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