June 1, 2012

Up through the Coast - Gokarna Travels

Unlike the customary prior bookings that we usually do before going on a holiday, we decided to take a jaunt through the Karnataka coast line with just a guidebook in our hands. It was supposed to be a basic inexpensive trip, and Samita even voted against taking the car as we would be moving by our instincts and not through designated highways.
The night of our journey turned out to be warm. Living in the Kotgiri hills as we were at that time, Mettupalayam, on the foothills of the Nilgiris, always shocks one with the heat that the plains liberally sprays on the unsuspecting hill man. It had been too long in the hills for us, I guess. Into the train and immediately felt stifled, both by the dust and the crowd. From Coimbatore to Mangalore on a fast train, sleeping through northern Kerala, we woke up to witness the morning bustle of the railway station that is Mangalore.

And then, all of a sudden, as sullen the start had been, our moods changed and our bodies got acclimatized. With earnest, we pushed off to Kollur, where the Mookambika temple, abode of Goddess Parvati is sprawled amidst an evergreen protected area.

We landed and met a Mr. Gupta ji at the temple bus stand. He takes care of the public toilet and we refreshed ourselves in the surprisingly clean toilet. Taking his guidance, we went to the ancient temple and were lucky at the time to see the golden chariot, which was being cleaned up. We decided to keep moving and were off to Kundapura - Another name, an outpost. Yet, I remember it for an unsightly incident. At the bus station, the gentleman sitting at the enquiry counter demanded ten rupees when I asked him for the bus to Gokarna. His desk said 'May I help you' and he was a crook worth no salt.

At Kundapura, we caught a bus to Kumta that passed through some exquisite white beaches while running parallel to the Konkan Railway. Almost as if to make up for the incident at Kundapura, just about everybody helped us in catching the connecting bus to Gokarna and in a split second, upon landing at Kumta, we were on to a bus to Gokarna!!!

An hour through picture perfect views and with none of the crowds that one associates with big time tourist hangouts, it was a pleasant journey. The lateritic soil provides a distinct flavour to the region and one associates much of the Karnataka Western Ghats with this colour. At this time of the year, it was dry and the world looked still, yet the soil had a natural dullness to it, unlike during the rains, when lushness colours everything in various hues of green.

Gokarna came and we were surprised enough to gape our mouths into a semicircular wowowow. Wowow because of the charm it exuded and because it was a really small village and I wondered how it would become as famous as Goa. We ate at Raghavendra Hotel and pushed off to Namaste Cafe at the Om Beach.

At Om beach and imagine, there were expensive resorts and the many small shacks that do not charge much, all within a square kilometre. It gives one choice to pick from and we decided to go to Namaste Café as we had heard a lot about its charm. At the café, we were totally enamored and decided to stay. However, there were few rooms available and they were not so keen upon lending one out. So I decided to use a favourite trick, one that links us to a guest they had some weeks ago. It always works and after some cordial discussions, we were given a good room. The room was good, great indeed and at 400 rupess was worth every paise. Made of Bamboo, lined with yellow tiles and a rudimentary lock, it was open source but comfortable.

Resting and then a walk to the beach and sitting around. Night comes and we sleep.

That evening, was it the 12th, was the first of the many amazing evenings we had. Sitting, walking to the end of the beach, we began the process of doing nothing.

Mostly westerners for company, life seemed great – so silent was the beach, so strong were the winds, was almost magical, our very first evening. But then, we did not have the faintest notion of the long day ahead.

I woke up early and had no one for company. Took a nice little jog, two, three, four rounds, a quick dip and got ready. We lazed till lunch time, reading and dozing. Sights and sounds of the beach passed on, people came, stayed but always left. They had to, choices are few. But we stayed on, and then we too had to leave.

First to our cottage and then to our rather scary fate over the next few hours. A walk to Gokarna town, but I made the mistake of not having enough water and both of us making the mistake of walking under the direct sun. The adventure had truly begun. We took a wrong turn and had to walk up the rocky clifs abutting the sea. It was hot and in an hour we were tired and thirsty when we finally reached the top. But that was not to be the end of the pains. Reaching one seemingly high cliff, we realized that it was jutting out directly into the sea, exposing us to some fierce winds and an impossibly beautiful land. From there to the temple on top, was an exercise in pain management. Dense bushes were crawled under, snakes were felt to be appearing from all sides but we did reach and ultimately got some water – prize of the day. But whatever may have been the pain, we were blessed to see such wonderful rock formations – geological and natural forces at their best.

Reaching Gokarna, we were too tired, having had to walk through Kudle beach as well. Some windows were shopped, little food eaten and a trip made to the Gokarna railway station, which I recommend to all. The station had a charm of its own, though it was a recent construction. We returned and slept soon after a sumptuous meal.

The next day was an exercise on craziness again. We went to Karwar and the Kinetic had to be pushed more than what it ran by itself. Be very careful and check the two wheelers before you hire it or things could go wrong in an unknown land.

We were enjoying ourselves and decided to stay a couple of days more as it was still unplanned. We also stopped ourselves from going to Goa or any of the nearby places of interest as Gokarna had impressed us greatly. So we stayed on and the last day at Gokarna remains the least worrying, most peaceful, and totally soothing. We remained seated – watching…. We made several trips to the beach, either together or separately. Finally on our way back to home, the strong effect of Gokarna’s charm lingered on. And the decision to make an unrestricted plan proved right. Will plan another one soon…