I have visited many cities over a decade. This is a story of my experience in Gratuitous Gokarna. It’s a town located on the western coast of Karnataka. It’s a relatively unimportant place which is supported by a lack of trains stopping at its railway station. The station in itself is more than 12 kms away from the town centre and the bus stop. To locate Gokarna on the Indian map, just find Goa first. Then less than 100 kms south of it lies Gokarna.
Gokarna apparently loosely translates to cow’s ears. I did see a lot of cows in the town and the beaches. Before I knew about the importance of cows here, I had mistaken the cow hoof prints on the beach for a horse. One will hear about Gokarna as a very famous spot for hippies. Especially well known with the Europeans and Russians who flock to Indian beaches during their winter season. An ancient Shiva temple is the primary reason Gokarna is well known. Some stories suggest this temple exists because of Ravana, some say its been around for 2000 years. The actual town is around this temple with the local bus stand close by. Buses from Bangalore, Ankola and Honnavar arrive here. Unlike buses from Mangaluru or Goa which may drop you off on the highway itself, 15 kms away. And then getting to the city or beaches is a pain. Since I try to maximize public transport use, I waited for a local bus to take me to the city centre at a fraction of the cost of autos and taxis.
Gokarna can actually be described as mini Goa. If at all that’s the only comparison possible. In terms of booze, nightclubs and parties it lacks the charm of Goa. I think the reason for that is expensive alcohol due to state taxes by the Karnataka govt. A beer here costs Rupees 280, whereas only 100 in Goa. So, instead of binge drinking Gokarna is more attractive for indulging in psychoactive drugs. The geography for Gokarna also limits drinking and other related activities. Since most of its beaches are accessible by trekking only. The lack of convenient taxis and long walks disincentivize drunkards and women in high heels. And due to the remote nature of beaches it’s easy to find secluded and silent spots for your acid and weed needs. I didn’t find any Gokarna cuisine and not once did I eat idli sambhar and dosa for the entire trip.
Gokarna is a small town with its own hindu history lacking the significant Christian history of Goa. The shopping market isn’t great, the club scenes are not as lit and connectivity leaves a lot to be desired. Hence, due to the lack of typical tourism, I had a wonderful stay at Kudle beach for 5 days in February 2021. The beach is south of the Gokarna main beach and is the second longest beach here. Though the most famous beach is Om beach. Due to its curved shore line resembling a 3, hence om. But I noticed that Om beach lacked hotels and restaurants which were abundant on Kudle beach. This beach is approximately 500 metres long. Flanked on both the sides by hills and cliffs extending 100 meters into the sea. On the eastern side a hill range isolates this plan area and is ideal for an extended stay. To reach here one has to park their 2 wheeler or 4 wheeler on any of the two hills. Then a 10 mins walk down the steps will take you directly to the beach. The shore is very shallow and gradually descends into a greater depth. So, it’s very safe to swim, kayak or just explore the water for newbies. There is a water sports agency on the beach for all your jet ski, motor boating and Banana boat rides. There must be around 20–25 options on this beach for accommodation and food. A small store with beach wear, sun glasses and other knick knacks is quite lonely. Since there is a lack of road accessibility all cargo is carried by porters. That’s why there isn’t a general store nearby. The closest one is a 15 min walk followed by a 10 min auto ride away. You can find bottled water, cigarettes, alcohol and other necessities at a premium. Well isn’t that usually the case at all tourist spots. Localities, mafia and police gotta make their cut from us.
This trip was my first post covid hangout. We had all forgotten about sanitization, masks and social distancing. We stayed at a hotel called Little Paradise inn. I didn’t do any research as such, because the plan was very spontaneous. Rahul had already arrived there one day earlier. There were 15 cottages built out of plywood for walls and Mangalore tiles for the roof. They were large enough for a double bed, a wash basin, an attached toilet and a small raised verandah with a wooden fence. Arranged in a U shape, the cafe and reception formed the rest of the rectangular property. Managed by immigrants from Jammu and kashmir, this property was among the best on that stretch of the beach. The proprietor and staff were very friendly, Deep and Monty. Deep had been around for 10 years, scoring 200 flings. Apparently, a cottage here goes for five thousand a night around New Years. Off season rates were just seven hundred a night. His mannerism reminded us of another tall Haryanvi friend, but a trance version. The food was great with a large menu, enough to satisfy your taste buds for 3 meals a day for a month. Since the beach was only 50 ft away from here, we heard the waves all day long. It was more expensive compared to other cafes around, but we were sold on the upper deck sitting area. It was an amazing place to chill all day with decent music and good views of the beach. It was also windy up there and it became our spot for ganja, hash oil, bhang lassi, daaru, acid and smoking. I’m not admitting that I indulged in any of these. Apart from the usual hedonistic ways to pass time, we genuinely enjoyed activities on the beach. From playing frisbee, morning runs, kayaking and to swim into deeper waters.
My favourite part of the trip was swimming in the ocean. On the second day of our stay I convinced my friends to stray into the water until our knees were submerged. They reluctantly got into the water. Their fear gradually dissipated and ventured deeper with me. Out of the 3 of us only I knew swimming. Moreover, I was more experienced with beaches and sea water. I assessed this beach to be truly safe. I noticed that there were enough people around us that went farther into the water safely. As I went deeper the water reached my waist level. Around this spot I observed I was now on the other side of the wave crests. I was gently swayed around by swells of water as they transformed into waves seconds later. Some were small and once every few minutes a larger wave would push us towards the shore with much force. The feeling of floating around in the sea without the impact of waves and bubbles was very refreshing. It’s like floating in a giant swimming pool with amazing views of the green hills and a setting sun over the horizon. But unlike any swimming pool, the motion of the wave is inimitable. I reached a place where my head barely stayed above the water level. I noticed a huge wave building up. The swell was travelling fast and was 2 or 3 feet higher. I faced the incoming swell and let myself free. In response my body rose and fell with the swell as it traversed horizontally past me. I might have been pushed back by a few feet along with it. This was exhilarating and felt similar to riding in an amusement park. Lately nothing has been able to excite me or pique my interest. To discover this natural movement of sea water and experience the fun aspect of it was very satisfying. I repeated this every evening until I left Gokarna.
