It was nearly seven in the morning. Orange shafts of light shot across the valley as the early sun peeked over the hills. Red laterite walls of the resort I was staying in glowed like overripe plums. Behind them, the morning sun gilded the tops of soaring casuarinas and eucalyptus. Like geometric designs on a piece of fabric, long yellow strips of sunlight created shifting patterns on the lush green lawn. Birdcalls echoed across the valley and fled towards the blue slice of the Arabian Sea visible in the distance. As a soft breeze blew over the landscape like a sigh, I took deep lungfuls of the morning air savouring the freshness.
Resorts on the outskirts of Gokarna, surrounded by undulating hills, afford grand views of the Arabian Sea and are located ideally to offer serenity and peace. Isolated virgin beaches, secluded coves and a laid-back ambience form the motif of Gokarna, the temple town 65 km south of Karwar. About 475 km from Bengaluru via Shivamogga and Honavar along the NH 206, the drive to Gokarna is a joy. You encounter woodlands and ghat sections on the former route and vistas of the sea and quaint coastal towns like Murudeshwar and Maravanthe along the Karavalli coast if you travel from Mangaluru. Either way, you reach your destination not the least weary. Buses also ply regularly from Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Mysuru and Hassan.
Low-budget accommodation is available downtown, while shacks strewn along the fringes of secluded beaches like Paradise Beach and Om Beach draw backpacking foreigners in droves. These places, a regular haunt of budget travellers, has a distinctive ambience — reminiscent of the lazy beach life of neighbouring Goa. Travellers on a shoe-string budget from all across Europe can be seen lazing on hammocks or sitting around the cafeteria with jugs of beer, munching on sandwiches and seafood.
There is plenty to do here for beach buffs and adventure sports lovers. Surfing, parasailing, snorkelling, sightseeing cruises, kayaking, water scooter rides and paragliding provide endless fun under the sun, while barbeques on the exclusive Paradise Beach, accessible only through sea or trekking through wooded hills, promise unforgettable moments. Mountain biking and rappelling on the surrounding hills, arranged under the supervision of experienced guides, are quite popular with the visitors, too.
“About 70% of our guests who try our beach activities are non-swimmers,” says a local tour guide. “An approved life jacket is mandatory for everyone and our expert instructors personally accompany every group that ventures into the sea.” An interesting sport introduced here is called the ‘banana boat ride’, where riders perched atop a long, inflated tube resembling a banana are pulled along behind a speeding boat which then takes a sharp turn capsizing the banana and throwing its occupants pell-mell into the sea. The life jacket ensures they float safely and the guides who dive in after them pluck them from the water and get them back on to the ‘banana’.
A sightseeing tour to nearby tourist destinations, especially to beaches like Kudle and Half Moon, can be rewarding.
Age-old temples dot the narrow streets of the town. Roadside stalls selling brass and copper idols and other bric-a-brac vie with shops selling beachwear and casuals. They cater mainly to foreign tourists who pick up souvenirs at bargain prices. Perhaps, it is the aura of spirituality pervading the narrow, winding streets strewn with temples or the secluded beaches and coves, and the prospect of spending endless hours gazing indolently at the shimmering sea from beach-front shacks or perhaps a combination of all these is what attracts tourists to Gokarna. Literally translated to mean ‘cow’s ear’, the village is formed by the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers, the Gangavathi and the Tadri.
The rivers take a back seat, however, to the beaches and the surrounding rugged hills. The hills and the wooded valleys are ideal for trekking and nature walks while a stroll along the many beaches, especially at dawn and dusk, offers an opportunity to watch the local fishermen at work as they cast the nets from the shore or beach their canoe-shaped wooden boats and gather their bounty from the sea.
Before long, you realise that the spirituality of the east meeting with the beach culture of the west seems to have formed a singular ambience here that hovers over the town and its people like mist on a wintry day and that, you perceive, is the leitmotif of this quaint little coastal town.