Goa might be an ultimate party destination for most youths in their early 20s but for us it signified something entirely different. We were not there for the party or the nightlife, instead, wanted to see Goa through the eyes of the hippies, who fell in love with its endless beauty in the 60s and 70s. Little did we know, however, that it would be a small costal town in Karnataka, barely 100kms from Goa, which would provide us with that bliss.
We, a group of four people, started our trip from Ernakulam district of Kerala and naturally, Gokarna being closest to us, was our first stop. Google and a number of other websites helped us plan but we took precaution not to read any personal experiences because who loves spoilers anyway (Please don’t stop reading).
Since we had our specific purpose in mind, we decided to schedule our trip in early April. This is a time when both Goa and Gokarna have the least number of people but is not quite in the off-season either.
Our trip began at Aluva railway station at midnight:
There are two railway stations that are ideal for reaching Gokarna, the nearest one is Gokarna Road and the second one, which is almost 30 kms away, is Kumta.
Gokarna Road is a fairly remote railway station (17kms away) from where you can reach the beaches by taking a local taxi. Unless you rather walk and wait for a bus on the main road, they are the sole means of transport. These Taxis will bring you all the way up to the beach and are by far the fastest means to get there.
If you decide to go by Taxi don’t forget to get the driver’s number so that you can call him when you need to return.
- Taxi fare: Rs. 300
Kumta is a busy town, 30 kms from Gokarna and its railway stations is just near the bus stand. If you are traveling on a budget or by yourself, it is better to get off here and then take a bus to Gokarna (very frequent). The bus will take you all the way up to Gokarna bus stand and from there you can walk or take an Auto Rickshaw to Kudle beach.
Unless you are not traveling in the peak season, there will be lots of (affordable) beach shacks and cottages available. So there is no need to book online or check-in to some mediocre place in the town. We did make the mistake to booking online but the place that we stayed (Sri Uma Maheshwari cottages in Kudle beach) more than made up for that.
Relaxing, Serene and Peaceful- Gokarna
The sight we saw from atop a hill, on our way to Kudle beach, was enough to wash away all our tiredness from the previous day’s journey. Through the back windows of the Maruti Omni van, we saw a glimpse of the Majestic Om beach, which seemed to call us with her open arms. We decided to heed the lady’s call and not rest a minute. So we found our warm little cottage by the side of Kudle beach and immediately set our sights on Ohm beach.
I must admit, the uphill (and then a downhill) trek from Kudle beach would have been far too daunting if it wasn’t for all the dopamine that was flooding our brains due to awesome view from the hill. We even met a really cool entrepreneur from Mumbai (traveling by himself) who showed us the way to the beach.
The Trek- Ohm beach-Half moon beach – Paradise beach
The Om beach is called so because it is shaped like the symbol ‘ॐ’, which is somewhat apparent on moving down the flight of stairs at the entry point. However, our next stop would show us this symbol in perfection. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful and happening beach in the whole of Gokarna but felt too dangerous for a dive (but that didn’t seem to stop a number of foreigners there).There were a number of shacks and restaurants lining the beach and we decided to have our lunch from one of them. Food near the beaches are generally great but is costlier in comparison.
We talked to the shack owner and he said that the best view of the beach is from a small area atop a nearby hill which was also, favourably for us, the way to our ultimate destination – Paradise beach.
Trekking tips: The trek to paradise beach is a bit long and tiresome. Take water with you (but please don’t leave the bottle on the forest or beach) and wear good shoes.
Setting our immediate destination to the top of the hill, we crossed a few boulders by the beach shore and began the walk. The route was small and I’d say the danger level is between small and medium. Always chose the path which is away from the beach side (there’s always two) and take extra caution when taking pictures. After a few minute in to the trek, we reached a small cleared area and it was immediately apparent that it was the place that the shack owner was talking about.
There she was! the Ohm beach in all her glory. I sat there for good number of minutes, looking at the unassuming beachgoers, not bigger than ants on the sand, all the time shouting in my mind
“The King’s view is right here”
After 15 minutes there, we decided to move on to the next two beaches, lest it gets dark when we return. The next two beaches-Half moon and Full moon (paradise beach) are petite in comparison to the first two, and for this reason (along with the difficult trek) people don’t often visit them. This makes both of them less crowded and are visited mostly by foreign travelers.
The trek to half-moon beach might make you feel a bit lost but stick to the paved path and you are sure to reach your destination. The beach was barren except for two couples in the water and we decided to play some catch. The evening sun was soothing and perfect for sunbathing (maybe not for the perpetually tanned Indian). Next bit, the trek to Paradise beach is trickier but is definitely worth the effort.
After one hour at the Half moon, we decided to move on to the Paradise beach. The only route we could find was through some slippery rock on the beach and that felt too dangerous. Thankfully, we came by a German guy, by the name of Joan and he gladly let us trail along with him to the Paradise.
After a tougher trek than usual, we reached our destination- The Full moon (Paradise beach). It is heard that Paradise beach, until recently was a hub for foreigners. There were shacks that sold beer and narcotics were very prevalent. Unlike Goa, which has a passive approach to such things, authorities in Karnataka took them all down when things became uncontrollable. Even now you can see remnants of the destroyed buildings and we could see Joan, who was here earlier, feel a bit sad about its fate.
