During my first trip to India I narrowly missed Gokarna – limited time and limited funds led me straight to a dirty dirt cheap shack in central Anjuna before i headed back to Delhi. The second time around, i didn’t even think of Gokarna. This trip however I had a small bucket list of around 7 places. Of which I abandoned most after discovering the tiny pilgrim town in northern Karnataka which was soon to become a home away from home.
The allure is the sunbed free beaches, minimalist lifestyle and desolate headlands. The beaches at Gokarna are now known as the place to go when you’re fed up with Goa – they come with none of the western accessories that many other Indian beaches now come with; no umbrellas, no beach bar service. A simple relaxed paradise? Yes, but only if you play by the local rules.
Gokarna town still is very much a pilgrim town, crammed with temples that westerners can no longer enter; the high season brings with it hundreds of Indian pilgrims as well as police checks on nearly all traffic coming in, from buses to trains as well as undercover police in the town as well as along the beaches; it may have become a popular hub with westerners, so much so that Zostel have disappointingly set up shop along the road between the town and the beaches, but it remains holy and it’s heart.
Unlike other places in India that have essentially succumbed to the thrill of the tourist dollar, Gokarna has, in many ways, a bit more of a f**k you attitude and a tight hold on its origins. There are few places where you can find jewelery for less than 10 rupees, and Gokarna is one of those places – not wanting to maximise on those passing through; not necessarily wanting those to pass through.
In many ways it’s starting to come as an economical shock to those restaurants and guesthouses along the beaches that have quietly and carefully building up their businesses to accommodate the people who want to join them on the beaches that are essentially their back gardens – this winter season was not as fruitful as those previous. It’s hard. When you change your livelihood for tourists and then the tourists, for whatever reason stop coming, you change your way of living, you expand so you can cope – and then the rooms are empty. In India, the effect is even more apparent of a quiet season. A quiet season where a small drop in clientèle can effect a family’s ability to afford food, gas, necessities six months down the line when the temperature hits 40, the monsoons hit and everyone who can heads North.
As much as i don’t want more people turning up leading more locals to change their lives to accommodate tourists and battle water shortages & electricity issues and the like (Yup really) I kind of do, because you are helping people to live, we just have to remember to be responsible and embrace the simplicity. In essence, if you want vodka delivered to your sunbed and to wander streets in your pants – firstly – try Magaluf and just do everyone a favour and stay away from Gokarana… but if responsible tourism, back to nature vibes, cows on the beach and some time off the grid is what you need then Gokarna can definitely give you that in spade fulls – although you will have to bring your own spade…