Much has been written about Goa in popular lore and blogs around the world. As Goa has and continues to enjoy its reign as the party capital of India, its lesser known cousin Gokarna, a sleepy town in Northern Karnataka has slowly become a backpacker favorite. Common sense advises one to stay clear of Goa during late December as it spiral towards becoming a tourist-trap with sky-high prices and rambunctious crowds. For a quiet vacation, we traveled to Gokarna for a 3-day vacation and soaked in its beauty while giving ourselves a pat on the back for avoiding Goa.
A traveler in India is often faced with the choice of going for a vacation in the hills, a beach vacation or a stay in the forests. Gokarna brings together the best of the three worlds. Driving through forests of the Western Ghats hills to reach the beautiful beaches was an unprecedented experience for us. After a bumpy 8-hour ride from Bangalore, we scrounged for a bargain on two-wheelers. Luckily, in the Gokarna market vehicle rentals are aplenty and after a bit of haggling, you can get a fair price for your ride.
We reached our Zostel (after getting lost, courtesy of Google Maps) and were blown away by the view from the property. The hostel is situated on top of a hill overlooking the Gokarna Main Beach and provides a splendid view of the Arabian sea. At night one can have a beer under the clear sky, counting stars while taking in the fresh air we dearly miss in our Bangalore.
The best thing to do in Gokarna is- NOTHING! Or just go to your favorite beach, have a swim, soak in the sun and just lie down on the sand. Beaches in Gokarna are unique in the respect that you do not just drive to the beach, but trek through hills to reach them. Or you can take the boring route of sitting on a ferry and touch down each beach for 15 minutes. Where’s the fun in that?
On the first day after a wholesome meal in the hostel, we drove to the Belekan beach and started our trek. Handy tip- DO NOT rely on Google Maps or your intuition for the trail. Downloads any offline maps service as there is zero internet connection during the entire journey. We used maps.me app and downloaded the map of Northern Karnataka for reference and thankfully were saved from being lost. Before leaving our hostel manager had warned us about leopards in the hills and every little rustle in the bushes scared the shit out of us. Since it was a weekday with barely anyone else on the trail, it was indeed scary. We reached the Paradise Beach which is famed for being a nude beach. In our shorts and tops, we felt a bit overdressed on the beach. We spent a few hours sunbathing on the beach.
For a non-trekker like me, the trek from Paradise to Half Moon was a frightening fare. One slip and your head will be found bashed against the rocks below the next second. But we reached the beach and had lunch there as Paradise did not have a single shack or eatery. Half moon beach is pristine, with few people on it and is perfect for laying out of mat and smoke a joint, away from human civilisation.
Tired from the sun and the trek, we bargained with a ferry driver to escort us back to Belekan beach. After some much-needed rest, we went to the famed Om Beach. The beach is famous for its shape in the form of Hindu religious symbol ‘Om’. We rechristened the Om beach as ‘Baga of Gokarna’. It was crowded with kids and families running all over the place. After Paradise and Half Moon is felt like a downgrade.
The next day we woke up late and decided to hit the Kudle beach. Kudle beach is a gem of a beach with a splendid view of the surrounding cliffs and still waters for miles. We spent quality time in the water and hit up a nice restaurant on the leftmost corner with an amazing view of the sea. One can end the day with another visit to Paradise beach. Rent a tent from the city and prop it up on the Paradise beach for a night under the stars. Light a campfire, take a few beers and spend the night huddled around the fire after dips in the water.
The next day we hit up the main city and visited the Mahabaleshwar temple. We had a nice lunch at the famous Prema restaurant beside the Main Beach. The food was good, but our hearts sank when we saw that the restaurant employed children below 12 years of age as the waiting staff.
Next, we drove to Ankola and took the ferry across the river to visit a secluded beach off the tourist radar. In words of my friend who has been to many beaches across the world, it was the most beautiful beach he had ever seen. It was untouched and there were just four of us on it. Surrounded by crustaceans who were perturbed by our presence, we lounged on the beach and soaked in the magnificent allure of the sunset over the horizon.
With a heavy heart and memories, we left the little town of Gokarna that night. The road was bumpy and we woke up about every half an hour, but I swear we dreamt of those beaches, living in the sunshine and swimming in the ocean.
Transportation: 1200 round trip in Non-AC private sleeper bus from Bangalore.
Stay: 890 per day for a dorm bed in Zostel during weekdays. Since it is peak season, it was hard to get any accommodation during the weekends.
Food- Maximum 300 Rupees per person for every meal.
In-city transportation- 400 per day for a two-wheeler when rented for more than 2 days. 500 per day for one day otherwise.