A small religious town with classic old style houses and shops on either sides of the narrow streets where pilgrims walk slowly, chanting religious codes; trek up the lovely sandstone hills from the clean white beaches amidst the low altitude hills of the Western Ghats. Best alternative for Goa.
ByGeorge Joseph Thengummoottil
How to reach
Gokarna (meaning Cow’s ear in Kannada) is a small district headquarter town in Uttar Karnataka. Gokarna is easily accessible by bus or train, 3 hours south of Madgaon (Goa) or 6 hours north of Mangalore on Konkan Coast.
Train: The nearest rail station to Gokarna Town is a small station called Gokarna Road ( 6 Kms east) where only a couple of superfast trains halt (Usually 30 Sec Halt for superfast and 1-5 minutes stop for passengers). From here you can get bus / auto rickshaw to town. The first bus is by 7:30 AM and takes about half an hour to reach Gokarna Bus stand.
Ideally if you start from Mangalore: get into Verna passenger train which starts at 6 AM (Less than 50 INR) which reaches Gokarna Town by noon, via one of the most beautiful railroads in India running parallel to Arabian sea: Konkan railway. You will be amazed by the beautiful sights of villages, mangrove forests and hills while travelling via this route. The rail journey along tall bridges on mighty wide rivers and long tunnels carved through the hills is worth an adventure ride.
From Mumbai, you only one direct train starts at 3:20 PM from Kurla Station otherwise, you need to change your train at Madgaon (Goa) junction.
Bus: There are plenty of buses from almost every town of Karnataka to Gokarna, at least one every day. I prefer a train journey to Gokarna.
There are plenty of lodges charging from 100 to 1000 INR per day in Gokarna town and charges remain constant throughout the year. If you want to enjoy the beaches, stay at one of the beachside hotels which charges around 300-2500 INR per night based on pack size and season. I prefer Nameste at Ohm Beach.
Internet : One out of every 3 shop at the town is an Internet café.
ATM : there are a few ATMs in the town.
My trip to Gokarna
I started my trip from Coimbatore (Tamilnadu) and reached Gokarna via Mangalapuram even though the interesting part of the journey started from Mangalapuram.
It was 6 O clock early morning when I reached Mangalapuram (Mangalore central): a city in South Karnataka occupied mostly by people of Kerala. I rushed into Verna Passenger the morning train to Gokarna, at platform 1 and occupied a left window seat facing south so that once the train makes the U turn just past Mangalapuram station, I will face north and would be able to watch the beautiful Arabian sea. Most of the passengers in the train were students going to enjoy the Goan beach, the ancient hippy site.
Off from Mangalore:The diesel engine train slowly crossed the city of Mangalapuram, making loud Chik Chik sound, whistling at very regular intervals disturbing the early morning silence of the city. At times it slowed and rushed all of a sudden, as if a truck was changing gear, releasing out a big cloud of black smoke which was pushed into the compartment by the strong winds.
As we left the city and moved along the Karnatic villages sun showed up his face, shining his warm morning rays through the blades of green paddy plants stretching across the flat land. At times there were rectangular, single and double stored houses, constructed using sandstone bricks and clay tile roofs amidst the fields.
There were farmers and beautiful girls walking along the narrow elevated tracks separating the fields every 20 to 30 meters. A few of the farmers were out with their pair of oxen plouging the fields. The lazy mid and old aged people were still squatting up aside the railway tracks emptying their large intestines, a scene which is very common in rural India except in state of Kerala.
I could not count the number of bridges, there were numerous. The clean narrow rivers were freshly polluted with the plastic glass and water bottles thrown out by the passengers on the train. Even though the Indian Railway insists passengers not to throw trash out through the window, passenger believes the window of his compartment is the opening to trash can.
At times it passed though mangrove forests and I could see the Arabian sea at the horizon. I could clearly see the high hills of Western Ghats with the peaks surrounded by a sphere of clouds to my right side.
All of a sudden, the sound of the train changed and it went dark! It was the first tunnel in the route under a hill. Somebody hasn’t switched off the lights of the nearby cubicle and so it was not pitch dark inside. You can’t predict what the Indian college couples sitting nearby does when it goes dark.
That was just a beginning, there were several tunnels some running for kilometers under the hills of the Western Ghats. The longer tunnels were lighted inside: standing near the door way helps you to enjoy the adventure ride through the dark tunnel reverberating with the loud sound of engine. Even though a few of the longer tunnels had ventilation, the smoke released by the engine while passing inside the tunnel was blown inside the compartments.
The food catered inside the train was not that good, just tiny loafs of bread and so called coffee. But the fruits and baji (local Indian food) supplied by the local villagers at the stations were excellent. There was good drinking water supply at almost every station.
Major portion of the route had only single track and so our train has to wait at several stations for superfast trains cross or overtake. Most stations were marked with sign boards indicating coach numbers on open ground in the middle of nowhere. There were a handful of passengers getting in and out of the trains.
