Places to visit in Gokarna - A Complete Travel Guide
Have you ever visited a place with some preconceived notion but then discovered a totally different side to that place? Gokarna, located in coastal Karnataka (India), was one such place for us. We planned to travel to Gokarna thinking that it is an easy-going, laid-back beach destination but never did we imagine that Gokarna is so much more than just being beach, booze and hippie life. With all of the above, Gokarna has an interesting drawn-out historical story that gave us a completely new perspective of the place. Read on to know more about Gokarna, places to visit and our experience.
Location of Gokarna:
Gokarna is located on the western coastline in the Indian state of Karnataka. The small-town falls in the Uttara Kannada district under Kumta taluka. It is located about 150 kilometres south of Goa. Gokarna’s location is flawless with Aghnashini River to its south and Gangavalli River to its north. Both these rivers meet the Arabian sea and Gokarna stands in dignity between both the confluences.
How to reach Gokarna:
You can reach Gokarna in one of the following ways:
Air: Dabolim airport in Goa is the nearest international airport (approx. 150 kilometres) to Gokarna. Whereas, Hubballi airport in Hubli is the nearest domestic airport (approx. 145 kilometres) to Gokarna. From Dabolim airport, you can either take a train, bus or a taxi to reach Gokarna and from Hubballi airport, you can either take a bus or a taxi to reach Gokarna.
Rail: Gokarna Road station is connected to all trains running on the Western Rail lines or Konkan rail lines. Hence, Goa, Mumbai, Pune, Mangalore, Bengaluru (Bangalore) are well connected to this rail line. Gokarna town is 6 kilometres far from the Gokarna Road railway station and you will easily get an auto that will take you to the main town. However, being a small station, not all trains might stop at Gokarna road station. Ankola station to the north of Gokarna and Kumta station to its south are the major railway stations where you can get down. After that, you can easily take a bus or a taxi to reach Gokarna.
Road: Several government and private buses ply from major cities like Bengaluru (Bangalore), Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Mangalore to Gokarna. Private taxis are also available from these cities that can take you to Gokarna. However, most of the buses will drop you at Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross, which is about 10 kilometres from the main town of Gokarna.
How to reach Gokarna from Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross: The main Gokarna town is located 12 kilometres away from Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross. You can hop on into a government bus coming from Kumta (Kumta-Gokarna-Kumta route bus). All buses heading to Gokarna from down south will stop at Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross. You can also take an auto from Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross to reach Gokarna. Remember to bargain with the auto drivers. As of 2019, the bus charges are INR 15 per person and auto charges are INR 250 (can easily accommodate 3 people) from Madangeri cross or Gokarna cross to Gokarna main town. The autos will charge more if you ask them to drop you to the beaches.
Best time to visit Gokarna:
Gokarna can be travelled to throughout the year. However, October to February is an ideal time to visit Gokarna as the weather is pleasant and humidity is at its least. March to May are summer months and it becomes too hot to chill on the beaches. June to early September is monsoon when the beaches are either closed or too desolate and unkempt. If your main purpose of visit is to see the lively temples, then Shivratri festival in March and Ganesh Chaturthi festival in August is the best time to visit Gokarna.
Ideal duration of visit to Gokarna:
Gokarna is known for its temples and beaches. It can be easily covered in a 3-day duration. However, there are plenty of interesting destinations near Gokarna that are worth visiting like Yana caves, Vibhooti Falls, Mirjan Fort, Murudeshwar and Jog Falls. If you plan to cover each of these places, then a 6-day trip duration will be ideal.
History of Gokarna:
There are several interesting stories and folklore of how Gokarna got its name.
Gokarna, meaning ‘Cow’s ear’ is derived from two Hindi language words, Go = Cow, Karna = Ear. Interestingly, even the zoomed-out map of Gokarna town seems to be like an ear (ear-shaped confluence of Aghnashini and Gangavalli rivers to Arabian sea).
It is believed that Lord Brahma who considered himself as superior and creator of the universe was cursed by Lord Shiva for his arrogance. Lord Brahma penanced and asked for forgiveness from Lord Shiva at the very place where Gokarna exists. Impressed by Brahma’s penance, Lord Shiva appeared in front of him from the ear of a cow. Hence, the place came to be known as Gokarna (cow’s ear).
