Gokarna, is a very touristic small town centered around temples with pilgrims coming throughout the year and tourists -indians, russians and europeans - coming from december to february for the beaches. The name Gokarna, means cow's ear (go=cow karna=ear) in Sanskrit and is based on Hindu mythology. It draws both pious pilgrims and hedonistic holiday makers with equal enthusiasm.Gokarna is known as one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centers. It is on what was once an unspoiled beach near the estuary of the river Aghanashini. Recently, due to the number of tourists, the character of the town has changed; it is no longer just a center of pilgrimage, though large numbers of devotees visit to offer prayers and worship to Lord Shiva. An increasing number of foreigners have visited the area over the last 10 years. Additionally, it has become popular with young wealthy Indians coming from Bangalore and Mumbai.So the peacocky people of Gokarna is looking down now to those, who have paid for their noisy motorbikes and their large-screen TVs...Travel to Gokarna to get a feel for what Goa was like in its heyday, although time is limited as developers are already seeing the potential of this area.
Gokarna is located in the state of Karnataka, an hour south of the Goa border.Gokarna is about 583 km from Bangalore, 238 km north of Mangalore and about 59 km from Karwar. It is between the Gangavali and Agnashini rivers along the Karwar coast by the Arabian Sea. It is 200 km north from the college towns of Suratkal
Gokarna can be reached by buses and maxicabs from Kumta (30 km), Ankola (26 km) and Karwar (59 km) on National Highway 17 (NH-17). Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) runs long-journey buses from cities like Panaji, Bangalore and Mangalore. Private buses (Vijayanand Roadlines - VRL, Sugama, Sea Bird, etc.) operate night journeys from the capital city of Bangalore to Gokarna daily.
Gokarna's main attraction is its beaches, where people come to chill and soak up the sun for months at a time. As Gokarna is one of the most sacred holy towns for Hindus in south India, there are also some important temples to see.
Unfortunately, they're off limits to non-Hindus but you can grab a glimpse inside. The Mahabaleshwar Temple houses a huge lingam (symbol) of Lord Shiva. Make sure you check out the huge chariots near the Ganpati Temple, which carry a Shiva idol through the streets while people throw bananas at it for good luck during the Shivaratri Festival in February/March.
Gokarna beach is several kilometers long and is situated at the edge of the town. It is quite popular with pilgrims and Indian groups but less with foreign tourists. Just the wind and the waves are cleaning this place. When the season is starting, the young workers of the beach-shops are collecting a few plastic bags, but only in front of their business. Nobody's cleaning outside these areas, except sometimes, an heroic foreign tourist (if you do so, be sure, locals will laugh at you... ). After Shivaratri - the biggest festival and picnic in town - it becomes a seven-kilometers-long garbage dump. A local tradition is to use this beach as a public toilet area : so don't take your shoes off...
Swimming may also be a challenge, since the water has an almost permanent dead fish smell. On the top of it all, the brown foamy stagnant liquid of "Gokarna river" is from time to time released into the sea. No wise person would enter the water on that day!
Walk a couple of kilometres north from town along the beach, and things are much nicer and more pristine. The part of the beach closer to the Gangavalli River is actually quite stunning and not crowded at all.
South of Gokarna beach, and accessible by a short downhill walk from auto drop off points at the northern and southern ends of this beach. This beach is exactly what should never happen to a beautiful natural site. Have a look from the road down to the beach : the paddies have totally disappeared and some local building ambitions have led to the destruction of both the sides of the beach. Just a few coconut trees have survived and can recall you, this beach was a green gem... By the way, the lack of water during the high season is the same as in the slums in Mumbai : the toilets of some guesthouses are so disgusting, you gonna be prized by Guinness if you decide to stay there...
From December to February cheap accommodation is hard to come by and snapped up quickly. If you are are returning visitor, expect to pay double or triple what you paid in previous visits, both in accommodation and food.
In the past backpackers have stolen wood, squatted on privately owned jungle land, and kept locals and tourists awake with parties and jam sessions. Several tourist who have build houses and businesses on the farmland and jungle areas have also suffered greatly due to this behavior, and as a result there are efforts on the part of business and home owners to face out the backpackers, and take back what's left of the nature on Kudlee beach.
Om Beach is further along the coast from Kudle, and named for its shape as it is split by a rocky island. It can be reached by auto, with a downhill walk from there. Mainly occupied by Indian tourists, and sprinkling of forigners. The second half of the beach is packed with restaurants offering cheap accomodation in the form of bamboo or concrete beach huts. In the rainy season there are very limited options for boarding and lodging. This beach is reasonably clean all year round.
Half Moon beach is smaller and less developed than Om Beach, and is reached by walking over the headland from Om. Facilities are limited, there are a couple of small restaurants and a limited number of huts.
Paradise beach is the furthest from Gokarna town, but does not offer any facilities. The lodges and restaurants have been demolished by land owners (actually the forest department) and the police visit this beach at times to evict any residents and extort large bribes from anyone seen smoking charas. There is only one guest house here.
what to Buy
The small shops in the town sell religious items, psychedelic T-shirts and clothes for cheap. Trance music CDs and if you spin fire, (cotton) pois are available as well.
Malas (prayer beads), incense, cheap jewelry and religious paraphernalia are sold in dozens of stalls along the main road and gathered around temple entrances.
Parties and Nightlife
Bonfires, singing, guitars, and drums are familiar parts of Gokarna's nightlife. The party scene in holy Gokarna is kept in check by strict policing, although some beach parties do happen during the peak season. Officially, alcohol is banned because of the town's religious significance but you won't have a problem getting a cold beer on the beach.
Tourists - especially indian groups of men - should be aware of their contibution to the trash problem in tourist areas like Gokarna. Avoid throwing your cigarette butts, beer bottles and plastics on the ground, and where ever possible avoid using plastic products. Plastic you use will be burned and will become the air you breath. Boil water, or get it from the one of the fresh springs in Gokarna.
Dangers and Annoyances
Care should be taken when walking between the beaches at night in the dark, and it's best not to go alone. Swimming can also be dangerous as some areas have strong currents.