I had been nagging Suraj to travel with me just one weekend for several weeks. We’d fought about not doing fun things on weekends. I’d blamed him for just sitting around at home in front of the TV under the pretext of getting work done. And he finally gave in and booked us on a bus to Gokarna. He had to cancel and rebook because the bus service decided they didn’t want to ply Bangalore-Gokarna that weekend. And one Saturday morning, in February (yep, I’m writing this one month short of a year after the trip!), we were there. The bus drops you off just at the entrance of the town, where you can see village folk selling vegetables and flowers. You can walk or take an auto-rickshaw to a beach of your choice, from here.
Gokarna has 6 beaches – the main beach (Gokarna Beach), Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half-Moon Beach, Paradise Beach and Nirvana beach (which is further down and relatively unexplored).
Most tourists prefer Kudle and Om beach to stay at. And most rickshaw drivers drop you off at the south end of Kudle Beach or at Om Beach. It’s a quick hike down from your drop-off point to the beach. They take you on roads just around the actual village and charge you a couple of hundred rupees to get you to your beach, but our luck got us a fellow who took us right through the village and to the top of the north end of Kudle Beach.
The ride was one of a kind – through the by-lanes of the village and early enough in the morning for us to catch glimpses of a pujari on a moped making his way to the temple and women around the market just setting up their stalls. Over the course of the weekend, we convinced another rickshaw guy to take us down the village roads a few more times, so that we couls take a video and “explore” the non-beach parts of the village. What we saw early morning on that first ride though, was the best of the lot.
It’s a quick walk down through red mud from where the rickshaw drops you off, to Kudle beach. We hadn’t booked a place to say and were told that most people wing it, when they get to the beach.
The first few shacks, at the foot of the hill, where it just opens up onto the beach looked liked they catered only to non-Indian folk. They have a hippie, white air about them, that almost puts you off. While I have nothing against hippies or white people, it’s the attitude of the owners/caretakers of these shacks that is just disheartening. Asking around the first few shacks should get you a basic room – some are as cheap as Rs200/- a night and are basically just a mattress in a mud hut, and a common bathroom. Others go up to Rs700/- or Rs800/- where you get a very basic room with a fan and an attached bathing area. Of course, taking a rickshaw to a proper hotel, for those who prefer a more comfortable holiday is always an option.
There isn’t very much to do around, really. You can hop around across beaches, hitch a boat ride to see some dolphins, chug a couple of beers and eat some seafood. Or then walk around the village and visit the numerous temples it has. Food isn’t exactly cheap. And options are limited. We didn’t venture into town to eat, assuming we’d get only vegetarian options. Though I have read that streets around the temples are the only ones that don’t serve meat. At the beach, food is inspired Italian/Lebanese/Viennese/American cuisine with some Punjabi flavours thrown in – butter garlic style squid, fish and prawns, gravy and rice, fries, hummus and a few varieties of terribly spelt pasta. They’re about Rs150/- to Rs200/- per dish, and eaters like Suraj and me end up shelling out about Rs1000/- per meal (for two, beers inclusive).
The main temple is the Mahabaleshwara temple built in honour of Lord Shiva. There is also another Shiva Temple called the Uma Maheshwara Temple. And a smaller temple for Lord Ganesh. Gokarna means Cow’s Ear (gau – cow, karn -ear) and it is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow here.
The Mahabaleshwara Temple (maha – large, bal – strength) has two wooden chariots — Dodda Ratha and Sanna Ratha (dodda – large, sanna – small, ratha – chariot in Kannada) – that are decorated and brought out in a processions during Maha Shiv Ratri down Car Street (Ratha Biddi).
We were there the weekend of February 19th, just after Maha Shiv Ratri and got a chance to see both chariots, the larger of the two is usually brought out only for the procession.
Being a temple town, the hustle of foreign tourists over the past decade or so has suddenly led to strict policing every once in a while.
