The next part of our holiday was a short trip to the coast. The drive from Hampi to Gokarna took around six hours, traffic was… well, it was India.
We arrived in Gokarna, to a bay called Kudle Beach, next to Om Beach. To get to our accommodation we had to park, grab our gear, and walk about 600 m down some rough-hewn steps, then another 300m across the beach. I had stumbled across a brand new hotel in my Googling, and as a result of their half-completedness, it was significantly cheaper than it would normally be, and was quite flash. The downside of being in a new place is that things like outdoor showers hadn’t been built yet, but it was totally worth it for the beautiful clean room!
I immediately was into my bikini and in the water. I love the sea and in India I live further away from the beach than I ever have before, and I miss the beach. The NZ sea is cold compared to Indian seas, even on a hot day. In the south of New Zealand where I grew up, the sea temperature year-round ranges from 10oC to 16oC… In Christchurch, we get a chilling Easterly breeze in summer which often makes the beach a less than pleasant place.
But Gokarna was lovely. A small bay of golden sand, warm waves, and relatively few people. The vibe of the place was chilled, lots of ‘alternative’ people. I heard someone say that Gokarna was the Hampi of the coast, and I’d agree with that. Families played on the beach, young people laughed and played frisbee, and the vibe was incredibly friendly. The place is stunning. A small, sheltered bay, semicircle of warm sand, hot days, and warm evenings. Palm trees lined the beach, their heavy heads of coconuts drooping over the sand. The end of the beach had rocky alcoves, where we could crab hunt and explore rockpools. It was gently beautiful, and for hours at a time we would sit in the shacks, and read books (or work), sipping lime sodas and enjoying the warm breeze.
There were two downsides to Gokarna, both due to it’s isolation and that it’s not yet well-frequented by tourists.
- Litter. Not awful, but noticeable. I saw tourists walking down the beach picking up litter. There’s nowhere to put the litter so it just gets dumped in piles up past the storm tide line. Sad.
- Food. It was decidedly average. The shacks (the restaurants that line the beach) all present the same kinds of food- everything. The menu has a lacklustre selection of ‘European’ breakfasts, and then a range of Mexican/ Israeli /Indian/ Italian/ American/ everything else. So you have ten pages of menu and you know it’s all going to be something that stops you from being hungry, but not fantastically tasty. Fuel, not food.
There was one negative experience I had in Gokarna, the worst experience I have had in India. Reza and I were out for dinner and having a nice time- certainly the food wasn’t bad and there was music gently playing, still peaceful enough we could chat easily, and there were families around, young people, it was chilled. I had kicked off my sandals and was sitting with my feet buried in the sand (a pleasant way to enjoy a meal) and relaxing, when a series of extremely loud ‘crackers’ (NZ’ers, think fireworks but ones purely for their loud bangs, like Tom Thumbs but hugely loud). went off. And continued to go off, right next door to the restaurant. The walls of the restaurant were plywood, so it was like they were being let off inside. Reza popped next door to ask the person to stop the noise as it was very unpleasant. He came back inside and said:
‘Oh boy, that guy was drunk. This isn’t going to be good’.
Apparently he had been setting off the crackers in the empty section next door to ‘scare the monkeys’, but monkeys aren’t a problem at night… we continued our meal. And then the crackers started up again, and continued for quite a while. Kids started crying. A female tourist stormed next door and had words with him and the crackers stopped again. Then I heard yelling, and turned around and saw a guy yelling at one of the waiters, screaming at him, abusing him. It continued for quite some time and the poor waiter just stood there and took it. I was a bit confused but I’m often confused in India, so I just mentally shrugged and carried on with my meal. Then the crackers started up again.
Kids started crying, it was very uncomfortable, and a male tourist went next door to ask the man to stop, then he suddenly came back in, chased by the fire cracker man. Who was also the angry yelling man. And this time, the guy had a sickle in his hand. He was yelling, abusing the tourist, screaming things like ‘you get to be noisy, so I am allowed to be noisy’, and ‘You don’t like here, I do…’ and something about Pakistan. The poor tourist stood there, trying to tell him to calm down, and then the angry man slapped him. Hard. Across the face. It was one of those moments where suddenly the entire world fell silent. Then, en masse, basically everyone in the restaurant got up and left. Abandoned their meals. Took their crying children and left. The angry man skulked around and went next door again. Reza and I stayed and finished our meal (hey, this is me, and food). It was very surreal and uncomfortable. I couldn’t relax, and my martial arts training ran through my head- if this guy went for me, could I disarm him? If I kicked him, I had bare feet, if I punched him, he had a knife…
We finished our meal and decided to source dessert elsewhere. As we waved the waiter over and asked for our bill, angry man came back in, thre himself into a chair, and demanded a beer. It was then that it became apparent that he was the owner of the restaurant.
Yes, you are now just as confused as I am.
The rest of our Gokarna time passed uneventfully, with walks down the beach, swims, food, reading books, and not doing much at all.
I hadn’t confirmed the accommodation in Goa so I was very close to deciding to stay in Gokarna, but the lure of a new place (and the promise of an array of fantastic food) won. A short two hour drive and we were in Goa.