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marianne Gokarna - A travel report by Marianne
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Gokarna,  India - flag India
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marianne's travel reports

Gokarna: Town of Contrasts

  17 votes
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If you think Gokarna is undiscovered you are mistaken. I googled Gokarna: 122.000 hits. Most were travelogues and blogs by westerns who lazed away sunny days in hammocks strung between softly rustling palm trees enjoying mind enhancing substances

The beaches are magic
The beaches are magic
The most remarkable was a blog of an Indian young man from Chennai who remarked that the clothes worn by the British, Israelis, Belgians and other nationalities were so skimpy that they hardly covered their bodies. He looked meaningful at his friends and said: that's the magic of beaches in Gokarna.

Indeed, the beaches are magic, but a different magic in my case: a long stretch of hard sand that begs to be walked from one end to the other. I found the town itself utterly charming, chaotic and truly Indian, although the souvenir shops and ambling backpackers spoilt it a bit.

Travellers start coming in October, right after the monsoon. Accommodation on the beaches is difficult to find in the high season: December and January, but the town hotels have enough rooms albeit at a far higher price than the beach shacks. These hotels have en-suite facilities and TV but only cold water.

Bus booking agents are in Car Street. They have a daily sleeper bus service to Hampi and Bangalore and also to Mysore via Udupi. Every day a direct bus travels from Margao in Goa via Karwar to Gokarna, a four-hour journey.

Gokarna railway station is nine kilometres inland and served by hourly buses. Goa and Kerala trains stop more frequently at Ankola or Gumta stations, both on bus routes from Gokarna.

Internet access is at Shema Internet in Car Street and Mahalaxmi Cyber Café next to Mahalaxmi Restaurant. Both charge 40 Rp (€ 0.80) per hour.

You won't find any ATMs, but you can change cash at Pai STD shop opposite the bus station.

Favourite spots:
 The day I was there the beach was deserted
The day I was there the beach was deserted
Kudle Beach huddles between two hills, a 30-minute walk to the south of Gokarna centre and the first of four beaches. It is a wide curve of dust-soft sand fringed by beach shacks, cafés and hundreds of palm trees and free of sun beds, umbrellas and hawkers. Until noon the palm trees give enough shade, but in the afternoon the beach is sun-drenched

The westernised menus of the shacks reminded me that we were well and truly on the backpackers trail. So far I had not seen banana or Nutella pancakes and burgers on the menu, not even in Goa.

The day I was there the beach was deserted, apart from a few wandering cows. The shacks were the favourite hang-out of stoned youngsters, who were reading silently, sat staring at the deep aquamarine ocean or had a late-afternoon breakfast. Time was of no importance.

I liked the atmosphere as it was so peaceful and relaxed. No one went swimming partly because the sea is treacherous and partly because it was too much of an effort.

What's really great:
It takes fifteen minutes to walk to the far end of the crescent
It takes fifteen minutes to walk to the far end of the crescent
The trail to Om Beach starts up the steps that begin at the end of Kudle beach. Follow the white arrow painted on black rocks. It is a 30-min walk. When you see the new 5* Om Beach Hotel you are there and you also realise that Om Beach has been discovered.

Om beach is made up of two semi-circular beaches lined with shacks and palm trees. It takes fifteen minutes to walk to the far end of this crescent of white powdery sand softly stroked by water so turquoise that it looks unreal.

This southern tip is the only place where you can sit and share the shade with hermit crabs and study the cuneiform patterns that the crows made with their feet.

Swimming is only for the experienced as the water is deep and even more treacherous than at Kudle.

There are two more beaches, Half-moon a further 30-min walk and Paradise another 20 minutes. We gave them a miss. After all sand is sand and the ocean would not be a brighter blue.

During important festivals the gigantic wooden cart is drawn by hand along the main street.
During important festivals the gigantic wooden cart is drawn by hand along the main street.
Gokarna is one of the most important pilgrim towns in South India.

Car Street
is the centre of the town, one temple at each end. Sri Mahabaleshwar, Ganapati and Sri Mahanganpati temples on the west side and Venkatamara Temple on the east side, in between the chariot. During important festivals this gigantic wooden cart is drawn by hand along the main street.

Although the temples are out of bounds for non-Hindus, it is possible to be absolved of a hundred sins because a mere glimpse of Mahabaleshwar Temple will do the trick. So I had a good look inside when I passed the temple.

Everywhere there are signs of religion from bathing pilgrims in the large temple tank to shaved-head men in white robes shopping for souvenirs in Car Street. There is something to suit everyone's taste: devotional items for the pilgrims and cheap clothes, trinkets and CD's for the tourists.

A group of girls under the balcony of our room
A group of girls under the balcony of our room
We stayed in Hotel Gokarna International at Rs 450 (€ 9), the most expensive hotel in town. When we walked up to our room, there was a coming and going of staff carrying televisions. Soon we discovered why. Only few televisions actually worked. When guests found out, a television was swapped with the television of another room, and all guest had a working or non-working television at some time.

