At this point, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that sometimes life interrupts your plans and you have to make time for what’s more important. Last year I took a one-month hiatus from travelling to care for my newly adopted dog before I left for Spiti Valley in August. This year, I took yet another month-long hiatus to care for my little sister appearing for her grade 12 board exams. I’m telling you, there’s almost no difference between dogs and toddlers. But as life interrupts, life also makes way. Spiti changed my perception of a lot of things. It made me calmer, taught me to a great deal about respecting Mother Nature and showed me how most happy memories and made by accident. Spiti is now my favourite mountain place in the whole wide world. It is perhaps then of little surprise that when I broke my hiatus this year and travelled to Gokarna solo, and stayed at a hostel called Nowhere, Gokarna I was rewarded with some of the best five days of my life, and I do not say this casually.
Gokarna is a small temple village located on the coast of Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka and its narrow lanes, ancient Shiva temples, spectacular beaches and best of all- the warm people have my heart.
What's In Here
How to Reach Gokarna
The nearest city to Gokarna is Bengaluru which is well connected by both road, rail and air. Other cities which have daily direct buses to and from Gokarna are Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Goa.
It took me some time to research the place I wanted to stay at in Gokarna. Being a solo traveller, there was no doubt I’d stay at a backpacker hostel. While I hardly have any requirements while travelling, one thing that I usually need is to be as close to nature as I can be, all the while being away from the noisy, music blasting, litter throwing, ruckus creating tourists. And the moment I laid my eyes on Nowhere, Gokarna thanks to Google Uncle, I knew that’s where I’d stay.
Nowhere, Gokarna is perhaps the ideal backpacker hostel located away from noisy crowds, close to nature and promotes sustainable energy management. Located in the absolutely peaceful and lesser-known Middle Beach, it is one of the very first beachside hostels in all of Gokarna and you can literally wake up and walk into the ocean. My mornings at Nowhere consisted of waking up with the sun, changing into my swimsuit, spending an hour in the ocean, taking a shower and getting dressed and heading to the in-house cafe for some breakfast. Dias, the chef became a dear friend during my short stay and boy, oh boy can he whip out some absolute delicacies from his little kitchen!
On the front of Nowhere lies the vast, endless ocean and it’s backyard is a whole other world in itself. There are farms after farms of different vegetables being drown like beetroot, pumpkin, cucumber, spinach etc. In the distance are also some hills that seemed so lucrative for a sunset run and somewhere hidden in the jungle of the farms and coconut plantations is also a Halakki settlement. This used to be the perfect golden hour walk for me when I was staying at Nowhere, Gokarna. And once I’d be back, I’d swim in the ocean until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and come back and bathe in their open shower. What a life!
Another very interesting thing about Nowhere is that it is one of the very few commercial properties in Gokarna that do not keep plastic water bottles on sale or serve tissues to their visitors. For water, you can refill your bottles or glasses from their water filter and instead of tissues, use the sink attached in the cafe to wash your hands or rinse your mouth after eating. I absolutely loved how environmentally conscious the hostel was, doing their bit to reduce their carbon footprint as much as they can. If that’s not an added plus point that would make you pack your bags and stay at Nowhere right away, I don’t know what is!
Things to do in Gokarna
Five – Beach Trek
This is perhaps one of the most popular things to do in Gokarna- and rightfully so. This day hike takes you through some of Gokarna’s most pristine beaches where roads do not reach. Instead of taking the usual route from Kudle, the guys at Nowhere suggested we begin from Belekan Beach and then head towards Paradise Beach and further, and so we did!
Accompanied by the hostel manager and now a good friend, Mayur, we reached a small (and the only) shack at Belekan and stocked ourselves with water and some bread omelette before heading on towards our first stop- Paradise Beach. A small beach lined with palm trees, this is the perfect place to take a nap under the shade of the palms and do absolutely nothing. Since the waters here are very rough, the scope of swimming in the sea is very limited. People do, however, carry their tents and camp here but this is not ‘permitted by the law’ and the police might come and ask you to leave (and possibly fine you too.)
