To awaken in an unfamiliar place yet feeling unafraid is a pleasant feeling. I sensed this feeling in the early hours of a Sunday morning as the bus rode on a deserted highway. I peeked out of the window to my right and witnessed the sky blessing us with a drizzling rain. I turned to my left excitedly to awaken my partner but I saw a peacefully sleeping face cozied up, so cute that I didn't want to disturb. I got back to enjoying the view from the ride as I was eager to reach our destination that I knew would welcome us with the Sun shining strong throughout the day.
The bus dropped us off at the center of the town of cows, temples and beaches. Gokarna. The name translates to "A Cow's Ear" in the local language, Kannada. Aided by every traveler's savior, the Google Maps, we located our booked stay with Zostel. With two and a half kilometers on our screen and two bag packs on our backs, we began walking towards Zostel, hoping to get a glimpse of what this town has to offer. We found numerous little temples and shrines guarded by freely striding cows and dogs. We strolled ahead as every lane we turned to became narrower than the last. Most of these walls were adorned with some of the most creative and original graffiti and artwork. Our map lead us to a lane as small as a narrow passageway between a couple of buildings. What surprised us were the autos driving through this lane as easily as a cakewalk. We spotted people walking in and out to get their daily dose of deities from the many places of worship. We then ascended a tiny hill and marched ahead. Unexpectedly, the top of the hill was desolate and lonely. Maps showed the way through this vacant area, we completely trusted Google and followed the pathway. A few minutes later, we spotted a bright orange board from far away. At once, we knew we spotted the Zostel sign board. Hurriedly, we walked in as our tired bodies needed to ease off a bit.
We checked in and were asked to hang around the common area until the check in time. We were shown towards a tapered metal staircase with creepers crawled over the handrails. We climbed up on the stairs and were delighted as the silence was broken by sounds of the waves. We dashed across to find the most awe-inspiring view from the balcony, the ocean so blue and calm. We soaked in the view for a while and decided to visit Murudeshwar. Quickly, we showered and dressed up to take off.
We walked back towards the KSRTC bus stand hoping to catch the only direct bus to Murudeshwar from Gokarna at 8AM. We got distracted and hungry on the walk by the many local restaurants and the fragrance of good food. We hogged on the some scrumptious butter dosas and by the time we finished, we realized we missed our direct bus. (Hailing from Tamil Nadu, the state of idlys and dosas, it takes a lot to convince us that dosas are good anywhere else.) (Breakfast at Rs.200/- for two) We chose to take a connecting bus to Kumta as we were determined to view the world's second tallest Lord Siva statue. The tickets cost us around Rs.150/- per person (both buses together). The bus ride was a little bumpy and rough but we passed through some of the most astounding views of landscapes and inland water bodies. Our tired bodies dozed off on half the ride to Murudeshwar.
The driver dropped us off on NH 66 and we spotted an arch to our right welcoming us to the Taluk. The actual temple was a 2km ride from the highway and we hopped in an auto from the auto stand adjacent to the highway. As the auto took us closer to the temple, we got our first sight of the Siva statue. The auto dropped us right outside the temple. It was a Sunday morning, so the temple was crowded with people jostling. I was awestruck at the 18 storey tall Gopuram. It was the tallest I had ever seen. The Raja Gopuram stood tall at 237.5 feet. We entered the temple and noticed an escalator that takes us to the top storey at Rs.10/- per person. People were swarming in to the lift. Me and my partner, both glanced at each other as we hated crowded places. We didn't want to miss the view of the statue from the top floor so we got in as well. The lift entered a small room with windows on three of its walls. The one to the right gave us the most magnificent eyeshot of the 123 feet statue of Lord Siva. The escalator services closes by 12:30PM so we had to get back on ground in a few minutes. We admired the architecture of the temple for the next hour or so and gobbled up the Prasadam, Laddu or Ladoo - a sphere shaped Indian sweet. We resumed our trip back to Gokarna via Kumta after a delicious meal of Butter Naan and Paneer Butter Masala (Our go-to food everywhere we go) at RNS Cafe nearby. (Rs.400/- for two)
We arrived back at Gokarna around 4PM and headed straight to Zostel and checked right into our cottage booked for the night. Zostel offers the cleanest services, both in the bunker and the private stays. The owners and volunteers are friendly and communicative. They operate in 35+ cities across India. Every time we plan a trip, the first thing me and my partner look for is if the destination has a branch of Zostel. As expected, our cottage was comfortable and enjoyable. On speaking to the owner, he told us that Kudle Beach gives an unparalleled view of the sunset. Luckily, Kudle Beach was at walking distance of 1km. A short nap and we were set to witness the sunset.
