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May 11th 2011
Published: July 20th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

The train ride to Gokarna from Canacona, the closest train station to Palolem, was the most packed train I have ever been on in my life. When I got off a couple of hours later, I had to fight my way past a swarm of people who were pushing and shoving in an effort to get the best space left on the train, which was probably a metre away from the stinking, putrid toilet as opposed to 5cms. The train hadn't even stopped, when people started pushing past me in a mad rush to get on to the train and this was Darwin's survival of the fittest at its best. It's very easy to get on your high horse about it as I did at the time, thinking what a bunch of uncivilized, impatient so and sos. But the harsh reality is that India has too many people for its infrastructure and there's no time for civility or the pretension of it when resources are scarce and competition is plenty.

After getting through the gauntlet, I hopped of at Gokarna's train station as the sun was setting and went about finding a hotel. I found one just around the corner and then went for a walk to see where I was. I ended up finding a room, that I think served as a travel agency during the day, with a TV and the cricket. I was invited inside after peering inside to check the score. I spent the 1st innings with about 6 Indian guys watching the cricket. This was when I noticed again how affectionate Indian men are with one another when they are close friends. Through my social conditioning, I would say they can seem almost gay at times, with the amount of affection they show to each other, holding each other's hands, stroking one another, giggling childishly at each other's jokes and sitting/laying in extremely close proximity to each other. Anyway, in the vast majority of the cases they are not gay, although you would very rarely ever know for sure in India with the taboo that is there on that side of life. Almost all Indian men I came across seemed to do it, so I am sure they were not all gay. I came up with a theory as to why they were so affectionate with one another. That being the seemingly strained relations between the opposite sexes in India. As most people know, Indians by enlarge have arranged marriages. Often meeting properly, for the first time at their weddings. Seeing as the success rate is not that high in the west when we actually get to choose our 'life partners', it would seem quite natural that many couples are unable to develop any real affection for one another, when the basis of their union was their respective parents seal of approval. In many cases it seemed to me that people used their union simply as a means to produce children and strengthen the family unit.

On the contrary, men can choose who they have as close male friends and in reality have higher affection for their male friends in many cases than their wives. Also, in many parts of India that I saw, it is not normal to have interaction with the opposite sex. The buses and trains were segregated, there is a noticeable absence of women working in shops, running hotels. working in bars, restauraunts. In some more conservative parts of India I was told that women were only allowed to talk to their father, brother/s and husband - fullstop. So maybe an inevitable result of being starved of female affection, is that you begin to be more affectionate with your male counterparts. Just a thought!

Whatever the case, Indian men are extremely affectionate with one another. Moving on, after watching the cricket there, I had a fish curry for dinner and then found a bar. A local bar that I had been sniffing out with my ever increasing addiction to the IPL league that was going on. Much to my surprise a Finnish couple walked in half way through the game. They seemed equally surprised to see me and as it turned out they had lived in Gokarna for 20 years. Living in Finland for summer and then coming to Gokarna for winter, not a bad ticket.

After they had left, I enjoyed a classic Sehwag century with some cricket fanatics. It really is a joy watching cricket in India. Almost everybody loves the game, understands it and appreciates it. For me it was amazing to see that at least 60 per cent of Indians knew the main New Zealand cricket players of the last 15 years and the entire current squad. It was one bond that allowed me to meet and bond with many locals over the time that I was there and this night was no exception. On leaving the bar owner, insisted that I come back the next day, shaking my hand and smiling widely, clearly still pumping from the amazing innings Sehwag had just played.

The next day I decided to take a walk to Um beach, a beach that I had heard and read good things about. I got pretty lost and it ended up taking me three hours to get there. I had left at 8 and I arrived at 11am. From memory it was 42 degrees by the time I arrived there. To say I was stuffed is an understatement. I found a nice restauraunt with a lot of western guests inside and shade which I was quite happy to embrace after the energy sapping walk I had just taken.

I ended up meeting a Canadian guy, who taught me more about drugs in a two hour conversation than I have ever learnt in my life. He also gave me a couple of books on Indian culture which were to come in very handy. He had been at Um beach for 3 months, seemingly permanently wasted and depressed. Apparently these are two factors that contribute to enlightenment. Anyway each to their own.

