My tryst with Gokarna

Visions of my visit edged me on to sleep more and more, even as I struggled to get back into my daily grind. There I was, dreaming on my bed that very morning after getting back to Bangalore.

But then, there I was, taking a leisurely stroll on the beach even as the sun was setting down into far-away horizon, painting the sky, sand and all of us in golden hue. And then again, there I was, watching the sun go down from inside that beach shack, with my drink to keep me company on one hand, and my occasional read on the other ( shuffling between a travelogue and an account of Hitler’s escape after the fall of the third reich ). With nothing else to do in the world, all I could do was observe. People frolicking in water, a lot of them actually swimming … Children running around in the sand and their parents looking out after them … Group of teenagers huddled together and doing whatever. A group of shack guys having their shot at Basketball … An occasional couple having the time of their life … Fishermen getting back from their day’s work, getting their boats ashore … Quite a few photographers …

One of my other visions led me to traverse a bend on the road, wherein a distant view of another beach reminded me of the town I was in, a town popular among hindu devotees and foreign tourists alike. Gokarna it is, an important center for Shaivism ( worship of lord shiva ) as well as a refuge for people who have had enough of Goa’s overcrowded beaches they say. Yes sir, very close to Goa but with pretty calm and lesser crowded beaches, this town sits in north-western coastal karnataka.

Let me make it very clear, I was here for the beaches and hence they make up most of my write-up below !

I had arrived here after a not-so-pleasant bus journey overnight from Bangalore. It was a rainy night and I had fallen asleep sometime after the bus left Bangalore, and while it wound it’s way through Tumkur, Tiptur and Arsikere. It was only time after which I was jolted up from my slumber, and this then continued throughout the night as the bus maneuvered itself around what seemed like huge craters on the road. To make matters worse, I was on the upper sleeper berth at the back ( Would never recommend a sleeper bus to anybody now that I’ve had a couple of bad experiences. Even if roads are good, it’s difficult to sleep soundly as the bus movements shift your body too. And to think that we had to cross W.Ghats to reach coastal karnataka from the plains of Bangalore. Seater buses, at the very least, don’t disturb the stability of the body, and what’s inside it 😉 ! ).

My tiring journey from the last night notwithstanding, the very first views around Gokarna were enough to freshen me up. Green fields all around, the aghanashini river winding it’s way beside you, and the occasional smaller towns greeting your sight; their folks starting to go about their business for the day. The initial rays of the run that were still warm and that breath of fresh air that’s so difficult to find in Bangalore !

I got down from the bus somewhere near a check-post that is supposed to be the parking area for private buses in and out of town. Now, I had a decision to make. Prior to my trip, I had done a bit of online research only to find most of the hotels fully booked during the long dussehra weekend. I had somehow managed to find one ‘nimmu house’ in gokarna town ( pretty close to the gokarna beach and the mahabaleshwara temple ) , and was told rooms are available. My perfect vacation had to be on the beaches though, so I decided to head along to kudle beach ( the first in line after the Gokarna beach, which is in town ) and try out my luck ! I took an auto-rickshaw to kudle for which I paid him the standard 100 bucks ( for only 3-4 kms at most. Standard fare from the town to Om beach, which is further ahead, is 200 bucks. Other 2 beaches are inaccessible by road ). I was dropped off at the beach head a little high above, from where I had to trek down for a bit. The path wound down, wherein I saw few resorts on my way, and since I had checked them on the net before, I knew they were not to be one among the economical options. Moreover, I wanted to stay at the beach itself. I kept walking along and after some time, I could hear the roar of the waves down below.

