Gokarna is a small ancient town on the Karavali coast. It is about 240 kms north of Mangalore,and about 160 kms south ofyou are coming from Bangalore, you can come via Tumkur and from there drive to Honavar via Shimoga. From Honavar go north and reach Gokarna via Kumta. It is not really a destination for a family holiday .
My love affair with this area started a long time back, but before I go into all that, let me give you a snapshot of this place.
I reached Gokarnaka late at night.I walked into the hotel balcony in the morning and got a bit disoriented by the combined sounds of ‘shiela ki jawani’ from the shop below and the sanskrit chants from the temple loudspeakers.
I decided to take a walk. The sun was rising up,and the brahmin priests were walking past the huge wooden temple chariot parked in the street. A couple of Russian girls walked on the other side of the road to the beach,with transparent sarongs over skimpy bikinis. A huge white man with dreadlocks like Bob Marley’s and a ripped physique, walked barefoot and barechested,wearing a tie died kavi dothi with ohm symbols.
A man with shaven head and bulging arms covered with intricate tattoos and looking like a Russian mafiosi hit man was walking with a beautiful young girl with an exotic nose ring.
In front of the temple, native women with their sarees wrapped around their chest,and no blouse were trying to sell flowers to the devotees, while a devotee was trying to shoo off a persistent cow which was interfering with his plans to feed chapathis to a calf.
Gokarna is a tiny pilgrim town, an ancient centre of Sanskrit learning,and considered by Hindus to be a very holy place,but this town is also a place of great contrast. Brahmin scholars and priest, hard core backpackers and nirvana seekers, pilgrims who come to do the last rites for their departed ones, the beach lovers in their bikinis, yoga practitioners,and the cows all flow seamlessly through the narrow streets.
Gokarna has two famous temples, the Mahaganapathi temple and the Mahabaeshwar temple situated close to each other. The Mahabaleshwar temple houses the Aathmalinga, which was gifted to Ravana by Lord Shiva. Anyone who possessed Aathmalinga would have great power, but the catch was that it should not be placed on the ground. Fearing the consequences, Ganesha tricked him, and placed the Aathmalinga on the ground and it got fixed there.
Gokarna has a long stretch of beach with a hill on the south side. The beach is not very clean, and there is a tiny lagoon behind the beach that is now filled with garbage and stinks when the wind blows. On the south end of the beach just at the foot of the hills is a small temple called Rama Thirtha, and from there steps go up the hill to a small abandoned temple called Bharat Mandir.
At the south end of the Gokarna beach is the small temple called Rama Thirtha. There are steps going up the hill to Bharat Mandir. From there you can take a walk to Kudle beach. A straight walk across the vast expanse on the top of the hill for about half an hour will take you to the beach.
If you are more adventurous, you can avoid that route and stick to the
Its easy to loose your way,and sometimes the path goes through the very edge of the misstep in those areas and you will land on the rocks below.
You can also access Kudle beach by road from Gokarna.
Once you have crossed the hill, you will end up in a place where there are few budget resorts and yoga centres. This is where the Gokarna-Kudle road meets the path from the hill. From there you have to walk down a narrow country road to Kudle beach.
Kudle is a crescent shaped sandy beach. Unlike Gokarna its clean and good for swimming. There are rocks on the southern and northern end, but the other parts are fine for swimming. There is a variety of beach shacks right on the beach,where you can stay. It ranges from concrete rooms with attached toilets to thatched huts.
On the far end of the beach is another hill and once you cross it, you will end up in what used to be ‘The Most’ exotic beach in India.
From the south end of Kudle beach, a half an hour walk over the hills will take you to Ohm beach.
I visited this place about 18 years back. We had to trek across the hills and thick shrubs for about two hours to reach we finally managed to trek down the hill, there,surrounded by hills on three sides was ohm is called Ohm beach because it is shaped like the Ohm symbol. It is two crescent shaped beaches joined in the centre by a rocky portion going out into the sea.
Further south, over another hill is half moon beach and from there another trek over yet another hill and dense shrubs will take you to paradise beaches, especially half moon and paradise beaches were totally cut off from years back, reaching these beaches required some real effort and risk.
Indians never used to go there and it was so remote and cut off that apart from fishermen, people had no idea about the existence of these beaches, let alone go there. Even this time when I was trekking from half moon to paradise,I almost stepped on a big snake.
Goa is one of my favorite places and I will write about that state in detail later. It was the hippies who landed in Goa in the late 60s
who should be credited for discovering these beaches. They landed in the erstwhile Portuguese colony of Goa during the height of the hippie movement.
Fed up with a world of crass materialism, a country consumed by the obsession with the unending Vietnam war, and caught in the grips of violent upheavals and class struggles of the civil rights movement, an entire generation of youth started having existential crisis. They searched for an easy way out, they searched for a meaning in life and they found it in the music of John Lennon and Bob Marley, marijuana and traveling around the of them found Goa.
In Goa they found a paradise. Left to themselves by the tolerant local fishermen, they created a world of their own (more about it later). Soon these lonely beaches became a magnet for tourist of other varieties and slowly domestic tourism started the crowd increased, they pushed further and further north and south in search of secluded beaches. Ohm beach, Half moon beach, and paradise beach where their southernmost outposts.
Karnataka is not Goa, It is much more thickly populated and way more conservative so they never ventured further south or even care about other beaches in between, like Karwar.
India does not permit public nudity anywhere in its territory but at that time, before the era of police patrolling, life guard with binoculars and mobile phone cameras, going topless was common in secluded Goan beaches and sometimes even in not so secluded beaches. But these triplets – Ohm, Half Moon and Paradise, with their absolute seclusion, are a class in their own. Without elaborating further, let me just say that they were ‘very liberated’ beaches.
