Gokarna located in the northern part of coastal Karnataka has become a popular tourist destination in the past few years. This is partly due to excess tourist inflows in nearby state of Goa – a traditional beach lover’s paradise – and an increasing crop of young travellers in the country who are on the lookout for novel experiences. Gokarna offers all the ingredients for a perfect coastal holiday – multiple clean beaches, lesser tourist crowds, accommodation across various budget categories and a welcoming socio-cultural environment.
I visited Gokarna as part of my coastal Karnataka road trip that included the coastal towns of Gokarna, Murudeshwar, Udupi and Mangalore in Karnataka with detours to nearby inland tourist destinations en-route. The starting and end point however remained an old favourite – Goa.
Hiring an Inter-State Self-Drive Car
One of the challenges for tourists planning to undertake a road trip in Western states of Goa, Karnataka or Maharashtra is hiring an inter-state self-drive cab. Although all leading self-drive rental car companies offer their services in the region, they do not rent a car for out-station travel. While Maharashtra is slightly better off in this regard, operators in Goa and Karnataka have a kind of strict unwritten policy of not renting out cars to tourists for inter-state travel. Every self-drive car renting companies I spoke to declined me to offer a car for travel from Goa to Karnataka and back. With no solution in sight, I started looking out for small time taxi service providers and luckily found one who offered me a self-drive car at INR 1700 per day. Although, the condition of the car was not that great, I was thankful of at least having found one. Please note, that this challenge exists only for self-drive cars. Chauffeur driven cars are easily available.
Drive from Goa to Gokarna
The distance from Goa to Gokarna is approximately 150 kilometers and it takes approximately 3-5 hours to cover this distance depending on which part of Goa you start from – North or South. I started my drive from Colva in Goa, where I was staying having arrived a day earlier. The drive from Colva to the Karnataka border is a pleasing experience as you drive through some beautiful stretch of roads that include the famous Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.
Karwar is an ideal pit-stop on this route located mid-way between the two locations. Having started early in the morning from Goa, we decided to drop our anchor at Karwar beach for lunch.
Karwar beach is the first major beach in Karnataka and attracts a significant number of tourists. The area around the beach is well maintained with walkways, restaurants, water sports and gardens. The prime attraction of this beach however is the war ship museum featuring a real Indian Navy warship. Karwar is an important naval base of Indian Navy which explains the location of this museum at Karwar beach.
We visited a restaurant called Drive-In located right next to the warship museum. The place served fresh sea-food and usual South Indian fare. While my wife settled for a Veg Thali, I ordered a fish curry – consisting of a whole fresh kingfish – at just INR 350. After a relaxed meal, we walked to the beach and the nearby museum. Although the waters tempted us, we decided to leave as it was noon and the sunrays were killing. Also, we wanted to reach our destination on time.
After a 6 hour drive, we finally arrived in Gokarna. We had pre-booked our stay at Namaste Sanjeevani, a boutique resort located close to Kudle beach atop a hill overlooking the sea from certain parts of the resort. By the time we checked into our cottage, it was late in the afternoon. Fortunately, we were allotted a room that offered a view of Kudle beach and we could not keep ourselves far from for long. So, after a quick change we decided to walk down to Kudle Beach for a swim and spend the rest of the evening in one of its several beach shacks. Kudle beach was just a 10 mins walk from Namaste Sanjeevani resort.
Kudle beach is the first beach we visited in Gokarna and as such our expectations were high. To our delight, all the stories we had read or heard about Kudle beach before our trip here turned out to be true.
Nestled between two small hills, Kudle beach is a small stretch of clean white sands. The entire length of the beach would be lesser than 500 meters and anyone could walk it down from one end to the other in a matter of few minutes. It had a few shacks for travellers serving the usual sea-fare and beer. There were also several homestays right on the beach.
The waves at Kudle beach were gentle which made it ideal for a swim. What I liked about Kudle was the limited number of tourists and the nature of the ones present. More than half of the population consisted of international tourists and everyone was busy in their own personal world. The entire atmosphere of the place had a surreal feel. Everyone seemed happy in what they were doing including the local boys who were playing football and cricket right on the beach. The entire atmosphere was very calming and peaceful.
While everything seemed calm on the sands, the waters at Kudle are slightly different. Kudle beach is home to a significant number of jellyfish. While I have seen jellyfish being washed to the shore at other beaches in India, the numbers here were just too high! I actually lost count on the number of these creatures I saw washed ashore in this small stretch of beach.
This distinct character of Kudle beach provided me with a unique experience. While taking a swim in its water, I got stung by a jellyfish for the first time in my life! And, let me admit, it’s PAINFUL!!! Luckily a life-guard noticed my pain and advised me to go to a nearby shack and pour some vinegar over the area where I was stung. Interestingly, this strange therapy worked and my pain subsided in an hour. While this was a painful experience, I think it was an interesting one.
The jelly fish incident ended my swimming season and we decided to move to one of the shacks on the beach for the remaining part of the evening. At Kudle beach shacks, Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) are favourites. For those of you who have travelled a lot, you will understand the reason why. We spent the remaining part of the evening sipping chilled beer while the kid gorged on his favourite pastas and pizzas.
Most of the shacks at Kudle beach provide cottage stays at reasonable prices. Out of curiosity I checked a few of them at the shack we were spending the evening. They were located at the backyard and included several options. Rent started at INR 200 a night to INR 2500 a night. The basic ones were small single bedded rooms with mud/sand floors while the ones priced upwards had superior facilities like attached bathroom, air conditioning amongst other facilities. While it will be interesting to stay in these, I personally feel they are not the best of option for a family travelling with young kids.
Om Beach is undoubtedly Gokarna’s most famed beach and it can be credited for single-handedly popularizing this small town on the global tourist map. Om beach is formed in the shape of sacred Hindu symbol “Aum” and you will be amazed the perfection of this natural wonder from a high point nearby. I would not be wrong to say this is one of India’s less talked about natural wonders.
Reaching Om beach once you are in Gokarna is easy. You can trek, drive or even take public transport. A lot of local autos operate to ferry tourists in the area.
If you have the time and suitable company, then trekking to Om beach is a great option. The route passes through some interesting terrain. However, if you are travelling with a small kid, then maybe driving down is a better option. There is a parking at the hilltop above the beach where you can safely park your vehicle and descend to the beach. Since I was travelling with my wife and kid, we drove down to the beach which took us around 15 mins from Kudle beach.
The last few meters to Om beach from the parking lot have to be traversed on foot. Compared to Kudle, Om beach had a much higher inflow of tourists. There is a big shack right at the start of the beach which serves decent food and beer.
Om beach offers boat rides for tourists to visit nearby beaches like paradise and half-moon. These are secluded beaches frequented mostly by the international tourists and youngsters. Not the right place in case you are with family. Neither you will enjoy the visit, nor will the people present at these beaches like your presence.
Gokarna beach is located in main town, close to the famous Mahabaleshwar temple located in this small temple town. It is a major pilgrimage center and as such draws a significant number of visitors. The Gokarna beach has a close connect with the temple and has major religious significance. It is considered pious for pilgrims visiting the temple to take a bath in it before visiting the temple. As such most pilgrims visit this beach for a bath. The Gokarna beach is crowded and quite commercialized as expected. Also, the visitors are of a different profile. You can choose to visit it if you are visiting the temple but there is not much for a holiday maker here. You can choose to give it a miss.
Explore Murudeshwar, another popular tourist town in the Coastal Karnataka belt in my next blog