Gokarna – A One of a Kind Backpacking Destination in the Western Ghats

In a country with 330 million deities, temple towns are quite common and play a major role in tourism in India. But just as diverse India is, the stories behind these temple towns are varied and exquisite. Gokarna, in the state of Karnataka, is a seaside town that has an epic tale of how Lord Shiva emerged from the ‘ear of a cow’ (literal translation of ‘Gokarna’) and forms the basis of the legendary Mahabaleshwar Temple.

Over the last decade, Gokarna has evolved from being just a Hindu pilgrimage town to a popular backpacker’s destination. Once you arrive at this quaint little town, you will be surprised at how diverse the coastal place is. As you set foot out of the bus station, you see small lanes lined with shops selling flowers and incense. Those tiny streets are perfect for walks or auto-rickshaws to effectively move about. You can every now and then see a group of backpackers emerge from the crowd only to disappear into one of those alleys. And before you know it, Gokarna transforms you into an explorer.

How do you get to Gokarna?
Road or rail journey is the most preferred mode of transport for backpackers to reach Gokarna. Having your identity as a pilgrimage place has its benefits in India. Gokarna is well connected to major cities like Mangalore, Bengaluru and Panaji with many bus operators plying the routes.
The Konkan Railway journey to Gokarna on the Mangalore-Mumbai route is a joyous experience for the wanderer.
The nearest domestic airport is at Hubli Airport, Karnataka whereas for travelers flying in from abroad, Dabolim International airport at Goa and Mangalore International Airport at Bajpe, Karnataka are the nearest airport stops.
Sturmfrei Tip – A road trip to cool places like Udupi, Manipal and Mangalore is a brilliant backpacking idea while in Gokarna

A backpacker’s treasure chest
Backpackers from around the world arrive in waves at the early hours of the day. Quick negotiations and autos are scurrying to the hostels and resorts. There is a new generation of hostels around the town which appeal to the backpackers and millennial travelers. Hostels like Sturmfrei are conveniently nestled in the city and are a quick walk/auto ride from major spots. These hostel kitchens/ cafes serve a variety of Indian and international cuisines and are very tastefully decorated.
Sturmfrei Tip – Ask the hostel residents for cafes which shouldn’t be missed out on.

Beaches of Gokarna
Once you are checked in and all set to begin your exploration, the first thing that the traveling eyes will seek out are the beaches. As you walk up to Gokarna beach, the surging sound of the sea starts to excite you. Gokarna Main beach is a long open beach to the north, popular for surfing and has outstanding views from the surrounding cliff faces.
The most popular with the locals here is the Om beach. This beach is shaped like the OM symbol, which has a great spiritual significance in several religions. Just to the north of Om beach, is tucked in one of the best beach spots in India – Kudle beach. Kudle is like an open secret. Even during peak season, Kudle will never seem to crowd. The sea here is always very calm and is an exceptional spot for treading deep waters. The beaches here are all lined with cliffs running along and make for an amazing landscape.

The 5 Beach trek
If there is one thing that every backpacking adventurer visiting Gokarna looks forward to is the trek that runs along all the beaches starting from Om beach. It is a trail, through the forests, on the cliffs along Half Moon Beach, and ends at Paradise Beach. The Arabian sea gives you constant company along the trek. The beaches are accessible only by hiking the trails or catching a boat.
There are quite a few spots along the trek, where you can perch on the cliff face and stare into the horizon. Many travelers have marked their ‘favorite spots’ as a custom.
Most evenings, there are only a few tents pitched at Paradise Beach. So seclusion, nature and a few like-minded campers will give you company if you decide to park. Phytoplankton sighting, once all the lights are shut down, is captivating on the Half Moon and Paradise Beach.

Sturmfrei Tip – Try the boat ride to travel south of Gokarna across the Aghanashini river.

Temple and the giant statue of Lord Shiva
Witnessing the Shiva linga at Mahabaleshwar Temple is a powerful experience. The serenity of the grand temple complex and the exemplary Dravidian architecture locks travelers in a spell.

