Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gokarna, the postcard beauty

I take the Karwar bus from Yellapur at 9AM to Ankola. After 10 minutes bus comes on the ghat section and begins its descend to the bottom. Road is extremely busy because of iron ore being hauled from the mines of Karnataka to the ports of Konken. However to make iron from the iron ore, it requires about 10 Kilowatt-hour electricity, to produce one kilo iron from the ore. Or it takes up to 6 kilo of coal to make 1 kg of iron. Electricity is not abundance in India and either we bring coal to iron ore or iron ore to coal to make iron. Hence ore is imported to the places where electricity or coal is available in abundance.
Gokerna Beach

Our road to the bottom is red and dusty due to the spilled iron ore. Finally we are at the bottom and most of the ore traffic makes a right towards Karwar Seaport and now our road travels along a pretty river and then it crosses the Konkan railway line and also the main road and drops me at the outskirts of Ankola, at the bus stand.
Beach at Gokarna
Ankona is also a coastal town with good beaches but Gokerna is more famous and more accommodation is available there.
Now it is coastal warm temperature. Yellapur was a bit cold like rest of Karnataka due to its height above sea. I feel like drinking something cold so I drink a cola and wait for next bus to Gokarna. Soon bus comes and I take the window seat. Road goes along the railway like and then it goes along the same river that is bringing the water from Yellapur area, since it is now a tidal basin so river is now swelled up and very scenic. Our bus crosses this river at its narrowest point and then makes a right towards coast in a scenic village.
From this village salt pans begin at our left.
Temple tank
Sea water is trapped in the mud flats on high tides and then it is evaporates and gets supersaturated and solid salt is removed. It is a very labor intensive and torturous work. Labors work in the extremes of the coastal sun and heat. You can see their bodies get pitch black due to their life spent under the relentless sun. In the young age their body stoops permanently. Also prolonged exposure with salt brine is hazardous to the health.
After passing saltpans we enter in the small town of Gokarna. From bus stand I walk in the main bazaars and I find this town some sort of mystic and out of the character from rest of the Indian towns.
Temple area
Bazaar and all structures in this town are still ancient and emit the aura of the past. Whole small town is spread around the famous Shiva temple also called Lord Mahabhaleshwara. Gokarna means Cow’s Ear. It is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here. It is also located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali andAghanashini. This Temple itself is unlike all other South Indian temples, it is grand but has its own simplicity.
Gokarna is full of coconuts and palm trees and a town of contrasts, as it is a temple town and also a holiday destination by the sea. Sea is blue here and sands are silvery clean.
It is an attractive town with two main streets having shops and traditional tile-roofed brick houses. This is also an important centre of Sanskrit learning and houses Bhandikeri Math and Toggu Math. It is a place where Sanskrit knowledge is passed down from generations in Brahmin families. Many Hindus also perform the last rites here.
Also in Gokarna is Kotitheertha is a man-made tank that is used for immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is a very serene place to visit and spend some time. It is surrounded by temples and green trees.
I eat lunch in one of the small restaurants in an old building near temple and then walk towards beach.
Gokarna Beaches
I have a printout of a travel guide so I make a right at the beach to find inexpensive accommodation on the beach area. Gokarna is a foreigner’s paradise with drums, guitars and hammocks. The beaches near Gokarna have shacks (huts) for rent. After walking some distance on the sand I again make a right and here farmlands begin. A whiff of vanilla fragrance hits my nose and I am stunned. I have never smelled such heavenly smell. I wonder is someone is using any aggarbatti but there is none. Then I discover that it is coming from vanilla beans growing in the farms next to the beach.
Paddy leading to beach
As I walk towards farms, fragrance intensifies. I make a left on the small unpaved road that traverse within the farms along the beach. To my right side is a broken canal. I keep walking and at my rest come some small pretty temples and some restaurants where foreigners hang around. I have a cup of lemon tea at one and then continue my walk. At a path going towards the beach “Rooms available” sign so I enter in the farms and walk towards a cluster of rooms under the several shady trees, at the edge of farms and there also begins the sands of the sea that we can hear but cannot sea because we have to cross a rump of sand.
A lady hesitates to give me the room but I play a trick. I talk in English only.
Vanilla Beans growing at Gokarna.
She keeps asking me in Kannada and Hindi but I only reply in English. Then she gives me a kuccha room for 150 rupee assuming that I am another hippy but of desi origin. Indians are not wanted here because foreigners may use drugs etc and Indians scare them off. I settle in my mud bathed very small room with a 25 watt light bulb and a fan and a small window. There is no furniture at all and no bedding. Four rooms in a row and a verandah outside. Toilet is near the sands and one must fill up bucket of water from a shallow well. I like it.
At the end of beach, river meeting sea.
At my right side room is an Italian lady staying there for 3 months and in left side room is a French lady staying there for many days. French lady offers me a water bottle and I accept it. She is cooking food on a small gas stove under the banyan tree and asks me if I want some, I decline. As I am arranging my belongings in the room, anyway this French lady brings me the vegetables soup that she cooked.
However Italian lady turns out mean and rude.
After arranging my room I walk towards the beach; I come out of the perimeter of the shady trees and our fence, cross the sand rump and then get to the beach. It is barely 50 yards from my room. Water is blue and beach is very long. I already walked 2 kilometers away from the city area and still beach is further 3 more kilometers long.
Grapes and raw cashews being sold