Immediately entering the Paradise beach we saw some 15 or so foreigners who have pitched tents and living very peacefully among the coconut trees. The music they played was vibrant but we decided not to join as our time there was limited.
Crossing the concrete structures in the middle of the beach, you reach its second half and immediately realise why the beach is called the ‘Paradise’. A number of coconut trees line its strong, dark blue waters, making it the perfect place to relax. We decided to take a short rest there but my heart longed for a bit more time.
Tip: I recommend anyone coming to Gokarna to bring their tents along and spend at least one night at the beach. The only thing you need to worry about is food and water, as they are in limited supply. The people at the beach, at least when we visited, were friendly and we could feel the party atmosphere shape up as the sun slowly went down.
After our short stay at the beautiful Paradise beach, we decided to trek back. The light was low and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel scared taking the long journey back. However, since there were four of us, we decided to negate the risks. But just when we were about the climb the mountain, we were intersected by a man. He had come to pick up some passengers whom he brought to the beach earlier on his boat and asked us if we wanted to come along (for a fee of course).
Tip: There are boats that ferry people from Om beach to paradise beach. The usually ask an exorbitant amount of money (especially if you are not from around) but bargaining will most definitely it down. For the four of us, the ferryman asked Rs. 1500 but we eventually brought it down to Rs. 500.
En route Om beach, the boat made a short stop at half-moon beach (for the other passengers) and there we decided to take a dip in the sea. The water didn’t seem as dangerous as that of Om or Paradise beach but it is better to excise caution, especially if you are alone.
Once we reached Om beach, we dried up and decided to head back to Kudle. We didn’t get a chance to look at the beach in the morning and I felt that a beautiful sunset there would be perfect to end the amazing day. However, fate was against us and the clouds hindered a perfect sunset. The red setting sky was still a sight to behold and we had our fun in the water, amidst the beautiful backdrop.
Night in the Kudle was uneventful and we had our dinner and went to sleep for an early morning.
Next day we had a morning train to catch to Goa, so I woke up early and went to Om beach all by myself. I had heard from a group of fellow Keralites, whom we met the previous day, that the Om beach is very lively in the morning and I just had to check it out (my friends weren’t too keen though). True enough, when I got there it was full of people enjoying a leisurely swim or doing Yoga. If you are not into any of these things, even relaxing under the shade of the coconut trees, looking at the morning rays smoothly reflecting over the water should make the trip erstwhile.
I went back to Kudle just in time to pack up and have a filling meal. However, the short day we spend on Gokarna was unforgettable and by far the most filling thing we had in sometime.
Next, with bars set high, we set our hearts to Goa-our primary destinations.
We took 2nd class tickets to Goa from Gokarna railway Station. We were on time but as expected, the train was delayed by one and a half hour. This forced us to drop one beach from our list (Colva), as we had booked a hotel (without pre-payment) from booking.com.
Once we reached Goa (Madgaon), it was time to rent some bikes. Renting 2-wheelers is the best and cheapest way to travel through Goa and numerous renting places are available in Madgaon, Panaji and Mapusa. We found a good place, turning left from Madgaon Railway Station, which offered an Activa and Navi for Rs. 800 each (for 3 days).
Tip: Always check if the bikes you are offered are in good condition and take pictures of them so that you can show them incase of a dispute. Check for all necessary documents, ask for a helmet and ensure that the bike is registered as a Taxi (yellow number plate). And as always, bargain for a cheaper price.
As I said, we’ve decided not to go to Colva beach due to time constraints. This made our entire Goan trip solely concentrated in North Goa. This part of Goa and its beaches attract the most number of people and is highly commercialised. This wasn’t quite what we were looking for but being our first time in Goa, we decided to take a look at the most popular ones.
After renting the bikes, we set our GPS to Shannon guest house in Candolim, the place where we were staying for the night. Since we had booked the room through pay-at-stay, the owner of the house routinely called us to confirm whether we were coming. Once we reached there, we freshened up and immediately decided to go to Candolim beach.
The beach was clean and relatively less crowded (than some of the next beaches). There were a number of water sports that were taking place but since it was already late we decided to do them the next day. After the sun went down, we got off the beach and explored the streets, before retiring for the night.
The owner of the house, Mr Deepak was very friendly. He personally came to visit us and helped us plan for the next day. He even allowed us to keep our bags in the rooms well past the check-out time so that we could properly enjoy the water sports (10/10 host)
Day 3: Candolim-Calangute-Baga-Vagator-Arambol
After getting a good night’s sleep, we woke up early in the morning and decided to visit Aguada fort. It is a small well-kept fort with an amazing view from the top. We took a bunch of photos of the fort and of us as well, and each one came out better than the last. It is a must visit place if you are in the vicinity (morning and evenings are best). On our way back, we visited the Sinquerim beach that was slowly rising from its slumber. All refreshed from the morning ride, we decided to try our hands on water sports.
