Published: December 15th 2007November 13th 2007
Can you spot anything unusual in this picture?
How about the indian guy carrying a fridge on his head? Respect!
We thought we might find a nice place to stay between Kumily and Gokarna. So we jumped on a bus to Kottayam and from there to Trichur. We haven't seen much of Trichur, mainly due to the lack of budget accommodation. We had a fabulous dinner though :) Next stop was Calicut - here we found a reasonable hotel and as it was approaching Josie's birthday we decided to treat ourselves to a bit of luxury and stayed. But funnily enough, even though Calicut does not see many westerners at all, or maybe because it doesn't? Wherever we stopped, people were taking every opportunity to ask us a few questions. So imagine a situation like this, Andy entered a bank to take out money and Josie was waiting outside. There was a chap on his bike, few meters away from her and suddenly he shouted over "Which country?" - Josie: "Aeh, England?" - "God name?" - Josie:"Sorry?" - he, even louder "GOD NAME!?" - Josie: "Johanna" - he points to Andy "Husband?" - Josie: "Yes" Always better to pretend to be married in India, especially when you there as a couple or as a woman who does not want unnecessary attention.
Gokarn is a very religious town - with temples everywhere
And it just takes too long to explain that you are not married and that it really doesn't matter in the country where you are from. You have to imagine this all as a one way questionnaire. Normally you would introduce yourself after you have asked somebody their name - not in India. Unless you ask, they keep on firing further questions at you. Like: "Job?" - "Eat veg food?" - "Salary in England?" There is an Indian wide shortage in question leading words like "What, Where, Who...." and the whole event feels more like a cross-examination. But yes, you do get used to it and you learn to ignore it.
Next stop on our way up the coast was Mangalore. Again, just a stop for one night in a not so nice hotel, so it was easy to move on. Shame, as we had a fantastic Dosa here and food is normally a good enough reason for us to stay longer. After one more journey by train we finally reached our destination - Gokarna. The train station for Gokarna is a bit in the middle of nowhere. Your options are to go by bus - Rupees 30 per
person or by auto rickshaw - about Rupees 100 (depends on your bargaining skills). Before we actually entered the little town or should I rather say village of Gokarn, the rickshaw driver had to stop and make us register at the police checkpoint. Now that is a new one, but we presume it is just a token gesture. Apparently it is standard practice so that the police can help you if something gets lost or nicked, but it seemed a little over the top, or can you explain why they need to know the size and weight of our luggage?? and why they need to know the exact content of all our valuables ??? Who knows, it never daunted on us why this place would initiate such a special treatment.
We had booked a room in advance at Nimmu house. For us always the better option if you arrive late at night and don't know where you are going. To be fair, you couldn't even see much even if you wanted to, as the street lights were very few and therefore many people walked around with a torch. As we called Nimmu house from the train, the owner kept
one of the cheaper rooms for us - 300 rupees. It was all we needed - clean and with bathroom. Of course you can have it even cheaper than that. There are beach huts with sandy floors for about 70 rupees or less. The choice is yours. When we stepped out of Nimmu house, in total darkness as there are no lights at that street at all, we went to have a bite at the Mahalaxmi Restaurant just around the corner. Frankly, the food did not impress us, but what did stand out was the owner who was very nice and really made an effort with his visitors. Finally we found a second to take in the surroundings and to our delight we realised how laid back Gokarn was. Some people might describe it as hippy heaven, or maybe "alternative" would be the right word. It's certainly not a place to show off your bikini and makeup on the beach. But what a beach it was! It was only the next morning, when the lights were on :), that we realised how close to the sea we were. We walked up the long beach, passing many local fishermen, kids playing
This lovely fellow came to visit us on our little balcony
cricket and some Indian guys taking pictures of western women dressed, what they would call "inappropriately". A bit of a dilemma this one. If you wanted to do as the locals do, and you are a woman, your preferred swimming wear would be a saree. A bit cumbersome in the water I would have thought. Whereas men obviously have nothing to hide and jump into the water in their underwear pants. Not always a nice sight. The beach seems to go on and on, and the further you go the less people you will see. The water was bathtub warm and the beach was surrounded by palm trees with no tall buildings sticking out between them. Just how we like it :)
There are more beaches just a short walk away to the south. You walk over a hill to get to a beautiful beach named Kudle beach, about 25 minutes from Gokarn. Very relaxed and with some good restaurants serving delicious King Fish tikka. Further south is the famous Om beach. It is a great view when you come down from the hill and actually see the Om shape of the beach. We thought for a minute to
... you can see why it is called like that!