Gokarna is supposed to be filled with foreigners staying for long durations.
Someone who eschews Mainstream American Life is called a hippie and I used to envy them. But since I have been freelancing I have grown independent enough for such a lifestyle myself. The beaches are supposed to be crowded with tourists in the months after Monsoon until March. And as you may imagine, there were hardly any travellers around due to covid fear. While the winter temperatures peak at 25 degrees, in Feb the peak temperature crosses 30 degrees celsius routinely. Apart from hot, humid and still afternoons the weather was still pleasant. It was constantly windy outside these hours. Some gusts of wind during this time were welcome as we lounged on the deck without fans. We didn’t apply sunscreen and wore sunglasses all day long. I wish I had a cap. It’s only normal for someone to wear a Rachel type hat from the friends episode. We wore shorts, light airy t-shirts and sunglasses. I tried to read, write and shared stories with strangers. I met enough interesting people and enjoyed observing groups of college kids, mostly from colleges from Bangalore. I made the acquaintance of a tall bespectacled director’s assistant from Navi Mumbai. He played carrom with us & then shared a few self authored poems. North Indians will definitely visit Goa more than once in their life. Whereas only enthusiastic people come to Gokarna.
On one of the mornings I woke up, meditated and then had a wonderful breakfast with honey ginger lemon tea. I decided to go on a trek to the other beaches. Though I didn’t need to go anywhere else, I felt a fear of missing out. Alone, with my phone for listening to audiobooks and navigation I set out at 12pm. I walked south to reach Om beach first in 25 mins. I didn’t stop and continued to walk along the shoreline and traced the 3 shape. This area was more rocky at places. It also had an active ferry taxi service. For people who wanted to avoid treks and autos, this ferry was a good way to cover a lot of ground quickly. The ferry would cover all the beaches in less than half a day. It would briefly halt at the various beaches giving junta enough time to instagram life. My close friends can go without checking their phones for hours, but don’t accompany me on walks. I enjoyed this loneliness and actively sought out solitude. Back at Kudle, Rahul tripped with Vivek on the upper deck who had arrived just this morning.
The 3 of us share freelancing as a profession and cherish the freedom.
One the other side of Om Beach, midway through the next ascent I halted for a water break. I admitted to myself what a horrible time it was to trek, it was quarter to 1. I had a choice between continuing to half moon beach and returning back to the hotel. Ofcourse, I continued and discovered a wonderful path along the edge of a hill. The drop was more than 100ft below on the right. A shallow blue rocky bottom. I reached half moon beach when the path descended through the jungle to arrive at sea level. In between there were chasms of rock where the waves eroded black basaltic rockbed. These large jagged and abrupt rocks are omnipresent throughout the coastline. Fishing boats have to be careful enough in high tide time to remember the location of these sneaky rocks. Fortunately, recently a lot of these tiny rock islands have been identified with bright beacons of light. The shores are a bit safer for fishermen and tourists alike. Although I did notice a severe lack of police patrol and Karnataka State Tourism influence. Infact, even the turn from the highway which leads into the town is unmarked. Except for a few faded public service warnings regarding plastic waste, this town feels off the grid. Like a forgotten town with great untapped potential.
On half moon beach I found a couple of guys we met 2 days ago at Kudle. They were camping here last night and would proceed back to their hometown in Chikmagalur later that day. Interestingly, these 2 guys spent 1 night each on 5 different beaches in their tent. I was amazed at their determination and thrill seeking attitude. This beach had only 3 cafes with no patrons when I crossed. It felt deserted and peaceful. The sky was cloudless, the atmosphere humid, so I decided to go shirtless for the last leg of the trip to Paradise beach. This stretch seemed to be the longest to travel. I felt it wasn’t worth the effort at that time of the day. This beach had one campsite with 10 tents & 2 lonely hawkers sold watermelon, coconut water and pineapples for 100Rs each. I took a 30 minute break and started walking back to Kudle. It took me 90 minutes and I felt glad when Google Fit told me I did 13000 steps so far today.
During the whole trip 2 thoughts disturbed my peace multiple times.
I observed so many couples around me in the hotel and the beach which triggered melancholic thoughts. Secondly, I was quite tolerant of any substance I tried. Basically I was in my senses all the time. Motivated to feel something, I drank 2 beers back to back on the penultimate day of my trip. Tuborg or Budweiser don’t do anything for me, so I had Kingfisher Strong. One more component was necessary to get me intoxicated. It was Rahul’s special rolled cigarettes, which used Virginia tobacco and his secret ingredient; oil. Finally I was hopped-up and felt loose enough to enjoy the night. Around midnight one of us suggested walking on the beach. It was unbelievably liberating to be able to walk with a bottle of beer in my hand along the beach. Someone carried a small bluetooth speaker and I heard new music after ages. It was good and pumped me up with even more energy. We climbed for 15 minutes and found a spot called Hill Top view. Sitting here on the edge of a cliff I saw yellow sandy beaches on either side, almost ghostly. A vast black expanse in front of me and a dark starry night all around. Here I was overcome with immense gratitude for time and space. This location is not unique, hundreds of people have come here before me. But for a few fleeting moments, I knew this beauty belonged only to us. I also buried any thoughts of disappearing temporarily. From depths within me I don’t remember, I know we might still find a way to be together.