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 Road Trip to Gokarna - the Coastal Temple Town 


Sunset at Gokarna Main BeachDuring the Diwali-Ramazan weekend of 2006 we came up with a relatively unplanned road trip to Gokarna. All the planning required happened during the last few days, which put us into a situation of not getting accommodation in Gokarna and thus keeping the trip uncertain till late Wednesday night, when we managed to book our accommodation, over telephone. And we were to leave on Friday morning. 

Gokarna - The Place  

Gokarna is a coastal temple town approx 500 kms away, west of Bangalore. It's famous for its many famous temples and the secluded pristine beaches. Popular beaches are Gokarna Main Beach, also referred by the locals as local beach, which is accessible by a 5 minutes walk from the main street. This beach, even though is located very close to the city, is not that crowded, most of the time. But, evenings you can see the whole Gokarna population on the beach taking a stroll and motorbikes and cycles dashing around. The sunset view from here is amazing. You can just lie down; relax as the sun goes down into the farther end of Arabian Sea, if the sky is clear and without clouds. As you enter, left side of the beach is bordered by a small hillock and the right side extends further, to the north, through fishing villages. You can keep walking towards your right as much as you want. Also, you can see lot of fishing boats going out into the sea and coming back with their catch, depending on the time you're at the beach.

Gokarna town is a small one. Main Street is the artery of the town and is an approximately 1 km long road dotted by small time restaurants, curios shops and variety of other shops. Both ends of the Main Street are temples, and the street lies east-west. If you meander through the crooked alleys at the west end of the street you reach the main beach.

When you come in from NH17 to Gokarna, before the town you hit a police check post, from where the town limit starts. From here the east end of main street is approximately 1 km. Hotels like Shivaprasad, Gokarna International, Kamat, Kairali Ayurvedic Center, Pai restaurant, etc, are on this check post-Main Street stretch.

Where to Eat

Gokarna being a temple town, most of the eateries in the town are of vegetarian style. There are small hotels and snack bars all along the narrow road leading to the main beach. We've tried eating at two places and both are decent and have lot of people eating at these places. Most of them serve fresh food and are not very expensive. There is one newly opened non-vegetarian restaurant near the main beach. As you come out of the beach you need to take the first left turn and that'll lead you to the restaurant on top of a small hillock overlooking the sea. We visited them the day of opening, and could not get anything since that day was the Lakshmi Pooja day. They claim to be having Nepali cooks and on enquiring they said their great grandfathers were from Nepal and they are from Manali. Looks like a decent place, but unable to comment on food. There are two Pai eating places in the town, one of them on the main street, Pai Hotel and another on the road leading to Main Street, Pai Restaurant. Both looks alright and food is also good. Then there are a lot of small time shops serving Indian as well a continental food items, mainly meant for the foreign tourists flocking these places in mass numbers. Most of the eateries serve sweet and variously flavored lassy (a type of flavored or colored yogurt served chill in large tall steel tumblers) and many of them we had from various outlets were all very tasty and of good quality.

Namaste CafeAnother place we tried eating was at the Ohm Beach, Namaste Cafe. This place is as soon as you enter Ohm Beach, on your left, little above the beach level. There is a way directly from where the vehicles are parked, too. This place is a hang out mainly for people staying at their beach huts and shacks and for all the other folks visiting the beach. Crowded, most of the times, this place has an STD/ISD booth and an internet browsing center. Namaste Cafe serves most of the international cuisines in addition to the Indian delicacies. Food is of very good quality and quantity and not very expensive. But, the lassi we had from here was not as good as the ones we had on the Main Beach. There is another eatery/snack place called Beach Cafe, right on the Ohm Beach, where lot of foreigners and few Desi's take break in between the swimming sessions to smoke or to gulp bottles of beer or soda. We never tried anything here, but from the number of people hanging out at this place, all around the day; it could safely be assumed to be a cool place.

We ate at Kamat at Premgiri on our way to Gokarna. This place is at the intersection of NH206 and NH17. As soon as NH206 touches NH17, you take a right turn for Goa/Karwar/Gokarn and immediately on the left side you can find Kamat, This place is new and just getting set up and falling into the standard Kamat groove. There is an HP gas station at this junction, so can satisfy your car's appetite also at this point.

