Oct 2, 2011

Communing With Nature in Gokarna

Kudle Beach, Gokarna
After nearly 2 months in India, we are finally covering some ground.  We have now visited 2 states and have just entered our 3rd—Karnataka.  The village of Gokarna is located halfway up its western coast on the Arabian Sea; Jim had fond memories of visiting here over 15yrs ago.  We headed here with the hope of finding a quiet beach and a nice place to stay and once again, we got an experience completely beyond our expectations.

We spent nearly 11hrs travelling on the train (including a 2hr layover) to get to Gokarna from Kannur in northern Kerala state, where we had stopped for a couple of nights.  By the time we disembarked from the train and arrived in town, it was nearly dark.  Arriving under these circumstances is not ideal—not only do you have a hard time orienting yourself, but we are also tired and hungry too.  At first, the accommodation options seemed dismal but we eventually found an inexpensive and clean room centrally located near the older part of the small village.  We found a great place to eat nearby and called it a night.

Are we there yet??!!
Our first hotel

The orientation of Gokarna is a bit tricky.  The village is about 9km from the nearest train station and is very isolated from main roads; even the main bus station is located a bit out of its centre.  Due to the 3 ancient temples here along with a seemingly large resident population of Brahmin high priests, it’s a popular destination for Hindu pilgrams.  The 2 main streets have little traffic—the vehicles that are around seem to consist of a few motorbikes, taxis, tuk tuks, and the rest are ‘out-of-towners’.  Along with their usual daily errands such as shopping for provisions, people walk to and from the temples and to the temple tank to ‘wash their sins away’.  There is a mix of shops from those selling religious items, to those selling dry goods, to a few restaurants and a handful of ‘foreigner’ type shops selling clothes, CDs, etc.  As with many ‘holy’ places in India, there are an abundance of cows freely roaming the streets here.  The local widows are very distinctive too in how they dress:  they tie their sarees in a unique way that we’ve not seem elsewhere, in a very ‘south-sea’ style, where their backs are near completely bare and exposed.  Their necks are also adorned with multiple strings of beads, unlike the gold jewellery which Indian women normally favour.  The predominance of foot traffic in the village together with the blend of religious tourists, tribal village women and Brahmin priests make Gokarna a very interesting yet low key place to be.

Gokarna Village Beach
Gokarna village
Temple Tank

Village women in front of temple
Widows and Brahmin priest in front of the General Store

Doing 'pulga' at the temple tank

While there is a beach in town at the end of the main road, it’s lined with many fishing boats.  There are 4 other beaches further south that are more notable which attract Indian tourists and foreigners seeking to ‘get away from it all’.  Kudle (Kood-lay) Beach is the closest, accessed by a 20min or so hike from the main beach over the headland or by a $1.50 USD/Rs60 tuk tuk ride along a recently enhanced yet still narrow and rugged path followed by a short but tricky 5-10min hike (depending on whether you are a local or a tourist and if you have kids in tow) down to the beach itself.  The beach is a wide sweeping bay which has about 8-10 restaurants in operation during the high season along with accommodation options; a few smaller restaurants and simpler thatched roof huts could be found set further back among the rice paddies and coconut palms   A large two-story hotel is also located at the far end of the beach, providing more mid-range rooms, some even with air conditioning.  Their low season rates were affordable, and it had a great garden and was facing the sea, but the requisite hike down and the long walk across the beach to access it was a bit too daunting to attempt with our backpacks and the kids in the hot sun.  While we had hoped to stay here, we reluctantly accepted that we would just have to stay in the village and go to the beach there.  On our way back to the top of the trail, we discovered a secluded group of bungalows and rooms set among the trees.  It was the perfect compromise.  Plus we had discovered a terrific and inexpensive cafe on the beach (Namaste Rock Cafe) where we’d eat our lunch and dinner and basically spend our day.  Our typical food bill for the 2 meals, snacks and drinks of tea and milkshakes would be about $13.50 USD/Rs600 for the day.  (As it’s still off season, there are only about 4 restaurants in operation together with only a handful of the accommodation open at the moment.)  Immediately after sunset, we’d set back up the trail before it became engulfed in darkness.

