Backpacking India

India

Gokarna – The Secret Paradise


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Gokarna. A small South Indian village lies at the coast of the Arabian Sea. Sharing God’s creation with the Middle East – Yemen and Somalia. We stood on a cliff infront of Sri Rama Temple. What we saw was breath-taking. Sea hawks and butterflies decorate the skies and sounds of crashing waves brought peace to the ears.

Gokarna is located an hour south of the Goa and it’s around 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Bangalore, the state capital.
Getting to Gokarna
The nearest airport is Dabolim, in Goa. From there it’s a four hour drive 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.
gokarna cliff

 

It’s 4am and fishermen were getting their nets and boats ready for the day’s catch. Thoughts circle about on what I want to do today. Trekking the four ghats (Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats, they run parallel to the coast on either side of the Deccan plateau and meet at the southern tip of India) or just sitting still inhaling the salted air. Gokarna is a town unified yet, divided by 4 ghats. We are now at Gokarna Beach. Beyond this beach lies a beautiful green plateau leading to Kudle Beach. At Kudle, you can see a little bit more foreigners. Shacks and Chai shops occupy the whole stretch of Kudle. However, the sound of “OM” resonates in everything and everyone with an invisble melody, calling out to sunseekers who dare trek through it’s unchartered, rocky domains. This is where the party begins. Western and Indian foreigners flock to OM Beach, basking in it’s glory. There’ll be bonfires at night and hippies playing guitar under the moonlight.

The plateau leading to Kudle Beach

Beach No. 1:  Kudle Beach

Sunrise at Kudle Beach

Villagers gawking at fishermen’s catch of the day

Beach No.2:  OM Beach

But wait. There’s more to Gokarna than just this. Enlightenment can be found everywhere if you look hard enough, or ironically, not at all. Curiosity besiege us to discover what lies beyond OM. Prettier beaches? A more magnificent landscape? or just the journey itself. Only the bold will dare to cross the thick forest leading to Half-Moon Beach. One have to pass through the thick forest, barbed wire and cliffs. At Half-Moon, we hardly see any other foreigners. It’s just us. For now. There were some shacks, more black, sharp rocks and bigger crashing waves. I feel like I’m in the movie, The Beach.

Beach No. 3:  Half-Moon Beach

A tired Linda after trekking through the jungles to reach the isolated Half-Moon

To get to every beach, one must be able to cross mountains, forests, cliffs and plateau. The terrains get harder each time. However, the ability to reach our destination and see the magnificent sights, makes it all worthwhile.

Just one more mission to achieve: To reach Paradise. Paradise Beach. The best out of all the beaches, was so they claim. Located at the far end of Gokarna. The fourth and final beach, where sands are barely untouched and white as snow, water as blue as Lake Camiguin in Philippines. To reach Paradise, one must learn to stay calm and trust his/her own instinct and follow the signs.

Now, we need a “Thumbs Up”.

Thumbs Up

Journey to Paradise Beach

We have finally reached the much raved about beach in Gokarna called Paradise. Instead of trekking the dangeorus terrain, we were offered a ride in an antique Fiat Padmini, the last of it’s kind of that model in 1996. While going out for breakfast, we were invited by a Sadhu called Swami Giridhara whom we met at a temple on a cliff dividing the Main Beach and Kudle Beach. We were lucky to be in the company of another special Swami named, Yogaratna, Saraswati who was born in Paris, France, of Australian parents and raised in India.

Cruising along the coast of a fishing village in a vintage Fiat Padmini, accompanied by two Swamis.

Swamiji Giridar from Rishikesh and Materji Yogaratna.

Finally, we reached Paradise.

They were planning to visit an old saint living on an island only reachable by boat and only during low tide for he sits in meditation in a cave conveniently carved off from a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea. We agree it sounds far-fetched because we ourselves took a few days to digest the overwhelming coincidences and timing of everything that happened.

When we reached the jetty, our noses were greeted with the aroma of diesel and drying fish. The jetty was primarily used as a fishing vessel berth and the fishermen were busy either refueling or doing maintenance works. The rest were occupied with laying dried fish leftover from the morning haul.

At the fishing dock, waiting for our ferry.

A 5-minute ferry crossed us safely to the fishermen’s village. We were surprised to learn that most of the island residents were Muslims and they spoke the best English I’ve heard so far in my short term in India. Another suprise, though unfortunate, was that the saint the two Sadhus intended to visit had passed away 3 years ago. The fishermen offered us a private tour around the island on their fishing boat for a small fee before returning us back to Gokarna.

From there we drove about 10 minutes to reach a dead end. A local told us Paradise Beach was only accessible through a 15-minute trek of which you need a guide (obviously he was making a rehearsed sales pitch but we had no regrets for we would really be lost without him).

The journey was extremely fun. Dangerously floored with dangerous red dirt, adrenaline was a constant companion during the trek. Tall bushes, coloured flowers, dancing butterflies and grazing cows added to the picturesque humid weather. Finally, we heard crashing waves and beneath a downhill slope lies Paradise Beach.

Frankly, we were disappointed. All we saw were dilapidated shacks and plenty of empty glass and plastic bottles. Our guide told us that the police banned any sort of business or residential property here for it used to be saturated with drug abusers from the West, polluting the holy vibe of this temple town. There we sat in silence digesting the isolation and the strong playful waves making a symphony by crashing onto the nearby rocks.