Our room was quite big, with a fan, a balcony and the sun shining into the room most of the day. When we cam eback in the evening it felt like an oven. Still I prefer this to mosquitoes.

Nimmu Guesthouse, opposite the town beach, was our second choice, but I am happy we did not go there as a fellow-traveller warned us that there were lots of mosquitoes. This did not surprise me at all as a stagnant pool in front of the guesthouse was a good breeding place for them.

beached fisherboats on the town's beach
beached fisherboats on the town's beach
No nightlife other than watching the stars on the beach and rave parties (no personal experience)

But instead just an observation:

We were certainly the odd ones out as the crowd consisted mainly of stoned, gap-year Israelis and some other nationalities. The result was that afternoon on the beach was a very quiet, subdued affair, no loud voices, hardly any sound at all only lounging younsters. We did not stay for the full moon party, we would not have liked it. But we did like the beaches because of their beauty and the easy-going and peaceful nature of the backpackers.

Gokarna is officially dry, but the beach shacks serve alcohol
Gokarna is officially dry, but the beach shacks serve alcohol

Gokarna is officially dry but you can find alcohol at Hotel Gokarna International. Beer is also available at the beaches, and so is special lassi. Lassi is a refreshing yoghurt drink either sweet or salt. Special lassi is laced with mind enhancing substances.

devotional items for the pilgrims and cheap clothes, trinkets and CD's for the tourists
devotional items for the pilgrims and cheap clothes, trinkets and CD's for the tourists
Apart from special lassi, the beach shacks have western menus. All shack serve the backpackers' favourite: banana pancakes. This delicacy features prominently on all menus from India to Vietnam and is a sure sign that the place has been discovered by the backpacking crowd.

Beside the pancakes the shacks have lots of Israeli dishes because about half the backpackers are from Israel.

In town there is a good choice of veg and non-veg restaurants. Our favourite is (vegetarian) Pai Restaurant in Main Street. They serve filling 'meals'. A round steel plate is put in front of you. On it are small dishes with sambar (curried vegetable), dhal (lentils) and curd (yoghurt).

The waiter comes round with a large pot of rice and will heap a mound on to your plate. You mix all ingredient s roll them into small balls and scoop it into your mouth. If you fear that food will soon cover your arms as far as your elbows, ask for a spoon.

Other recommendations:
Car Street, where it all happens
Car Street, where it all happens
If you want to experience ten thousands of pilgrims coming together and see the huge temple chariot being wheeled through Car Street you should visit during one of the religious festivals.

Diwali at the end of October is the Hindi equivalent to Christmas.

Maha Shivaratri is in February or March and is celebrated at night. A fast along with prayers to Lord Shiva begins at sunset and ends with at sunrise the next day, with a feast to break the fast.

Published on Monday March 13th, 2006

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Fri, Feb 23 2007 - 12:53 PM rating by travler

Super report and wonderful pictures.

Tue, Mar 14 2006 - 11:15 AM rating by akhila

Very interesting report! You might already know this, but I just wanted to share some history about GoKarna. The Name "GoKarna" - means "cow's ears" - comes from the confluence of 2 rivers (names I forget) - shaped in the form of a Cow's ear.
Another interesting note about the Mahabaleshwar temple- it was destroyed by the Portugese in early 18th century and was later rebuilt in the same century.
CarStreet - is named after the "Car"- temple chariot, is very common in southern India, typical of the temple architecture during that period.

Tue, Mar 14 2006 - 09:50 AM rating by eirekay

Marvelous report! I can envision lulling on the beach for hours!

Mon, Mar 13 2006 - 11:50 PM rating by ravinderkumarsi

wonderful report

Mon, Mar 13 2006 - 06:46 PM rating by rangutan

Brillant report, the way you discribe things, you don't need pictures but they compliment the report even more. Bold should only be used very sparingly, why bold "ATM" or "beaches are magic" or other unnesesary used? It only disturbs! bold is similar to writing in CAPITAL LETTERS WHICH SEEMS LIKE SHOUTING? I hope only trained members use it correctly in the future! Sorry Marianne: text 5*, pictures 5*, layout only 3* = 4*

Mon, Mar 13 2006 - 03:18 PM rating by isaacmolina

Thanks for you lovely reports, Marianne!
You have introduced a new system to write them with an empty line, and thus are easier to read. Of course, 5 stars!

Mon, Mar 13 2006 - 01:24 PM rating by davidx

I have to be cautious with your reports and remember that the places are too hot for me - this one makes me wish I could take the heat and see the things you have described and photographed.

Mon, Mar 13 2006 - 10:42 AM rating by gloriajames

hiya marianne,
Brilliant and magical! Another wonderful report.
So which type of lassi did u try? i like sweet lassi and mango lassi.

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