Gokarna Beach Trek
This weekend I head out on a trek on the rocky cliffs along the coastline of Gokarna.
Gokarna is located along the Arabian Sea at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers, the Gangavali and Aghanashini, around 580 km from Bangalore. Four of the most gorgeous beaches are located to the south of Gokarna. Our trek route was to start from the southern-most Paradise Beach and hike our way northwards towards Half Moon Beach, Om Beach, Kuddle Beach and finally end at Gokarna Beach.
Gokarna means Cow’s ear. There is an interesting piece of story behind how this place got this name. Legend has it that after a vigorous penance by Ravana, Shiva was pleased and offered three boons to him. For one of his wishes, Ravana asked for the Atma-Linga. Shiva took out the Atma-Linga from his own heart and gave it to Ravana with strict instructions that it should not be placed on ground until it was reached its final destination.
The Devas, fearing that Ravana would become all-powerful asked for help from Vishnu to somehow stop him. On the way, carrying the Atma-Linga towards Lanka, Ganesha met him in the garb of a cowherd. Vishnu and Ganesh played a trick on him and saw to that he kept the Linga on the Ground. When Ravana tried to pull it out, the shape of the Linga took a form of the Cow’s ears.
Gokarna is also an important center of Sanskrit learning. The early settlements of this region can be traced back to the Brahmins. It is also the residence of Bhandikeri Math and Togu Math where Sanskrit knowledge has been passed down from generations in Brahmin families.
Ride from Bangalore
My scheduled pick-up was at 7 p.m at Silk Board. Due to heavy Bangalore traffic I was delayed and finally made it at 7.45 p.m. I joined Ishan, Preethi, Srinivasan and Pradyumna at the Silk Board bus stop. Unfortunately Ishan wasn’t going on this trek and Salwat was already out there in Gokarna, so Preethi was our trek lead for the trip. Once there, I got to know that our pick-up Tempo was even more delayed. We introduced ourselves as we waited for the bus to arrive. It finally reached us at around 8:30 p.m.
After picking up the rest, we finally started for Gokarna at around 9:30 p.m. Along the way we stopped at a dhaba for dinner. I had a plate of Idli, the safest food around these parts. For the rest of the journey, I didn’t get much sleep on the bus. At around 8 a.m. in the morning, we stopped at an eatery at Shivamogga for breakfast. The Idli was warm and tasty. It also felt good to stretch the legs. After around an hour we passed through the Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary. I was lucky to spot a few peacocks along the way. As we neared the coast, the jackets were off as it grew more and more warmer.
It was noon by the time we reached our destination. The sun was beating down upon us. Salwat, sweating profusely, was waiting for us at the bus depot on Temple Road. We walked towards our home stay which by the way was not very far from the bus stop. At first impression, Gokarna might strike as a laid back town, growing up, trying to find its place in the modern world, but in all actuality it is really old, with a history that stretches back to a mention in the Bhagwad Gita.
For most of the time, it has been a village of fishermen and farmers with the only attraction being a temple, believed to contain Atma-Linga, the soul of Shiva. But Karnataka has entered a period of rapid change in tourism, and Gokarna is being dragged along with it.
After quickly freshening up and donning our beachwear’s, we drove by bus to a spot near the Paradise Beach Huts. From here we started the trek along the Paradise Beach trail towards Paradise Beach. The walk took us through a bushy forest along an elevated path. After walking for 15 minutes we started to descend. While going down we were presented with the stunning view of the beach. Cameras were out in a flash and why not. It is a paradise for beach lovers.
We climbed down the rocky hill towards the inviting beach. On the left I noticed a hippie trying to cook up a meal. By the looks of it, it was apparent he had been squatting there for days. The beach is in the shape of a small bay, curved inwards. Once on level land, the guys just ran off, flinging their stuff in the sand and tore towards the big waves.
Salwat informed us not go above waist level in the water. Well, he quickly had to change his advice as the incoming waves were already chest high. I found a secluded spot and took a few long exposure photographs of the beach. Unlike some other beaches I have been, here the rocks are sharp and I got a few bruises on my palms while climbing to finding a good spot.
We stayed at the Paradise Beach for over an hour. Once everyone had their fill of the waves, we started hiking towards the Half Moon Beach.
The trail to Half Moon Beach is a bit tricky with lots or rocks. On the way we passed Hells Cliff. Well not many can claim to be in “Paradise” and “Hell” on the same day 😉 On Hell’s Beach, there is a small rock. Some of the guys took up the climbing challenge.
Past the rocky terrain we reached a cluster of shacks. It was 4.30 p.m. and we were hungry as hell. We decided to have our lunch in one of the 3 eateries. I was surprised to see Israeli specialties on the menu. Not a die-hard fan of experimentation, I still went ahead and ordered the “Laffa” along with 3 of my friends. The food took time coming but it was tasty. It was like a huge Egg Roll with salads and boiled eggs. I was full just with that. They also have hammocks around which give a hippy feel to the area. I saw very few Indians on both Paradise and Half Moon Beach. They appear to attract mainly foreigners.
After relaxing for some time, we moved on to the Half Moon Beach. The harsh sun had given way to some nice pleasant breeze as we entered Half Moon Beach. The beach was devoid of tourists and I got some lovely photos in the golden hour. We didn’t spend much time here as we wanted to witness the sunset from a good vantage point.
We all were very excited at the prospect of viewing the sunset and we hurried along towards the Rock of Peace. “Rock of Peace” is a huge cliff towering over the side of Om Beach which extends deep into the Ocean. The view from here is fantastic. Om Beach is named so because it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ [Om] symbol. One can easily make out the Om sign from this cliff. The stage was set, but without any clouds the drama was missing. Some hippies had gathered here with drums. The slow beating of drums added to the serene moment.