The infamous Paradise Beach

We left the place and received an inspirational quote from within about life:

“The experience of the journey is the Paradise. The destination is just an excuse”.

India

Eudaimoniacs RTW Series: Leg 1 India (Jodhpur, Rajasthan) Day 98 to 101 – Thosai and Chai


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Taking a 5 hour bus to Jodhpur, we were shortchanged when the driver dropped us a few kilometres away from our intended destination. Ting started arguing but we got aggressively pushed out the bus verbally. Our backpacks were badly dirtied by the Rajasthan sand at the back of the bus and the driver and his assistant just offloaded them to the ground quickly and rushed off. We were extremely furious but know better than to expect perfect service in India everytime. Anyways i do not think you can get a relatively comfortable air-conditioned bus ride anywhere in the world for 5 hours that costs only USD 5 so we do not really have a strong basis to complain.

Ting was a little off her game that day so we just paid an inflated price to get to the town centre about 3km from our dropoff point. Once there we settled for a family room. The service was terrible and in the middle of the night they had a water shortage without warning us beforehand so we had no way to flush the toilet and Linda had diarrohea. Go figure. The next morning, Ting exploded in front of the reception, paid only half the hotel price and stomped off, pointing a middle finger to the owner when he tried to stop her. Day by day, our respect for Ting’s courage just grew higher. In short, i would say she had more balls than most men i knew. (especially when compared to my best man)

We settled into another hotel afterwards. Though it was very cramp, at least the water was steady and the service though i would still rank as terrible, was far better than the first hotel. Nothing much happened in Jodhpur other than eating delicious omelettes and shopping around a real crowded Indian bazaar where local Indians shop and foreigners, especially westerners were not entertained.

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A massive second-hand bookstore at the entrance of the Old City of Jodhpur

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The next day, Ting, Shanti and Camilia had to leave. Ting is going back to accompany Shanti back to Delhi for her flight home to Taiwan and then back to Rishikesh afterwards. Camilia had found a suitable yoga school in Ahmedabad and is taking a train there. Ting, Shanti and Linda shed tears when we sent them off on the auto-rickshaw. I too felt the agony of having to part with such excellent travelling partners and truly appreciate how following Ting’s lead made travelling India so easy, pleasurable and cheap. Officially both Linda and i admit that Ting is the best travelling teacher so far. (Ting, if you’re reading this, a HUGE thank you from us and we both love you and appreciate all you have taught us)

We spent the whole day exploring Merangarh Fort the next day. We had low expectations and were significantly taken aback by how much we enjoyed ourselves there. The history about Jodhpur’s Kings were educational and fun, the relics left me awed, the structure was a technical wonder of art and the views from atop were exactly what you would imagine from fairy tales with pigeons flying above your head, flapping wings making music from nature’s orchestra.

The compounds of Mehrangarh Fort

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The next day we booked a bus to Mount Abu as a three day transit cum short trip to Bhuj, Gujarat, where our Rann Utsav Desert festival (a wedding gift from my mom ) awaits.

India

Eudaimoniacs RTW Series: Leg 1 India (Pushkar, Rajasthan) Day 93 to 98 – Thosai and Chai


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Time has arrived for us to leave the best place in India, or should i say the best in the world so far – Rishikesh. Up next is the colourful state of Rajasthan where our first stop is Pushkar via Ajmer train station. Packing up our overloaded baggage, we headed to the taxi stand to join our partners Ting, Shanti, Camila and Morena.

Holding back tears, we got up the tuk-tuk which Ting bargained using her veteran travelling hardcore skills. It was amazing how we cramped up everything and endured the one hour ride to Haridwar train station.

It was our first time riding India’s train and it was an amazing experience to have. The trains looked run-down from the outside but was pretty clean and comfortable inside. The air was heavily tainted with the aroma of iron rust and urine. People selling snacks and drinks were painstakingly walking from one end of the train to the other trying to offload their stocks.

We were lucky that the six of us miracalously managed to get seats together on such short notice. In fact it was a wonder that we even got seats in the first place as the typical Indian would book tickets about 2 months in advance. When the train started, the six of us talked for hours about our adventures in India. Eventually our eyes got the better of us and we folded our seats into beds to tuck in for the night.

When we awoke, we were in Ajmer where we observed subtle differences amongst the Rajasthan people in terms of their dressing and the way they go about their daily lives. Again, Ting aggressively bargained for a superb price for a car to get us to Pushkar. And then again once we reached Pushkar, she got superb accomodation for us as superb prices. Travelling with Ting was so easy. All you had to do was follow her lead. The only bad thing about following her is that you are so used to her doing all the difficult stuff that you wonder how you can make it independently once she is not there.

Pushkar was relatively laid back. Other than a central lake where a ‘priest’ tried to con us to pay for protective bangles, eating delicious vegetarian falafels daily and shopping for some really GREAT works of art in the forms of purses, table cloths and handmade diaries, Pushkar was otherwise a bland place after spending a few days there.

Next stop after Pushkar – Jodhpur, The City Of Blue.

P.s: linda beg to differ coz she loves Pushkar for the shopping extravaganza there.

The beautiful city of Pushkar atop our funky guesthouse rooftop.

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