We also ate breakfast at KSTDC's Mayura cafe at Jog falls. The food was very very tasty. This one is spacious and run by KSTDC directly. Service and cleanliness of the place is excellent. The bread-omelet was very tasty and the only peeve I've is that they were using sweet bread in bread-omelet. So, if you're visiting Jog, do not miss this place.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Hotel Gokarna International; the only international hotel in Gokarna, though it doesn't have much of the international features or facilities. This hotel is approximately half kilometer before the main street, on the way to Gokarna city, Gokarna Map from Gokarna International Hotelon the right side. As soon as you make a turn from the check post junction, you first see Purohit vegetarian restaurant board, which is a restaurant attached to this hotel. There are parking lots in front of the hotel, though you may not find space if you come in during evening or lunch times. It's a decent hotel and we could get a three-bedded air conditioned room for 700 rupees, all included. You get hot water in the morning between 6am and 8am, and on demand, in buckets, at other times. There are two restaurants at this hotel, one is a vegetarian restaurant, where we had a breakfast and service was very bad, probably due to the Diwali vacation time, and most of the staff was on vacation. The other restaurant is a non-vegetarian and has a bar attached to it. When we enquired about good places to eat in the city to a shop owner on main street, he mentioned that international hotel is the best place, and Downtown is the place (this is the name of the non-vegetarian restaurant and Purohit, that of the vegetarian restaurant). Room service and house keeping on the ok side and not something great, we had to request few times to get our bed sheets and towels changed on the second day. But, the bell boys are quite friendly and helpful. You can manage to get all these things done through them, if you can build up a good rapport with them.

Hotel Shivaprasad is another lodging place just before Gokarna International, on the way to city. There were lot of vehicles in front of Shivaprasad and I assume that also to be a decent place to stay.

What to do

Gokarna is primarily a temple town. So, visiting temples and taking part in special poojas are the main intention of lot of population visiting this small town. Gokarna beaches are secluded, less crowded and pristine. So, you can sun bath, take a stroll, swim, and watch sun sets in the evenings. Some pars of the beaches are dangerous to swim as it gets deep without you even realizing it. You need to watch out for the sign boards for those areas to be avoided. Otherwise, most of the beach fronts are safe for swimming and the water is clean and people are quite friendly and courteous.

Another popular activity in and around Gokarna is trekking. Since many of the beaches, Ohm, Kudle, Half-Moon, Paradise, are all separated by some distance, and in most of the cases are separated by hills, trekking from one beach to another is a very exciting pass time for people visiting Gokarna, There are umpteen number of reports and links on various trekking options in Gokarna, on the Internet. There is an interesting trek report from on a trek from Gokarna to Kumta, around 40 kilometers, a trek by the sea.

Beaches

Apart from the Main Beach mentioned earlier, Gokarna has four more famous beaches. They are Ohm Beach, Kudle beach, Half-Moon Beach and Paradise Beach.

To access Ohm and Kudle there are two ways. One is a two-kilometer trek from Gokarna city to reach Kudle beach and then another half hour trek to reach Ohm beach. Kudle beach is between Ohm and Main beaches. Other approach to Ohm and Kudle beaches is through the road. This road starts from the police check just before entering Gokarna town limits. You need to take a left turn on the road to Gokarna city. Ohm beach parking lot is around 6 kilometers from here. This road is tarred and is in very good condition and has quite a few good sharp turns, so be careful. Also, look out for the viewpoints from where you can see the whole coastal line and Kudle and Main beaches. These views, on a clear day, are mesmerizing.

To reach Kudle beach, you need to take a right turn, a kilometer before the Ohm beach parking lot, on this road.

Sunset at Ohm BeachThis road ends at Ohm beach parking area and you need to park all vehicles here and trek down to the beach. The trek down is little dangerous since there are no proper steps at many places and the downward path is steep at times. So, watch out and be careful. Ohm beach got its name form the shape of the beach, in the form of the Ohm symbol. It is a nice beach and very good for swimming. There are a lot of black rock formations jutting into the sea and it's beautiful to watch giant waves crash against these rocks and shatter into milky form. Ohm is a good place to collect shells and other sea curios, if you've an interest in them. You can see lot of this stuff on the main Ohm beach stretch.

Half-moon and Paradise beaches can be reached from here through a trek by the sea or through a steam boat connecting Ohm and these beaches.

Jog Falls

We stopped at Jog Falls on our way back. Jog is a deviation to the right from NH206, as soon as you climb up the ghat section, from Gerusoppa. Its 60 kilometers from NH206 and has few good curves en route. There is a huge board saying 'World Famous Jog Falls" and you can't miss that. There was not much water in the falls but still it looked majestic. It was morning and thus not that much crowded. We had breakfast here. Looks like people dump waste into the falls here. We could see pile of pineapple waste dumped into the sides. It s a pity to see this and that nobody is caring enough to prevent this. The whole place was stinking right in the morning because of the dump.

The Drive

The distance we covered one way is approximately 500 Kms (497.1 to be specific) and we could cover the distance in 9 hours in both directions excluding the lunch/gas and various other stopovers. The road, overall, is good, except for the few stretches which are to be watched out for.

Bangalore-Nelamangala: Though we started around 6.30am traffic on this stretch was pretty heavy and it took more than the estimated time to hit Nelamangala.

Nelamangala-Tumkur: It was a breeze to drive this part of the road, mainly due to less traffic as we noticed quite a good amount of traffic turning into NH48 (to Mangalore) at Nelamangala. The toll road charges Rupees 21 for cars, for one way. There is a KAMAT restaurant on this stretch and could be the place for your breakfast, in case you start in the morning. The roads are not very good in and around Tumkur, primarily because of constructions and detours. If you pass through this place in the morning, you may not feel it. On our way back, when we hit Tumkur around 5pm, it was exactly like Bangalore, a piece of hell.