It was almost 1 PM when train reached Gokarana Road station, a small station with comparatively large waiting lounge. The bus stop is half a kilometer away from the station along a narrow road running parallel to the track heading south, at the point where the main road to Gokarna passes under the railway track. There are a few shops at the bus stop. I got into a bus moving to Gokarna (Most of the buses heading west goes to Gokarna, 6 Kms, half an hour), passing along the route filed with views of salt fields and mangrove forests.
It was almost evening so I visited the few temples in the town and had a glance of the structure of the shops and houses in the towns. It is a must see for any visitor of Gokarna (Note that, Foreigners may not be enter in the temples.). There were so many Hindu upper class people walking along the narrow roads. The architecture of the houses and shops were really attractive. Every 1 shop out of 3 shops was an internet café, I doubt whether the people of Gokarna eat internet.. lol.
My next destination was Gokarna beach at the dead end of the level main road of Gokarna (If you are on sloppy road, you are on a wrong route), a cool place to watch sunset. The beach was bit crowded with tourists but most of the crowd stayed at the entry point of the beach.
A few Restaurants in town were open till 10 PM and I stayed at a hotel near the temple.The night was calm. I sat at the balcony of the room listening the music of the sea and went asleep.
I was waked up early morning by the music from the temple.
Morning Walk to Ohm Beach
I started my walk early morning to ohm beach, 7 Kms away along the tarred road adjacent to Gokarna Post office. The route was not that interesting initially, but after walking a kilometer or so, I reached a beautiful point from where I could see the huge hills of Western Ghats. The views behind me were amazing with Sea to the left and huge mountains painted in patterns of green to the right.
It was Kudle beach seen to my right behind a small valley of rice fields. Even though I could hear the loud roar of the sea, it took more than an hour to reach Ohm Beach: at the dead end of Ohm Beach road (Auto rickshaws from Gokarna charge 300 Rs).
There were a few tourist vehicles parked at the dead end and finally a couple of steps down the parking lead to ohm beach, a pristine clean beach with trades like fishing still works as a major contributor to economy. The beach was bounded by rocky extensions on either side, resembling ohm shape thus receiving the name Ohm beach from the early day hippies who must have conducted acid parties here.
The beauty of the beach was enhanced with the stretches of Mangrove plants with its narrow roots balancing on the fractured rocks splashed by waves. The morning sight of a few fishermen returning with a day’s catch was pleasing. I could get a close up view of them preparing the nets and segregating the fish. The restaurants at ohm beach supply good sea food and I had my brunch at Nameste café (They have got a huge menu - I love that Honey porridge). I stayed for a day at the beach, enjoying the waves and the dynamic clouds.
Kudle beach from Ohm beach (see map for directions)
Next day, I said bye to Ohm beach and proceed to Kudle beach just a hill away from Ohm via a short cut. The trek route to Kudle beach is a narrow track to the left of the parking area. Once I reached the hill top, after an ascent of 50 meters, it was bit confusing; thanks to the white arrows painted on the rock showing right directions to the beach (Good Work)
It took about 45 minutes to reach Kudle beach, down the hill, along this trek road through short woods. The views from the top of the sandstone hill were amazing.
Kudle beach is a 300 meter long semi circular beach bounded by red sandstone hills on either side. The periphery of the beach and the hill were paddy plantations and is worth seeing. Kudle beach is usually closed to tourism activities during off season, and chances of finding Indian tourists are very low, as it is not connected by vehicular road; an ideal spot if you wanna be alone. Most of the Indian tourists visit either Ohm beach or Gokarna beach; .
Gokarna Beach from Kudle Beach.
Gokarna beach is just another hill away from Kudle beach along another trek route crossing the hill. I started mt next session of trek along narrow trek route carved uphill over the rock: north of Kudle beach, there is a. Once I climbed the hill, there was a vast barren plateau. After walking almost a kilometer, at the north west end of the hill there was a couple of steps leading down to Gokarna beach.
A road heading north east from the barren hill takes you to Gokarna town. Make sure you reach Gokarna before sunset to watch the beautiful sunset which is not visible from Ohm beach and Kudle beach. I returned town after sunset.
To Ohm Beach (7 Kms): via Ohm beach road from town with gentle ascents and descents.
To Kudle Beach(1 Km Ascent, Level, descent) : Trek up route at the west of parking area near ohm beach. Follow the arrows marked on the rock and cross a unsurfaced vehicular road finally trek down along a couple of narrow step leading to beach.
To Gokarna Beach (2 Kms Ascent, Level, descent): Climb up from Kudle beach, move North east along the barren plateau and down along narrow steps leading to beach. The unsurfaced road seen to North East leads to Gokarna town.
There will be several people taking up this trek, usually foreigners. Be careful when taking this route at night, as there are high chances of slipping and falling down.There will be lots of dogs at every beach but they are not dangerous.I have travelled along this route a couple of times at night.
The food supplied at Udupi Restaurant by an old man, opposite of Post office is excellent. Stay at the old guesthouses looked after by Brahmins to enjoy the classic Gokarna.
Dominic, Malleeshwaram Lodge Attapady, Kerala