Gokarna- A Backpackers Paradise!

14th Dec 2016
Photo of Gokarna- A Backpackers Paradise! 1/1 by Rahul Bandekar
Gokarna- A Backpackers Paradise!

Why Visit Gokarna?

Somehow, we are always running, chasing after things, deadlines and people. Daily goals blur life goals and life goals get confused with life dreams. We somehow lose sight of who we really want to be and what is it that we really want. And one fine day, we wake up and see that the sand in the hour glass has emptied and yet the chronicles that we imagined still lie, waiting to happen.

Sometimes, the answer to who you really are is sought by leaving behind the familiar and chasing the unknown. And nothing is more perfect a destination for this than Gokarna! A more laid-back and less-commercialised version of Goa, Gokarna is a perfect offbeat destination attracting backpackers for a low-key, chilled-out beach experience. Gokarna literally, means "Cow's Ear". Why the name is a long story and can be read here.

Day 1

I arrived in Gokarna from Murdeshwar via Kumta through the NWKRTC buses. The buses are very economical (Rs. 88 for approx 78 KMs) & the route along is extremely scenic & in good condition. I reached Gokarna and headed to Zostel where I had my bed booked for the next 3 nights in a dorm.

Zostel is approximately 15 mins walk from the Main Bus Stand and the route passes through within the town of Gokarna. The streets are dotted with stalls selling handmade musical instruments, clothes and Hindu religious artifacts.

Photo of Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

After a short stroll through the streets I headed straight to Zostel. Located on the hill top the walk was a 10 mins trek from the main town however the moment I reached Zostel I was mesmerized by the view from this location. The restaurant, sitting area outside the dorm, the common area all had a scenic view of the Gokarna Beach from the top of the hill and with the peace around one could actually hear the sounds of the waves.

Mr. Pradeep was a perfect host at Zostel, very welcoming and gave company whenever he was free, be it for Breakfast, lunch or dinner or even a game of fuss-ball. His story of travelling across 18 countries, knowing around 5 languages, quitting a full-time job abroad and settling as the property manager at Zostel for his love for Gokarna was truly inspirational. Zostel at Gokarna is a perfect place if you are looking for a clean bed, good food, good staff, good view, like-minded fellow travelers and a perfect host.

Zostel Gokarna

Photo of Zostel Gokarna, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

View from the Restaurant at Zostel

Photo of Zostel Gokarna, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

After getting fresh and a quick lunch I start off with my Beach trekking. One has to really trek & not walk, to the beaches in Gokarna. Gokarna is situated amongst the hills and the beaches are on the other side of the hills. Gokarna has 5 major beaches- Gokarna Beach, Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half Moon Beach & Paradise Beach.

The Gokarna Beach is in the main town and is frequented by the locals & the pilgrims, the beach is not preferred by tourists. So I start off with the Kudle Beach, one of the main tourist beaches. The Beach has a lot of shacks and small inns and were mostly owned and managed by the locals staying at the same place. Almost all shacks had cottages for stay attached with prices ranging from Rs. 500- Rs. 2500/- per night depending on the amenities and luxuries.

Kudle Ocean Front is one of the recommended ones based on the reviews from few Europeans I met on the beach. All the shacks on Kudle beach are equally good in terms of food as they all have a very similar menu, its only a matter of personal preference and a good view of the sunset & beach at different times of the day that can influence choosing a particular shack. Locals in the shacks are very friendly and they don't mind you occupying a table without ordering anything. I decided to perch on the little rocks along the beach and stare out at the sea.

After a brief gaze I restarted my trek to the next beach, Om Beach the most popular one in Gokarna. Named after the serene "OM" symbol which is created by this beach. The trek is around 3km from Kudle Beach and is of moderate difficulty level. The pathway is clearly visible so there are lesser chances of getting lost in the jungles and most of the time you would find someone walking towards Om Beach or returning from the Om Beach.

