Gokarna is a small and remote holy town situated in Uttar Kanada, with four of India’s most secluded and pristine beaches nestled nearby. It draws both pious pilgrims and hedonistic holiday makers with equal enthusiasm. Gokarna means Cow’s Ear. It is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here. It is also located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini. Legends in the Sahyadri Khand of the Puranas indicate that the State of Kerala was reclaimed from the sea by the Warrior-Sage Parashurama who came from the North (of the Vindhya ranges) after his wanderings, in which he killed the Kshatriyas 21 times and threw his axe, the weapon by which he annihilated the Kshatriyas, into the sea, to prevent the erosion of the land stretching from Gokarna to the southernmost tip of India. Gokarna is also mentioned in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana as being the home of the two brothers Gokarna and Dhundhakari and the Bhagawat also gives details of the differences in their temperament, nature and exploits. 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, journey by road takes around 3 to 4 hrs depending on your speed. It’s around 300 kilometers from Goa. The nearest airport is Dabolim, in Goa. From there it’s a four hour drive to Gorkana. Alternatively, trains on the Konkan railway stop at Gokarna Road station, 15 minutes from town, as well as Kumta and Ankola stations, both around 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Gokarna. Gokarna is also well connected by bus from major cities such as Madgaon in Goa, and Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka.
Gokarna experiences the southwest monsoon from June to August, following which the weather becomes dry and sunny. The best time to visit Gokarna is from October until March, when the weather is warm and pleasant with temperatures averaging 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). April and May are hot summer months, and the temperature easily reaches 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) then.
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 also 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 town has it’s own beach that’s popular with pilgrims. However, the beaches that are of most interest to tourists are located one after another a short distance away. There are four of them called Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Halfmoon Beach, and Paradise Beach. Each has its own appeal. Om Beach is the most happening beach, and is the only one that’s reachable by car or rickshaw. The others are around a 20 minute hike away from each other through the hills and over rocks, or a short boat ride away. The last beach, Paradise Beach, is not much more than a tiny protected cove that’s a patch of hippie paradise.
Gokarna town has plenty of hotels but they are characterless places. Instead, find yourself a basic hut right on the beach. Om and Kudle beaches both have shacks offering accommodations, while places also open on Paradise and Halfmoon beaches during the tourist season from November to March. Namaste Cafe is a popular place to stay at Om Beach. Beach accommodation can be difficult to come by in the peak months of December and January though. Many people are just happy with a hammock! There are also a few new luxury resorts in the area, such as the Om Beach Resort and SwaSwara to cater for those who prefer their comforts. The Om Beach Resort has a traditional Ayurvedic center, while Swaswara focuses on yoga and meditation.
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.
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.