Gokarna, a place where I would set eyes upon paradise and be disappointed.

Traditionally it wasn’t the smoothest of starts. Dumped in the middle of nowhere at 1 am in the morning and told to wait for a mini-bus to take us the rest of the way. All this was happening whilst Ian was suffering from a violent illness. So far I’ve managed to avoid the Indian tourist sickness. The abuse my stomach has taken over the years is seemingly paying off. In Hampi we had eaten all of the same dishes choosing to share a variety rather than stick to one. He got ill, I didn’t. Success? When we finally did arrive all the accommodation was full. It wasn’t the best of introductions.

But as always with India, when you’re on a low, a high is soon to come (unfortunately visa versa as well). Out of the five beaches to Gokarna we had chosen Om Beach. Against a backdrop of a purple sky, the sun rose and illustrated to us that it was a fitting choice. Shaped like an om with two small beaches, rocks in the middle and enclosed by two cliffs it was a picturesque setting. Very limited accommodation hid amongst the palm trees. The sea was calm and warm unlike the waves and North Sea approach (come the end of our stay) to Arambol.

Despite the boiling hot temperatures and the beautiful setting that we were staying at, I didn’t seem to manage to do any beach sitting. On two different days I enjoyed walking across the headlands, over the rocks and through the jungle to reach the other beaches. My first adventure took me to Kudle beach, which reminded me a lot of the Arambol set up and lastly to Gokarna’s main beach. From a distance I lambasted the Lonely Planets negative description of it. The beach was huge and incredibly tempting. When up close I turned my attack on the Indian government and their education system. It was a trash heap. What a waste! Being a pilgrimage town, large numbers of Indian men danced around in the water seemingly blind and unfortunately adding to the disgrace that is Gokarna beach.

On the second day Ian had recovered enough to join me on a day excursion to reach the two more isolated and quieter beaches. Lost, the only way to our destination was off the rocks and scramble up a path onto the headlands. We later found out that a girl had died two weeks earlier, following the same path. It was a sobering thought to what seemed and in our case turned out to be safe had led to another person losing their life.

Half Moon beach was the first of our targets we hit. Very small and with only (from what we could see) one set of huts it was certainly isolated. I think if I was to come to Gokarna again it would be stay there, it had such a natural and peaceful feel to it. After as swim we headed to our most anticipated beach. I hadn’t expected it to come on this trip but within an hour I had stepped into paradise. Paradise beach that is. It may have been nice there but it just did not match my expectations. I envisaged being able to play Robinson Crusoe not look back from the ocean to a wash of accommodation and restaurants. It just didn’t seem right. Maybe it was exaggerated by the smallness of the beach but it just didn’t sit with me. In total I managed five swims that day. A new record. It helped with the disappointment.

The food in Gokarna was a big let down. The restaurants had been overrun with Nepalese fever in terms of handing out menus that resembled novels more than a range of choices. Sorting through all the continental choices proved to be a guessing game in terms of trying to work out what they could cook rather than what you would want to eat. To summarise the situation was the menu at the Dragon’s Cafe which seemed to provide the most consistent food. Under their seafood section on page 14 (slightly exaggerated) they offered the tantalising dish of, and I apologise to Mum and Gran for retelling this, ‘boiled crap’!

I left Gokarna with mixed feelings. was it worth visiting? Certainly yes. Did I have a great time there? Yes! It is for the most part an incredibly beautiful area but I couldn’t help but feel that it is being spoilt by its natives, its visitors and its sacreds. Seeing stacks of rubbish hidden in the rocks when you walked the headlands was a casing example of out of sight out of mind. Fires on the beach every night had left its toll on certain parts of the beaches and those incredible cows wallowing around in the days excreting everywhere was leaving its own scar. I suppose I longed to be the person that discovered Gokarna and with that frame of mind it was never going to carry me away like it does for so many.


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