A few turns ahead and the vista opened up in front of me. It was only around 8o’clock by then but it was hot, and this was in October end, although breeze from the sea was quite cool and refreshing. There’s water in front of you, bound by cliffs on both sides, and I had got down from one of them. All in all a pretty good view, made better still by the palpable absence of a huge crowd. This was a bit of a early morning, but the scene was going to remain the same throughout the day.
kudle_beach_view                                                                             Kudle Beach View

I noticed and was told that there were shacks all along the beach. Apart from the peak season ( mid-nov to feb ), there should not be any difficulty so far as accommodation goes. Just like me, there were others on the beach who had come down with their baggage and were now looking for a place to stay put. Not many of the shacks/rooms here accept advance bookings, and the accommodation is basic at most. You have 2 options: A basic shack ( with a double bed ) and common bathroom/toilet, or a basic room ( a double bed again ) with an attached one ( just a bit more pricey ). There’s only one luxurious looking option on the beach, the Gokarna International Hotel, but I avoided it for obvious reasons. Pretty decent for a family though.

I finally found myself a place to stay somewhere in the middle of the beach, a bit inside from the sea but in a sweet-spot of it’s own. I was craving for breakfast by now, so I dumped my luggage in the room and headed out to a place that I had already decided about during my initial lookout. There were quite a few bunch there .. group of friends … couples … chatting up while enjoying breakfast and the beach-view. The food anywhere at the beach is pretty pricey but the sea makes up for it ! Options include Indian, Continental, Italian, Thai etc … so there’s no dearth of it here ( nobody claims authenticity though ! ). I decided to get along safe at least initially, and did away with light Indian options that I knew about. My first meal reminded me that I had come here for a relaxed holiday, and to do quite some bit of reading; which is a luxury accorded during my busy city life.

After my breakfast, followed by some cleaning up and a short nap, I started feeling thirsty for my first beer on the beach. The very thought of it was just so relaxing …. looking at the sea and enjoying my drink, that was one more thing that I had come here for. So, without wasting any more of my precious vacation time, I headed off to another shack that I had liked for it’s location, and hence expansive view of the sea. This time, I had a travel book to keep me company. This English lady took off on an Indian road-trip in a Tata Nano car, and then wrote about it. Should be worth a read, especially when traveling on your own.

I ordered my first beer and sat down with my book, taking in occasional glances at the sea. I spent quite a bit of time there after which it was early evening already, and knowing how much this time is important for photography ( The golden hour ), I now decided to get my camera to work. Rest of the evening was spent taking in different views of the beach, until the sun went down.

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Sunset at Kudle

The time was right for another drink, and so I indulged myself yet again with food and wine that evening. A few conversations later with my mates at the dinner table ( a guy who planned to spend months here, and another who was to leave for Hampi a few days thereafter ) , my mood and the time was perfectly set-up for my sleep. I bid all of them good-bye, and planning to try out another eatery the next day, went off to my sleep. I also had my plans set already to visit other beaches of Gokarna the next day.

Apart from the main Gokarna beach, which is very close to the town and is not maintained well ( read littered, though I heard about some shacks there as well ), Gokarna has 4 more beaches popular for their serenity and calm waters. Only 2 of these are habitable ( kudle and the famous ‘om’ beach ), while the other 2 ( half-moon beach and paradise beach ) can either be trekked to, or you can hire a boat from Om or Kudle. They are pretty secluded and small beaches accentuated by rocks on both sides.

The beaches can be covered in the following order: Kudle → Om → Half-Moon → Paradise. The distance is not much and you can do the trek  in one day and get back to Kudle by sunset. Remember to avoid trekking after sunset as there’s no lighting along the path and vegetation at times becomes a bit thick, while direction arrows ( only between kudle and Om ) have worn off and are barely visible even during the day. It’s safe to do the trek alone, however. I started out that way !

Now about the trek route: Kudle to Om is a muddy/rocky track and one would need to be careful if it rains. The trek from Om to ‘half-moon’ beach is a easy one but you will need your GPS, coz there are no directions and there are at least 2 places where, according to my observation/experience, you could get lost and waste your time ! The trek further from half-moon to paradise is a bit of a risky stretch and not well traversed much except during the peak season, and I was told that you need to at times be careful with your legs and jump between the rocks.