Locals (people and cows alike), Main beach at sunset
Kudle Beach

The 'road' from Gokarna village to Kudle Beach

Our favourite restaurant, Namaste Rock Cafe, at Kudle Beach

Dinner at sunset
The trail from Kudle Beach up to our guest house

At Kudle Beach there are no cars, no shops and virtually no noise except for the constant roar of the rolling waves.  There is nothing here but nature itself to appreciate.  Eagles and other birds soar in the sky over-head, dogs and cows roaming leisurely and we’ve even seen a pod of dolphins swimming in the distance offshore.  From our room’s balcony at Namaste Cafe Farmhouse set high above in a lush tropical garden, we see occasional monkeys in the trees, various species of unusual birds, and abundant butterflies fluttering about, including one of a beautiful shade of peacock blue that we’ve only previously seen preserved in a museum.  At night, especially during one of the frequent power outages, we see a million stars overhead due to the lack of other light sources around; fireflies provide a twinkling glow and the sound of crickets offer a background of white noise for the girls to fall asleep to.  We see and interact with very few people during our time here—staff at our restaurant doesn’t speak much English and keep to themselves and there are only a handful of tourists at the moment, except for the usual increase of Indians on weekends holidaying from the likes of Mumbai and Bangalore.  (We’re told that during high season, which runs from November to March, there can be as many as 500 tourists staying at Kudle Beach alone!)  The girls spend most of the day freely playing in and out of the water; Jim and I relax, go for swims, drink coffee and milkshakes and catch up on some reading or we all play ‘Uno’ together.  (I’ve finally managed to make some headway on a book which I’ve had for over a year now. The book is called ‘Hold On To Your Kids—Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers’ and is definitely giving us something to discuss and reflect on!)

Soaring eagle (one of many), Kudle Beach
More eagles + fun on the beach
Our room at Namaste Farmhouse

A further 20 min hike over the headland at the far end of Kudle Beach brought us to the secluded and more compact, Om Beach.  (You can also take a tuk tuk or private vehicle to the top of the headland, but have to hike down to the beach itself.) Huts and bungalows of various qualities are available to rent here too for sleeping but there appeared to be only 1 restaurant.  For some elusive reason, Om Beach is particularly popular with the Indian students.  Just around the point is the even smaller Half-Moon Beach.  More huts and bungalows and a few small restaurants are located at its far end.  There was a small group of Israeli and other European backpackers laying low here when we visited.  The fourth beach, Paradise Beach, was even farther south and more of a mission to reach, so we gave it a miss.  As with Kudle Beach, these beaches have no vehicles on them and must be accessed solely on foot.

Om Beach (bottom bay), and Half Moon Bay (top bay)

Gokarna has been yet another unique experience in our travels.  Although it is ‘another beach’, its quiet, isolated and secluded setting is unlike anything we’ve come across so far and had never expected to find in South India.  It’s been a well-timed change of pace facilitated by the combination between low season and our flexible and time-rich itinerary.  We’ve even gotten lucky with the weather—the two days that preceded our arrival here, it was apparently raining heavily, as is typical during the monsoonal period that we’re in.  But we’ve had nothing but blue skies since we’ve been here.  And the bonus is that our average daily expenditure is only around $23.00 USD/Rs1000, which includes $8.90/Rs400 for our room and the rest being food.  We really enjoyed ‘communing with nature’ at Kudle Beach; unfortunately after 6 nights (plus another 2 spent in Gokarna village), we reluctantly had to move on.  We’ve only got 3 weeks left in India with a few more destinations and a lot more ground to cover still!


  1. luvvly!!...miss the gentle calmness experienced @ ohm beach...sigh

  2. Very beautiful...loved the way you narrated your experience...its a mystical town...