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Published: January 19th 2017
Half Moon Beach
Wonderfully secluded beach a short, hard but scenic walk from where we were staying.
It was six months ago, at the start of my European trip, that I first heard about Gokarna and Om Beach. It was in Bilbao, Spain
, where I met a Czech girl called Eliska who just couldn't stop going on about the place, with its great beach and chilled out vibe. It was her enthusiasm about the place that convinced me that this was a stop I that I just had to make.
But you have to get there first and along with Maura, another girl that I had met in Europe
, I stood on the platform at Canacona station just outside of Palolem, Goa, waiting for our unfailingly late, Indian train to Gokarna. The train finally arrived about three hours later than scheduled, which was the longest delay I've had on the Indian railways so far but I should count myself lucky after hearing about Maura's twelve hour delay nightmare trying to get from Agra to Jaipur. The wait did however, allow us to make friends with a couple of the other foreigners also waiting to get to Gokarna.
It was a pleasant train ride and only a couple of hours long - and with it being Maura's first actual ride on an Indian train (she
Utsava Ratha Of Lord Mahabaleshwara
Idol to one of the Hindu gods in the middle of Gokarna Town.
never caught the one that was delayed by twelve hours), she absolutely loved it. And it's true; riding the rails here is one of the most Indian experiences you can have. After cramming four people into a tuk-tuk at the other end and arriving at Om Beach, I was initially unimpressed - it didn't appear to be the most spectacular beach I've ever seen, especially after how Eliska had talked it up.
But it was after we had found huts to stay in right on the beach, the local day visitors had all left, and we were sitting down to have dinner in one of many identical-looking cafe/restaurants that I finally appreciated just how chilled the place was and after befriending Guillem, a Catalan guy, and sharing a few beers and spliffs with him, I was totally digging the vibe of Om Beach. Walking past groups huddled around campfires with a guitar player singing Kumbaya - OK, they weren't singing Kumbaya but they might as well have been - on a completely dark beach devoid of all the commercialism, lights and music seen in Goa
, I finally understood Om Beach's appeal and was suddenly excited about the next few days
Another nice, secluded beach that is home to campers and a sort of hippy commune.
We moved to a much cheaper and tranquil collection of huts behind Jungle Cafe whose outdoor showers and toilets reminded me a lot of the Hacienda Merida on Ometepe Island
, but even more basic. No mirrors, no toilet paper. But a peaceful escape from the beach nonetheless. Until the pack of dogs that lived there started going off...
Apart from Om Beach, there are a few other beaches in the area too; Kudle Beach is a popular alternative to Om Beach, a shorter, wider, flatter, and wavier beach a twenty minute walk north of Om that has a similar vibe but is less populated; Half Moon Beach is a short, hard but scenic trek in the other direction that has a nice, secluded and relatively empty beach; and Paradise Beach, that used to have a whole lot of developments that were demolished by the government. The old developments are now pretty much squatted in - not by the homeless but by holidaymakers and drifters looking for somewhere to stay for free or who like the idea of camping on the beach. There is a real hippy-commune feel to it.
Gokarna isn't just about beaches however.
Hindu pilgrims bathe in the Koorti Teertha bath in Gokarna Town.
town of Gokarna is a Hindu pilgrim town with a few sacred temples. You're not allowed inside the temples but you see men in traditional Hindu garb with shaved heads (but for a small knot of hair on the top) walking around all over the place. A massive man-made lake/pool in the town is surrounded by colourful houses and temples and is where pilgrims wash themselves in its unfortunately filthy, stagnant water.
Despite the relaxing surrounds, I was never fully...relaxed. Things have not quite gone according to plan here at Om Beach.
For a start - and this might sound hard to believe - but I think I've become bored of the beach! I just wanted a retreat where I could write in the morning and swim in the afternoon but sketchy wifi has put paid to that. Indian wifi has generally been pretty patchy and useless - not what you need when you're still a few blog entries behind!
Though wanting to switch off like everyone else around me, I just found myself wanting to stay online. I guess my timing hasn't been great with onward travel admin and blog entries having built up. On New Year's Eve
Om Beach At Sunset
The beach we stayed at during our stay in the area.
no less. Would my NYE curse strike again? I got sick last year just before New Year's Eve in Peru
and as I was telling Maura and others at our beachside shack complex, I have a string of NYE disasters over the years, which I won't get into here.
Well, it seems I may have passed my curse on to Maura as she had a nasty case of food poisoning on the day this time around. I wasn't feeling too flash myself with a cold that had developed in Goa before I got here. Like Goa, it gets a bit chilly at night here and combined with the cold showers, it didn't help me to get much better. Though it wasn't a bad cold, it was still annoying to have a blocked nose when it's so hot during the day.
