Gokarna is almost a unknown twin of Goa. It’s a small religious town in Karnataka, located right on the beach and just below the state of Goa. My trip started off from Bangalore. There are quite a few different types of buses to go from Bangalore to Gokarna. I think there are trains from Bangalore as well but those usually take longer. On this trip we took a bus around 8PM in the evening and reached Gokarna around 6AM. The bus was a sleeper bus with A/C which meant I got some shut-eye during the night. However I strongly recommend to check the bus quality before going since buses can be really filthy. We had taken the KSRTC bus and seriously it was dirty, smelly and full of insects. I wouldn’t recommend it but I am hopeful that there are other cleaner buses as well.
Once we got to Gokarna town, we decided to wing it a bit in terms of where to stay. There are very few established places / hotels in the area. There are 3 major beaches with any kind of accommodation: Kudle, Om beach, Half moon beach. There is one more beach called Paradise beach but that doesn’t have any place to stay as such.
You can take an auto from Bus station to kudle beach area for about 100 rupees. However it was pleasant in the morning so we decided to walk and it took us about 30 minutes. The last 5-7 minutes is a downhill walk through muddy pavement till the beach. If you do take a car or an auto, you would have to still walk down this last prt.
From one end to the other end of Kudle beach, it’s about a 15 minute walk. We kind of followed one of my friends about the beach since he had been here quite a few times. We walked to the other end of Kudle beach and found a café with some small brick rooms. These were 500 rupees a night and had a bed, a fan and a light. The shower and washroom was shared. They were as clean as you can expect for something shared between 10+ people and surrounded by mud and sand. It was definitely not the kind of place I have stayed in for long (perhaps ever) but overall it turned out to be okay.
The truth is that some of these shack owners usually cater to long-term stay or foreigners. So if you are desi folks looking to stay a night or two, you might have to plan ahead or check out a few places or be creative in your persuasion. Luckily our friend is in sales and he got everything figured out pretty fast.
After settling down a bit, we ate at the café (of the same place). The café was right on the beach and had some great views and a cool breeze. We sat there for quite a bit and just lazed around. We decided to hike to Half moon beach in the afternoon since it is a little deserted and Gayatri had been there last time. From Kudle you need to first hike to om beach which is about 20 odd minutes of up and down hill walk. Then there is about 15 minutes of on-beach walk at Om beach. From there you walk another 15 minutes or so to Half moon beach. Overall it was a good exercise and we had a late lunch at a small café at half moon.
We trekked back later in the evening to Kudle and spent most of our time walking along the beach, having beers and bitching about other people! 😛
There were 2 things I noticed in Gokarna: The first was that there were a lot of foreigners all around the beach, sun-bathing or swimming in the waters or just lazing about and there weren’t a lot of judgemental eyes or chatter about what these outsiders were doing. It seemed to be fairly normal in Gokarna which is the first I have seen in India at any beach. The second was that I saw a couple of instances where the policemen walked up to foreigners to search their bags etc for marijuana. It seemed like drug-checks were done and strictly enforced as well. Which again is something I wouldn’t expect in India.
The second day we decided to go to Paradise beach. Turns out you can’t really go there directly. There are 2 ways to get there (or maybe 3): You can trek from Kudle to Om to Half Moon and onto Paradise. Or you can take boats (which is freaking expensive). Or you can take an auto to Belekan beach. From there you would have to trek for about 20-30 minutes to get to Paradise beach.
Paradise beach is much smaller, doesn’t really have any permanent establishments and you might not find any food there (like a café). You can get some fruits and water from a local vendor but that’s about it. Also the trail can be a little difficult to follow in some parts so be prepared to use the water line for direction at times.
We decided to take the boat from Paradise to Om beach (which was 300 rupees per person) and we ended up checking out the most-famous attraction in Gokarna: Namaste Café. It honestly wasn’t anything special but probably is the oldest place and most popular café / guesthouse in gokarna in general.
All these beaches in Gokarna are clean and good for a dip. There can be rip-tides so you have to be careful in case you want to swim around and it is generally cautioned against. But I did see people swimming and having fun in most cases. Also at Om beach / Kudle, there seemed to be signs of a budding water sports tourism but it seemed fairly basic right now.
I had decided to take a train to Goa from Gokarna to meet up with a friend. So I booked a ticket a couple of days before. The train fare from Gokarna to Goa was 45 rupees ( less than $1). However to get to Gokarna train station from Kudle beach was 250 rupees (and about 20 minutes).
Overall it was a good getaway. It was cheaper and less busy than Goa and offered pretty much the same things like good food, good beach and a closeness to nature. On the other hand it doesn’t offer the same party scene or sophistication like a more established beach destination so you might get bored easily.