Gokarna is full of contrasts as faith and leisure converge in this temple town that
MOST of the time, the inability to switch off is a good thing. It means you get things done. Occasionally, however, it’s a nuisance. Because there are times in life when it is important to do nothing. A beach holiday certainly offers such a chance. I grabbed it and set out to explore a relatively tiny corner of our country in Karnataka — Gokarna — where I headed out to for a week of self-discovery and realisation.
We drove through the village of Gokarna, which in Sanskrit means Cow’s Ears. The name refers to the belief that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow and to the fact that this temple-village is located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers, Gangavali and Agnashini.
Gokarna is a town of contrasts, as it is a temple town and also a holiday destination by the sea. It is an attractive town with two main streets having shops and traditional tile-roofed brick houses.
It is also known for being a holy city, housing the famous Shiva temple where you can find the Aatma Lingam enshrined. Gokarna is one of the seven muktisalas or pilgrimage centres of Karnataka, and has been venerated even by the Nayanmar saints in their Tamil hymns.
Gokarna attracts pilgrims throughout the year, but particularly so during February when the colourful Shivaratri festival becomes the village’s chief preoccupation. It boasts of two gigantic high-rise chariots and during the festival, with Brahmins inside performing rituals, these are pulled through the narrow streets – hundreds and hundreds of people gripping thick ropes are needed to haul them along – while priests and pilgrims alike, the latter numbering in thousands, vie with each other in chanting hymns in praise of the Lord Shiva.
Peace by the beach is what I came here for and there couldn’t have been a more apt place! The rhythm of the waves one can hear from any hotel room on the Om beach.
Located approximately 170 km south of Goa towards Mangalore and Bangalore, the Om beach derives its name from its rather unusual shape. If you see it from top of the cliffs, the beach is literally two seemingly different parts separated by a rocky strip, the shoreline as a whole resembling the sacredsign of Om.
This sleepy pilgrimage town is increasingly becoming the chilled-out alternative to Goa — with less trance music, less drugs and fewer tourists. So it’s easy to lose track of time here.
The town itself doesn’t offer much, but try and catch the local market on Thursdays, which is frequented by the local tribal women with their wrap-around topless gear and strings of hand-strung beads around the neck.
The main beaches in Gokarna are the Gokarna beach, Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half moon Beach and Paradise Beach (also known as Full moon). The Gokarna beach forms the coast of the town while the other four beaches lie to the south of Gokarna. Kudle and Om are around 6 km from Gokarna town along a muddy hill; they are accessible by rickshaw or foot. Half moon and Paradise are beyond Om beach and are accessible only by foot or boat.
The sunrise and sunset are worth waiting for. The boatmen also offer dolphin-spotting rides. Trekking the beaches is another popular activity as is bird watching. Some of the birds I sighted close to the sea were seagulls, white-breasted kingfishers, white-bellied blue flycatchers, swallows, brahmini kites, grey herons, egrets, and rock pigeons.
Karvar, Murudesvara, Yana Hills are some nearby places worth visiting.