Upon coming back to Candolim beach, we were given a bunch of sports we could try. We decided to go along with Parasailing as it seemed the best one there but little did we know we were about to be cheated.
We took a boat to another one which was fitted with parasailing equipment. We were last in line to go but were left confused when the first couple that was with us had a longer run time that the second. It was only when our turn was up that we were told what was happening. The crew of the boat demanded Rs. 500 extra (to their pockets) to have a longer run. The short run wasn’t even worth the Rs, 650 that each one of us had to pay but they insisted that that’s all we get. In the end, for having a better time, we decided to pay the extra money.
Tip: If you ever go parasailing in Goa, remember to ask how much time you will get in the air and what exactly will be done. The people standing there (coordinators) might rush you to pay money and start immediately (when the boat arrives) but don’t fall for this trickery.
Even with all these, the parasailing was quite enjoyable and we really did have a great time. We spend some time on the beach as well (being wet and all). The single biggest cultural shock came to us when we saw women bare breasted on the beach but being the good people we are, decided not to look…for long.
Getting off the beach, we were exhausted even to even walk to our rooms, let alone travel to three of the best (we were told) beaches in Goa- Calangute, Baga and Anjuna. A good lunch took away some of it and we moved forward to Calanguate.
Calangute beach was more crowded than Candolim and didn’t offer anything substantially different. Baga, which everyone recommended, was that worst one of our trip. It was crowded like crazy and it seemed that not a sand was left free (and this is in April). We, being one of the crowd, couldn’t complain much either. After seeing this we decided to not go to Anjuna again (yes, again, as we had visited it the previous night) and headed straight to Vagator.
Note: Calangute, Baga and Anjuna are all very beautiful beaches but years of extreme commercialisation has brought them to their knees. It’s a sad sight, especially considering how beautiful they looked in the photographs of the old. It’s not just people that are affected by popularity.
The next two beaches, Vagator & Arambol had very different stories to tell.
We were, frankly, a bit tired of seeing beaches and thus decided to explore the ruins of Chapora fort, placed strategically atop a hill near the Vagator beach. God had blessed us with a little slice of serenity each evening throughout our trip, and the Chapora fort was no exception. Carrying our heavy backpacks, the trek to the fort was difficult but the end result more than made up for it.
At the fort, we got the best seat in the house with a view of both the beach and the blue skies. We relaxed there for an hour or so, before moving to the single biggest attraction of the fort- the place where that iconic ‘dil chahta hai’ scene was shot. The four of us fought for Amir’s place in the picture so in the end it was decided to take four different photographs.
Tip- I’d definitely recommend the Chapora Fort (even though it is in ruins) just for the gorgeous view.
Off to Arambol
After a very relaxing evening in Vagator, we decided to go to Arambol. Arambol, unlike previous beaches, is far less crowded and is the home of modern day hippies (if you could call them that). It is the place where most foreigners come and is often skipped by Indians as it is not ‘core’ Goa.
We reached Arambol very late and checked into ‘Cock’s town’, a beachside shack that we had booked as ‘pay-at’stay’. We were a bit disappointed as they gave us rooms that were different from the ones that were promised (and bad ones at that), but since it was late and we were all tired, we decided to go with them.
The Arambol beach at night reminded me of Kudle beach but on a much grander scale. The place was teeming with foreigners and Indian tourists were next to none. Walking on the beach, we were treated to the joyous sound of bongos and people could be seen cooped up around bonfires. We joined one of the bigger ones, near a small shack, and stayed there amidst the fun filled atmosphere for hours.
For the next day, we decided to see the famous sweet water lake. For that, you must walk all the way to the farthest end of the Arambol beach (to the right) and go through a very lively marketplace. There were a lot of shops enroute and you can even find a number of rooms to stay (so don’t book online).
There’s a small beach near the lake and we decided to take a dip in it first. Though the waves were strong, lifeguards positioned there gave us confidence. For me, personally, this was the best beach experience in the whole of Goa. This small beach was nestled between rocky boulders and had the blue sky and an endless sea to the front, and a beautiful lake with coconut trees lining it, to the back. Really, what more could you ask for?
Later on, we took a dip in the lake to remove all the salt and went back to our rooms. The lake is good but seemed to be poorly maintained.
The trip was slowly coming to an end and we decided to make our last halt in Valha Goa or Old Goa, in Panjim. There we wished to see Basilica of Bom Jesus, being one of the biggest non-beach attractions of Goa.
We checked out from Cocks town and set our course to the Chruch. The architecture of Old Goa takes us back to bygone era and the church itself was very beautiful. We decided to relax there for a moment, before moving on to Madgaon railway station where our return train was scheduled to halt.
So, did we get to see what we were looking for?
I felt that Goa (or atleast the main beaches of Goa), for all its hype, has become far too commercialised to be called a hippie paradise anymore. Aarambol somehow manages to keep the essence alive and is worth a visit if want a Goa without the maddening crowd. I’ve been told that beaches in south Goa are now much better and that’s where I will be heading next.
In comparison, Gokarna was like a breath of fresh air. The beaches there are still very much untouched and something like the paradise beach (though small) is now becoming non-existent in Goa.