Six Days Calm feat. Gokarna
On the western coast of India some 50 kms south of Bollywood’s favorite seaside destination Goa, is a sleepy tiny pilgrim town called Gokarna. The name derives from the peninsula ( where the town is ) being shaped like a cow’s ( Gau or Go- ) ear ( -karna ). This is the story of my solo trip to this certain place. Nothing extremely bad or good happened to me on this trip, still it has affected me in a certain way. So much I can’t help but write about it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as it was my first solo trip, and would be the longest I’d be spending on vacation ( 6 days, 5 nights ) on a 50 sq. km. peninsula. I booked a sleeper bus to be my vessel starting Bangalore for 10 hours. I reached next morning around 8:30.
“So, it begins”
I walked from the bus stand to the temple town and continued to the beach, because that’s what called me here, my complex relationship with the sea ( not so much the gods for me, but yeah they do add to the grandeur of the place ). The huge, beautiful, dangerously powerful monster stood ( and moved ) in all it’s might in front of all puny humans who stood by it’s side. Sadly, he wouldn’t stop pilgrims from littering all over it’s side, it doesn’t care much after a certain distance it seems.
I found a place to spend the first night, grabbed some omelet and began my excursion by the sea side under the hot October sun.
“Where the river meets the sea”
I was looking for this place the river formed an estuary with the sea, north of the Gokarna beach. A straight walk on the beach which seemed easy enough on google maps, took me more than an hour to cover. And then I saw it, the secret was there in front of my eyes, river meeting the sea. Well, it was the sea moving inland and forming small packets of ponds that interconnected, and completely invading the river’s end. You’ll need to walk a bit upstream on the river to get freshwater there. The sight sure was beautiful though. You don’t appreciate much though when the sun’s heat is playing tricks on you. Decided to quickly move inland to find a road and board a bus back to the town which I left some 8–10 Kms behind !
“The hot, sleepy town”
Not much goes on in the town. Pooja goes on in the temple with occasional purohit riding on a scooty, elderly people just sitting in their varandah, a market that has small shops selling clothes, crafts, even musical instruments among the usual pooja paraphernalia. People, just like the town are always calm and go about their chores at a certain pace which doesn’t involve any haste. The cows are friendly and the restaurants all offer pure vegetarian food in this area. There’s a bar nearby if you wish for help in slowing your life down further. And yes, there are ATMs.
“The sea breeze and land breeze”
It being the off season, there wasn’t much happening on the main beach. I headed to the crescent moon shaped Kudle beach to which you can hike from the town. Take a good look at Google maps and you can see a thin line turning from the temple town towards this beach. Took no more than half an hour to reach the place. And you are presented with beautiful view of the sea on the way.
The beach is lively. Go at the right time of the year and you’ll meet amazing people at this amazingly beautiful place. It’s dotted with beach side cafes which also offer shacks and concrete rooms ranging from Rs. 200 to 1400 per night. The water is relatively shallow so you can go pretty far without getting the dreadful feeling of losing the ground beneath you ( If you don’t swim and have ever failed to find any firm place to stand when underwater for a moment, you’d understand what I am talking about ). It gets increasingly lively as the sun sets with a calm sea breeze embracing you like a lover.
It had to be one of the most beautiful sunsets I ever saw. Evenings are when the fun starts at these beaches, people would sit around bonfire and make merry. I couldn’t witness this myself for the usual visiting season was only about to start, it felt great and I met some amazing travelers nevertheless. Tip: Talk to fellow travelers and even the cafe workers, they’re all pretty welcoming and receptive usually. I guess the beauty of the place does this to everyone. The nights are alive and peaceful. I relaxed on the beach to the music of the waves for a while after dinner and lost myself in thoughts about life, universe and everything.
“The Israeli breakfast”
Started my day with an Israeli set breakfast. Hummus, salad, pita bread with scrambled eggs and coffee. Although most of the beach side cafe’s seemed to have the same source for their menu, they sure tasted different.
There’s a straightforward trek from Kudle beach to my next stop, the Om beach, so named because it looks like the symbol Om when viewed from the sky or any of the small hills on both sides of it. It’s a bit of a climb so I started early to avoid the usual wrath of the mid-day sun. After 30 minutes of easy walking, I reached the southern end of the peninsula, where the Om beach is. And trust me, it gets better as you keep moving further on this beach.
During once of these treks, you might get to see some peacocks / peahens and even rarely catch a glimpse of a snake crossing the path ( minding it’s own business, intending no harm ), but other than that, there are no wild animals you need to fear an encounter with. Of course, the cats, dogs and cows are everywhere. Cow is synonymous with calmness in India and dogs are our best friends. I wouldn’t trust the cats so much though, they always seem to have evil intentions.
The dogs tend to bark if you’re taking a walk across the beach in the dark but well, they’re funny creatures and wouldn’t cause any harm.