A mighty statue of Shiva, which gives the impression of the lord emerging amidst the waves, is a sight to behold. The decorated Murudeshwar temple is a must-visit to appreciate how deep-rooted religion is part of Indian culture.

Sturmfrei Tip – Visit to the Vibhuti Falls and Yana Caves are totally worth it

One thing those who have traveled to Gokarna know is that you cannot put Gokarna in a bucket. Gokarna still has quite a few untouched beaches that are waiting to be explored. Gokarna is a true gem of a place. The culture is a unique blend of the conservativeness of a legendary temple town and the free-spirited nature of a beach town. Explore and see if you get a taste of both

Best time for backpacking in Gokarna
Each year we are seeing an increase in the influx of backpackers to the beaches of Gokarna. This could be attributed to travelers opting to visit new and offbeat places. During the monsoon months, usually from late May-end September, Gokarna is transformed into a lush green place. The incessant rains are a thing of beauty. For those whose moods and plans are not dampened by rains, those months in Gokarna are spent mostly indoors or doing road trips to neighboring cities.

The best season to visit Gokarna would be any time starting October through March.

Sturmfrei Tip – Gokarna can be a 2-day trip or a 2-month stay. Gokarna never disappoints.

10 years from now, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than the ones we did do. People say travel doesn’t become an adventure until you leave yourself behind. Let’s climb mountains, trek crazy trails and explore the obvious and the ones lying beyond. A backpacker’s journey is not about ticking off a bucket list of destinations. It is about sketching your own map and drawing your own trail to places near and far, to find your true calling

Why book a backpacker hostel on your next trip?

No one would mind spending a luxurious holiday in a 5 Star hotel but if you are a true travel adventurer, experiencing a stay in a backpacker hostel is a must.

Are you the one who is bitten by the travel bug and does not mind being travel-infected for the rest of your life? Guess we are all sailing in the same boat.
From cutting down stress levels to slimming your chances of heart disease, the health benefits of traveling are huge. But whom are we kidding? Love for traveling doesn’t come with a specific goal in mind. We travel for fun, we travel to explore, we travel to escape, we travel to be found.

Millennials prefer backpacker hostels over hotels
Millennials today, are making travel a priority in their lifestyle compared to Gen X or Baby Boomers. Today, an average millennial (ages 21 to 37) plans on taking three to five trips in a year. More millennials are working to save for their next vacation. But that doesn’t mean they spend their entire savings just on travel. Budget-oriented and responsible travel planning can help you travel more while you spend less
In 2019, travel trends indicate a phenomenal rise in solo-travelers and backpackers who tick off more travel destinations by making smart choices in their travel plans. In search of new cultural experiences, they prefer booking a bunk bed in a shared backpacker’s hostel instead of secluded private hotel rooms.

Experience hostel life on a budget
Budget-friendly and easy accessible
Hostels are generally low in cost, placed in convenient locations and provide more social opportunities for people to meet like-minded co-travelers. Unlike a typical hotel room, you do not have the luxury to lock the door and spend your entire day all by yourself. Instead, you have the privilege to connect with travelers from around the world who carry stories about far way mountains and deep dark forests. Finding new friendships, discovering exciting opportunities and having the most interesting conversations of your life while you play a game of Jenga in the community space with your dorm mate, is the core essence of spending a holiday in a hostel

Unique flair with a lively vibe
–>Every backpacker’s hostel in India has its own little community and a unique charm that makes the guests feel like home.
–>Many hostels offer special workshops conducted by the hostel residents, where one can brush up their skills or just have a fun time learning something new
–>Shared kitchens are open to all guests to test out their culinary skills
–>Some hostels provide local sightseeing, hiking or trekking guides to help explore the city the local way
–>Party scenes with in-house DJs are pretty common during the evening hours
–>Artists from different genres connect, collaborate and work together to create beautiful masterpieces

End-to-end amenities
. Complimentary breakfast
. Free Wi-Fi
. Laundry Service
. Fully equipped kitchen
. Board games and indoor entertainment
. In-house library
. Toiletries
. Community spaces
. Free parking
. Luggage storage