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Kudle Beach – Next morning at the start of my trek

We began with a sunny day at Kudle and went past Om by noon. It did start to drizzle while I was at half-moon, so my group decided to abandon the ‘trek to paradise’ ( The trek path itself was not a well marked one since this was just the beginning of the season, we were told. ). We decided to take a boat instead to see the Paradise beach and head back to Om, then trek back to Kudle.

A part of our group was in water by now, enjoying their time while I was busy clicking them on my camera. We had music in the background too, thanks to their Bluetooth speakers ! Time went by and it was almost like we were stranded on some remote place, waiting to be rescued. A boat went past us but did not stop. We decided to wait and brave the drizzle for a bit longer. Going back on the trek path was a bit of a risky and tiring possibility by now, so there was nothing much we could do. Luck was on our side when the second boat came by and decided to pick us up, after a decent bargain off course ! I had been craving for a tryst with the sea anyway. The boat guy showed us the paradise beach and a light-house further ahead, after which we were on our way back to Om beach. It drizzled all along the half hr that we were in the sea, and it was an experience in itself. We were dropped off at Om and made our way back to kudle just in time for sunset. A lot of clicks ahead, I was ready for another light dinner ( drinks included ! ) and my sleep. What an exhausting but interesting day !

Copy - Copy - DSC_6482 - Copy                                                         Om-beach – now you see why the name is !

Wind, lightning and the sound of water on my roof in the middle of the night; all of them gave a very strong inkling that it was going to be a rainy day ahead. and so it was ! I was not sure if I would be able to carry off my assignment for that day, or whether I’d have to sit back in my room and stay put with my reading ( which was a pretty relaxing thought anyway ). After some time, however, the rain clouds cleared up a bit and although it was drizzling, I decided to go ahead with my little adventure,  which was to do a little bit of trekking in unknown terrain, and reach out to see the twin rocky beauties of Yaana !

Nobody knows how these huge limestone formations came to exist, but these revered beauties deep in the thick woods of the Sahayadri range should definitely be worth a watch. Guide books talk about other places like Sahasralinga ( a stream flowing among innumerable stone lingas ), and Haschalla falls which can be covered on a day trip to Yaana, so it’s early morning that you need to head out. There’s another reason for leaving early on your journey to Yaana, but that will be revealed later !

The day, however, had held out another adventure for me ( The beauty of unplanned trips ! ). This place, Yaana, is in interior western ghats and has to be reached through a place called Kumta, bus services to which are pretty frequent from gokarna. Kumta is about an hr from gokarna ( 30+ kms ), while yaana is a further 1/1.5 hrs from kumta ( The distance, I was told, is 25-30 kms again, but time taken is more, probably due to bad roads/ghat section ). Kumta is famous on it’s own for it’s beach as well as for sandalwood handicrafts.

My co-traveller for the day was Gaurav, a software guy from Bangalore ( Interestingly, most of the guys/groups that I had met during my stay in Gokarna had come from Bangalore ). I had met Gaurav while clicking some scenes of the beautiful beach waters on that very rainy day ( greenish grey waters and bluish grey skies, and a bright blue boat at the lower-left corner of the frame, imagine ! ). Yana was on his mind, as it was on mine, so we had an instant connection !

Now, we did get our connecting bus from Gokarna to Kumta without any delay, and the journey was pretty decent considering good views and the fact that it was drizzling all along .. A beautiful day to walk around with an umbrella in hand ! We reached Kumta in about an hr as expected. However, this was the part where the shocker lay. The next bus to Yaana was only after 3.5 hrs ! Now, this was quite some information for us, something that was not told by our guide books/shack guys. Off course, you can’t expect to read up every possible info before you embark on your journey !

Let me enlighten you, my reader, however !

There are only 3 govt buses from kumta to yana and vice-versa ( 7:30 am, 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm ). Timings remain same on both sides. There’s no private bus. Some taxis might take you there but will charge a bit hefty (We were asked to shell out 1,500/- for the kumta-yana round trip, with some waiting included for our trek and rock-view. We were pretty sure he would ask us for more before getting back from yana, citing delays here and there. We refused one taxi and tried waiting for another. However, none came by and so, I guess getting taxis at kumta is a bit of a rarity in itself. ) By now, we realized that the yana trip may not get going, and this is where our little adventure begins !