As per another folklore, mother of Ravana (demon King of Lanka) was a loyal devotee of Lord Shiva and wanted to worship main ‘Atma linga’ (Soul of Lord Shiva). Hence, Ravana went to Mount Kailash (abode of Lord Shiva) and performed rigorous penance to please Lord Shiva to offer him the ‘Atma linga’ as a boon. Lord Shiva finally appeared and granted Ravana the ‘Atma linga’ on a condition that he should directly take it to Lanka without placing it on the ground, failing which the linga will permanently embed where it is placed. Ravana started his journey back to Lanka after receiving the boon. Lord Vishnu knew that Ravana was evil and he will attain immortality and invincibility if he successfully takes the ‘Atma linga’ to Lanka. He also knew that Ravana was punctual in performing his evening prayers. So, he took help of Lord Ganesha and devised a plan so that Ravana had to place the ‘Atma linga’ somewhere on his way. When Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Lord Vishnu hid the sun with the help of his ‘Sudarshan chakra’ giving an impression of dusk. At this time, Ravana looked out for someone who can hold the ‘Atma linga’ for him till he performed his evening rituals. Lord Ganesha disguised as a Brahmin boy herding his cow and appeared in front of Ravana. Ravana persuaded him to hold and protect the ‘Atma linga’ without placing it on the ground. As soon as Ravana went for performing his rites, Lord Ganesha placed the linga on the ground and vanished. The ‘Atma linga’ got permanently embedded at that place. Agitated Ravana tried chasing Lord Ganesha and his cows. He hurt Lord Ganesha’s head in the process but the Lord was successful in disappearing. As one of the cows started disappearing underground, he caught hold of just its ear. Hence, the place was given the name Gokarna (cow’s ear).
Ravana tried to uproot the ‘Atma linga’ and due to force exerted by him, some scattered pieces got detached which he threw in different directions. The scattered linga fell in Dhareshwar, Shejjeshwar, Gunavanthe, Surathkal and Murudeshwar respectively, but the main ‘Atma linga’ refused to move. After the pieces scattered in these places, the remaining linga gained the shape of a cow’s ear. Hence, the place was named Gokarna (cow’s ear). Failing to uproot the linga, Ravana named it ‘Mahabal’ (ie. Extremely strong). Later, a temple was built here and named as ‘Mahabaleshwara temple’.
Since then Gokarna has been a pilgrimage centre but recently due to the influx of tourists to its unspoilt beaches, the eminence of the town has changed to a ‘beach destination’. Gokarna has a laid-back vibe which attracts many foreign tourists, owing to which many shacks, hotels, resorts and restaurants have come up to cater to the incoming crowd.
Nonetheless, a large number of devotees still flock to this temple town to offer prayers. All in all, Gokarna is blessed with two types of places to visit – Temples and Beaches.
Places to visit in Gokarna:
Gokarna Religious Sites or Temples: If any of you plan on visiting the below-mentioned religious sites or temples in Gokarna, remember to respect the local traditions. Wear fully covered clothes, be quiet and do not touch objects or idols in the premises.
1. Sri Mahabaleshwara Swamy Temple – The temple was built entirely of granite in the 4th century in Dravidian architectural style. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses the ‘Atma linga’ which is worshipped by hordes of pilgrims visiting Gokarna. The Mahabaleshwara temple is regarded as the ‘Dakshin Kashi’ (ie. Kashi of South). It is located very near to the main Gokarna beach. Hindu festival of Shivratri is celebrated with a lot of pomp and cheer at Gokarna where a chariot procession or Rath Yatra is held.
2. Maha Ganapathi Temple – This temple was built in honor of Lord Ganesha who played a pivotal role in saving and installing ‘Atma linga’ in Gokarna. A 5-feet tall granite idol of Lord Ganesha adorns the sanctum sanctorum of Maha Ganapathi temple. You can still see the blow (in the form of a hole) on the head of the idol caused by Ravana. The temple is located next door to the Mahabaleshwara temple. It is a custom to worship Lord Ganesha before the ‘Atma linga’ in the Mahabaleshwara temple.
3. Kotiteertha – This is a man-made pond-like water body which is used for the holy immersions of idols. Kotiteertha literally means ‘Thousand Springs’. Staunch devotees also bath in Kotiteertha before visiting the temples.
4. Shiva Caves – These caves are also called as ‘Gogarbha’ (womb of a cow). It is said that the cow which Ravana caught hold of, escaped and made a cave in a nearby hill. Locals believe that by entering Gogarbha, a devotee can reach the holy city of Kashi in Varanasi. Sadhus (saints) and devotees often visit the caves and use it as a resting place.
Gokarna Beaches: Gokarna could be easily called as a hilly destination with pretty beaches beyond the hills. It isn’t that you will drive/ walk on a flat road to reach the beaches, you will have to trek or drive through the winding roads on the hills to get to them. There are in total 5 beaches of interest – 3 towards the south and only 2 facing west. All the beaches are interconnected via trails through hills and forest and can be trekked starting from the Gokarna main beach to the Paradise beach or vice versa. The beach trail trek is quite popular amongst the youngsters.
1. Gokarna main beach – This one is probably the longest stretch of beach in Gokarna. As it is closest to the temples, it is frequented by pilgrims more than the tourists. The waves at Gokarna main beach are subtle and are best to learn surfing. You can easily reach this west-facing beach via an auto or a rented bike/ scooter.