Broaden your horizon to explore beyond
For many of us, it may feel a little awkward to share a room with strangers. The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. First times are always scary, just trust your instincts and put forward your hand with a pretty smile, you are sure to get a hug back.
Staying in a backpacking hostel is a great way to work on your social skills. It can be a holiday of self-discovery where you are free to express without the scrutiny of societal pressure. You will come across people of different perspectives and there is an opportunity to learn a million things from every other individual. Let’s be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of us

It is wonderful to see how the backpacking culture is rapidly growing in India, especially in places like Goa, Jaipur, and Gokarna. At Sturmfrei Hostel we believe, one might be poor in money but can be rich in life. Every backpacker has a story to tell, a dream to live and many more adventures to explore. Carrying a vision to celebrating life with an attitude of freedom, we look forward to welcoming travelers from every corner of the world and live life the Sturmfrei way.

Backpacking in Vagator – A Travel Guide

The sun setting over the Arabian Sea and the fishermen folk returning towards the iconic red cliffs of Vagator pose the perfect end to the day for travelers backpacking in Vagator. For those moments in the dusk, you could see almost everyone transfixed as a painter admiring his work. Vagator goes through a magical transformation in those hours. With the sea as the night backdrop, the beach comes alive with lights and music as shacks set up for the night shift. The inner streets of Vagator are lined with hostels, art cafes, restos and bars which host musicians, DJs and other performing artists. As the tourist traffic departs from Vagator, these spots start filling in with their resident travelers.

Vagator beach, the most popular tourist spot in Vagator, is split in two – North Vagator Beach and Ozran (or Little Vagator) beach. The Northern beach has a broader and longer sand area but Ozran is more secluded.

There is a good reason why major music festivals like Sunburn moved base to Vagator. Sunburn and other such fests are held late December or just after the new year. Disco Valley, popular for Goan trance parties since the 1990s, is another reason why travelers from different corners visit this land of Backpackers.

The diversity in the crowds of Vagator is incredible to witness. What unifies them is their like-mindedness about travel, music and culture. Backpackers from all over the world are drawn to this little carefree part of Goa – Vagator.

Best Time To Visit Vagator
The monsoon of Western Ghats is a thing to experience. It transforms Goa into an idyllic place where tourists explore the natural flora and fauna, enjoy long drives and go on river cruises.
The famous ‘Dudhsagar Falls’ are a sight to behold during peak monsoons. Activities like rafting on the Mahadayi / Mandovi river and bicycle tours are quite popular with adventurous types. Even though the beach shacks open only in late October or early November, tourists love walking along the beaches mesmerized at the high waves during the monsoons.
The winter, between November and February, is the prime time for backpacking to Vagator. It is during the peak months of December and January that it sees the most influx of tourists. It is the season of music festivals and New Year parties in India. If you are a backpacker who wants to enjoy the quiet and tranquil side of Goa, visit Vagator in November or February.

Getting to and going around in Vagator
Reaching Goa by air is the most preferred mode for most international tourists. There is good connectivity by road and rail routes to other parts of India. Vagator is an hour’s drive from Dabolim International Airport at Vasco da Gama (46kms).
Sturmfrei Tip – Take a prepaid taxi or get your tour operator to arrange one for you.
The nearest railway station Thivim (17kms) is about half an hour’s drive to Vagator.
Panaji, the capital of Goa, is about 22 kilometers via the NH66. Neighbouring town of Mapusa (10.4kms) is the go-to place for provisions and shopping for locals and long-standing travelers.
Sturmfrei tip – Once you have checked in to your hostel (or hotel) renting out a two-wheeler or a car is the best way to go about Goa. Early morning drives in Goa are soul-refreshing, to say the least.

