India has tucked away a host of serene beaches away from the thronging beach crowd. Whilst Goa might be the popular go-to beach destination for beach parties, foreigners from all corners of the world, seafood thalis (platter of Indian seafood, curry and rice) and local beer, Gokarna on the other hand, presents to you a piece of paradise on Earth. Nestled at the edge of the Western Ghats on the Konkan coastline, a trip to Gokarna will lighten your soul and rekindle the explorer in you. And for those who live on Instagram, Gokarna is picture-perfect from every direction.
For locals residing there and pilgrims, Gokarna is a stop on the coastal route that hosts many popular and ancient temples. Lord Shiva Temple in Gokarna town sits on Gokarna Beach. The town still preserves and celebrates its rich cultural roots and the narrow streets roll back the years. Take an auto-rickshaw ride to the north or south of the Main beach and viola(!!!), you will find yourself either on the shiny golden sand with clear waters or atop of hills enclosing a spectacular view of the sea. (You can also rent local cars or bikes). Here, Gokarna opens up for you to get lost into.
Getting in and out of Gokarna City
Trains and buses ply from major cities – Mumbai, Goa & Bengaluru. There is no airport in Gokarna. If you are flying, book a ticket to Goa or Mangalore or Hubli; and take a bus/train from there on to Gokarna City.
Best time to visit
October to March is ideal sunny sky season.
Beaches to visit
South of Gokarna Main beach (in the order given below) these four beaches enclosed between hills will help you relax, unwind and gaze into the horizon.
Hop on a rickshaw from Gokarna City bus stand or rickshaw stand to the hilltop of the beach. A 10-minute walk down a built stairway will take you to the foothills of Kudle. Although over the years Kudle has started attracting a lot of local crowds nevertheless, the scenic beauty will make you forget everyone around you.
Kudle is famous for its beautiful sunsets, by the rocks and amidst the hills.
You can make a pit stop here to refuel yourself with tasty calamary (squid) in butter garlic or deep fried in batter.
Where to Stay
If you wish to stay on the beach, there are multiple shacks ranging from dried bamboo leaf rooms to cottages. Prices starting from Rs. 500 a night going up to Rs. 2000. If you prefer staying in a resort you can find rooms in 2-star to 3-star resorts on Kudle hilltop with prices starting Rs. 3000 a night.
The name derives from the shape of the beach. Tourists who visit here prefer hiking to Om from Kudle where you can see the shape of Om from the peak of the hilltop. To get to Om, you can either take an auto to Om beach from Gokarna City or hike from Kudle for about 15-20 minutes.
Taking the shape of Om (two adjoining semi-circles) the waves on either of the side are different. If you just like to dip yourself in calm waters to laze and get that golden sun-tan going, you can find yourself a good spot as soon as you get down to Om. But if you love swimming with the waves or love crashing against them, then your spot is on the second half of the beach with access to a number of shacks that serve chilled beers. Swim, surf, eat, repeat.
The lemon mint coolers available here is to die for.
Where to Stay
Similar to Kudle, there are multiple accommodation options available if you wish to stay on the beach.
Are you the person who wants to wake up looking at the sea but don’t want to be on the sandy beach? Then Shandidam is the spot for you. Located on a hill in between Kudle and Om, Shantidham offers rooms for Rs. 1500 a night. Away from human interference, you will be able to spot dolphins playing around in the water from your rooms here at any time of the day. To reach Shantidham, route your rick to Om beach and take the stairway. You will find a mud trail going in the opposite direction halfway down, and a 5 minutes walk in you will find yourself in a paradise within a paradise.
Both Kudle and Om have motorboat services going on the morning from 10 AM to 6 PM. These boats will take you to other beaches that have no road access (mentioned below). If you’re a friendly traveller and a decent tipper, the boatman will stop the boat mid-sea for you to observe the dolphins from close proximity.
Like Om, Half-moon beach derives its name from its formation like a Half-moon. Unlike Om and Kudle, you can get to Half-moon only by hiking or the motorboat. The water is unbelievably calm with no waves, so if you plan on floating in the sea under the sun-kissed sky, this is the place to be. The hiking trail starts from Om that takes you all the way to the hilltop and back down to a tiny enclosed beach with just two small shacks.
Owing to the laboriousness to get here, you will most likely find only a couple of non-locals who were adventurous enough to take the hike; giving you a complete sense of being on a private beach. It may get lonely, but worry not, it is completely safe.
Where to stay
Although there are few shacks available on the edge of the beach, you can pitch a tent or pull up a hammock wherever you like.
Literally a paradise on Earth. There are two ways of getting here. One is to take the motorboat from Kudle or Om. The other, most preferred and most scenic route is to hike from Half-moon beach. The hike to Paradise can get challenging so it is recommended to wear shoes. Paradise was once a rave destination of Gokarna, but all commercial transactions have been completely halted for a few years now. This makes Paradise a perfect destination for pitching tents, building BBQs and bonfires, and setting up hammocks anywhere you like. There are no rooms or cottages to stay. There are no shacks to serve you food or water, so make sure you include food and beverages as part of your packing to Paradise. This makes the beach extremely secluded and away from even the locals.
Sighting of Plytoplanons in the sea. Yeah, you read right! If you find yourself amused by green glowing in the water created by the Phytoplanktons, Paradise has a lot to offer. The best sightings happen on new moon days when there is absolute darkness, low pollution level and negligible human interference.
NOTE: The trails for the hikes cut across forests, slopes, cliff sides, wildlife like snakes and lizards. Walk carefully and slowly. Google maps will help you to an extent, but I would recommend you make friends with fellow travellers or hike in groups. Also, save contact numbers of locals (rickshaw drivers/shack owners), they come in handy.
North of Gokarna main beach, you will find Middle Beach. Unlike the beaches on the South, Middle beach is a long stretch of golden sand and clear water. Take a rick from Gokarna City bus stand/train station directly to Middle beach. There are multiple shacks, cottages and hostels on the beach to stay at. But the loose sand and rough waves make it difficult to swim deep into the water. You can instead pitch an umbrella, pull out a picnic mat and enjoy the view from the beach, sipping on beer or lemon mint cooler.