Update:I have heard that Paradise Beach is now a private property and to enter, one must pay 200 INR per person. So if I were you, I’d skip Paradise altogether and head straight to Half Moon Beach.
Half Moon Beach
The next stop on the trek is Half Moon Beach which is by far, my favourite. It’s shaped like a crescent and the water here is somehow just perfect for swimming and I ended up spending an hour and a half floating in the ocean and going with the waves. Every now and then I would feel myself being pulled deeper into the ocean but the next moment it would spit me back out and I would land at the shore! There are a few shacks here that also provide basic lodging facilities with food and I’ve sworn to return to Gokarna and spend a night or two here (and I highly recommend that you do too!)
From Half Moon, we further went up to Om Beach which is uncannily shaped like an ‘Om’. Om Beach can also be accessed by road, however, it is a disappointing place to be at. The sand had remains of an oil spill that took place some days ago and the beach was strewn with plastic here and there. On the other hand, hiking under the sun in the middle of an April day started taking its toll on me and by the time we reached Om, I didn’t have it in me to go any further till Kudle Beach so we decided to take an auto and head back to the ho(me)stel.
Pro tip: If you do end up completing the trek, you can also further hike from Kudle to Middle Beach where Nowhere is located.
This temple was one of the first places I visited in Gokarna. Ram Tirtha is a beautiful Ram Temple located on a cliff near Main Beach which is famous for its natural spring water which has been channeled to flow through the mouth of a Nandi Bull. The folks at Nowhere come here often to collect spring water and most of what is cooked in their kitchen is cooked using this water. It’s a serene place to come and spend some time by yourself, meditate or let that creative juices flow!
Visit Nirvana Beach in Kagal
Kagal is a small village located close to Kumta. It is famous for its Nirvana Beach which is a huge stretch of sand flanked by a calm sea. You can either take a ferry from Om Beach to Nirvana Beach, take your scooter to explore this part, or you can even choose to do the Gokarna to Kumta (Kagal) Beach Trek.
Phytoplanktons are bioluminescent organisms that live in the ocean and glow whenever the water is disturbed by the waves. These microscopic beings glow bright enough to be seen by the naked eye on a dark night and if the timing is just right, one can see the glow in the ocean right from Nowhere itself! The best time to see the phytoplankton glow is right after monsoons – from September to November when the ocean is at its cleanest. However, fain glows can be seen throughout the year and are especially brighter on new moon nights.
Two years after my first visit to Gokarna, I did end up spending a night at Half Moon Beach and literally swam with these beauties in the ocean in the middle of the night. I put my snorkel mask on and went underwater and with each movement of my arms or legs, it seemed as if a million little fireflies were lighting up underwater. It is one of the most spectacular phenomenon I’ve ever experienced, and I highly recommend you do too!
A 4th-century temple, the Mahabaleshwar Temple is the main temple in Gokarna and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Another one of the first places I visited in Gokarna, my friend and the then manager at Nowhere, a devout Shiva bhakt himself, guided me through this ancient building, all the while narrating the legend to me. This temple houses the Atmalinga that the demon Ravana, a Shiva devotee, had brought from Mount Kailash from Lord Shiva himself. The myth behind how this temple came to be, and how Gokarna got its name is a blog post for another time. The Atmalinga can be seen by the visitors through a small hole and it is considered to be a holy ritual to place one’s finger in the hole and then touch the finger to one’s forehead. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple premises and foreigners are not allowed to enter inside.
Mirjan Fort is a beautiful fort from the 16th century Vijayanagar Empire. Built near the Anghnashini River, this served as an important trade point later for the Portuguese for the export of pepper and cashew. The fort is mostly in ruins now and also has a moat around it which used to be filled with water once upon a time. From the top of the fort, one side there are palm and banana plantations as far as the eye can see, and on the other side, parts of the Anghnashini River are visible. If not anything else, the walk to the fort itself is a beautiful one. It’s a narrow pathway in an ocean of jungle you walk through and a lonesome house every now and then make an appearance. I would definitely put this high up on my “offbeat things do in Gokarna” list if I were you!
