I have no doubts that I am a beach person. Whenever I start planning a new trip I already have a beach destination ready in my imagination. This is a little odd for someone who heads from a coastal city, who is not going to need a sunbath ever in her life and someone who has some degree of aqua-phobia so probably is not going to try any water sports until forced to do so. Then why? Why do I always crave for sun -sand- sea?
Because, probably this is what shuts my ever chattering mind…. this is where I feel completely at rest…. completely safe (except when chest deep into the water).
After spending the Christmas and my birthday in the freezing winter of Mcleodganj, I needed my tropical antidote. And honestly, I couldn’t think of any place better than the peaceful retreat Gokarna.
Located in North Karnataka, Gokarna has a versatile topography making it a fine choice for nature lovers and photographers. It is one of the most sacred places for the Hindus and visited by thousands of devotees every year. This has also attracted a lot of foreign tourists who take interest in Hinduism, Yoga, Ayurveda and Indian culture.
The main town has a rustic charm. It is generally busy with the daily rush of Hindu pilgrims paying visit to the Mahabaleshwar (Shiva) temple. The tribal people sell some fruits, vegetables and flowers that are found in the nearby hills. The market adjoining the temple hosts a variety of metal artifacts and utensils, toys and souvenirs… something you can avoid completely. Gokarna is not a place to shop. However, you might enjoy taking a stroll across the tiny lanes of this otherwise sleepy town.
One thing that you shouldn’t miss is the lunch / dinner provided as Anna prasad (literally translated to blessings in the form of food) by the temple. The simple yet wholesome vegetarian meal is finger licking good and served to all. The menu is simple – rice, sambar, rassam, buttermilk, payasam, pickle and a vegetable curry. It was one of the most satisfying meal I’ve ever had.
There are three main beaches in Gokarna – Gokarna beach, Kudle beach and Om beach. Most of the tourists prefer to stay at Kudle beach where as pilgrims prefer stays around the Gokarna beach being in the vicinity to the temple. Om beach has very few options for stay, one of them being the airbnb guesthouse ‘Shantidham’ where we stayed during our visit.
Our guesthouse guaranteed a lot of solitude and great unobstructed views. We had company of three affectionate (read clingy) dogs at the guesthouse who were our escorts on the hikes. They would sit around our feet when we would just laze around in the guest house’s cafe on the cane lounge chairs. (In fact we all seemed to look so comfortable in each other’s company that some of the visitors thought we were the owners!). Anyway, if you don’t want to feel too lonely, I would recommend staying at the Kudle beach which hosts most of the good hotels and shacks and is fairly populated as compared to the Om beach.
While visiting Gokarna one should know that visiting from one beach to other takes good amount of hike/ walk. In fact, beach hiking is one of the highlight activities in Gokarna. It takes on an average 20-25 minutes to walk from one beach to another. The climbs are gradual and pleasant. If you wish to skip the hikes you may as well hire an auto or rent a bike or even hop on a boat however know that all of these options are extremely expensive and bargaining is required. Thus my advice would be hike/walk as much as possible, preferably around early morning hours or around evening and make use of the other transport options only if you feel tired. Hiring a bike makes no sense if you are not going to visit the outskirts.
A few things to note while visiting Gokarna:
This is mainly a religious town thus you will not get liquor in the village. The cafes/ shack at Kudle and Om beach still sell liquor unofficially however it will be much expensive than what you get in Goa.
You will see a lot of hippies around. Marijuana is openly consumed especially on Om and Paradise beach. Couples, families with kids should avoid beaches post sunset for their safety.
Gokarna by no means is a cheap place. One of the reasons being lack of cheap labor. The locals are happy with their fishing and farming thus don’t take much interest in tourism. Thus unavailability of skilled and competitive labor is a big issue here. If you were considering Gokarna because you thought it is the cheaper and mellower version of Goa then stop right there. Goa and Gokarna are two different experiences. Yes, it is mellower than Goa however Goa is anytime more cost effective than any place in India even during peak seasons simply because it is highly tourist oriented.
There are a couple of things that one can check out in the outskirts of Gokarna.
Mirjan Fort – Approx. 11 Km from Gokarna, this approx. 500 years old fort built in laterite stone boasts of an elegant architecture.
Gokarna is for those who enjoy nature’s company. This is a place to go without an itinerary. Just sit back, enjoy the pristine waters of the Arabian sea, take naps, spot dolphins, meditate… simply unwind! We stayed at Gokarna for 5 days and this is all we did along with occasional hikes and boating. We also tried the relaxing body massage at ‘Aarya ayurvedic‘ at Kudle beach which was pretty good and much cost effective as compared to what we saw in Kerala.
Visit Gokarna when you feel the need to slow down. Visit it to reconnect with yourself. Visit to take a dip in the clear waters of the Arabian sea to detox your body, mind and soul. Let this divine town of Shiva heal you inside out.