The moment you descend down the hill to the Om Beach, you would see the popular Namaste Cafe, known for a good view and a delicious variety of sea food dishes. I decided to first take a walk across the beach and then head to the Cafe. Few meters from the cafe and it started pouring, literally like the rains during the monsoons in Mumbai, thanks to the Cyclone Vardah which was retreating back through the northern Karnataka.

With lesser shacks on Om Beach, few tourists who were present on the beach at this rainy afternoon rushed to the Namaste Cafe for shelter. Unfortunately the upper deck of the cafe was shut as there were lesser guests due to the rain forecast for the entire day. I settled for a table which gave an unobstructed view of the ocean and the rains and ordered for a beer and butter garlic prawns.

Across Gokarna the only alcohol one can get is Beer with limited options of KF Premium, Strong & Budweiser Magnum. Hardly sometime gazing into the ocean I was into absolute amazement with the generous quantity of prawns I was served with. True to the popularity of the cafe the prawns were fresh & nicely cooked, and the place is a must visit for all the foodies out there.

With the rains taking a break, sun about to set & clouds still around waiting to start pouring again, I decide to retreat back to the Kudle Beach before it gets dark. Trekking through the forest between Kudle & OM Beach is absolutely safe however do ensure to have a flash light handy as the trail has no lights. With the drizzling still going on, the supposedly vibrant Kudle Beach at sunset was quiet and most of the shacks were empty. Uncertain, about the weather I too headed back to Zostel and spent the rest of the evening interacting with the fellow travellers staying there.

Trail through the forest from Kudle Beach to OM Beach

Photo of Om Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka by Rahul Bandekar

Prawns & Beer with Rains in the Foreground at Namaste Cafe

Photo of Om Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka by Rahul Bandekar
Day 2

The second day began with a hope of a sunnier day and I was not disappointed. I rented up a Yamaha gear-less scooter and went on a drive from Gokarna to Karwar (Approx 50 KMs) through the coastal towns & villages and the NH 66. On my return I decided to visit the Virgin Honey Beach in the Ankola district. Honey Beach is approximately 11 KMs from Gokarna and includes crossing the Gangavali river in a ferry.

The beach is not known by many and only has one small resort near the beach. The route to the beach was an exciting one through the local villages where you can come across villagers performing their daily chores. On reaching the Honey Beach I was mesmerized by the beauty this beach had to offer. I parked my scooter on the cliff and admired the peace & solitude this beach had to offer.

The beach is very small and with no shacks or eateries around and therefore not a single soul I could find on the beach. A must visit Beach if one is looking to stay away from even the smaller commercialisation of Gokarna Beaches.

Photo of Honey Beach(Honnebail), Ankola, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Honey Beach(Honnebail), Ankola, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

Honey Beach from the Cliff

Photo of Honey Beach(Honnebail), Ankola, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

After a good couple of hours at the Honey Beach, I decide to head back to Kudle Beach for the sunset and catch the vibrancy Kudle Beach is known for at the dusk. Do note that the last ferry at the Gangavali river to cross over to Gokarna is around 7 pm and the ferry charges Rs. 15/- (5 per person & 10 for the scooter).

Melange of Cultures

With a good sunny day Kudle Beach was highly vibrant with many foreigners flocking around the beach and enjoying the sun. I played Frisbee with a group from Sweden, Beach Volleyball with backpackers from Europe and a Beach Tennis with a couple from London. I noted the recipe of the Turkish Cardamon coffee & the Chocolate balls with peanut butter sold by the foreigners in the flea market they set up to earn some money.

As the sun kissed the ocean waters, I found myself sitting around a bonfire at with fellow travelers, trying to make sense of the different cultures around the world. The evening was soaked with the sound of waves and a group at few meters playing guitars and other musical instruments.

Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

Every soul likes to Chill in Gokarna

Photo of Kudle Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar
Day 3

OM Beach- Half Moon Beach- Paradise Beach

After a heavy breakfast, I start off from where I left on Day 1 – Beach Trek to Half Moon and Paradise Beach. Trek from OM Beach to Half Moon Beach is around 1 KM and the trail is very scenic. Few meters into the trail and soon I was walking through a small path carved out of the hillside. On the left there was the hill and on the right a steep decline below to the furious water lashing against the rocks.