Now I've had my fair share of unlikely reunions - the most unlikely on this trip being in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- and Maura apart, I was about to have another one here. When I was in Colombia almost a year ago
, I met four Canadians from Prince Edward Island. Three of them were travelling together but they happened to meet the other one out there. In a place with just 140,000 people, it was a minor miracle that
Huge, man-made pilgrim bath in Gokarna Town.
Jared, Graeme and Dillon didn't know Leah.
Anyway talking to Charles, a Canadian staying at the shack complex, he mentions that he is from Prince Edward Island.
"Oh yeah?" I say. "I met four PE Islanders in Colombia in January."
"What are their names?" asks Charles.
"Do you know Jared Flemming?"
"Yeah, I went to school with him!"
"Do you know Dillon Wight?"
"Yeah, we played soccer together!"
"What about Graeme Stetson?"
"Haha! He's one of my best friends! We grew up together!"
What are the chances huh? I meet three guys in Colombia and then a year later, I meet one of their good friends in India.
Like his friends, Charles is a really nice guy and along with Neus from Spain, we play a few rounds of Scum. I swear that 90%!o(MISSING)f people I introduce this game to get hooked. It really is the best card game ever.
And as well as the odd Spaniard, Canadian and American, there were tons of Israelis in Gokarna and Om Beach. Luckily unlike in Guatemala
, I met some really nice ones here.
As for New Year's itself, I have given up trying to have the mother of all parties
With the Venkataraman Temple in the background.
on the night but would preferably still like to have at least a bit of a drink - which was why I sank a couple of Kingfisher Strongs. As mentioned before, they're not called Kingfisher Strongs for nothing and I got quite drunk.
There was a large gathering of just about everyone staying on Om Beach on the beach itself, as we suspected might happen. For a change, the restaurants on the beach stayed open and their lights were all on. There wasn't really a countdown, but everyone knew when the clock had struck twelve when amazing fireworks suddenly started going off in the sky above the beach. Happy New Year everyone!
There were more than a few locals getting merry on the beach and a couple of really drunk ones ask us for selfies. In the spirit of the evening, I agree, but then they stay and talk drunkenly to us in Kannada and the little bit of English that they knew. Like many Indians, they seemed to have a semi-decent English vocabulary but had no idea how to string sentences together that made sense. They were awfully touchy-feely as well and one of them even wanted a
Not a bad place to kick back and relax for a few days. Not if you need decent wifi though...
kiss on the cheek from Charles and I which we thought was the red line. We couldn't get rid of them!
Being the party-poopers they are, the local police then cleared the beach of all of the locals first and then everyone else off the beach at around 1am. I'm really not sure what harm anyone is doing by just sitting on the beach drinking. But that was NYE 2016 - a relative success this time around.
I got up feeling a bit worse for wear the next day though and over lunch I decided to book a bus ticket out of Gokarna.
I had had my frustrations with wifi, sickness and cold showers so I wanted to ideally leave on the night of the 2nd January.
However, the bus for the next day was full - but there was one ticket left for that evening on offer from an Italian guy who could no longer make the trip; at a discount too, perhaps half price. I didn't feel like leaving so suddenly and I had a lot of things to consider, with little time to consider them. Could I stay here another two whole days and leave on
View Of Om Beach
From the start of the path leading to Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach.
the 3rd? Everyone I knew here was leaving soon so there wouldn't be anyone left. Do the economics stack up? What was my cash situation like? Although leaving in a couple of days was cheaper, I would have to pay for two more nights' accommodation. Would I have to pay for tonight's accommodation since I was leaving? Would there be accommodation available at my preferred hostel in my next destination of Hampi?
In the end I decided to leave. A half-price berth on a sleeper bus was too good to turn down and cash wasn't easy to get out either here or in Hampi so I had to perserve what I had and I had a friend I met in Anjuna, Goa going to Hampi on the same bus that night.
I then had a final, late lie and swim at the beach...and those two hours were probably the most enjoyable that I spent in Gokarna. The warm water, the good company and the soft sand...suddenly I didn't want to leave. I had spent all my time sick and stressed that I hadn't really managed to truly appreciate the place.
I also found out that my bus ticket
View On The Way To Half Moon Beach
The walk from Om Beach to Half Moon Beach is scenic.
was going to be ₹500 more than I had hoped, that I would have to pay for my beach hut that night despite the fact I was now no longer going to stay in it (I had not checked out that morning, which cost me another ₹300) and suddenly, things didn't make as much economic sense as they did. True, I was now paying the same as I would've if I had paid full price for the bus fare, so really I hadn't lost that much; but when I found out there was a public bus leaving the next morning that was ₹1,200 cheaper than mine - sure it would be a nine hour chicken bus ride but I would've endured the pain to save that amount of money - I was suddenly very annoyed at myself.
But as Charles said, when I arrive in Hampi - which has been bigged up by almost every person I have met who has been there - perhaps in hindsight it will work out to be the right decision to have left when I did. Will it?
ಆಮೇಲೆ ಸಿಗೋಣ (Āmēle sigōṇa),
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