Ticket to Gokarna: The hidden paradise


It seemed almost like a century since I have backpacked and typed a new story in this book of tickets. It was that time of the year again, where I complete another revolution around the sun and keep the promise of watching the sunrise from yet another new place. As I write this story, the pandemic hasn’t loosened its grip, and any travel plan would also add a risk of being in an exposed and unknown environment. But I was in a much-needed break and Gokarna seemed rather a safer place to explore. I had been to Gokarna at least a few times earlier, but mostly with intention of temple visits, but this time I wanted to get a closer look at this place people have fallen in love with.

Gokarna is that one small town where people come to lay back and relax, mostly at the beaches. I find myself quite the opposite and was looking for a 2-day itinerary to make the best of my time there. Most of my searches were leading to the beach-hike which seemed like an interesting thing to do. I decided that the rest of the time would go for things that are spontaneous and unplanned. Seemed like the best decisions I could have made. There was a Zostel (bunk stay) right in the middle of town yet at a distance from the crowded beach and the main town which seemed ideal. Bus tickets were booked too and I was all set to be in this happy hippie place with almost no plan in hand.

There was a new travel constant this time

Day 1: The no-beach day

An overnight journey of 10 – 12 hours from Bengaluru to Gokarna can also be covered via train which is considered a scenic route. I opted for a bus instead for easier accessibility and shorter duration. The bus stop was about 2km away from Zostel, and a walk to which I regretted soon. I had almost forgotten about the humidity in this coastal town and the brisk walk at 8 in the morning had made it worst.

Vacay mode on…

As usual, the check-in was expected to be around 12 in the noon, but there were facilities to freshen up quickly. The common room had workstations setup which was facing the sea, and the cliff view of the beach seemed like an ideal place for workation (I guess pandemic made this word popular 😛 ).

Most of the conversations with fellow travelers started with awkward ‘Hi’, followed by some small-talk about where they are from and where they are working, but soon, I started getting some interesting suggestions about the places to explore.

As seen from Zostel. What a view to begin the day!
Beautiful common rooms

Sunny, who had almost packed her bags for the return suggested few amazing cafes around the beach and a few must-try dishes. The property manager on the other hand suggested that I can do the beach hike by myself and catch a ferry on my return journey. Another fellow whose name I’m having a hard time recalling suggested Vibhuti falls near Yana which was about 40km away from Gokarna. Adding to the list, I had seen salt panes on my way, which seemed like an interesting place to explore. There it was, my on-the-fly itinerary.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the number of travelers seemed still higher. The Zostel reception was much helpful in sharing contact for hiring a two-wheeler and a scooter was arranged in no time. The plan was to Visit Vibhuti Falls, Yana caves, and the Salt Panes for the day. And then watch the sunset from Zostel. Frankly, I was in two-minds in heading towards the Vibhuti falls for it is really far. But the journey and a long ride through the twists and turns through the villages and forests seemed like an exciting journey I had missed for quite some time. However, the fact that there were no petrol stations in the entire route was making me more anxious and for half of the journey, I was looking at the indicator constantly to calculate if I would reach back.

The route was covered with thick forest on either side. The silence in the journey throughout had an eerie feeling when the roads seemed deserted at times, but was equally fun to zip through quickly. Occasionally I would come across a few quaint villages with handful houses and shops, and then again would be the never-ending stretch of the green. Midst of these green belt was a few trees with colorful blooms and leaves which appeared like a jewel from afar.

Never-ending roads

After an hour and a half long ride, I was finally at the Vibhuti falls which needed another small 15-minute hike from the entrance to reach the water stream. The sound of gushing water was music to the ears and it was a treat to the eyes to watch it jump and hop on the boulders. It was time to settle down in the lap of the falls and forget the tiredness of the journey while dipping the feet in the flowing water.

first some steps
then some trails
and voila!!!

The Yana caves were just 10km away from the falls. The water at Vibhuti falls comes flowing through the bright white limestone rocks of Yana cave and where Vibhuti means the white ash. Hence the name. The route to Yana was a constant uphill climb which seemed almost like a ghat route that was in a poor condition. Both the roads and now the half tank in the scooter made me drop the plan and start my return journey to Gokarna. I had visited Yana a few years ago, and this would have been a visit to reminisce the memories.

From the umpteen trips I have been to in the past, one that remained constant was an incident of Murphy’s law and in the current trip, it seemed like the worst one so far. After crossing about half a distance towards Gokarna, the scooter turned off abruptly. Multiple self-starts and kick-starts made no difference while it stood there still. My stars seemed to have been in right place that day and I was luckily and barely ‘inside’ the network coverage area. The owner was proactive in arranging a mechanic to fix the scooter just with a single call. However, the entire day was almost lost while I got the scooter fixed on this almost deserted road.

