Gokarna: Friends at the Beach

Two warnings are pinned to the guesthouse wall. One is ridiculous: “Swimming on the beach is not safe.” Hello? Have you ever tried swimming on the beach? The other is more ominous: “The owner will not be responsible for any drowning in the sea.” Undeterred by occasional rough seas, I swim twice a day, and then walk the long stretch of sand, appreciating the moment.

I enjoy the simplicity of our lifestyle; it unclutters my mind, which likes to seize on the busy minutiae of daily living back home. I may not always like the Indian meal served, but it still beats the time and mental energy devoted to cooking and food shopping. Every day, I look forward to my idli and dosa breakfast. A young Indian has just started up his little dhaba and serves us with enthusiasm.

Gerard enjoys leaving Wellington Street far behind. Oddly, he does not seem to miss painting just as I don’t miss biking, knowing they will be waiting when we return. When he’s not swimming with me or socializing, he’s busy completing his memoir which he began writing exactly four years ago in India. His favorite tunes encourage him when the writing is difficult. Mosquitos and sand flies have found his skin irresistible and he’s had to contend with a slew of itchy, inflamed bites. But two weeks into our stay the bites are reducing. Dare I say the insects are loosing interest, moving on to the next tasty newcomer?

With many of the establishments here preferring to cater to Indians now, the old time travelers congregate in just a few cafes up and down the beach. Some of us question if we’ll come to India again whether put off by traffic, pollution, plastic waste—everyone agrees that the subcontinent is drowning in a sea of plastic–or Modi. 1.4 bilion create a heck of lot of waste! Gerard and I try to do our bit by bringing a portable water filter to avoid contributing to the mountain of plastic bottles. The otherwise beautiful walk through the vegetable gardens to the beach is marred by litter. To avoid looking at it for a month, Gerard got a gunny sack and picked it up. But where to dispose of the full sack?

Walking through the vegetable fields we notice that each little garden has its own shallow well. So close to the sea, surprisingly these wells are not polluted by salt water. With the rich soil, the baking sun and plenty of water, the vegetables seem to grow as we watch them. Too bad not enough of them find their way into the restaurants.

Our friend Marina is a social magnate; after twenty years in Gokarna she knows the old timers and easily makes new friends. At one point, there’s nine all from her area of north London. We’re sad to see Emma leave after her brief three-week holiday. She doesn’t understand those who complain about the new influx of Indian tourists crowding on to the beach (mostly on the weekends). She looks at the long stretch of sand and says, “To me, it’s bliss!” She spent her childhood summers in south Devon and we both agree that there’s no comparison to the sardine-packed people on the beaches of Torquay and Paignton.

Although I get frustrated in trying to follow the group conversations, it doesn’t overwhelm me anymore (given the occasional meltdown). This is our third visit to India since I lost my hearing, and I’m relieved to find it has gotten somewhat easier. I know my mechanisms to avoid hearing fatigue – and when I take a mental break and space out for a while, I return to the conversation to find surprisingly the same topic is still being discussed. I don’t seem to have missed much!

We wish we could identify the exotic tropical bird songs that I’m so grateful to hear. North London Tina’s a bird person and can recognize when Gerard provides a great imitation of a call. One is the Koel bird that we watch from our balcony in a papaya tree picking away at the fruit. Tina must be almost 80 and has traveled solo in India many times, which I find inspiring. Again, I wonder if I would have the resources to do it alone.

Our German friends, Marion and Yergen, insist that we accompany them to Kudlee Beach, a pretty sheltered cove we first visited three years ago. The descent to the beach is crowded with Indian tourists, the more so because it’s Republican Day weekend. Kudlee now caters only to Indians; several old buildings are demolished and undergrowth cleared at the near end of the beach to make way for a large luxury hotel. Rented dinghies, water ski launches and other plastic flotilla pepper the water. It’s beginning to look like Paignton! How many beautiful beachfronts are there left in the world that haven’t been ruined by over-development?

French Frederic, who we first met in the Himalayas ten years ago, took an overnight bus from Bangalore to spend three days with us. A resident of Auroville, he was on his way back to France to renew his visa. We have a special bond with him and are able to pick up where we left off four years ago in Varanasi. Swiss Peter, who visited us in Boston last summer, came down from Agonda for a few days as well. Both Gerard and I are flattered they made such an effort to visit us.

9 thoughts on “Gokarna: Friends at the Beach

  1. always a delight to find a new chapter of your story in my email basket! 10 degrees below zero yesterday here in Boston with windchill around 35 below..Today it is sunny and climbing to 40, which certainly will feel balmy…No mosquitoes or sand flies here….Thank you for sharing. Best to you….


  2. I love the country assignation before their names….I wish I were there with you. I miss that life of the exotic and people coming and going. And the charming language mixups…….


  3. Hullo to you both and many thanks, once again, for including me on your (no doubt) lengthy list of friends and readers. I recently received an invitation from a former colleague in Egypt to attend his daughter’s wedding and was keen to go. It was then that I realized I was 80 years and not keen to travel to Egypt alone. I ruefully declined the opportunity to visit Mahmoud and his family for what I knew would be a wonderful event with people and a place I’d grown very fond of over several years of working there . Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Bobby,


    div>I have really enjoyed your first two reports from India. You write so beautifully and really bring your experiences to life. I’m glad your hearing issues are slightly better than

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Bobbi and Gerard…
    So happy to know u r back on an Indian beach… I would luv to b there … hopefully some day. Thanks for resuming your interesting observations… keep ‘em coming…
    And keep writing, Gerard…luv

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not surprised that these delightful people found out you were in town and journeyed to spend time together ! I’m totally surprised that you really can’t hear ? I’m so glad you took beautiful photos and the bird songs are amongst your balcony. 💗🙏🏽💕✌🏾🥰. Enjoy your beautiful day sweetheart 😍🧘🥶


  7. Thankyou for sharing Bobby, especially the thali pic!
    Almost as good as being there with you.
    Keep on posting and loads of love to you both xx


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