both organizations belong to the late Nataraja Guru, a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru, and his famous disciples Muni Narayana Prasad and Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati. Another important place of pilgrimage located near to Varkala is the "Kaduvayil Thangal Dargah" which is on the National Highway 47 in between Kallambalam and Attingal. Local people, irrespective of religion visit this place to get the blessings of "Kaduvayil Thangal", a muslim saint.
The District Ayurvedic Hospital is also located in Varkala, which has now been almost completely renovated.
Another important feature of Varkala is the now dilapidated Varkala Tunnel, through which passes the TS Canal, which was an all-important waterway during pre-independence times since other than this canal, there was no other water transport route for the erstwhile Travancore Dynasty's capital region , the present day Trivandrum.