2. Kudle beach – This beach is not accessible directly via road. It is a 10-minute downhill trek over rocky terrain from the parking area. Kudle beach is popular with hippies and foreign tourists. The beach shore area is extremely broad with lots of space to sit, relax, practice yoga or play volleyball. The water isn’t deep and the waves are not violent, hence it is best for non-swimmers. The beach is lined with several shack restaurants and huts for accommodation. The backdrop of Kudle beach is beautifully covered with coconut and palm trees over the hills and you will be able to see stunning sunset from this west-facing beach. However, we found Kudle beach extremely unkempt and dirty during our visit.
3. Om beach – Om beach is again not directly accessible via road. It can be approached by descending some 100 paved stairs from the parking lot. The drive to Om beach from the main Gokarna town is through hills and is quite scenic. This is the most popular beach in Gokarna and is named so as it is naturally shaped like the sacred Hindu symbol ‘OM. Om beach is well maintained and kept clean. It is a south-facing beach but still, sunset can be viewed from the rocky part in the middle. The beach is lined with trees providing much-needed shade on the shore during hot days. It also has several colourful boats anchored to its shore belonging to the local fisherman. Om beach is dotted with popular upscale cafes that also serve freshly prepared seafood. To get a perfect view of the symbol ‘OM’, you will have to trek to a hill towards the rightmost end of the beach.
4. Half-moon beach – Half-moon beach is named such as its shape resembles that of a half-moon. It cannot be accessed via road. You can reach it only after a 30-minute trek either from the leftmost end of Om beach or through a trail starting from the main road leading to Om beach. The trek to Half-moon beach is through a forested area and is easy to moderate in difficulty level. The trek from Om beach to Hal-moon beach will provide you with awesome views as the trail runs along the hill overlooking the vast Arabian Sea on one side. It’s best to trek to Half-moon beach in a group or with someone experienced with the trails as there are plenty of chances that you will end up on a wrong trail or get lost on the many zig-zag paths. This south-facing beach is small, just like a lagoon, but clean and beautiful; just resembling a paradise. Half-moon beach is totally cut off from the world and has close to none amenities. Tourists have also claimed to witness bioluminescence in the sea during night-time at the beach but it's best that you visit it before sunset unless you plan to spend the night there.
5. Paradise beach – Paradise beach is another south-facing beach that can only be accessed by trekking. The beached can be reached after a 30-minute trek either from Half-moon beach or from Belekan beach (that can be reached via road). The beach is mostly rocky with some sandy patch in between and is dangerous to swim as the waves are extremely strong. Paradise beach is again a small beach hardly resembling a paradise. We did not find anything special about the beach except getting ourselves clicked with ‘Para Para Paradise’ written over the rocks with spray paint which was amusing in a way. There are no shacks or restaurants (which is good) but the beach is popular for illegal camping.
6. Cliff viewpoint - This of course isn't a beach but a viewpoint. Towards the right from the Kudle beach parking lot, goes a trail up a hill. This takes you to the cliff viewpoint from where you can see the entire stretch of Kudle beach from a cliff. If you walk some more towards the left, Gokarna main beach is visible. The viewpoint is best visited during sunrise or sunset. Not many people know about this viewpoint, hence it is extremely peaceful and devoid of crowds.
Note: During peak season and good weather conditions, you can hop beaches in a boat if you are not interested in trekking. The boats are operated by local fishermen that take you from one beach to another. Even water sports are available at most of these above-mentioned beaches during peak season. There is also a ferry line that operates from Belekan to Kumta. You can take this ferry, that operates almost every half an hour, to visit the beaches in Kumta like Nirvana beach and Heaven beach.
Gokarna main market is another good place to visit in Gokarna. The market is located near the temples and the Gokarna main beach. Most of the shops sell clothes or items used in temples for worshipping. You can shop for cheap incense sticks, beads, printed T-shirts, hats, dresses, imitation jewelry, utensils, picture frames of God and Goddesses, souvenirs, and other religious items. Gokarna Thursday market is also quite well known.
Place to stay in Gokarna:
Being a place popular with youngsters and teenagers, we very soon realised that Gokarna lacked proper infrastructure for a luxurious stay. We found low-budget shacks, huts, cottages and hotels that completely failed to impress us. What we were seeking out was a clean, comfortable, environment-friendly, away-from-crowd, luxurious accommodation with good views, great food and friendly staff. Thus, we spent a lot of time in researching such a place and we are fortunate that we came across the luxury villas of ‘Kahani Paradise’. It ticked all our boxes and was much more than what we had expected. We highly recommend travellers heading to Gokarna to check them out. Perched on a hill in middle of forest, Kahani Paradise is a perfect place to leave your world behind and relax. More on Kahani Paradise, Gokarna in our next blog. Stay tuned!
Gokarna left us speechless with its beauty and history and taught us many things. Our trip to Gokarna turned out to be exceptional, not just because it is a great beach destination, but because we got a chance to unearth the rich history behind the magnificent temples, something that very few people tend to explore in Gokarna.
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If you love such places, then Gokarna should be your next travel destination. And if have been there already, do let us know about your thoughts on this magical place in the comment section below.