Hostels, Cafes and Flea Markets in Vagator
Once you are in Vagator, you can almost feel the laid back nature of the town. Even in the peak season, Vagator offers seclusion to its residents. This kind of vibe attracts backpackers and travelers with no fixed itinerary. Over the last few years, backpacker hostels have come up which are building a community for travelers and backpackers with affordable and guest-friendly services. Sturmfrei Hostel is one of the most sought after hostels in Vagator which is attracting backpackers from around the world. Offering comfortable and budget-friendly stay with lip-smacking food, guests at Sturmfrei live their best days in Vagator by celebrating every moment with an attitude of freedom.

Goan cuisine has always been popular with travelers. Vagator boasts of some of the best cafes and open-air clubs like HillTop, Primrose and Sturmfrei hostel Cafe. Vagator’s Thalassa, famous for its Greek food, is located on the cliff overlooking Ozran Beach.

Flea markets are part of the Goa charm and something not to miss out on. The Wednesday Anjuna Markets and the Saturday night flea market in Arpora are the ones that deserve special mention.
Robert’s place, near Primrose, is a 24hour convenience store. Vagator’s very own modest flea market is hosted here.
One can buy fish straight off the fighting boats in Chapora when they come to dock at the jetty in the evening.

Sturmfrei Tip – Brush up on your bargaining skills for the flea markets.

Things to do while in Vagator
Experience the nightlife
The nightlife at Vagator is what legendary stories are made of. During peak season there are trance fests and parties at the beach.
Sturmfrei Tip – HillTop has a party every Sunday evening in the tourist season.
Beach hopping
Rent out a scooter and cover all the beaches from Anjuna to Ashvem. They all have a distinct flair of the Goan Hippie mood and
Beach activities
There are a lot of water sport activities that take place in Vagator and are comparatively cheaper than other beaches. Also, don’t be surprised if someone randomly invites you to join a free yoga class.
Local sightseeing
Visit the Chapora fort, witness Portuguese colonies and culture. Experience Goan cuisine from local food joints. Visit the Siolim Fish Market to see how the local markets operate.
Sturmfrei Tip – Go to banks or MoneyGram or Travelex for exchanging currency. Locals won’t have foreign currency. Also, keep local police and ambulance contact for emergencies.

There are a lot of stories out there, waiting for you to live them. It is time to pack your bag and head to your dream destination. Remember! You don’t need magic to disappear, all you need is a destination and a great backpacker’s hostel!

Hostel Nostalgia at Sturmfrei

Hostel Nostalgia at Sturmfrei

If you are a bollywood buff and have seen Kangana Ranaut’s movie Queen then you have a fair idea of the backpacker life and hostels in Europe for those who travel on budgets and like to make friends on their holidays. And now the concept of hostels in India has been increasing since the last six or seven years and Goa is leading the scene with a number of backpackers hostels springing up.

Recently I happened to visit one such place. SturmFrei, near Vagator is the brainchild of four good friends, from different fields who after years of the rat race decided to pursue thier own dream instead. Setting up a decently sized but comfortable hostel, they now meet people from all over the world and learn about other countries without stepping out of the doorstep so to speak! In a short time Sturmfrei has become an extremely popular and in-demand hostel accomodation and needless to say i was very excited to be heading there to check it out though I wasnt sure how different from a hotel a hostel would be. I was unsure about what all I could pack with me. Anyway I reached the place at around 11am in the morning along with my friend and though it is not very difficult to find the place, it IS a bit on the interior side…but have we really worried about finding places since Google maps entered our lives?

The place does not look like a hostel at all…it felt like a home we were visiting. A friend or a relative’s maybe. And the hospitality was exactly like that as well! I was happy as there was enough space to park my car, as one of the biggest headaches of today, I’m sure you will agree with me, is finding a spot to park. A warm welcome by the owners was made extra special as they happen to be from my hometown. The hostel was set up in an old Goan house with a large open area and some greenery surrounding the borders. Like i said before, the feeling of being inside a home prevailed – a seating area which looks so much like home with wooden furnitures and curtains to match, a cupboard full of books for the bookworms, a television where the channels get changed frequently as guests vied for the remote to watch an array of different programmes! A board of carrom was set up at the center of the room from which a healthy amount of boisterous noise would waft forth at regular intervals. The walls were done up pretty nicely with stickers with interesting quotes that were sure to find resonance with the steady stream of globe trotters who stayed here. One wall had a collage of pictures of guests who had passed through the hostel and another collage of all the countries from where they travelled to Goa. In just six months of its opening, the board already had 40 countries on it. Impressive indeed!