Tumkur-Tiptur-Kadur-Shimoga-Sagar: This stretch is more or less good roads and less vehicle traffic. But, local two-wheeler, tractor-trailer, and domestic animal herds are plenty all along this road. There are a good number of gas stations on this stretch and there is a Reliance station at Kadur, for the Reliance buffs. One stretch of road to be noted and watched out for is the stretch of around 22 kms from Kadur till approximately 8 kms after Tarikere. There are lots of potholes and wherever patching was done, it was highly an unprofessional work. You can get down and walk with the vehicle and can catch up or even overtake any vehicle in this stretch. It's the black mark on this stretch of road. We noticed that most of the roads in Chickmangalore district are bad and this stretch is worse. There is a decent restaurant called Masala, before Kadur, having individual family huts. Service may not be very good here, but the food is of decent quality. Finding a good place to eat was the major issue we had. Could not locate any decent place, at least looking good to enter, forget the food inside. Though NH206 bye-passes Shimoga and Bhadravathi, it passes through the heart of Sagar and this creates lot of havoc, with traffic jams and lack of proper directions adding to this confusion. Make sure you take enough directions in the town and do not miss the turns.

Sagar-Jog Falls: Road from here is pretty good and it holds good all the way to Honavar. Jog falls is around 2 kms from NH206 and can be visited on the way or while returning. It's a good place to stop-over for breakfast/lunch. The KSTDC restaurant, Mayura, is pretty good. If you want to take good picture of the falls, I suggest you visit this place in the after noon, since morning time due the direction at which the sun falls; pictures may not come out clear. From Sagar till Honavar we could not spot any gas stations. You need to fill up at least from Sagar to cover the 60-70 kms and the Ghat section.

Jog-Sharavathi View Point: This stretch is around 20 kms long. Ghat section starts from Jog falls and the roads are good in this stretch and the drive is wonderful. It s a pleasure to drive here. Clean air and music of the birds. Roll down your windows, switch off the music and just enjoy nature in its authentic best. Sharavathi view point overlooks the Sharavathi valley. The view of the Sharavathi River flowing gently down the laps of the lofty mountains is a pleasure to behold. There is a constructed view point on the side of the road from where you can get a better view and take pictures.

Sharavathi View Point-Gerusoppa: This 11 km stretch is again part of the Ghat section. Gerusoppa is a very small hilly town and has some small time hotels, serving steaming cup of tea and snacks. You can have fresh and warm breakfast here.

Gerusoppa-Honavar: 32 kms from here is Honavar. The road starts off good but 5 kms down the mountains the road suddenly becomes narrow and edges are very sharp and dip down. Need to be very careful when you give side to an oncoming vehicle. Road is bad for another 25 kms and then the road suddenly widens with proper markings. Construction is in progress and is slowly going to cover the stretch till Gerusoppa. After this 25 kms stretch, the road is pretty good and you start slowly descending to Honavar, through villages with red tile-roofed houses.

Honavar-Gokarna Cross: Honavar is the junction of NH206 and NH17. It has an HP gas station and a KAMAT restaurant. You need to take a turn from here to your right to hit Gokarna Cross. Gokarna Cross is 41 kms from here and you can drive this distance in 40 minutes, depending on the traffic situation. NH17 is good for most of the part except some patches which are not good.

Gokarna Cross-Gokarna: This is a 10 kms stretch from NH17 and pass through many villages and the road is quite narrow. This might take you 10-30 minutes to cover this distance based on the time of day you re driving. There is an IBP gas station 5 kms before Gokarna town, so no worries.

Watch out for

Watch out for the following:

         Beaches which are dangerous to swim. At most of such places there are sign boards. Avoid swimming at these places.

         Avoid beaches very late into the night. Gokarna is said to be a haven for dope. Though we did not have any uncomfortable experience anywhere, we've heard from people about these kinds of issues. So, be careful about staying very late, unless otherwise you've a good set of people with you.

         Watch out for cattle on the road, during most of the stretch from Tumkur to Sagar. There could be stray animals, like cows or dogs and herds of sheep and donkeys crossing the road or sharing the road with you. Be co-operative and expect unexpected road users.

         Some stretch of the road in and around Kadur and Tarikere is bad. Result of lot of potholes and totally unprofessional patch work. Drive very slowly if you don't want to hurt your car.

         Some 25 kms stretch of the road after Gerusoppa and before Honavar is narrow and little wider than single lane. This stretch begins after a very good broad road. Watch out for vehicles coming at very high speed and not slowing down or giving side. Both side of the road are edgy and sharp and suddenly getting off the tar could hurt your tires or axles. So, be careful.

         Some sharp turnings on the road have very unprofessional banking. The road is pretty good and you tend to take the curves at a good speed. But, due to the unscientific banking you could get into trouble. So, try to be slow at most of the sharp curves.


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