Gokarna Travel Guide: What to do in a sleepy beach town?

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Local community theater with seats being sold at 30, 40 and 50 rupees (Gokarna, India)

Gokarna is a sleepy temple town in Karnataka. As one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centers,  Indians visit it on holiday or during festival season to honor the god, Lord Shiva. The main town is very rustic, with a ghat bathing area centrally located. Coconut trees, roaming cows, unpaved or cobbled streets are what you’ll find.  With all the surrounding peace, it’s easier for me to hear my inner traveler drama.

Dear Love,

Life is an Indian stage. When does the rehearsal end and the real show begin?  Heroine, damsel in distress, drifting gypsy, lost soul or adventurous pioneer? Who am I today?

I witness many stories unfold around me. Various characters and scenarios emerge in seemingly chaotic frenzy. Staring Indians, weaving taxi drivers, stubbornly slow cows and backpacking travelers cross my path stitching me into their story, as if I’m either a part or byline in their story.  The fruit seller won’t take my torn ruppee and looks at me as if I were a scamming tourist. But angelic smiles and help or kindness from locals brings a renewed faith in mankind. A cup of coffee on a shared table or a conversation with fellow travelers in the guesthouse lobby, can easily turn into short-term company. I may plan my sightseeing itinerary, but I never know how the play will turn out until the end of the day.  Welcome to my theater!

Improvisation and script. Solo and group travel. A fear of the unknown and the thrill of adventure.  The curtain is open.

I feel like I’m still rehearsing.

Do I know my story yet? Who am I?

Wandering, GRRRL

Table of Contents: Gokarna Travel Guide: What to do in a sleepy beach town?

What can you do in Gokarna ?

Gokarna spans two main beaches (Kudle and I can’t remember the other one), known to foreigners and while the beaches are swimmable, I would not advise swimming in them if you have an open cut.

It has a local theater, which is fun to visit to experience local Indian musical plays.  But aside from temples and doing yoga on the beaches, there’s not much else to do.

I met many western expat travelers who chose Gokarna as their an extended escape, making India their long-term home. I could understand why– rent is low, beach life was good and the town was laid-back.

gokarna travel guide, gokarna india, top pilgrimage sites in india

gokarna travel guide

Temples in Gokarna

Being a big pilgrimage spot, there are temple rules which are fairly serious. Certain temples, foreigners may not be permitted into; meanwhile, certain temples exclude women who bear their menstration period.  Shivaratri festival is the best time to visit for festivities.

  • Mahabaleshwar Temple is the famous Shiva Temple and it houses the ‘Atmalinga’ (a sacred linga), which is closed to foreigners.
  • Maha Ganapathi Temple is built to  honour Ganapathi. The deity here is two-armed, standing and at least 1500 years old.
  • Uma Maheshwara Temple  •  Bhadrakali Temple • Tamra Gauri Temple • Venkataramana Temple
  • Kotitheertha is a man-made tank used for ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples.

Where to stay in Gokarna

There’s many types of accommodations throughout Gokarna, so it depends upon how central to the town or beach you’d like to be. There’s mud hut beach bungalows to slightly more resort ones.  If resort hotels near the beach is your goal, click here.

For 100 Rupees (approx $2.00), I stayed at Vhaibav Guesthouse, a decent guesthouse run by good people. Located across the bus station, I was central. But when I first saw it, I didn’t leap with Hallelujahs. The dingy lobby decor held stationary cot beds (for employee use), reminiscent of a homeless shelter and my shoebox room looked like a scuffed college dorm room, with a community bathroom that held a squat toilet. Hardly thrilling.

Only after shopping around, surveying the guesthouses in town and rudimentary mud huts on the beach, did things fall into perspective.  My room was neat, central to the bus and town, with a 15 minute walk to the beach. It was listed with Lonely Planet India. It wasn’t my worse nor my best accommodations, but I’ll remember it always as a good score of a place. Despite the bugs flying into the room from the outside (I had to keep my windows slightly open for ventilation), it me well for three nights. For the price, I couldn’t complain.

Getting to and from Gokarna

To Gokarna: Taking the afternoon government bus from Hampi drops you off at the Gokarna bus station at 3 am. Yes, in the morning. Luckily the bus station is central to the town. There are benches to sleep on. Eventually, I made my way with some foreign travelers (on my bus) to sleep on the beach. Taxis  don’t start running until 5-6 am.

To Ernakulum (Fort Kochi) via bus and train
Take the bus from GoKarna to Kumpte. Then take Kumpte bus to Kumpte Railway Station. From Kumpte Railway station, take the train to Ernakulum station. Arrival into Ernakulum, take a taxi to Fort Kochi or a ferry

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