Stroll Through Car Street
Car Street is the main street in Gokarna where most shops, flea markets and the Shiva temple are located. There are small shops selling colourful clothes, jewellery and other trinkets and are a nice place to cop a souvenir or two from. In the middle of Car Street, there is also the massive wooden Rath placed which is supposed to be hundreds of years old and has beautiful intricate carvings all over it. The Rath is parked there year-round and only moves during the Maha Shivratri every year when a massive procession takes place. It is believed that several people have tried to move the Rath but have failed, and the Rath is only moveable during the big Shiva festival.
Next Up: Detailed blog on my experience with the Gokarna Mahashivratri coming up soon (don’t forget to subscribe!)
Yana Caves, located some 40 kilometres from Gokarna, are two beautiful rock monoliths composed of black, crystalline karst limestone. The bigger cave is known as Bhairaveshwara Shikhara and is some 120 meters in height while the smaller one, Mohini Shikhara, is about 90 meters in height. Situated in the middle of a dense forest with a small stream flowing by making the place almost surreal, the caves are also home to hundreds of bats that can be seen fluttering about overhead, as well as the Giant Honey Bee known as hejjenu in Kannada.
These caves can be reached via a short hike of about 500 meters from the main roadhead where a parking lot has also been built. There are plenty of snacks available at the entry gate as well as inside, near the temple at the Bhairaveshwara Shikhara. When I visited, they had closed the common route to the cave, and instead one had to first remove the shoes and enter the temple and then hike up barefoot to the cave.
Pro tip: The bigger cave is probably a bad idea for you to visit if you’re claustrophobic. However, the smaller one is not as narrow.
The Vibhuti Waterfall is a magnificent three-storeyed waterfall located just 8 kilometres from Yana Caves. To reach the falls, one must take a short hike through a well-marked trail. The first pool is home to a number of tadpole and fish that are very attracted to the dead skin on the feet and make standing in the pool almost unbearable! Pestered by these tickling fish, I made my way up to the very base of the waterfall traversing through some very narrow and slippery rocky trails. The gush of the water was tremendous even during the summers and the water in the pool was cold enough to give you chills. Although the experience was extraordinary, I will not recommend going to the top of the waterfall unless you can climb rocks on all fours, and really know how to handle swimming in deep waters. I have seen fellow travellers almost get pulled in by waterfalls once at Mukteshwar and once at Vibhuti itself. So please don’t try to be a machist hero and pull stunts that might just prove to be fatal- or accidental- at the very least.
Update: I heard that swimming is not allowed in Vibhuti Falls anymore but a few friends kept hiking downstream until they found a secluded pool and had a good swim, nonetheless!
Gangekolla is yet another offbeat place to visit in Gokarna that not many know of. This is where the Gangavalli River drains into the Arabian Sea. It is located just about 4 kilometers from Middle Beach and is a straight walk by the shore until the beach ends and the river/ sea begins. It is an incredibly peaceful place and there was not a single soul, barring the old fisherman and me when I visited. If the ferry service is functional when you visit, consider crossing over to the other side and visit the Manjaguni Beach as well. I’ve heard it’s pretty nice.
Sunset at Kudle Hilltop
Kudle Hilltop or “Labyrinth” as it is often called, is a beautiful spot to catch a sunset from. It’s a 5 minute hike which begins from beside Prema Restaurant in Kudle. You can see parts of Kudle and most of Main/ Middle Beach from here and watching the sky changing colours each passing minute is as peaceful as it gets. If you visit in the winter months, consider taking a thin jacket along as it gets pretty windy once the sun goes down. Also consider hiking down the cliff and onto the massive rocks in the ocean below for an added thrill to your experience!