We had a relaxed lunch while pondering over our options ( Back to Gokarna by bus or by train and see the town, which we hadn’t so far. Or, go visit Kumta beach and then head back ). We decided to look out for the train first ( anticipating beautiful green views en-route ). The train station was a short and picturesque distance away ( a short and sweet walk in itself, considering our umbrella and the drizzle outside ). It was something that we had not experienced in our busy city life, so we decided to walk and talk ! We reached kumta station ( as I said, a small station in a picturesque setting ) but were told that the train to Gokarna is a good 2 hrs ahead. We dropped that plan and stepped out. We were in mood for some exploration and ventured out to what looked like an abandoned warehouse/factory building a little distance further down from the station. It was a secluded place, with an occasional cow and some storks to keep us company. We milled about in the area, taking turns to guess what this building could have been ( an unfinished factory, or a torn-apart warehouse etc. ). Just stood there for some time and took in the breeze and a bit of rain, then walked back out towards the station and then towards the town.

We now decided to explore the Kumta beach before heading back to Gokarna, thinking it would be an hr or two trip and we would get back in Gokarna before sun-down to explore some of it’s markets. We were to be proved wrong !

Kumta beach is not exactly in town but a little off it, so we had to take another bus from Kumta bus station ( not a problem, this bus is a pretty frequent one ). After a half hr drive through what looked like a pretty serene and green kumta town, we arrived at a village ( I am still not sure about how to pronounce it’s name, so better leave it ! ) and actually a beach at the very head of it ( not kumta beach ). We were dropped off by the bus at this beach, the conductor telling us to walk towards one end of it, cross the cliff ahead and there would lie a very big beach in front of us ( the kumta beach that we had come looking for ). The cliff idea sounded interesting and a bit dangerous, but this was the most exciting part of our trip … TRUST ME !!

We strolled along the small beach noticing the very colorful boats parked on it, reading out their names for fun ! At the ‘cliff’ end of the beach, we encountered a dock being constructed. We were directed to keep our movements in the same direction in order to encounter the main beach. We did so, and came upon a curved path traversing down, and carved out at the foot of higher rocks. At the left was a small path going up the rocks, so we decided to traverse it to get a better view of the place. And what a view ! Can’t be described in words but I will try none-the-less. Once on top of the rocks, we could witness the never ending expanse of water ahead of us, all the way to the horizon and looking very calm, with boats here and there to break it’s monotony. The view to our left and right consisted of orange/red colored rocks ( I guess volcanic ) forming a very beautiful cliff. You just have to see the sight to enjoy the beauty, but I’ll post a pic here to help your imagination.

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View from the cliff-top at Kumta. Mobile clicks from hereon !

A very peaceful place, slight drizzle and light wind made way for a very calm and serene experience, so we sat there for a while, enjoying every moment and just soaking in it. Off course we couldn’t see anything beyond the cliff on the right, and that was the direction we had to head in, so we got off the rocks and came down to the path marked out for us. We walked on at a leisurely place, chatting and enjoying the greenery around.

Once again, we came round a bend, and after traversing, found the beautiful view on our left ( a very vast sandy expanse, the kumta beach, guess it’s a couple of kms long for sure ), and once again higher ground to our right ( there was a well-marked path going up it ). We ascended it and lo behold, another beautiful view in front of us. A decrepit building at the very top with a huge tree to keep it company, it made up as a perfect setting for shooting a horror flick. And once again, vast expanse of the water and a rocky outcrop that looked like a stage set in front of us, out into the sea. We traversed down the rock, only to find it very slippery after a certain descent ( yes we did slip for a bit ), so we decided to drop guard and just sit there for the sunset. Imagine the view when golden light from the setting sun falls on a portion of the sea and illuminates the boats therein. Once again, it’s a view worth going all the way for, but what we were looking forward to now was the sunset. We hadn’t managed to enjoy any sunset at Gokarna because of the clouds, and so it was to be the case here as well.

