|Backwaters of Kerala supported a much efficient transport system during the earlier times. It was through the network of backwaters that the goods have been transported from the north to the south of Kerala. Varkala was the southernmost part of this canal system. The travellers had to get down at Varkala and then walk a short distance in order to resume the travel through the backwaters which led to Thiruvananthapuram. It was in order to overcome this difficulty, the British decided to construct a tunnel in Varkala in 19th century.
The project took almost 14 years to complete. It began in 1867 under the supervision of Travancore Diwan Sir. T Mahadeva Rao and was completed only in 1880, at the time of Diwan Sheshaya Sasthri.
The construction of tunnel was one of the major development works not only of Travancore but also of the entire Kerala during that period. It consists of two tunnels. The first was completed in 1877 while the second was completed in 1880. The first one has about 2370 ft while the second one has 1140 feet length.
Once the construction work had been completed, the tunnel was extensively used for ferrying of several kinds of goods. It was a major achievement as with its construction, water transportation from Tirur (of Malabar) to Trivandrum became a reality.
Varkala tunnel has been mentioned in one of the earlier Sandesha Kavya (messenger poem) in Malayalam, which is called Mayoora Sandesham. The poet Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran talks about the town of Varkala as well as the tunnel built by the British there.
With the advent of advanced transportation methods through road, rail and sky, the transportation through Varkala tunnel has almost become negligible.