Say hello to Shyam. He was a good company for conversations while we waited for the replacement of the belt that got cut.

There was still some time in hand to explore the Salt Panes of Sanikatta. A place where the rock-salt is made in the most primitive way i.e. by sun-drying the seawater. The place is located closer to the place where this river Aghanashini meets the sea and the mix of seawater in the river gives it a unique taste. The water is stored first in reservoirs with help of check dams which are then periodically released to the intricate network of panes where the density of salt is increased by sun-drying the water. The water in the river would be at 2 degrees. This is not temperature. It’s some measure they used to describe the process. I haven’t really found the real metric yet. The water is sundried gradually till it reaches 25 – 27 degrees where salt would crystalize and float over the water. It is then collected and made as small heaps for removing excess moisture which is then packaged for distribution.

should we call it the salt-comb?
stage-II when salt starts to crystallize
Its harvest time

Sun had set his course towards the horizon when I was back to Zostel. The bright orange hue was setting a cheerful vibe all around and it was much peaceful to sit in the gazebo and watch one of the most beautiful sunsets. I had carried my ukulele which was a new hobby I had picked up during the pandemic. After humming a few songs that I had practiced, a fellow traveler Jasmeet noticed me with the ukulele and asked if we could jam. And thus began the evening where we tried to sing a lot of songs. He played harmonica and guitar for a few songs we tried to practice and it turned out to be free entertainment for people around.

Oh, we also hijacked someone else’s birthday party since it was mine too on the same day and the whole evening turned out to be the best start for 28.

Day – 2: Beach Please

I guess there was hardly any sleep from the excitement for the hike. As soon as the first few rays of the sun were brightening the surroundings and the town was still snoozing, my walk towards the beach started. Kavya and Reshma and tagged along from Zostel, and there were few more folks walking the same route. We were to take the route of Main Beach -> Kudle Beach -> Om Beach -> Half Moon Beach -> Friend’s Beach -> Paradise beach. And then catch a ferry back. Kavya had done the hike a few years ago and apart from the GPX file I had downloaded online (thanks to Indiahikes), she was supposed to be our guide through the twists and turns of the trails.

And the hike begins. That’s Antos and Lijose at the middle who I end up meeting towards the end of the trail like kumbh ke mele me bichde dost

I must admit, this was one of the most scenic hikes I have done in the south. As our journey started through a trail adjoining a temple, a new world suddenly seems to have opened up. For most of my life, my mental image of the sea was a beach with sand. But the view of bright white waves gushing towards the gorge and returning to the deep blue sea was making us all pause for a minute and admire the view. We were walking almost near the edge of the cliff, uphill for tens of steps and then towards the down. There were a few turns that appeared from far if were too close to the edge and drove a chill through the spine, but it would then reveal the trails on the other side.

Oh deep blue sea! How much more gorgeous can you be?
Can I stay here please?

I was constantly trying to be on track, but we would often deviate from it by trying to pick from multiple trails that we saw. Reshma gave up after about 30 minutes and decided to go back. After another 15 minutes of walk, we realized that the route was getting even more confusing to follow and we decided to join the main road to get to Kudle beach which was supposed to be just 500 meters from Zostel via road. After begging the guard to cross through private property, we were finally back on the route to Kudle. Just then, Kavya realized that she had dropped the cash she had brought with her and decided to return to Zostel. I was now all alone for the rest of the trail.

About 8 years ago, we had come to Gokarna during an unexpected turn of events during the college trip, and the best thing in Gokarna was the first thin-crust pizza I had ever tasted. As soon as I reached the beach, this was the first thing I had noticed. The restaurant La Pizzeria was still there. That was all the reason needed to hop-in and have some yummy breakfast while walking through the lane of nostalgic memories.

yum in my tum

Kudle is one of the most visited beaches. With a shore in the shape of an arc, it is filled with multiple cafes and stays for one to relax or indulge in water-sports or just to take a dip in the sea and count the never-ending waves. Part of the hike was to walk on this beach to reach the other side and then head to Om Beach. I bumped into few familiar faces from Zostel who were busy taking an early morning dip in the sea. Sun was getting harsher now as the minutes passed, and I had covered just one-fourth of the distance.