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View all the way to the horizon– Kumta beach is on the other side, and some distance downhill

After waiting well past the sunset time, we decided to head back to our bus stop. We were not even sure about the timing of the last bus to kumta, so it was a bit of a nervous walk. No problems however, and we managed to reach kumta well in time to catch our bus to Gokarna. There was no time left to wander around Gokarna that day, so we kept that task for the next !

It was dark by the time we managed to reach kudle, but we had a great day indeed ! We clicked quite a few pictures of the cliff and the rocks at kumta beach, and I did miss my DSLR, but nevertheless, it was fun ! We parted ways for the night, deciding to meet the next day. I had my drink and went off to a not-so-sound sleep on account of my paining toe ( too much walk and that slip perhaps ! ) , but managed to hang on during the night.

The pain had reduced by the time morning cam by. It was a rainy day again, but after a while, rain clouds gave way to the sun. Today was my day to soak myself up in my faith ( that’s right, visit the temples ), and then stroll around the streets of Gokarna. I had to drop my DSLR once again to avoid being disallowed inside the temples ( just in case ), and also because you never know when clouds would gather around once again.

After breakfast, I packed myself up once again and walked all the way to the town from the beach ( auto-rickshaws made no sense, and the walk was hardly a few kilometers ). I clicked up a few pics of the gokarna beach and the landscape around during that walk, and arrived into the main mahabaleshwar temple just in time as the gates were about to open. Lord Shiva is the main deity here in Gokarna, and the place teems with devotees during ShivRatri ( march-april ). Apart from the main temple, the other two well known temples here are the Ganesha temple ( just next door from the mahabaleshwar temple ), and the VenkatRaman temple ( you will have to ask for it. It’s a short walk. ). One can also see a big water tank presumably in the center of the town, and surrounded by old houses on all sides. It’s another short walk, and is called Koti Teertha ( meaning, literally, a thousand springs. This tank is supposed to be fed from such springs. ). It’s huge but not maintained well. I did not see a single devotee taking a dip in it ( not sure about the water quality), and I decided to leave after a few clicks.

Copy - 20141026_134226                                                                            The Koti Teertha

It was then that I started walking through the main street, trying to catch the scene around. I must say that the town still retains it’s charm of the old days. Narrow roads ( not crowded though ), Houses huddled together ( architecture of the bygone days, a pretty site indeed ), and lot of shops on both sides of the road, ranging from small hotels/lodges, on to shops selling brass earthenware, shiva t-shirts for men, and beautiful skirts for women ( pretty cool designs, lots of variety ). The cloth shops, in particular, are popular with the foreign tourists I’m sure, and off course it’s not possible to find this stuff in our cities. All in all, good shopping options ( use and throw variety, not sure if it’s cheap though ! ) for the tourists, and to spend some time clicking up the beautiful street photographs ( I was missing my camera now ).

I reached the end of the winding narrow path, only to reach the Gokarna beach. Nothing much to say about this beach, yes it was a bit crowded and dirty from all the traffic coming in. It’s a big beach and you can walk off the dirty section on to cleaner pastures, and I had heard there are some shacks in that part of the beach. This beach, not being a very popular one ( and the fact that I was now feeling hungry ), I decided against more exploration and walked back to a restaurant just at the exit. Lunch over, I walked back to my abode at the kudle beach once again, but not before exploring the kudle beach head. A slight accent towards the right side from the auto-stand at kudle, I came across another great view of the rocky cliff and waters below ( It’s a pretty good sight and don’t miss it while you are at kudle ). I was on top of the cliff this time, and I dared not peer down from the top, but I did guess that you can move left from there and parallel to the cliff-top, you will come across a great view of the kudle beach from top. There was no marked path that I could take, so I decided to take in another view of kudle from one of the resorts near the auto-stand ( I was told earlier that there’s great view from there as well. Kudle beach ahead and below, a sight worth watching again ). I had some time in hand and decided not to miss it. Made some pretext to enter the resort environs and enjoyed my view ( clicked a pic yes ! ).

