A Three-Day Trip to Gokarna: Things you Shouldn't Miss Out
January 1, 1970
by Sanjana Yadav
This May, I visited the small beach town of Gokarna in Karnataka (India) with a friend from California. We did not read about the place, or the things that we could do there, before going. Bad decision. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was the off-season as most of the tourists go there during November-February, and because of this a lot of the places were closed (such as the Chez Christophe, run by a Frenchman, which has live music and some good French food). It doesn’t make sense for them to stay open as they mainly depend on people from outside as locals never visit the touristy places, and the number of visitors during the off-season is very less. but I feel that Gokarna has a charm of its own when it’s not bustling with tourists. To save yourself from any disappointments, go on ahead and read this before you visit.
Day 1: Deciding where to stay and eat
Getting to Gokarna
We took a train from Mumbai to Gokarna Road Railway Station. You can also take a train to the Ankola Station which is a bit further away, but is much more well-connected. Alternatively, you can take a flight to Goa, and then a bus to Gokarna. Buses run between Gokarna and several nearby cities such as Mudgaon and Bengaluru or even Delhi. Our train arrived at 4 am and we were greeted with cyclonic rain and a deserted station. there were a few auto rickshaws outside and we were surprised when none of them insisted on letting them take us to the hotel (although, we soon realised that was only because they knew that they were our only option for transportation). We paid 350 rupees for a 14 km ride to our resort. It seemed a bit steep to me, but the resort owner told us that this is the normal tariff charged from the railway station.
Choosing a place to stay
Websites such Airbnb and Booking give quite good and affordable stay options. You can also check out websites like Hostelworld and Ibibo for more options. You can also just camp out in the beach.
If you are an unmarried couple and are staying in a private room, to be on the safer side, call up and check with the hotelier if that’s fine. I did not face any problems myself, but I’ve heard of instances in India where unmarried couples were asked to leave, even after having booked already.
How to find some delicious South Indian food
We spent the first day roaming around in the market on Gokarna Beach Road and had lunch at Pai Restaurant which served amazing dosas and uttapam, apart from the thali (veg platter with various curries and rice with chapattis, which you definitely must try). While walking along the Main Beach we came across Hotel Om Star where we treated ourselves to a non-veg platter made specially for us (mostly because we were the only ones there, given the whole off-season thing). We actually went there again and asked them to make the chicken dish differently the other time, just to taste the different kinds of chicken dishes in Karnataka (we were not disappointed and were left wanting more of it).
You can roam around and explore other places to eat. The local restaurants have some really tasty South Indian food. The places meant specifically for the tourists open only during the peak season.
Day 2: Finding the beaches
Gokarna Beach (Main Beach)
The next day we decided to explore the beaches. A more convenient way to do this, instead of taking autos everywhere, is to hire scooters on rent (they’ll cost you 400 rupees per day) and drive around. We started off with the Main Beach as it was the nearest to our resort. This place is more popular with the locals than the tourists. One of the main reasons for that is its proximity to the Mahabaleshwar Temple, where people go after taking a dip in the water.
We then drove to the Kudle Beach which is near the White Elephant Restaurant overlooking the beach. There are several restaurants along the beach but most of them were closed. They all looked more or less the same so we decided to enter one at random. They were playing some trance music and had dancing space, which suggested that the beaches have dance parties during the tourist season. During May though, the entire area had less that a total of ten people, with on of them even sunbathing (my friend joked about him being Jesus because the sand around his feet was wet, but not the sand right under them).
The next stop was Om Beach which is less than a kilometer away. It is named so because it looks like the Om symbol (somewhat). This was much cleaner than Kudle Beach.
Half Moon Beach
If you keep walking along the coast further down, you’ll reach the Half Moon Beach, which again had a few restaurants. There is another beach further south of these, called the Paradise Beach. This one is accessible only by foot, or by boats (we couldn’t go this one but I imagine it to be the best beach there as it is harder to get to, which translates to less crowd, and a more peaceful experience). We ended the day with dinner at the Namaste Café just down the stairs leading to the beaches, which offers decent food and also serves alcohol (be careful of the flying insects at night though, which get attracted by the light and might fall into your food).
The drive to these beaches was pretty scenic, and off-season meant that the roads were empty, which made it even better. Something that interested me was the bioluminescent algae that people told me could be seen on the beaches. Only that we didn’t see anything (it isn’t an everyday phenomena), and a bit of luck is required if you do hope to witness the glowing tides in Gokarna.
Day 3: Visiting the temples of the town
We decided to spend the last day visiting temples (seemed only fair, it being a temple town). The first one we went to was the Mahabaleshwar Temple (dedicated to a reincarnation of Shiva), only to find out, after spending 15 minutes to try to figure how to get inside faster (there was a very long line of people waiting to enter), that foreigners aren’t allowed inside (I didn’t have the heart to make my friend wait outside, while I saw the temple).
Other temples that you can visit
We took off on our scooter after this and went to a couple of temples that we came across, but they were a bit disappointing. It is only worth it to go to the famous ones such as the Maha Ganapathi Temple, dedicated to Ganesh, who is the son of Shiva (in the northern region of India, he is considered to be the younger son, whereas in the southern region, the elder one) and the Bhadrakali Temple (dedicated to Uma, who is the wife of Shiva), or the Koti Teertha, which is a tank used for immersing idols (if you are into these sort of things). Other main temples include the Tamra Gauri Temple (dedicated to Parvati, which is actually another name for the wife of Shiva in some regions, mainly the north) and the Venkataramana Temple. All of these are somehow related to Shiva, except for the last one which is dedicated to a reincarnation of Vishnu, Venkataramana.
So after this we just drove around, going through some of the nearby villages, which is definitely something you should do. Apart from having some beautiful sites, you might just come across some really nice people (we stopped at a spot to just look around, when an old man on a bicycle stopped and asked us if everything was okay, because we looked quite out of place in those areas). We had lunch at Prema Restaurant, which is also on the Gokarna Beach Road, and has some really nice South Indian food.
A common thing you’ll see happening there is that people stare at you. A lot (not unlike the rest of India). Now, one thing I didn’t mention earlier was that my friend is a Taiwanese American, and to a lot of people there, it probably didn’t make sense for him being with an Indian. But they don’t mean to be rude, and they probably don’t even realise that their stares might sometimes make some people uncomfortable. I’d suggest just tuning out the harmless stares and not stress out about it too much.
Gokarna also offers beach sports and yoga lessons, along with ayurvedic body massages, but only during the tourist season. So as to find out how much of a hippie town Gokarna is, you’ll have to visit it during the right season.