Gokarna – A Slow Dance with Yesterday
‘Magic Clothes for Magic Women’ – A walk through Gokarna had put us in the way of this fairly enticing shop sign. Ignoring all my minimalism goals I walked in wide-eyed at all the ultra-feminine clothes worn by plastic hangers jostling for space. I wondered about the prices and had barely finished asking when the shop-owner – and man-of-the-moment surrounded by seven women clamouring for his attention and tailoring skills – asked me to visit another time as he had no way of attending to yet another customer. Fair enough, I thought, considering the little shop really had gotten too crowded for its own good.
The beaches, however, were far less crowded. With a string of magical sunsets and sunrises to be gawked at in the days to come.
Between sands and skies that spend every evening making pink-orange faces at each other, we managed to freeze a few surreal moments on the lovely Kudle Beach. A ten-minute downhill path opens out to these shores, but be warned there isn’t a speck of light on the path, except for a small café midway.
Gokarna is a conservative temple town as much as a beach-bum hippie paradise, depending on who you ask. But whoever you ask, the words ‘small’ and ‘simple’ will come up sooner or later. Tagged as Goa’s quieter cousin, it has grown into quite the badly kept secret over the last decade. Disenchanted by the crowded boisterity that fills a lot of Goa, many head to Gokarna for a quieter, calmer and longer weekend. It’s also well-known for its high temple quotient, rich with legends and folklore and mythology, but as a devoutly non-religious person I’ll spare you those details.
Paradise Beach – a tiny paradise not yet lost
With all of two main streets and five beaches separated by hills, it proffers the right environment to get loads of nothing done. For the activity-oriented, there is the option of beach-hopping via treks through the hills that sandwich these beaches. A good flashlight or two and loads of insect repellent are a must on these treks, as is knowing the trails. The autorickshaw guy fate had lumped us with was a young local chap who claimed to know the hills and happily set us off on a wrong trail. Luckily, we realised his gaffe before it got too complicated to turn back. If trekking isn’t your cup of adventure, the Cocopelli Surf School on the main beach is a good place to channel your adrenaline.
Overdosing on Vitamin Sea across the main beach
Speaking of adrenaline, it was on this ‘main beach’ that we met an Italian swimmer who looked no less than sixty but swam like a sixteen-year-old right in the middle of the sea for at least an hour. With a snorkel and an enviable fitness level, age was really just a number to him. A little conversation revealed that he swam a couple hours every morning on his annual holiday to this place. Not one to be short of breath even after a long swim through the sea, he happily lived up to the stereotype of the talkative Italian. While shattering any limiting beliefs we may have had about the effect of age on endurance and gumption. Quite the unexpected inspiration on a long weekend.
Descending the long rocky ‘stairway’ to Om Beach, the horizon looked filled to the brim with the sea. Further down awaited the amusing spectacle of maroon-robed monks posing for group selfies on a rocky outcrop in the sea.
An aerial view of Om Beach suggests that someone drew a large Om in the sand, and hence the name.
Birds of a paradise as yet unspoilt
Sunrise on Om Beach, just as we headed to Gokarna bus stand to catch yet another bus to yet another corner of the world. Views like these make all the wee hour, cramped and hygienically challenged bus rides worth the trouble.
For the quaint at heart, Gokarna will charm you with its quietly quirky vibe and for urbanites frazzled by to-do lists exploding at both ends, this is a great place to unwind and declutter the mind. For anyone interested in life in the slow lane, if only for one long weekend, hop over to one of these beaches and sample some slowing down before you have to hurry up all over again. And more importantly, before this small and simple town gets too crowded for its own good.
The nuts and bolts: Gokarna is a bumpy overnight bus ride from Bangalore and Hampi. There are buses from Goa too. Wikitravel Gokarna for more details. We stayed at Namaste Cafe on Om Beach and it was great 🙂 I’ve also heard good things about Sunset Cafe on Kudle Beach.