Copy - 20141026_145906                          View below from top of the Kudle cliff – Can you see those dots ( boats ) in the distance ?

By now, it was late afternoon and it was time to head back to the beach. I had made my plans to end the trip leisurely, and I had enough time for that. I got back to my room and packed up my bags for the reluctant journey back to Bangalore. Excited to enjoy my last few moments, I picked up my favorite read and headed towards my favorite shack. The sun was a bit high-up over the horizon and there still was time for it to set. I was in no hurry either ! Relaxed, I ordered some beer to relax more 🙂 … and dug in to my book ! Occasional reads, sips from my bottle, and a glance on the sun above at regular intervals, that’s how I spent my time. A few guys from another group I had met another day joined in to end their trip as well. We had some good chat about how we spent our time at Gokarna … the places that we went to .. the town and it’s experiences etc … The party lasted for more than an hour for me !

I now wandered around on the beach for sometime, and the general absence of people was now getting palpable. The shacks had less people, and there were even lesser no. of people on the beach. A sudden realization that our holiday was now over, and so it was for others, brought in a short sad feeling to burden my heart with. I was just letting the time pass by, eager to see if I could manage to see the perfect sunset that I had dreamed of.

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Kudle Beach – The final evening !

It was not to be, once again for the clouds and partly also because it was time to leave. 4 days of bliss had come to an end as I took off with my bags, biding a sad adieu to my home for those last few days. I bid good-bye to the shack guys and to my room supervisor after a short chat. This is just the start of season in Gokarna and I was told that more tourists would start pouring in by mid-November. I told them that perhaps I’ll join in for the new years, but off course one has to be clear that strict policing does not allow any parties here. Just a few bonfires and sorts. It should still be a very nice setting I’m sure.

And so, there I was now in another bus now, on my way back to Bangalore. This time it was a A/C seater. It wound it’s way back through Sirsi and the western ghats. The view would have been much better had it been day, but the greenery on either side of the road did give wings to my imagination as to what it could be. I enjoyed the journey till the point after which I wanted to sleep, but once again it was not a sound one. I had to drag myself to office the next day, and from thereon it’s been the usual !

I could never have been more convincing than after this trip, when I say that there may only be few experiences which will calm your senses as the sight of sun setting below the sea, amid sounds of it’s waves. I had read and heard about it before, but this trip enabled me to experience it in a way that now I can be more than sure when talking about the same. That was my take-away from this trip, apart from all the beautiful pictures that I clicked, and the wonderful memories that I now cherish in my mind.

What’s your take-away from this article 🙂 ? Please let me know !

For a better view of the above pictures, and some others: https://www.facebook.com/raj.abhishek/media_set?set=a.10152866214849761.1073741835.667394760&type=3

Short and sweet, all the needed info: http://www.tripoto.com/trip/beach-bum-in-gokarna-8659

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10 thoughts on “My tryst with Gokarna

  1. Awesome :). I’m heading there next month. May I know if the bus conductors know Hindi? I’d like to travel around Gokarna using public transport but I’m not sure if that’s the best thing to do since I don’t know the local language.

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    1. Hello Amey … Even I don’t know the local language … English should do u good …. a little bit of hindi as well but don’t depend on just that … I did quite a few conversations with the locals … and took the bus one day too … was not a problem with english ….

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      1. Hi there….thank you so much. 🙂 Few more questions. Do you know if there are buses from Gokarna to Murudeshwar? And how much do they charge for beachside shacks?

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      2. I don’t know about those buses but there should be, since Murudeshwar is an important place as well. and about beach-side shacks in Gokarna, you can start from 300/- ( shared toilet and very basic accomodation ), and go up to 1500/- on kudle ( hotel gokarna international ) .. I stayed in a mid-range room for 600/- … no clean sheets but it was ok just to sleep about … On Om, namaste cafe is a nice place .. have a good one !

        This time should be cheaper as it is out of season now ….

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