move our room to the Namaste Cafe on Om beach, but when we walked further down and back up the beach it kind of didn't feel worth the effort. This beach was beautiful for sure, but the entrance into the water was much steeper and because it was like a little bay it didn't offer us the endless walks that we had in Gokarn. Actually the sea in India can be very vicious, so you have to be quite careful. We heard from a local that two tourists and an Indian guy who was trying to save the tourists, drowned just a month ago on Kudle beach.
Even though our initial plan was to travel up the west coast and through Goa we decided that Gokarn would be our last stop before our flight from Goa to Mumbai. Why always look for something better when paradise is on your doorstep? That way we could totally relax and enjoy the sunshine to the maximum. We started the days with a walk along the sea. Enjoying the fresh air, the coolness of the morning and observing some strange local rituals. Having a morning poo seems to be a world wide tradition
Always Cricket, before school, after school, whenever there is any free time.
- squatting on the beach, with absolutely nothing around you to ensure any privacy and therefore totally exposed to the public - an Indian way of going on about it. Next we would freshen up and go for breakfast to the Prema restaurant. You see we tried quite a few restaurants in Gokarn, because we felt somewhat embarrassed to eat there all the time, but none of them could beat Prema. Prema is purely vegetarian but it has few things we could not pass the day without - a Masala Dosa, Papaya/Lemon juice and Fruit Salad with Curd. Those guys actually make the curd themselves, everyday fresh. It tastes amazing! We know it is kind of odd to get excited about curd and maybe it is just a reflexion on how food obsessed we are, but the curd was outstanding! So far we were a bit careful with fruit and juices, especially after we have seen what happened to Andy in Jaipur. But as it was only about 10 days before we were due to fly back to UK we thought we might as well dig in :) And what a delight it was! The local farmers were regularly coming
Watching the sunset
Sunset draws everybody to the beach
to sell their fruit and veg to the restaurant - so it could not get any fresher, sweeter and juicier. The best of all, none of it made us ill. So in the morning we would sit there, read the paper and simply enjoy life. We would hide during the hot sun hours in the shade with a book or in an Internet cafe. Be warned though, Internet is slow and expensive here. Maybe then hike over the hill to the neighbouring beach or just walk down the endless beach at Gokarn. Around 18:00 the sun would set and soon after that the life in Gokarn would follow. It is certainly not a party place, in fact you have really to look around to find a cool beer. But then this is what makes it so attractive - there will certainly be no loud music or drunk people around. You are more likely to wake up from a noise of a cow or someone washing their dishes as soon as the sun rises. And if you listen carefully you can hear people chanting and bells rining in the numerous temples of Gokarn. A magical sound in a magical place.
Our daily hangout
YES, it was a hard life.... and one we will probably never have the pleasure of sampling again so soon. This is the real beauty of traveling for a longer time, doing nothing in particular can fill your day and be very very rewarding. These are also the times we will probably miss the most when back home and getting back into the 9 to 5. But we enjoyed this life for over a week and it was a real pleasure.
We took the easy way out to catch our flight from Goa and booked a taxi all the way from Gokarn to the airport. It was a little luxury but not overly expensive, especially as we were on our way home. It was a leisurely 3 hour drive to the airport and a pleasant change from the dusty noisy bus. It was here that we thought how much we don't want to go home yet - maybe just pop in and say "Hi" and pop out again if possible. The fear of not knowing how we would cope with a "normal" life was becoming more and more apparent. However, before all that reality check we arranged to visit
our friend Vicky, who we met on Akshat's wedding. Mumbai would be our last taste of India.
There are more photos below