This New Year, party lights, loud music and popping champagne were replaced by star-studded skies, music of gushing waves and a moonlit sea. There couldn’t have been a better way to start the year: a small rustic temple-town, beautiful rivers, Arabian sea shores bordered by the rocky hills of Western Ghats, confluence of cultures and peace and quiet. I fell in love with the clear waters and calm beaches of Gokarna.
Like any foodie would, we started our trip by heading straight to Prema restaurant, a highly recommended food place near Gokarna beach. I was put off by the ambiance of the place but the sumptuous food compensated for it all. Gokarna beach was a disappointment; it was unclean and highly commercialized. Hoping that we don’t take home the first impression of this little town, we took an auto to Kudle Beach.
Kudle Beach: From the parking lot, we went down a narrow downhill path lined with huge trees on either side. After a ten minute walk, we saw Kudle beach in all it’s afternoon glory. The shadows of the coconut trees danced by the shacks on the shore and dry summer grasses on the adjoining hills tuned with the breeze. I scaled up the brown hill, decorated with sporadic palm trees, to get a panoramic view of Kudle. The view was breathtaking; the ocean reflected the beautiful shades of the golden sun and I could only hear the rhythm of the crashing waves.
New Year at Om Beach: After spending a couple of hours at Kudle, we started the 20 minute trek to Om Beach during sunset. By the time we reached Om beach, the sun had set and we headed straight to Namaste Cafe. With cotton ball fairy lights hung on trees and the ocean shore just a few foot away, Namaste Cafe had a wonderful ambiance and decent food. We spent good three hours there and then walked along the shoreline.
The beach was pitch dark, except for the quaint moonlight. The high tides crawled to the coast. We sat by the calm shore, watching the starry sky and listening to music of the soothing waves, looking back at the year that passed and the promises that another New Year held. The clock struck 12. There was music and there were bonfires. The gorgeous colors of fireworks lit up the sky and waters. There were people from different places and cultures, yet everyone had three words to shout out: ‘Happy New Year!!’. Surreal isn’t enough to justify the beauty of the night; happiness can’t quantify the joy I felt.
We reached back to our room at 3 A.M. that night. We loved every bit of our New Year celebrations but since there were some really drunk locals, we didn’t find it safe to stay back on the beach.
Mahabaleshwara Temple: The next morning, we went to the famous temples in Gokarna: Mahabaleshwara temple and Maha Ganapthi Temple, which are close to each other and the Gokarna beach. The temples have great legends and religious importance attached to them. A variety of local street shopping, from hippie beads to colorful beach wear, can be found in the local market close to these temples.
We checked out from our hotel and headed to Paradise beach. En-route to Paradise beach, we stopped at the Agnashini river. The water was crystal clear and beautifully blue. The hills that flanked the river’s course, the green trees bordering the river and the little boats parked on the shore made it extremely picturesque. This is one of those places, I would have loved to visit for a morning walk (of-course with a copy of my favorite book!).
We started the 3-4 Km trek to Paradise beach and had to go downhill and uphill along a dwindling path. The canopy of trees protected us from the afternoon sun. There were no markings along the path and it took us some time to figure out the route. The trek through the last hill was where the magic began. We got glimpses of the ocean through the wild flowers and palm trees. Further down, we saw the majestic ocean shimmering in the afternoon sun and the coved shores of Half-Moon and Paradise beaches looked captivating from the hill.
Paradise Beach: The beach was truly a (tiny) paradise: extremely blue water and clean sands and quite isolated. Barring a few foreigners who setup their tents under the coconut trees on the shore, there were no shacks or restaurants. I just sat under shady coconut trees watching the gorgeous sea and violent waves. After relaxing for a while, we took a boat to the Half-Moon Beach. Due to the high tide, the boatman couldn’t take us to the Half-Moon beach and we only saw it from a distance. It was smaller than Paradise beach and had a shack or two. The boat ride was quite enjoyable and had some breathtaking views of the ocean and hills.
Om Beach: Om beach takes the shape of ‘Om’ symbol and is hence named so. The shape was quite evident as a clear pile of jet black stones and green creepers cut out the beautiful Om shape. We had a late lunch in one of the shacks and then watched the glorious sunset change colors of the sky. There is definitely something about west coast sunsets; you cannot be not awed by their brilliance.
Gokarna multiplied my love for the ocean and has some extremely magnificient beaches. I would have loved spending more time and solo travelling to this amazing place. Go pack your backpacks to this hidden town before more people discover it. Come back and thank me later!
Stay and Costs:
Costs- We took A.C sleeper bus, both ways, and the transportation cost us around 2.5k per person. Accomdation cost 700 bucks per day and the boat from Paradise to Om beach cost 200 per person. The overall trip cost around 4.5k per person.
Stay-Since it was New Year and we didn’t prebook any places, it was slightly difficult to get a room. After a long search, we got a room in a Hotel Gokarna, close to the bus stop, but the room was not so great. The owners were great tho. If you can plan in advance, the beach shacks on Kudle and Om Beach seem to be better options. These beaches are more commercial then Half-moon or Paradise. Or if you’re adventurous and are looking for some lonely place to camp, paradise and half-moon it is! (although I am not sure how safe these beaches are).
Food-North Indian food at Prema Restaurant. Try anything on their menu, simply yum! Namaste cafe has decent food and cheap drinks. But really nice ambiance. Doplhins Bay Cafe on Om Beach- bad food and bad service.
Strongly recommended- Don’t rush from one place to another; the beaches are beautiful, so just try to sit back and relax. A peaceful iteneray and solo travel are highly recommended.