Within 20 mins I was at Half Moon beach- which was more like a lagoon with huge rocks on the beach. The beach had only two shacks and few mud cottages behind with only a handful of tourists staying around. I explored the small village on this beach, met a guy from UK staying in one of the mud cottages for almost two months without any connectivity to the rest of the world. Tried to understand from a German lady what brings her to India where she has been spending half of the year from last 5 years. Got some meditation lessons from a Baba from Hampi who keeps visiting Gokarna for sharing & spreading his knowledge. Took a quick fish pedicure therapy in the lagoon of the Half Moon Beach, and then headed to the last of the beach on this trail- Paradise Beach.

Paradise is the farthest from the town and most unspoilt of the beaches. Though there were no shacks or cottages on this beach there were more people staying on this beach compared to Half Moon Beach, in the tents they had carried along-with them. Enjoyed a local meal with the villagers coming from the nearby villages and making meals on the open fire for the foreigners staying on the beach. Totally in a state of peaceful happiness I head back to the OM Beach in the last ferry from Paradise Beach at around 6 PM. (Rs. 200/- for the boat ride of 10 mins).

Photo of Paradise Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka by Rahul Bandekar

OM Shape of Beach visible while trekking towards Half Moon Beach

Photo of Paradise Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka by Rahul Bandekar
Photo of Paradise Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka by Rahul Bandekar

I decide to end my last evening in Gokarna my roaming around the streets of the main town and I could here the sounds of the evening Aarti from almost all the houses here. After some shopping definitely with good bargaining, I went to Prema Restaurant near the Gokarna Beach for Dinner. Recommended by a friend from Sweden who stayed nearby to eat here, and I am so happy I did.

The place doesn't look appealing from outside but the food is absolutely delicious, cheap and the portions are large, literally large. The process of ordering the food and getting the same served at the table is an experience in itself. Do not miss to try the Gadbad- Combination of handmade ice-creams with fruits!

Gadbad at Prema

Photo of Gokarna- A Backpackers Paradise! by Rahul Bandekar
Day 4

This temple is home to the Shiva Linga- one of the key reason for the name Gokarna. The temple only accessible to Hindus has a vibe which gives a very serene feeling. The deity here is over 1500 years old.

Mahabalesvar Temple

Photo of Mahabaleshvar Temple, Gokarna, Karnataka, India by Rahul Bandekar

After the temple visits on Day 4, I headed back to Mumbai

I would not be surprised if you are already planning up for your trip after reading this. Lying off the grid, this beach town is sleeping in a dreamy silence. The waters of time stand still here and life sways slowly to their lullaby. Happiness here is sought in simple things, like lying down on the cool sand and hearing the gushing sound of waves against the shore. Gazing the silent town’s affairs from a little window faraway from home, I suddenly realized that life is lived in these little moments.

Getting to Gokarna

There are regular overnight buses from Bangalore. From Mumbai one can take the Mangalore Express and get down either at Kumta or Ankola which are the nearest stations and take the NWKRTC buses.

One can also hire a cab from Goa, around 100 KMs and the roads are fairly good

Places to Stay

Zostel near Kudle Beach during weekdays (Groups flock this place on weekends)

Kudle Ocean Front

Namaste Yoga Farms at OM Beach

Places to Visit

Beaches- Kudle Beach, OM Beach, Half Moon Beach, Paradise Beach, Honey Beach

Temples- Mahabalesvar & Ganapati Temples

Others- Vibhuti Waterfalls & Yana Caves

Places to Eat

Ganga Café, La Pizzaria, Sunset Beach Cafe, Dragon Cafe on Kudle beach are the ones I have personally tried

Namaste Café on Om beach

Travel Tips

There are plenty of stray dogs and cows on beaches and streets. Though they are harmless one can always be a little careful.

Carry a flash light along as it would be handy to walk around pathways to the town & beaches during night as there are very few street lights.

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