It’s pouring heavily outside as I’m snuggled up with a copy of my favorite author Ruskin Bonds’ stories of the hills and mountains.
It’s a Sunday afternoon. However the sky paints a different picture of dark grey clouds and patches of colorful rainbows, giving the afternoon a late evening look.
Cool, sweet-smelling air wafts into my room through the open window as my mind travels and relives the memories of my visit to the beaches of Gokarna.
Gokarna, a small town in north Karnataka is a religious as well as tourist place, with legendary temples and beautiful beaches adorning it. It is a little ahead of Goa, but relatively less commercialized and less populated – which made it an instant pick over Goa, for a relaxing experience on the beach.
How to reach:
You can take any train which plies between Mumbai and Mangalore and depending on the train; you can either get down at Gokarna Road station or at the next station, which is ‘Kumta’.
We boarded the Mangalore Express superfast train from Panvel, which had no stop at Gokarna, yet luck found us and the train got a signal exactly at Gokarna station where taking full opportunity of the situation, we jumped off the train without any platform to land on. It was our first kick start to the vacation.
From the station you can take a cab or a rick to reach the town/beach. They charge anywhere between `400-`600 for the trip. We took the only cab – an Omni –parked outside the station and barged in after bargaining it to`500.
Where to stay:
We first wanted to stay at a beach resort. However the resort we tried turned out to be very congested and had smaller rooms. And also it was way ahead of the town.
After much contemplation and many trips to different hotels we took lodging in a humble and peaceful hotel right in the middle of the town which is about 2 minutes from the temple and 3 minutes from the main beach. Hotel Savitri was clean, open, spacious and very cheap – exactly what we were looking for!
What to eat:
The food is simple and you can give your taste buds some nice authentic South Indian cuisine. There is one restaurant in town called ‘Pai Hotel’ which provides some simple food at relatively low price.
You can have beer or coffee and enjoy the breeze sitting in Namaste Café which is bang opposite the Om Beach. It’s serene and picture perfect to watch the sea, hear the waves, and enjoy your drink.
The only disappointment for my friends was that they couldn’t find authentic sea food – fish, prawns et al, which we finally managed to get hold of on our last day of vacation in Kumta.
Sands and Beaches:
Gokarna boasts of 3 key beaches --- Main beach or Gokarna beach, Kudle beach and Om beach. Gokarna beach and Kudle beach lie in the same stretch and you need to trek a small hill to reach Om beach on the other side.
The beaches are clean and less populated. Drizzling rains and noisy waves made for a beautiful evening on the beach. We built castles, played in water, jumped high when a wave arrived, shouted and cried when a wave hit, whined when the waves pulled the sand beneath our feet, posed in different angles for photographs set against the wild sea, had hot chai and returned back to our hotel drenched in happiness.
What does the legends at Gokarna say:
Jealous of Ravana’s mother’s prayers to Shiva, the Lord of Heaven – Indra, stole the Shiv Linga and dropped it into the ocean. Seeing his distraught mother, Ravana promised that he will go to Mount Kailash and bring the Atma Linga for her worship.
Ravana performed severe penance and pleased Lord Shiva, who in turn bestowed boons upon Ravana. Ravana asked for the Atma Linga. Shiva pulled out the Atma Linga from his own heart and gave it to Ravana with strict instructions that it should not be placed on ground till it was sanctified at a final destination otherwise it would establish itself wherever it is placed on earth.
Afraid that Ravana with his renewed power and the Atma Linga might cause problems, various Gods in heaven appealed to Shiva for redress from this unwanted situation. Shiva pledged that Lord Vishnu would redeem the situation.
On his way back to Lanka, Ravana stops for his evening prayers in Gokarna. He saw Ganesha (Lord Ganpati) in the disguise of a shepherd boy and asked him to hold the Atma Linga until he finished his prayers. Taking advantage of the opportunity Ganesha put the Atma Linga on ground and vanished. Ravana tried to chase Ganesha and the cows that he was shepherding. However he could catch hold of only an ear of the last vanishing cow. Hence this place was given the name ‘Gokarna’ (in Sanskrit 'Gow' means "cow" and 'karna' means "ear").
Despite several attempts Ravana could not excavate the Linga and had to accept defeat. Finally Ravana gave the name ‘Mahabaleshwar’ (meaning all-powerful’) to the Atma Linga and it is now built as a temple.
If you stay in or around Mumbai, Bangalore or Mangalore and want a quiet retreat for 3-4 days then Gokarna is the place to be. With its picturesque beaches minus the crowds, mythical temples, simplistic lifestyle, and peaceful atmosphere Gokarna should definitely be on your travel list.