Gokarna: Shiva Worshippers and the Beach

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After nine years of spending at least a month in Agonda we decided to split our time between Gokarna, Gulijbagh and Agonda. We still have friends there that we want to visit. For those who remember, we made a day trip from Goa last year to see if Gokarna, just over the border into Karnataka, could be a possible alternative. Unlike most beach towns on the west coast of India, Gokarna’s major draw is not the sunbathing crowd from the west. It’s primarily a place of pilgrimage for Shiva worshippers. As the legend goes, Shiva was passing by on his way from Sri Lanka to the Himalayas when overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, he shed a tear. Where the teardrop landed, it created an abundant source of fresh water next to the sea.

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Meat and alcohol are not served and there seems to be little incentive to develop infrastructure for the beachgoers. Unlike Agonda, Gokarna has not become so commercialized that the local life has all but disappeared behind beach huts, sun beds and souvenir shops. On the other hand, for years Gokarna’s been a strong pull for hippies of our vintage and the present version, with its dreadlocks, tattoos and body piercing. (Where are the hippies from the 80s and 90s? I guess it was all disco.)

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Accommodation is not plentiful. We booked one of the few guesthouses posted online. On arrival, we were not thrilled but too exhausted from the 36-hour train ride to venture further. After reviving ourselves with a thali, we looked around to see what else was available and realized we had a good deal.

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The town beach is certainly not as beautiful as Agonda but after walking 20 minutes away from the hubbub of the town, the beach became virtually empty and the water very clear. No sun beds cluttering the sand, and the few beach huts are hidden in the undergrowth bordering the beach. It’s appealing for us to be in India AND at the beach. Harder to find than one might think. Two or three restaurants serve good South Indian food at Indian prices. At most times of the day, they are packed with Indian tourists and pilgrims making such a din you can hardly hear yourself think.

p1030120I respond to the religious fervor even though I can’t personally identify with Shiva worship. Such conviction and dedication are refreshing in today’s world of lukewarm faith. Even though I’m here for the beach, I like the diversity. As I make my daily pilgrimage to the sea down the winding main street, I pass two temples. Around them, the local women wrapped in a sarong pinned over their breast to numerous beaded necklaces, sell flowers, coconuts and who knows what as offerings. Then I dip myself in the clear sea water, giving thanks.

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Beside the temple sits an old carved wooden chariot decorated with flags waiting for the next occasion to be hauled out; furrows in the street shows its path.

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We had hoped Republic Day would be one such an occasion. But instead, all the school children in the district paraded up and down in their uniforms carrying flags and beating drums.

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The beach wasn’t as convenient as in Agonda, but the town was far more appealing. We plan to pass by this way again.

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