A regular nominee among backpackers’ favourite beaches in search of tranquility and solitude in India, Gokarna appeals to the congregation looking for a nonchalant, laid-back beach holiday.
Strolls along the quiet amicable beaches make you aware of your existence; splashes of sea water on your feet, the sound of waves crashing on nearby rocks, the scent of salt air and the windswept sunsets make you live in the moment. Gokarna, for quite long, has been the destination for those who find peace in desolation, who prefer to stay away from the dynamism of Goa – rangers who can befriend the art of lull and placidity.
Gokarna starts to put up quite a show right when one gets off on the Gokarna Road Railway Station. The station lies about ten kilometre from the core of the haven. The elementary, single-lane boulevard that leads its way into the town, with little to no traffic, provides the most apt introduction to what is about to come.
Trees and landscapes untouched and unscathed, hillocks that seem to have no human occupancy at all, baring small temples that look deserted, and while you are stuck in your thoughts of what lies beyond, a sudden view of the blue water in the distance takes your breath away.
Gokarna, a modest town along the coast of Karnataka, has amassed a reputation as ‘hippiedom’s final frontier’. Old-timers who have been on the road for decades, having seen what India had to offer half a century ago, say it is reminiscent of what Goa used to be in the 1970s and 80s. Most of the travellers acknowledged the town’s existence only quite recently, part of the reason why the place still has an aura of seclusion in the air, perhaps.
There lies a rather off-beat, yet benevolent culture in Gokarna – quiet, less partying, more severed.
The enticingly named beaches – Om beach, Kudle, Half-moon and Paradise beaches, each expose a different frontage of what the town has to offer. Though not as widespread as some beaches one might have seen, these waterfronts have a unique charm about them. Devoid of ravenous water sport activities and beach stalls one is used to seeing, these instead have shacks and laid-back cottages alongside for backpackers to take it all in.
One can spot wanderers reading books, sketching and playing ukuleles; one can find Israelis playing frisbees and sipping beers; one can easily spot the hermits smoking and just becoming one with the blissful surroundings. But there’s seldom an ardor, or a sense of gusto in the air!
So why, in such a reclusive place, would people still pour in? Ask this to any shack owner and the answer is common – Nothing. Smoke. Sleep. Music. Sunbathe.
Yes, the narrow streets in the town are thick with honking mopeds, cows and rickshaws; yes, there are shrines and temples everywhere; yes, the street-side shops like filing cabinets spill over with puja accessories, sandalwood, spices, and chillums are a common sight, and still there lies a rather off-beat, yet benevolent culture in Gokarna – quiet, less partying, more severed!
One could easily be dazzled by the uncomplicated charisma of traditions, the hippie-code and the gulf that prevails between them. Thousands of devotees come to the Mahabaleshwar temple every year, the fervent Hindus who did understand the commercial value of what they had when travelers started pouring in, but who also embraced, that the town was and remained primarily an agricultural and worship economy.
This might be part of the reason why tourist commercialisation is still a distant possibility for Gokarna.
Right from the phytoplankton on beaches, which are pitch dark for most part from dusk to dawn, to the lone-rangers that trek their way from one beach to the other over the hillocks, from the recluse voyager who sits by the cliffs of these hillocks awaiting the serene sunset to the bustle of the town as one approaches the Mahabaleshwar temple, Gokarna gradually orchestrates an assortment of sights and experiences that otherwise, would be hard to find in any other place!