Famous. Famous for its beaches. Famous for its holy sites. Famous of its international travellers.
Gokarna, seems to be one of those places where everybody-who-has-heard-of-it wants to visit; and everybody who has visited it, wants to go again. For us it had been on the cards for a while. One time, a trip had been planned and we were all set to go but a couple of things cropped up on the home front and we had to cancel it. A month later, thankfully it worked. And from ‘want to visit,’ it became a ‘have to visit again’ destination.
For us, Gokarna was that first stop along the Karnataka Coast; it was that place where we got beach-dirty after what seemed like a long, long time. Then we would go beach hopping and have our fill for the time being.
|The bustling Gokarna town|
Gokarna: Seemingly crowded; yet very charming
We spent our first morning there driving through the town and visiting the Main Beach. These parts of Gokarna were crowded. It screamed tourism. Leisure tourism and religious tourism are really big here; bigger than I had imagined it to be. And there were tourists from abroad and home, making it a very interesting mix of people, and giving Gokarna a character of its own.
Despite the crowds, Gokarna has a charisma of its own. The heart of the town wears the look of another age with its antiquated buildings and narrow streets. Its famous Car Street’s lined with small shops crammed with flowers and lamps and clothes with ‘Om’ printed on it. There were shops selling idols and framed pictures of all the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. There were shops selling colourful ‘holy’ threads to be tied on wrists and necks and japamalas (prayer beads strung together to keep track of chants, like rosaries). And then there were toys and bags and colourful attires and all kinds of souvenirs you can think of.
|Scenes from Car Street|
Gokarna – the beach-town
The Main Beach was equally swarmed with Gokarna’s people; people of different shades of skin, all come to see and experience the this alluring town.
Spiritual, cultural or leisure, whatever is one’s reason for visiting Gokarna, a walk or ride or drive to the beach is quite irresistible. On the warm winter day that we were there, it looked like even the bovine populace were out to bask and enjoy the sun and sand.
|Main Beach, Gokarna|
For us the weather was too hot and not exactly beach-weather. So we decided to spend the mid day hours driving around. As we drove out of the hot-and-happening areas, we saw the sights typical of the Indian west coast: houses crowned with sloping terracotta roofs; just right for the heat and those famous SW Monsoons that hit these parts, coconut trees and small restaurants selling ‘fish-meals.’
Then we drove toward a part that was pretty much deserted as we headed to Om Beach. We saw Kudle Beach on the way there.
Later that day we decided to hit the celebrated Om Beach. You’ve probably heard of it. For those of you who haven’t, this beach is called Om because the beach is naturally shaped to an almost perfect ‘Om.’ This beach, everybody will tell you is a must-visit. Apart from the natural shape, this beach is known for it’s western crowds, its enchanting atmosphere, gorgeous sunsets and the renowned Namaste Cafe.
We spent the evening watching the boats come in and some leave on late-evening sails. And then there was the sun who was all set to call it a day. So we hung out there long enough to see the sun set over the Shiva Rocks and then went to grab a bite (and a beer for hubby) at Namaste Cafe.
By the time we decided to call it a day, the night had settled in and the beach was deserted. Although the cafe was still open and still buzzing with activity, it looked like those who had to leave the area had already left. As we walked back to the parking area which was up the hill, there was an eerie stillness as we went up that unlit path, and we wondered if it was too late an hour to be walking that way with a five year old and a baby. That evening we hadn’t driven to the beach. Our resort’s vehicle had dropped us there and the plan was to hire an auto-rickshaw back. After a rik-ride through a good 4-5 kilometres of an isolated stretch, we were back at our accommodation and impressed with the rickshaw driver who hadn’t asked for a rupee more than what was the fixed fare back into town, even though it was an odd hour. Now if you are a Bangalorean (or Bengalurean, as we officially are now) you know that is something to be impressed by. So the good man was very handsomely tipped.
The following day we would drive up north to Karwar and the morning after that we had planned to walk down to Kudle beach; which unfortunately did not happen. To see Kudle Beach, to chill out at Namaste Cafe, to check out the other beaches that called for a trek and to record my second impressions of Gokarna, I must head that way again.
|Sunset from Om Beach.|