After a few meters of strolling on the tar roads, we had to take a pathway full of oozing mush and muck to the beach. This is an entrance to the beach from one of its end and not like the usual touristy entrances. The route looked eerie and abandoned but on talking to a few people around, we figured this is the usual route taken and is completely safe. We skeptically went ahead and were expecting our shoes ended up brown and dirty with mud. As soon as we got our first sight of the waves hitting the sand, we worried no more and raced to feel the waters washing over our feet. We were relieved to find the beach had only a handful of people. This sunset was a memorable one as it was a first for me and my partner to witness it together. We spent a couple of hours soaking in the Sun and the sea. It was indeed a joyous evening with the Sun and its setting played peek-a-boo with the cliff breaking the flow of the ocean. We made our way back to Zostel before the night darkened the sky.
Unlike many Zostel, the one at Gokarna has an in-house cafe called the Mantra Cafe offering a variety of food to choose from. We settled for our favorite and clichéd, Paneer and Naan. (Rs.400/- for two) We returned to our beds for the night after having spent some quality time beside a flavorsome dinner with a few housemates, chatting over drinks and the Cricket World cup on the big screen.
We raised up sluggishly the next morning after a good night's sleep. After a swift checkout, we opted to go back to the local restaurant for another breakfast of butter dosas. After walking a bit, the Sun's high beam got us weary in less than an hour. Very lazily, we preferred to laze around in the Zostel's common area until lunch. Recessing in the balcony with a view of the rough seawater dashing against the rocks of the beach down the cliff. We were a bit disappointed that we won't be able to do the very famous beach trek of Gokarna as no other groups of people were available to trek with. The beach trek is a 6-8 hours trek connecting the five famous beaches of the town. Equal blame on our lazy asses.
Halfway Home Greenfeet, was the suggested restaurant for lunch when we asked around to feed our egg eating vegetarian tummies. It was a 5 minutes’ walk from Zostel. It was located in the middle of the huge trees and nature. South Indian meals and Mango milkshake was supposedly the best here. Me and my partner both were light eaters and so weren't big fans of a full meal. We devoured on a chappatis and egg curry which was heavenly. Chappatis were kept gulping down. The prices were reasonable and traveler friendly at Rs.400/- for two.
After the Sun calmed down a bit, we decided to walk around the town for a while and then make our way towards Gokarna Main Beach. We spent time trying to look at few of the numerous wall artworks of the town and tried to decode them. This varied as me and my partner have different views and perceptions. We sauntered through the town path and its street stalls of artifacts and articles. Walking through the market roads eventually lead us to the main beach of Gokarna. Being a Monday evening, this beach was barely crowded and only had a few people walking in from the nearby and get popular Mahabaleshwar temple. To the left of the beach, was the cliff. We could locate Zostel on top of the cliff. We squealed with glee as the waves touched our feet while the sunset colors washed all over us. We plonked down our bums on the stone bench and watched the Sun go down along with views of the cows strolling along the shore, dogs and pups running all around and cluster of humans with smiley and happy faces, splashing water and enjoying the evening.
We had our last meal at a South Indian hotel nearby, Pai, again a dinner of dosas. Our filled tummies, content hearts and drained bodies departed glumly to get back to our everyday busy routines.