This beach ends at the same river that we crossed while getting here. People say that river area is more beautiful and water is more playful there.
Few foreigners are bathing in the water far away from me otherwise area is empty. Vanilla fragrance visits me in whiffs with the ocean gale. Water is warm and I bath for 3 hours and then at evening I come out of the water and return to my room. I fetch a bucket from the well to wash off salt. I come to my room and French lady has neatly arranged several books and magazines (discarded by other visitors) in the verandah and I browse some of these.
Sun is now more in the west and light is more gentle so I begin walking on the sand to the Gokarna for 2 kilometers in the sand along the ocean.
Pilgrims at temple
As I come near town on the beach, Indian crowd bathing and now all are gathering to watch the sunset. I enter in the town streets again and visit the famous temple. It is a very graceful temple and a couple of priests insist me to do some special pooja but I decline and they leave me alone.
Then I walk in the bazaars and have some South Indian food and explore the town. In a street I find Kotitheertha Tank by the Koti Teertha. This is a very beautiful place but unfortunately night is falling so I decide to return. I have my dinner in a small restaurant near the confluence of a path to the beach on the dirt road leading to the farms. There at a farm shack I purchase some tomatoes, onions and some vegetables for the French lady who is always offering me anything that she cooks.
Pilgrims at temple tank
She is a very simple and very skinny lady a bit ascetic also. She is mostly busy in her meditations.
In the evening I avoid the village dirt road because the dirt path leading to the roam passed in the farms and at night it is difficult to figure out about which path to take. I walk on the sands of the beach and then fail to find my room. I spend about hour and a half in getting oriented. I remembered the small restaurant in the hut on sands by the beach where I had lemon tea. I find this restaurant and then by hit and miss I find the opening in the jungle that may lead to my room. After many hits and misses and after wrongfully entering into other perimeters, finally I find my own perimeter.
I hand my grocery bag to French lady and she appreciates it very much.
Temple procession
I have nothing to do here at night except to sit by the ocean. French lady is again cooking under the banyan tree and asks me to return after about an hour for the aalu-gobi subzi with breads.
At night I find it difficult to sleep at mud floor without bedding. I spread all my belongings under myself. I wake up at night feeling some animal is sleeping next to me, it turns out a small cat sleeping with me. It gets startled and run out from the window. I again fall to sleep and cat returns and this time I let it stay with me because now I know who is here.
Next day I visit the other end of the beach by the river and this turns out extremely beautiful area.
Beach at the other side of hill
Waters are more violent here because of the rivers. Many foreigners are trying to surf here but vain-fully. May be I am here at the wrong hour. Area is so beautiful that I hand around here for whole day. I eat at the shacks in the jungle by the beach and mostly foreigners are here. Then in the evening I discover other beaches those are at the other side of the hills after Gokarna. Here are several restaurants made on the beach where mostly foreigners hang around. Many Nepalese are coming in this area to start small restaurants. Menu and recipes are more inclined towards westerner cuisine but are great value for the money. They add personal touch to all dishes because they serve very limited number of people. They will cook you just anything. Foreigners are found in their kitchen cooking food for themselves.
Pilgrims at temple tank
Each day French lady gives me a 2 liter bottle of water that she fetches from Sri Ram Temple on the hillock near the town. She brings 6 liters of water from there each day and it is at least a 4 kilometers walk one way. Today I want to pay off that debt so I take her empty bottles and set off for Sir Ram Temple. I walk by the beach to Gokarna and then after the town beach is blocked by the cliffs. I take the trail to the hillock to Ram Temple. This is a very simple temple on the very serene setup. View of green fields and blue ocean is all over spread, fresh sea gale is very soothing and one can sit here for hours and so do many foreigners do. Many bring their books or painting canvas here and spend several hours. I also have my books in my day backpack. In the market one can trade-off two books for one and that’s what I did.
Path leads further to the other beaches after the hills and I cannot resist my temptation to walk further. I leave the water containers in the temple and walk on the hill. After some distance shady trees begin and I find a small restaurant in the jungle run by a Nepali there I have a cup of lemon tea with some snacks. Now the descent begins for Kundle beach, mostly foreigners stay here on this beach because of its more privacy due to remoteness. After Kundle beach is another hill and then begins OM beach that is accessible only by foot of boat so more privacy there. Area is lush green and days get very warm here so shady trees present a perfect retreat to read a book or just to have a good time anyway. I meet a Canadian couple who spend some days on these beaches each year, they say once they went to Tahiti in French Polynesia but Gokarna is hundred times better than any of the Polynesian islands at the fraction of the cost to visit there. I do agree with them because I was in Tahiti and that is damn expansive there.
In the evening I return to the Sri Ram Temple and carry all water containers and begin my walk on the beach sands, back to my shack. Hope Claudia (French Lady) is not angry on me for arriving so late. Hope she has used the water from the well.
View of Om beach from the hill
Well she is not angry at me because she anticipated that I will love the place and will hang around there for the whole afternoon.
I spend 4 memorable days in Gokarna.
I will return here one day – at some another Vanilla times.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative post on Gokarna. Its famous for its soothing beach and scenic beauty. The place has lots of splendid spots to explore and Gokarna places to visit are a must visit.


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