While talking to him, we met a Swedish and French girl, who I ended up passing the day with, swimming, eating lunch and having dinner. After that day I was pretty much convinced that I would have a better time there than in the dinghy hotel I had found back in the centre of Gokarna, so I resolved to return the next day. But as I had left my stuff back at the dinghy hotel, I had to leave Om beach and tackle the reportedly leopard infested bushes. After being repeatedly warned not to walk through the bushes at night, I was even beginning to buy into the nonsense, but not enough not to go and on getting a headlight from an Australian girl I had met, I set off into the darkness, genuinely believing and kind of hoping that I would see a leopard. Of course I didn't, but the walk was still amazing, with a full moon and star studded, cloudless sky making for pleasant companions.

The next day I did the same walk which was only about 45m-1hr if you don't get lost, up and down the two hills with my baggage. That was the hardest exercise I had done in a while. Once arriving at Um beach I checked into my beach shack and then had a great thali for lunch. While enjoying my lunch I met a Polish girl, who I ended up taking a walk with, to another spectacular beach just around the corner. Um beach is spectacular by the way, but is on the brink of being destroyed by commercialism. I hope I'm wrong but I wouldn't be surprised if it were just another tacky resort beach fairly soon.

Once back at Um beach I saw Stephanie and Sarah (the French and Swedish girl from the day before) and then we ended up meeting a whole lot of other backpackers and we passed the afternoon/night away relaxing on this idyllic white sand beach. In between times the owner of the restauraunt chased and had a scuffle with two Indians who had apparently asked him (also an Indian) how much it would cost to sleep with one of the western girls at the restauraunt. The owner had gotten offended on their behalf, saying that we come here and respect them and they don't respect us. Therefore he really went to school on these guys and there ended up being quite a spectacle, with the weekend holidaymaking Indian crowd, joining the police, the owner and those guys outside our little restauraunt, discussing the merits of their cases.

Being quite honest though, there really is quite a bizarre situation that has developed in pockets of India regarding Indian men and Western women. The vast majority of Indian women don't wear bikinis and in general don't swim, at least in public. There are many groups of men swimming, but it is rare that you see women, especially women between 19 and 40 swimming in public. If you do they are completely covered. So when they see white women trancing around in bikinis they quite visibly become aroused and don't seem to be able to control their excitement (in general). Now you can say this is the fault of western women for wearing bikinis in the first place, but quite frankly, I think that Indian men need to be educated that if a woman wears a bikini, that does not constitute an offer of sex. Some of them seem to believe this is the case. One of the funnier stories I heard that illustrates the situation, was a story a Finnish girl I met in Gokarna told me. She said that two policemen came up to her, while she was reading her book and asked if they could take a photo of her. She was in a bikini and said no. They then stood around for five minutes and came back and asked her again if they could take a photo. She asked them if they had any work to do and after 10 more minutes staring, they eventually got the hint. On the other side there are western women, especially to be honest girls who wouldn't get that much attention in a Western country who love the attention they get and encourage it. All in all, it makes for a rather unique beach experience, if you happen to be in female company.

Um beach is actually set up for foreigners, so it is therefore possible to swim in a bikini, as at a lot of beaches in India it is impossible to do so, unless you really want to offend local sensibilites and be gawked at by hundreds of people. Luckily swimming at beaches packed with people, full of garbage and with the occasional human turd floating by, is not so appealing to most western girls anyway. Wasn't too appealing for me either, the one time I tried it at the main beach in Gokarna.

All said and done though, lazing on the beach at Gokarna was very enjoyable. One memory that sticks out is a cow that began eating a bunch of bananas that Stephanie had left on her beach towel. She had been talking and on realising that the cow was munching on her recently purchased bananas, grabbed a hold of its horns and unsuccessfully tried to wrestle it away. I imagine that will be the last time I see a bikini clad girl wrestling with a bull over a bunch of bananas and I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

Anyway in between all of the aforementioned, I had a great time in Gokarna, meeting some really nice people and enjoying an idyllic beach, while staying in a beach hut and eating great food. One of the highlights of the trip so far...

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