“A place to call home”
The beach again, offers various options to stay ranging from small shacks to decorated beach resort. I could only manage a small concrete hut for myself as everything else was taken. I didn’t plan to stay indoors anyway. The beach there seemed steeper than Kudle , but all else was worth staying there for at least one night. The cafes specially seemed better than their counterparts at Kudle. I tried going into the water a few times, only to feel the ground sloping only slower than my fear of drowning which came and took hold of me.
Met a lovely couple from south London, and enjoyed the evening with some delicious fish curry. Turns out I was wrong about the sunset, this one was even better.
“Life in the slow lane”
Om beach wasn’t letting me enter it’s waters, so I decided to go back to Kudle the next day. Still it was amazing for the people I met and all the stories we traded. Starting conversations with random strangers was something I would never usually do. Possibly because I was alone, I found the people better conversation partners than my mute diary, most probably because of the vibe that place carried. It would be impossible for one to feel otherwise there. It was all going nice and slow, the way I love it.
One of my conversation partners was this guy from Manipur who, despite not knowing to swim, would go frighteningly deep into the sea ( you might find my “frightening” equivalent to your “meh” when it comes to the sea ). “Wth, let’s try!”. And then started my conversation with the sea! With every wave that lifted me off my feet ( a bit ), I fell more in sync with it. After a while, it was my best friend. And now suddenly, I knew how I was going to spend the rest of my time there!
Rest of my day read “sea and food and sea and sea food and …”
Get up early, grab a pair of headphones, sit by the sea, and watch the waves go in perfect harmony with “Time” from the Inception sound track. Then maybe lose the headphones, waves have their own music. Feel the warmth of the first rays.
That’s how my day started. The waves sure seemed bigger early in the morning. With no one around, a dog, probably looking for some company came and quietly sat beside me. I don’t know if he appreciated the sea orchestra but he sure seemed to enjoy the warmth my back offered him.
Had my coffee and a sandwich, decided to head to Half-Moon & Paradise. Those are secluded and mostly untenanted beaches further south of Om.
“Hey, guys…I think that’s not the right way!”
You have to hike a small hill, which gives you a breathtaking view of the sea, to begin your descend to the half moon beach. It’s just some 25 meters wide and has a solitary cafe besides a huge rock on one end.
The cafe was not open yet ( again, the season ) and we were just three people on the small beach. The other two being women from Germany and England, who would have faced some difficulties had I not corrected their path.
To avoid the not so difficult trek, you can take a boat as well. Take a day’s supply and a tent with you if you want to spend a night on the paradise. It looks beautiful with the coconut trees in the background.
“Dinner, conversations complete with some background music”
Decided to accompany some friends I made for dinner. You tend to not get hungry when you, well, keep eating. I had a Greek salad ( just because it sounded nice, had no idea what it was ). Conversations about politics, life and philosophy, with someone playing some nice guitar in the background. Had a perfect evening. Even the salad turned out nice.
Spent sometime on the beach under the moon, took a walk along the beach, the water recedes at night by a few meters. The sun was now being pulled by the sea from the other side of it’s shore.
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you”
It was to be my last night in Gokarna, and I spent it out, under the sky. I spread my sheet and lay down. A light breeze was blowing, a group of friends were talking among themselves at some distance and the dogs occasionally barked at shadows. I was hoping to see bright stars, a sight which you can never hope to see in the city. I kept waking up at times because being all alone on the beach at night surely makes you a bit skeptic to all the sounds. Around 2:45, the moon was deep red and was just about to vanish on the horizon. At around 4 am, I saw stars, brighter than they ever seemed. The sky was lit with the milky way and other galaxies. It was a sight worth waking up for, alas my phone camera didn’t do justice to the sight. Kept looking till I fell asleep again, this time to only wake up at around 6 in the morning. Tip: It gets a little cold early in the morning and there is dew, I had a warm blanket which helped. I would recommend sleeping on the beach in the open ( sufficiently away from the water so that the sand beneath you doesn’t get moist ) at least once while you’re there.
“In the sea, on the waves”
Headed back to Kudle beach early morning to meetup with a few friends put up there. The beach surprisingly had gotten dirty because of all the rush on Friday with it being Dusshera holiday as well. Thank fully there were people taking care of it. It being the last day, I quickly had breakfast and jumped into the sea right away. And spent much of my day in the water. You can just lie straight and salinity will keep you afloat. Stand with your back towards a coming wave and jump as it pulls you with it, and you’ll surf with it. When it gets hot in the afternoon, you can feel the temperature of the sea water changing from hot to cold beyond a certain depth.
Experience makes you richer, I earned quite a lot of it. It was certainly the first of many to come for me.
Bid my farewell to the friends I made the previous night. Now it was time to say goodbye to my home of 5 nights and 6 days. I was surely returning wiser.
Took an auto rickshaw from Kudle beach to the the bus stop. It took 15 minutes to reach the checkpoint from the beach. My bus was waiting there so occupied my berth, played some light music on my headphones and recollected everything that happened in the last 6 days.
The journey inspired me to travel more, and to write about it. And so I write, “On the western coast…”.