Gokarna is a small and remote holy town, with four of India's most secluded and pristine beaches nestled nearby. It draws both pious pilgrims and hedonistic holidaymakers with equal enthusiasm. Travel to Gokarna to get a feel for what Goa was like in its heyday, although time is limited as developers are already seeing the potential of this area and commercialization is setting in.
Gokarna is located in the state of Karnataka, an hour south of the Goa border. It's around 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Bangalore, the state capital.
The nearest airport is Dabolim, in Goa. From there it's a four hour drive south to Gorkana. Alternatively, trains on the Konkan railway stop at Gokarna Road station, 15 minutes from town, as well as Kumta and Ankola stations, both around 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Gokarna. Gokarna is also well connected by bus from major cities such as Madgaon in Goa, and Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka.
Climate and Weather
Gokarna experiences the southwest monsoon from June to August, following which the weather becomes dry and sunny. The best time to visit Gokarna is from October until March, when the weather is warm and pleasant with temperatures averaging 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). April and May are hot summer months, and the temperature easily reaches 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) then. It becomes very humid too.
What to Do
Gokarna's main attraction is its beaches, where people come to chill and soak up the sun for months at a time. As Gokarna is one of the most sacred holy towns for Hindus in south India, there are also some important temples to see. Unfortunately, they're off limits to non-Hindus but you can grab a glimpse inside. The Mahabaleshwar Temple houses a huge lingam (symbol) of Lord Shiva. Make sure you check out the huge chariots near the Ganpati Temple, which carry a Shiva idol through the streets while people throw bananas at it for good luck during the Shivaratri Festival in February or early March.
In addition, it's possible to learn yoga (most classes are held on Kudle Beach), surf, and participate in water sports. Read More: 9 Top Places to Surf and Get Lessons in India.
Gokarna town has its own (rather unclean) beach that's popular with pilgrims. However, the beaches that are of most interest to tourists are located one after another, a short distance away to the south. There are four of them -- Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Halfmoon Beach, and Paradise Beach (in that order). Each has its own appeal.
Om Beach is the most happening beach, and is the only one that's reachable by car or rickshaw. However, this means that it attracts plenty of rowdy domestic tourists and locals, particularly on weekends, and unfortunately the men don't always behave themselves.
Therefore, laid-back Kudle Beach is a preferable alternative for those who want to be around other travelers. This beach is situated in between Gokarna and Om beaches, and can be reached in 20 minutes from Om beach or by a short downhill walk from drop-off points.
The other much smaller beaches -- Halfmoon and Paradise -- are to the south of Om beach. They're a scenic 30 minute hike away from each other through the hills and over rocks, or a short boat ride away. Paradise Beach, the last beach, isn't much more than a tiny protected cove that's a patch of hippie paradise.
Where to Stay
Gokarna town has plenty of hotels but they are characterless places. Instead, opt for a homestay such as Hari Priya Residency.
Vedic Village is an outstanding homestay in a newly constructed house with sea views, situated five minutes walk from town. Nimmu House is a popular budget option, with a wide variety of rooms in two wings, close to the town's beach.
Alternatively, find yourself a hut on the beach. Decent ones are longer super cheap though, as many establishments have upgraded to concrete structures with attached bathrooms. Prices skyrocket from December to February, when demand is high, although it's much less costly than Goa! Om and Kudle beaches both have some permanent accommodations, while places only open on Paradise and Halfmoon beaches during the tourist season from November to March. If you want to book in advance, try pocket-friendly Paradise Holiday Cottages or Kudle Oceanfront Resort on Kudle Beach.
Nirvana Guest House is the best place to stay on Om Beach. Namaste Cafe and nearby Shantidham Cafe also offer cottages that are popular. Beach accommodation can be difficult to come by in the peak months of December and January though. Many people are just happy with a hammock! If that idea doesn't appeal to you, make sure you turn up before noon to grab a room as people are checking out.
There are a few luxury resorts on the hillside, such as Om Beach Resort, SwaSwara, and Kudle Beach View Resort & Spa to cater for those who prefer their comforts. Om Beach Resort has a traditional Ayurvedic center, while Swaswara focuses on yoga and meditation.
For something different, check out Namaste Yoga Farm in the hills above Kudle Beach. You can stay in a tree house there!
Alternatively, backpackers will be pleased to know that a few hostels have opened up at Gokarna recently. Zostel hostel was the first one there, in early 2016. It sits on a hilltop halfway between Gokarna town and Kudle Beach, and the beach view is rather spectacular. It's an arty place with dorms, private wooden cottages, a common room, and a yummy restaurant. HosteLaVie occupies an enticing spot behind Kudle Beach, while Trippr hostel is bang on a private beach.
Parties and Nightlife
Bonfires, singing, guitars, and drums are familiar parts of Gokarna's nightlife. The party scene in holy Gokarna is kept in check by strict policing, although some beach parties do happen during the peak season. Officially, alcohol is banned because of the town's religious significance but you won't have a problem getting a cold beer on the beach.
Dangers and Annoyances
Police corruption has become a significant issue in recent years. After you arrive, your auto-rickshaw or taxi may take you to a police checkpoint, where your luggage will be searched for drugs (this includes prescription drugs) and hefty bribes extorted for possession. Also, do be aware that police are known to visit guest rooms and extort bribes from those found to be in possession of narcotics. Care should be taken when walking between the beaches at night in the dark, and it's best not to go alone.
Swimming can also be dangerous as some areas have strong currents.