Right opposite to Kudle Hilltop, somewhere in the forest, is a small hillock which is known as Shiva Caves or “Gogarbha” locally. It is a beautiful cave with a lot of resident bats and a small Shiva shrine inside. It is believed that Devi Prithvi, or Mother Earth came to Gokarna and performed penance in a cave shaped like a cow’s womb, (hence the name gogarbha) and was bestowed by Lord Shiva.
Places to Eat in Gokarna
Bhagvan Cafe, Middle Beach
Bhagvan Cafe is located just a few cafes from Nowhere and this the place that the folks at Nowhere suggest to all their guests. One meal at Bhagvan’s, and you’ll understand why. It’s got a bright hammock attached to palm trees to nap on, a bunch of tables neatly arranged right on the sand and also a beautiful deck upstairs with seating on the floor. The food here is every bit delicious be it the falafel platter, cheeseburger or daal chawal. I recommend the lemon nana- a refreshing drink made with lemon juice, fresh mint and loads of crushed ice.
Santrupti Veg Restaurant, Main Beach
This is the go-to place for some authentic South Indian food followed by the delicious filter kapi. They serve all their dosas and uttapams with podi and ghee. Mix the two together, and you will have an authentic Uttara Kannada culinary experience! I never knew eating dosas with ghee podi would change my life, but it did.
Shree Shakti Cold Drinks, Car Street
My host took me here on my first day in Gokarna and I’m so grateful to him for introducing me to this place. They serve the most delicious, flavourful and light homemade coconut ice cream there is. I have never been a fan of coconut or any of its byproducts (barring coconut water, of course) so trust me when I say this, you have to try it out. Have to.
Omkar’s, Car Street
Omkar’s is famous for its refreshing coolers but the one things you should be sure to try out is the kokum soda they sell. Kokum is to the South what buransh is to the North, except that buransh is a flower and kokum, a fruit. This juice is known for its herbal properties and works especially well for heat prevention. This is the very drink that brought me to life post my heat stroke during the Five Beach Trek, when even electrolytes failed to do so!
Janardan Dhaba, Belehittal Road
Janardan Dhaba is a small hole in the wall shop on Belehittal Road towards Rudrapada Road in Gokarna. This used to be my, and a few friends’ go-to place for a hearty breakfast of Mangalore or Banana Buns with a glass of fresh, home-brewed kombucha in Gokarna! This place does not exist on Google Maps so if you go the extra mile and are able to land here nonetheless, extra brownie point for you!
Anand’s Lagoon Cafe, Rudrapada Road
The Lagoon Cafe is an underrated cafe near Middle Beach but deserves a lot more attention than most others. This place stood out for me because it was the only place I found in Gokarna selling guacamole and babaganoush which I devoured! Their veg Bolognese pasta is also incredible and the mushroom pizza is to die for!
Frequently Answered Questions About Gokarna
There are a few ATMs in Gokarna in main town around Car Street Area. However, most shops, cafes and places of stay in Gokarna accept UPI.
Renting a scooter is the best way to get in and around Gokarna. There are several scooter rental shops which cost about 300-350 rupees per day. You can also rent a bicycle at 50-80 rupees per day.
Network is weak in most parts of Gokarna. Calls are easy to make but internet is a problem. However, many cafes – including Nowhere – have Fiber Net available.
My five days in Gokarna were spent playing beach volleyball at Nowhere, stargazing, literally chasing sunsets, running wild and free in nature and having wholesome conversations with (as cliched as it might sound) people who became family. And I can vouch for the fact that the experiences I had at Gokarna wouldn’t have been possible without the warm and friendly faces of Nowhere. The vibe there is out of this world to an extent that I feel I cannot do it enough justice by merely putting it into words. You have to be there to experience it.
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We love transparency! This post was sponsored by Nowhere, Gokarna but the views expressed are solely my own (in case you couldn’t already tell!)
A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.