Gokarna lies at the confluence of the Aghanashini and Gangavalli rivers and is cradled between the Sahyadris and the Arabian Sea. Its timeless temples and beguiling beaches draw a steady stream of devout pilgrims and tourists. While Gokarna's temples transcend eras its beaches are throbbing with life. With rugged trekking trails and great outdoors, the adventurous can embark on exciting paths of discovery in and around Gokarna.
Gokarna’s narrow lanes are dotted with many ancient temples. Pilgrims constantly pour into the Mahabaleshwara Temple and the Maha Ganapathi Temple which are considered supremely sacred. Most temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and hence the festival of Shiv Ratri is celebrated with great fervour. Religious ceremonies and cultural events are organized as a part of the festivities which span nine days.
To the south of Gokarna town are four beaches wedged between rocky cliffs. The sun and the clouds that pepper the sky paint the water with shades of blue varying from turquoise to azure during the day and startling strains of orange at dusk. Om Beach is popular, Kudle Beach is pristine, Half Moon Beach is secluded and Paradise Beach is indeed a paradise. In good weather one can trek all the way from Kudle to Paradise.
Numerous cultures, customs and cuisines strike chords of harmony in this quaint town visited by people from the world over. With exotic resorts and spas for those who wish to be pampered in the lap of luxury to beachside shacks for travelers on a shoe-string budget, Gokarna offers a great fare to suit all pockets.
Being the only beach approachable by a motorable road Om is the epicenter of beach activities and water sports. With unique contours, its shoreline traces the sacred Hindu symbol and hence the name “Om”. The lush flora that thrives between the folds of the hills renders a scenic backdrop to this bewitching beach. It can get crowded on holidays when tourists and locals turn out in sizable numbers to have a splash and dash in the sea. As foreigners frequent Om Beach, the seafront shacks are well equipped to suit their tastes. From internet palours and pool tables to a painted platter with an enticing array of cuisines, these shacks have it all.
A short trek down the hill along a rugged path takes you to Kudle Beach which is often overshadowed by Om. Kudle which is located adjacent to the Gokarna Town Beach is relatively less hampered by human activity. It is an ideal retreat for people looking to getaway into the beauty and bliss of nature. Boats that drift along the shore occasionally, offer thrilling rides for those who like to hop across beaches.
Half Moon and Paradise Beaches can only be reached by foot or boat. These beaches which are not yet swept by the wave of commercialization are clean and cozy. Their splendid natural settings serve as great outdoor camping sites.
A large number of pilgrims are headed to Gokarna for the "Koti Rudra" programme held at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. ‘Rudra’ is a set of verses in praise of Lord Shiva and it will be recited one crore times during the course of this year. The programme was launched on the 27th of April 2009 on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya and is expected to complete on the day of Akshaya Trithiya in the year 2010.
Standing on a pedestal of history dating back to the era of the Ramayana, Gokarna is abuzz with legendary tales. There is an interesting story behind linga at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The legend has it that Ravana performed severe penance at Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva to obtain the “atma linga” from the Lord. Ravana believed that he could attain the power of the Lord by worshipping the sacred linga. Lord Shiva who was impressed by Ravana's dedication gave him the atma linga stating that it should not be placed on the ground, failing which it would be rooted in the place where it is kept. Sage Narada feared that Ravana the asura (demon) would become invincible if he was empowered with the prowess of Lord Shiva.
The story goes that Narada approached Lord Vishnu to devise a plan to ensure that Ravana does not retain the atma linga. Knowing that Ravana would not fail to perform his evening prayers, Lord Vishnu is said to have positioned his Sudharshana Chakra between the sun and the Earth to create an illusion that it was sunset. It is said that Ravana stopped at Gokarna to perform his daily rituals and Lord Ganesha was sent there in the guise of a young boy. Ravana entrusted the linga with the boy and began his prayers. The boy agreed to hold the linga on the condition that he would leave it on the ground if Ravana failed to appear after he called out thrice if it became too heavy. It is believed that the Gods placed the weight of the three worlds on the linga which became unbearably heavy and the young boy called out to Ravana who was engrossed in his prayers. Since Ravana did not appear even after the repeated calls the boy placed the linga on the ground. It was firmly entrenched and could not be uprooted by Ravana. This is believed to be the origin of the linga at the temple and the story is often narrated with great enthusiasm.
Tadadi Fishing Port
The Tadadi village near Gokarna has a fishing harbour and a fish processing plant which was set up by a team of experts from Denmark. Many fishing communities thrive on the marine life that abounds in the region. While the men bring home the catch, the women slice the fish and marinate it with salt. The hills, the river, the colourful boats and the fish processing activities make a visit to Tadadi interesting if you can tolerate the strong odour.
The Danish team that worked at Tadadi resided in Konkan style cottages built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the valley in Gokarna. These rustic cottages are now converted into a resort. The Om Beach Resort that overlooks the intimidating horizon is a joint venture by Jungle Lodges and Resorts and Kairali Group of resorts.
Gokarna is at a distance of about 470ms from Bangalore and is well connected by road to Bangalore, Mangalore and Goa. From Gokarna town auto rickshaws can be hired to reach the beaches.
Trains of the Konkan Railway stop at Gokarna Road. Gokarna can be reached by train from Mangalore and Goa.
Dabolim in Goa is the nearest airport.
Season: The best time to visit Gokarna is between October and March.
Namaste Café is the most popular setup on Om Beach. Hotel Gokarna International on Kudle Beach has sea-facing rooms. A hotel with the same name in Gokarna Town is in the vicinity of the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The Om Beach Resort has beautiful cottages and an Ayurvedic spa. Beach shacks provide accommodation at rates as low as Rs100/- per.
According to the locals there are many wild peacocks in the hills of Gokarna. If you are on a trek in Gokarna look out for peacocks and peahens.
Sunscreen lotion, caps, torches and umbrellas will be useful.
This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 11th of October 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.