kudle beach

The second mistake happened when I asked for directions from an auto driver for the further route to Om Beach after climbing up the stairs to reach the main road. He denied that there was any shorter route and asked me to take the tarmac road which was about a kilometer route to Om Beach. The place where my GPX route directed was appearing to end at a large gate that was closed. Trails or the tarmac, my destination was any way the same, and I made it to Om beach after about 20 minutes of walk.
Om Beach gets its name from the shape of its shore made using two arcs which looks like the symbol Om. The water seemed deeper here and the waves were stronger. The place was almost deserted here and the smaller cafes were waiting for people. The only place that seemed to have people here was the Namaste cafe, one of the famous in Gokarna.

that’s one half of Om

The trails connecting from the Om beach to Half Moon beach were through what appeared like a dense mini forest. At this point, there was literally nobody in the trails and for once the entire scene was eerie again. I was pacing faster to reach the other side and at some places, I started running too, just in the hope of finding some civilization. The Half Moon Beach was one of the smallest so far with most of the shores covered with boulders and gorges, yet had a beauty of its own.

more trails leading to half moon beach

So it was now the last leg to Paradise beach. At this point, trails were getting much closer to water, and what seemed to be guiding marks pointing the trails had started to disappear. Just then, I saw two more hikers at a distance, and finding company in that almost empty trail seemed like a boon. They introduced themselves as Antos and Lijose. They were from Kerala here for a quick vacation (I seem to have encountered at least one mallu in each trip these days. Strange pattern).

Paradise it is!

After jumping and hopping on a few boulders and guessing our next steps, we were finally at the paradise beach which was worth its name. The dark blue water and relatively calm sea and the backdrop of green small hills made it appear straight out of a movie. We had done it. The 8km stretch of the hike was now complete.

infinity swing?
check this on strava: https://strava.app.link/bUg4kffepeb

Our excitement was dulled down a bit after we heard from locals that the ferry was rare at that time of the day and the nearest bus/auto availability was another 20 minutes hike again. Luckily the stretch was through another tiny forest again with some canopy to cover from the harsh weather. The endpoint was Belekan beach which was originally the starting spot for this beach hike. There was a small lighthouse at a smaller deviated trail, but we were too exhausted and dehydrated to take any additional steps. An auto-rickshaw waiting right at the end of the trail dropped us back to the main town, back again to civilization and away from the pristine views of the beaches.

Most of the noon was spent swinging away in the hammock soaking in the cool breeze and rejuvenating. It was too hot outside and I had covered most of the things I had planned for. At around 4 pm, it was time to explore the cafes that I was suggested the previous day. Bhagwan cafe was at the End Beach and Christophe cafe was at the middle beach. Seemed like after naming so many beaches on the south side, somebody lost interest and called them Main, Middle, and End Beaches ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What you see clearly is main-beach, the hazy one after that is the middle-beach, the one you can’t see is end-beach!!!

What appeared to be the part of the beach visible from Zostel turned out to be 40 minutes walk on the beach to reach Bhagwan cafe at End Beach. They are quite famous for their vegetarian dishes with a wide variety of cuisines. I chose to taste the Falafel Lafa (Falafel roll) and mango juice (first mango of the season Yay!). Truly tummyliious.

the falafel lafa

A walk back towards Middle beach for 10 minutes showed the way to Chez Christophe cafe. The ambiance was really amazing with comfortable cushioned seating even to lie down and stretch legs for a while after a tiring walk at the beach. The cafe is run for the last 10 years by Christophe, a citizen of France. He was really humble and suggested trying hot chocolate and chocolate moose for desserts. Death by Chocolate indeed. Undoubtedly they were delicious. There it was, a dot on the entire itinerary for Gokarna.

Christophe cafe. Those are swings on either side 😮

It was time for one last beautiful sunset view from Zostel. The sky was much clearer and gave a great view of the changing colors of the sky. As soon as the sunset, there was the bright light of the moon from the other side giving a magical touch to the evening. It was time to pack the bags and bid farewell to fellow travelers who had become friends in no time. With a promise to meet again in Bangalore and have many more jamming sessions, I bid adieu to this beautiful town.

awesome trip = happy face
psst! trying hard to hide the tiredness from hike

1. Unplanned trips can turn out to be memorable too.
2. Follow your gut. It can take you to amazing places and keep you away from bad moments.
3. It is ok to miss few places and things to do from the checklist. There is always next time for it.
4. It is much better to attempt and fail than to shy away.
5. Do not let the situations spoil the mood. And even when everything goes wrong, Don’t Panic!

By Hithesh Bhat

Traveller | Foodie | Geek | Lone explorer | Tech coach | Technophile | Maker | Wall-E in search of EVE