Day 1, we settled down in our room and then head to check the beaches out. A quick hike (read: 30 minutes) over some rocky terrain brought us to Om beach. When you descend from Kudle towards Om, you can the beach in an inverted 3 shape, which when looked at from the Half Moon Beach side, looks like an Om. That’s where the beach has gotten it’s name from. The original name for the beach, however, is something entirely different.
We lunched at a cafe at the end of Om beach, it’s hard to miss. The beach, sort of turns at a point and there’s just one shack there. That’s Cafe Nirvana (or so Google tells me). But pictures of the place suggest that’s where we ate. We stuck to a couple of beers, some fried fish and some squid.
On our way out, we figured we weren’t all that enthusiastic to hike up and across Om Beach over to Half Moon Beach – partly because of the afternoon heat and partly because we could see construction along the hillside, resorts making way for what used to be paddy fields. Or well, may be because we found a guy in a boat right outside, willing to take us to Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach and bring us back. A foreigner couple hopped into the boat with us, as well.
Half Moon Beach is a crescent shaped beach with no shacks or lodging, as far as I could tell from a few glances, and further out into the sea, beyond it, the boatman takes you to dolphin-watching. Suraj makes some classic dolphin sounds, so we mostly just made sounds and saw no dolphins. But the ride was pleasant.
Paradise Beach, a little further down, is a tiny patch of beach where you can see people with little camp-fire-esque set-ups, hammocks, hoola-hoops, graffiti and the sort.
Even further down, is a really long stretch of white sand – Nirvana Beach. Going by what the boatman told us, people don’t visit it very much at all because it is fairly far from Gokarna and staying facilities – which is some ways, I think, is a good thing.
The boatman brought us back to Kudle beach where we settled in another shack, while the sun set, over another couple of beers and some Kudle Cake. Kudle Cake is a gastronomic delight, if I may call it that – layered biscuit, caramel and chocolate, frozen and served in little rectangles. It’s addictive. And for under Rs 100/- a piece, it’s bloody delicious.
With the sun going down, we saw people light little fires on the beach, sing songs and swirl little balls of light into the air.
We head back and called it a day, with a plan to head into town the following morning. We woke up late and head to the climbed up the red mud path to the top of the Kudle Hill where we’d called a rickshawallah to drive us around town. I managed to get a decent video through the market and to the rathas. I do, however, miss the early morning sights from the previous day.
We noticed a lot of women with sarees draped – right around the body, all the way from the top and without a blouse, quite unlike the usual way a saree is draped. We managed to get a picture of a lady and I’m pretty sure we also managed to annoy her in the process.
The rickshaw ride took us through narrow roads, stores and make-shift shops filled with spices, everyday ware and trinkets, and brought us to the Koti Tirtha. It is an artificial stepped tank, which locals bathe in before and after religious proceedings.
Neither of us were feeling very religious and skipped visiting the temples around the tank and head right back to where we were put up. A couple of beers more (they’re about Rs120/- a bottle, and with very limited options – mostly just Kingfisher Utlra/Premium/Strong and Carlsberg) and some more seafood and fries, and we head back to our room for the afternoon.
The evening bus back to Bangalore never showed up, and we had to book a last minute cab that overcharged us and drove us through every possible road but the highway. I managed to catch a wink only at about quarter to six Monday morning, when we finally hit a highway and were a couple of hours from Bangalore. Needless to say, a fairly nice trip came to a lousy end, with me stressed out and bedridden with a fever for the next couple of days. And that, of course, led to another series of arguments about how the one holiday we managed to take also screwed up.
We’ve been on one more weekend trip since – to Hampi. I’ll be writing about that soon enough. And that, let me assure you, was far better than our Gokarna vacay.
[Oh, I must mention, I’m an average photographer, at best. And an even poorer photoshopper. All of these pictures have NOT been edited. It’s a pretty place, then, isn’t it?]