It was difficult to move away even after the sun had set, but Salwat wanted us to reach the beach before dark, since the trail led through a forested area and it would become more and more difficult to find the trail in the darkness. So we got up and were on our way to the Om Beach. Down at the beach, light was fading fast. I wanted to get a good shot of the Parvati Rocks but it wasn’t to be. Om Beach is beautiful beach that seems to go on forever, surrounded by palm trees. I have to come here again, to get a shot of the setting sun with the Parvati rocks in the foreground. I believe it will look gorgeous.
I lay on the beach staring at the stars for a long time, alone. I have started to understand that I do not share the same enjoyment from nature as others. Chattering disturbs me. I would just like to be a rock and stare at the wonder of nature.
Kuddle Beach Trek
After some relaxation on the Om Beach we headed out to Kuddle Beach around dinner time. I wasn’t too pleased as we arrived at the Kuddle Beach. Its dirty, full of restaurants and cafe’s. Cows are moving around. Litter is everywhere. Overcrowding, construction of lodges and other activities has definitely had an impact on this beach. There are also some lodges with rooms for as little as ₹1500. Salwat recommended the Kuddle Palace restaurant for dinner. In the restaurant, the guy taking our order appeared to be a Nepali. On asking, he confessed to coming here during season time to work for 4 months. Once the season ends, he heads back to his homeland in Sikkim.
Inside the restaurant, we were like this huge gang. All the tables in the restaurant were moved and joined together to form one big table. It was like a feast from one of those Asterix comics. I was missing the tasty Tibetan dishes I had in Sikkim, so I ordered a Thupka. After dinner I took a walk along the beach, below the stars. Some couples were also wandering along the beach. I was missing Mani, so I called her up. We talked for a long time. Relatively a long time for us would be 6 hours, but this time it was 40 mins. Eventually once everyone was done, we cleared the bill and walked towards the Gokarna Beach.
Gokarna Beach Trek
At the end of the Kuddle Beach, we had to climb up a row of stairs to head towards the Gokarna Beach. After the stairs, we reached an open field. Thankfully there were white markers guiding us along the trail or we would easily have gotten lost. On the way we gathered some dry branches and grass for the bonfire. At the end of the field we passed a Shiva Temple. It was a moonless night and we could barely make it out in the pitch darkness. Right after the temple a series of steps brought us to the edge of the Gokarna Beach.
Gokarna Beach was way cleaner than Kuddle Beach. No shacks or lodgings. Boats were lined on the coast, belonging to fishermen who now probably earn more ferrying passengers along the coast. The beach was full of crabs. In every direction I could see holes create by crabs. We had a quick bonfire and then headed back to home stay. On the way back some of us we were already discussing to come back in the morning for sunrise.
We reached the home-stay at around 12:30 a.m. I activated the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and went to sleep straight-away at 1 o’clock.
Sunrise on the Gokarna Beach
I got up before the alarm could wake me up. I would like to believe I posses a biological clock that wakes me when I am truly serious about it. Even in Sikkim, I was up daily at around 4 a.m daily. In contrast, in Bangalore, I am rarely up before 10 a.m 😉 It was a pleasant surprise to find almost everyone already up and ready for the sunrise trek at 4:30 a.m. Salwat was tired and so we, in all 13 of us including me, headed out ourselves. The roads were lit but the beach area was pitch dark. We went following the same path we had come down the night before. The bonfire we had lit last night was totally doused by the waves. I was surprised that the tides had come all the way up to this point during the night. We hiked towards the Shiva Temple and took a detour from there towards the peak of that hill.
The Sun rose from behind the bushy forest at around 6:30. We took some clicks and then walked back towards the beach.
As we walked back towards our home-stay in proper daylight for the first time, I could see the endless blue sea with coconut and palm trees lining the beach. Already many had gathered to take a dip in the sea before going into the temple. I understand, Gokarna Beach is frequented more by Indian pilgrims than the random tourist. We walked across the quaint little town, through the streets lined with temples, eateries and traditional tile-roofed brick houses. The presence of beaches and temples together create a contrasting town. On one side we see the over-eager pilgrims and on the other we see the laid back hippies.
Ride Back to Bangalore
After a quick breakfast at Pai’s Restaurant we were on our way back to Bangalore. Deepali, whose hometown is not very far from here treated us to a sweet milk beverage. The day was hot. On the bus, I took a small nap since I had barely slept the last two days. On the way back Salwat offered a stop at the Jog Falls as a bonus. The waterfall was a whimper from what I had seen in the pictures. One should see this place roar in the monsoons. While admiring the falls I was lucky to spot a beautiful rainbow forming at the base of the falls. We also took our lunch there in a nearby restaurant. The menu was limited nor was the food any good.
Rest of the way I choose to sit upfront beside the driver, just looking at the road and the trees go by. Pradyumna was also there with his Kindle, reading. We talked a lot about the places he wants to visit. I gave him a few tips on Hampi. He is a silent type of guy. We stopped at an eatery around 4 in the evening. They had something new, I have never had before, Pepper fries. I also had a cup of coffee before getting back on the bus. Bangalore was still 120 km away. Since it was getting dark, I went back to my seat at the back. The guys started a game of antarakshi. It was fun and kept us entertained all the way to Bangalore.
It was midnight by the time we reached Bangalore. One of the guys Abhishek, shared a cab with me as his place was along the way. I was back in the cozy comfort of my home in half an hour. It is one of my fetishes, every place I visit, I need to get one amazing shot, that summarizes the place. Unfortunately I didn’t get one this time and this is going to haunt me until I go back again and get it.