HIDDEN 100 It’s not just the temples Sohini Chakravorty discovers the surreal beauty of the beaches in Gokarna

If you have had enough of the beaches of Goa, the much-hyped susegad life, and the sweet local port wine, then it is time you head for the beaches and the rocky landscapes of the Western Ghats in Gokarna.

A two-and-a-half hour cab ride from Goa, Gokarna can also be reached by buses or cabs from Hubli, Kumta and Ankola via the National Highway 17. It is also an overnight journey from Bangalore. A brief stop at one of the many Udipi tiffin centres that line the road is highly recommended. The fresh crisp vadas and steaming hot filter coffee will definitely lift up your spirits in the morning. After travelling in a rickety cab through the meandering routes of the Western Ghats, glimpses of the blue waters of the Arabian Sea give you a visual respite.

Gokarna is essentially a temple town and it is believed that the soul of Lord Shiva resides in this town. Folklores say that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow and that’s how this place got its name Gokarna. The Mahabaleshwar temple attracts a huge number of pilgrims every year. At every corner of this sleepy town, there is a temple but that’s not the only reason you visit Gokarna.

Further away from the main town, the long and winding roads of the Ghats lead to an uninterrupted stretch of the rocky beach. There are four prominent beaches — Om, Kudle, Half Moon and Paradise — separated by small hillocks and forests. Travelling from one beach to the other can be quite an adventure. Fishermen often ferry tourists. There are no life jackets or safety measures in place. If you do not want to ride the waves then hiking through the mountain paths is the way to go. Losing your way in the forest is unavoidable, but look and you will almost always find a friendly local or tourist to give you the directions.

The best way to explore the place is by foot. You might stumble upon a quaint café or a beach shack serving delicious food. The place doesn’t boast of any fancy hotels. The beach is peppered with shacks and small cottages.

It’s a Rastafarian way of life here. The local youth know how to enjoy the beach. They are not just good swimmers, some of them are excellent surfers as well and are ready to teach the tourists. Impromptu gigs and jamming sessions are common. A random midnight stroll on the beach might lead you to a camp fire.

As you enjoy the beautiful crimson sunset from the beach, detach yourself from the fast-paced world. Whether you are looking for a quite vacation alone or with family and friends, Gokarna is the place for all.