Inside there were three more air conditioned rooms which had bunk beds set up so each room had 6 beds. I occupied a room which had a small wooden staircase inside to climb up to small loft kind of a space with two more beds. The rooms were clean with nicely done beds, the bathrooms were well equipped with the basic soaps, shampoos and clean towels. So all that stuff that I carried was not really required! A small luggage room is provided in case you have too much of baggage with you. Complimentary breakfast is also provided. Also, the food menu called the “Sturmfrei Hunger Solver” offers both veg and non-veg options a la carte and in case you prefer something else you are free to cook in the kitchen helped by a very sweet lady who cooks there. You must, of course, clean up and do the dishes yourself if using the kitchen.

I started exploring the surroundings with a cup of tea and did not feel at all that I am in a hostel. There were a few guests who had been staying for a couple of weeks and some who were regular visitors. The conversations started over a game of carrom and I almost forgot that we were strangers just a few minutes ago! The camaraderie of hostel life is unmatchable ! Outside there were three more rooms made with cane which apparently is favoured by foreign guests over the air con ones. Many of them have volunteered to decorate and do up the place and have made it really beautiful with different paintings, artefacts, quotes and have left a part of them behind for others to enjoy. The front yard is a big open area where you can play some sport or workout. It has a small but cute set up specially in the winters where you can soak up the sun or sit for evening tea or play a game of cards. We sat in the backyard which had nicely laid mattresses and a delightful bar called Sau Bar (“sau” means “hundred”) because every drink was for just a 100 bucks! Some sound boxes and speakers in case you are in a mood to groove after a drink and a hammock at the corner added some more fun to the place.

I absolutely loved the way the entire space was decorated with the simplest of things yet making it so interesting. I continued with my shoot and discovered more about the place as I went along. Strumfrei is the brainchild of four friends – Pratyush Neog Manikial, Kaushik Baishya, Dipjyoti Brahma and Bhavik Vaghela. The name Strumfrei comes from the German words “Sturm” and “Frei” which mean “storm” and “free” respectively. So basically Sturmfrei here refers to a place which is free from all mental storms in your minds. Oh…there is another fun meaning to this word…but why not visit the place and find out for yourself? Let me know in the comments section of this blog if you do!

So the idea behind Sturmfrei is to become a new age hospitality company which caters to the needs of millennials and centennial travellers and looking to build a network of trendy and cool hostels in India as well as South Asia. They told us stories about how this place has been a hub of varied socially and culturally different people coming and staying together and sharing their experiences and ideas. It opens up for different activities initiated by the visitors, be it a workout challenge or a cleanliness drive at the beach or a lunch or dinner out together or a happening party.

Before I realized it, lunch time was upon us. We all sat together and not for a moment I felt that I was not at my own home. The food was fresh and delicious and I may be a bit biased here to appreciate these guys who made me feel so much at home since we came from the same State. Hence all our inside jokes that only we understood, our childhood memories, finding common friends, our common habits and lifestyle made it all so nostalgic. After lunch, I took a short nap as the room was really comfy and I was too exhausted. I woke up and had another cup of evening tea and spent some time with Jerry who is an adorably playful four legged member of the house. It was time for me to say goodbye to all the lovely people that I met though I wished I could stay overnight but I had to get back. It was a great change for me as I travel a lot but most of my stays are in impersonal star hotels and resorts spread over vast acres of manicured lawns. Cosy close knit hostels like Sturmfrei are indeed a perfect place for people who are always on the go or who love to meet interesting people from around the globe.

I would love to come back again when I have more time in hand so that I can fully participate in the exciting and activity filled life of a backpacking hostel . Meanwhile I wish Sturmfrei all the success and hope to see it grow bigger and find a Sturmfrei in every city I visit