Gokarna – A Peaceseeker’s Retreat

Gokarna is for those who enjoy nature’s company. This is a place to go without an itinerary. Just sit back, enjoy the pristine waters of the Arabian sea, take naps, spot dolphins, meditate… simply unwind!

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I have no doubts that I am a beach person. Whenever I start planning a new trip I already have a beach destination ready in my imagination. This is a little odd for someone who heads from a coastal city, who is not going to need a sunbath ever in her life and someone who has some degree of aqua-phobia so probably is not going to try any water sports until forced to do so. Then why? Why do I always crave for sun -sand- sea?

Because, probably this is what shuts my ever chattering mind…. this is where I feel completely at rest…. completely safe (except when chest deep into the water).

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After spending the Christmas and my birthday in the freezing winter of Mcleodganj, I needed my tropical antidote. And honestly, I couldn’t think of any place better than the peaceful retreat Gokarna.

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When you see pristine beaches of Gokarna surrounded by green hills and rocky cliffs, you feel like you have walked straight into a postcard.

Located in North Karnataka, Gokarna has a versatile topography making it a fine choice for nature lovers and photographers. It is one of the most sacred places for the Hindus and visited by thousands of devotees every year. This has also attracted a lot of foreign tourists who take interest in Hinduism, Yoga, Ayurveda and Indian culture.

Om beach
Om beach, Gokarna is named so because of it’s shaped like the ‘ॐ’ symbol. It is south facing so it is not the ideal beach to catch a sunset. However, you might enjoy taking a stroll in the soft evening light and breeze or even a quick dip in the clear waters. Being lesser populated than the Kudle beach, this beach is ideal for the Yoga and meditation practitioners.

The main town has a rustic charm. It is generally busy with the daily rush of Hindu pilgrims paying visit to the Mahabaleshwar (Shiva) temple. The tribal people sell some fruits, vegetables and flowers that are found in the nearby hills. The market adjoining the temple hosts a variety of metal artifacts and utensils, toys and souvenirs… something you can avoid completely. Gokarna is not a place to shop.  However, you might enjoy taking a stroll across the tiny lanes of this otherwise sleepy town.

One thing that you shouldn’t miss is the lunch / dinner provided as Anna prasad (literally translated to blessings in the form of food) by the temple. The simple yet wholesome vegetarian  meal is finger licking good and served to all. The menu is simple – rice, sambar, rassam, buttermilk, payasam, pickle and a vegetable curry. It was one of the most satisfying meal I’ve ever had.

There are three main beaches in Gokarna – Gokarna beach, Kudle beach and Om beach. Most of the tourists prefer to stay at Kudle beach where as pilgrims prefer stays around the Gokarna beach being in the vicinity to the temple. Om beach has very few options for stay, one of them being the airbnb guesthouse ‘Shantidham’ where we stayed during our visit.

cafe at Om beach
Om Shanti Cafe, Om beach, Gokarna.  There are a very few shacks / cafes on Om beach unlike the Kudle beach which is more lively and has a number of options for food and stay.
Shantidham Cafe, Om beach
Shantidham cafe – the cafe of our airbnb guest house provided some great view. It is a great place to enjoy the sea breeze, spot dolphins while enjoying a cup of filter coffee.
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Shantidham- the airbnb guesthouse at Om beach, Gokarna is recommended for the peace lovers who are fine with basic amenities and some climbs.
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Our cottage at Shantidham guesthouse
red whiskered bulbul
Birding at Shantidham – Every morning this little bugger(or its friends) would come on the tree by my balcony and whistle which sounded something like “ti ti cha”. So I named it titicha. I would go out rubbing my eyes with one hand while holding the camera in other and the game of spot the bird would start. It’s Dolby whistles were of no help. I would look here and there… up and down and every time the sound used to come from some other direction. Adding to the difficulty were it’s friends who would whistle in the distance responding to the calls and these #surutrees . I tell you, this one( and it’s friends) did give me a hard time. But then on the third day, Tejas spotted it. Right on the tree next to our balcony. It didn’t stay there for long but I got a good look at it and managed this click. Such gorgeous bird! My mystery alarm bird turned out to be a red whiskered bulbul but I still like to call it titicha.