There were just one or two rudimentary huts made with bamboo poles,coconut palms and cloth. Most of the people preferred sleeping in the open beaches and on hammocks. There was no electricity and no facilities and the bonfires at night were, well, memorable.
When we got back, friends and even college lecturers were after us for details and routes. For a bunch of teenagers, turbocharged with a perpetual supply of testosterone and trapped in a regressive country like India in the 90s, finding these beaches was like finding Shangri-la. Years later when I saw the movie ‘The Beach’ by Leanardo Di Caprio, I smiled when watching his excitement on finding the secluded beach in Thailand.
The character of these beaches changed very fast after that era. Tourists started flocking to these place and resorts started coming were laid,concrete steps were built to make the walk down to the beach easier. Concrete benches and sign post appeared and the mystique vanished.
Now at Ohm beach you can see foreigners and locals, Indians of all ages – from disappointed teenagers wandering around, looking for places that they have heard so much about, and something that has vanished long ago to old ladies who can hardly walk. Ohm beach now is just another Indian beach. A pretty beach but just another Indian beach. Half moon beach and Paradise beach still retain their seclusion, but not in any way like it used to be.
Apart from a path through the hills and bushes, there is still no other way to reach there and there are still no permanent structures. just few huts that is rented on a long term basis to foreign tourist and another shack that serves as a restaurant.
It is still rare to find Indian tourist in those are regular police raids to find drugs. Few months back a rave party in Kudle was raided and the tourists were brutally beaten up by the police, leading to a diplomatic problem with other countries. Even possessing a few grams of illegal substances can land you in jail for a long be smart and stay away from drugs.
After a hard day’s trek and stomach filled with delicious food, it was time for me to take a siesta in the shade, and what better way to do that than to listen to this Frenchman doing his magic on his sitar?
As I dozed off, I remember thinking about life. Life may not be perfect, but it’s not bad. It’s not bad at all.
After spending few days in these parts,visiting an old friend and making new ones, it was time for me to leave.
The legend says that Parashurama threw his axe from here in Gokarna and it landed in Kanyakumari. Well I have seen Gokarna, so maybe its time for me to visit Kanyakumari. To travel out of this place I have to go back to Gokarna town.
I started my journey from Paradise beach in the noon. I crossed the hill to Half Moon beach, crossed the next hill to Ohm beach and crossed one more hill to kudle beach. When I reached Kudle, the sun was setting and the sky was crimson. The foreign backpackers staying in the beach were setting up a flea market of sorts in the beach. Some of them were playing their musical instruments. Some of them where on the distant rocks fishing,and some where in the beaches and rocks in deep meditation. After few photographs, I put my camera away. I wanted to experience the scene in front of me and not just go around clicking.
I stayed there in the beach till it was dark. I walked to the north end of the beach and had a candle lit dinner,said good bye to my new friends and started my walk up the final hill to Gokarna beach. The walk through the vast expanse on top of the hill was magical. it was a dimly lit night and the wind was blowing from the sea.
When I finally reached the abandoned temple in the hill overlooking Gokarna beach, I decided to stop and take a break and sat down on the steps. I looked back and saw a Tibetan monk walking towards me. He smiled at me and sat down on the steps some distance away from me. He took out his mobile phone and started playing a Tibetan song through its loudspeaker.
A beautiful female voice filled the night air. What was she singing about? Was it about love? was it about loss? Was it about the pain of loosing her beloved homeland and living as refugee in a strange country? I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I could understand the emotions in her voice. Music as usual transcends the barriers of language.
We sat there in the windy moonlit hill looking out at the sea. It was a blissfully peaceful moment and I was lost in thought. When I woke up from my thoughts,I look around, the monk was gone and I was all alone in the hill. I checked the time,it was close to 1 a.m. at night. It was time to walk down the steps and go back to my hotel. The next day I had to start my journey of about 1000 km to the southern-most tip of this subcontinent- Kanyakumari.
I have been visiting these parts for a long time and I always felt that somewhere deep in the soul of this tiny crumbling decrepit town, there is something spiritual. Something that eludes you as a first time visitor. Maybe that is why this place still attracts a certain type of people from across the world. I am not a very materialistic person, but each time I return from this place, I find myself a little bit less materialistic.
Over the years these beaches have changed so much and I decided that this would be my last visit to thisis nothing left for me to come back. As I reached the beach below and was walking back to my hotel, I turned and looked back to the moonlit hill. Well maybe, just maybe, I will be back for one more time.
This place is good for those traveling alone and also for couples who wants to have some alone time, but it’s not a family destination. It’s not really a place for kids either.
Hotels and resorts:
Check out Swa Swara – ph: 257132,
It is beautiful but its more of a health and wellness resort than a hotel. They have packages of a week or more. I dont think they have options for short stay. You can check out their website http://www.swaswara.com/
Residence in the town is budget and sometimes very basic. Near the beach the options range from nice rooms with basic facilities, internet and stuff to rooms and shacks next to the beach with common toilets. Its mainly frequented by foreign backpackers than Indians.
Few lodges in Gokarna:
Shastri guest house – Ph: 256220
Vaibhav lodge——- Ph: 256714
Nimmu house——- Ph: 256730
Kamat lodge ——– Ph: 256035
Contact numbers of some Beach options:
Hotel Gokarna international : Ph: 257843
Nirvana cafe : Ph: 329851
Namaste cafe : Ph: 257141
The phone numbers may change with time.
Have fun and enjoy!
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Pankaj Varghese
The original post can be found here.