Our guesthouse guaranteed a lot of solitude and great unobstructed views. We had company of three affectionate (read clingy) dogs at the guesthouse who were our escorts on the hikes. They would sit around our feet when we would just laze around in the guest house’s cafe on the cane lounge chairs. (In fact we all seemed to look so comfortable in each other’s company that some of the visitors thought we were the owners!). Anyway, if you don’t want to feel too lonely, I would recommend staying at the Kudle beach which hosts most of the good hotels and shacks and is fairly populated as compared to the Om beach.

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One can hike directly to Kudle beach from Shantidham. Just adjacent to the compound  a small pathway leads to a vantage point from where you get this breathtaking view. The place is absolutely peaceful and  solitary.
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Enjoying some me time while doing my most favorite activity – staring at the ocean from the solitary vantage point.
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Dogs of Shantidham guesthouse. Accompanying us on our hikes. Ain’t these babies the sweetest?

While visiting Gokarna one should know that visiting from one beach to other takes good amount of hike/ walk. In fact, beach hiking is one of the highlight activities in Gokarna. It takes on an average 20-25 minutes to walk from one beach to another. The climbs are gradual and pleasant. If you wish to skip the hikes you may as well hire an auto or rent a bike or even hop on a boat however know that all of these options are extremely expensive and bargaining is required. Thus my advice would be hike/walk as much as possible, preferably around early morning hours or around evening and make use of the other transport options only if you feel tired. Hiring a bike makes no sense if you are not going to visit the outskirts.

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Morning hike with our escort
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Climbing down to Om beach from Shantidham
boat ride
One can avail the boat rides at Gokarna to go from one beach to another. They are a bit expensive though. Still, one should not miss them, especially during the winters when the dolphins visit these parts in abundance. We spotted a lot of dolphins very closely on our way to the Om beach from the Paradise beach and it was worth every penny. As per the fishermen, in winters bigger varieties of dolphins are seen. November is their peak season.

A few things to note while visiting Gokarna:

  1. This is mainly a religious town thus you will not get liquor in the village. The cafes/ shack at Kudle and Om beach still sell liquor unofficially however it will be much expensive than what you get in Goa.
  2. You will see a lot of hippies around. Marijuana is openly consumed especially on Om and Paradise beach. Couples, families with kids should avoid beaches post sunset for their safety.
  3. Gokarna by no means is a cheap place. One of the reasons being lack of cheap labor. The locals are happy with their fishing and farming thus don’t take much interest in tourism. Thus unavailability of skilled and competitive labor is a big issue here. If you were considering Gokarna because you thought it is the cheaper and mellower version of Goa then stop right there. Goa and Gokarna are two different experiences. Yes, it is mellower than Goa however Goa is anytime more cost effective than any place in India even during peak seasons simply because it is highly tourist oriented.
sunset
One of the things that I loved about our guesthouse was that we could catch the sunset from here. On our first evening at Gokarna we preferred to dine at the Namaste Cafe unaware of the fact that the beach gets shady post sunset. Thus next day onward we used to reach back to our guesthouse by evening and dine in the cafe itself. The food too was not bad but just like any other restaurant in Gokarna, it was overpriced.

There are a couple of things that one can check out in the outskirts of Gokarna.

  1. Mirjan Fort – Approx. 11 Km from Gokarna, this approx. 500 years old fort built in laterite stone boasts of an elegant architecture. 
At Mirjan fort
Advice to visit this during or post monsoons when it is fairly green and climate is pleasant. Summers are terribly hot and humid and can be tolerated only during early morning.
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Salt fields in the outskirt of Gokarna

Gokarna is for those who enjoy nature’s company. This is a place to go without an itinerary. Just sit back, enjoy the pristine waters of the Arabian sea, take naps, spot dolphins, meditate… simply unwind! We stayed at Gokarna for 5 days and this is all we did along with occasional hikes and boating. We also tried the relaxing body massage at ‘Aarya ayurvedic‘ at Kudle beach which was pretty good and much cost effective as compared to what we saw in Kerala.

Kudle beach
Enjoying a lovely evening at the Kudle beach. Since our guesthouse was on a hill between Om and Kudle beach, reaching both the beaches was convenient to us.

Visit Gokarna when you feel the need to slow down. Visit it to reconnect with yourself. Visit to take a dip in the clear waters of the Arabian sea to detox your body, mind and soul. Let this divine town of Shiva heal you inside out.

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