An unedited version of my story published in the June 2014 edition of Outlook Traveller
The temple bells toll in the distance - a distinct, metallic clang of bronze. “What a trendy bikini”, I think, as two girls walk past, suddenly rendering my swimsuit woefully out-of-fashion. Nearing sunset, the sea now resembles molten lava. I hear a yoga mat being dusted next to me. I look up to see its owner - a middle-aged Caucasian with long, shocking-white hair and beard, tanned like a carrot from the sun, with rudraksha beads around his neck and aviators perched on his head – heading back to his hotel, his yoga for the day done. My mobile rings - my auto driver says he’s waiting for me at the top of the hillock; if I want to see the evening aarti at the Mahabaleshwara temple, I’d need to leave right away. I polish off the last slice of my Hawaiian pizza and gulp down my drink. Half an hour later, I join a snaking queue at the temple, so crowded that most of the queue spills onto the narrow street outside. The heady fragrance of jasmine fills the air, occasionally mixed with the stench of cow dung, as cows sporadically relieve themselves. The bells toll even louder now, and people fold their hands in devotion, chanting prayers, occasionally crying out the lord’s name aloud. Suddenly, the queue begins to frantically compress and shove; the door to the sanctum has just been opened.
A cow ponders worldly matters at Om beach, un-distracted by revellers. The name Gokarna means ‘cow’s ear’ and has a mythological story to back it.
One of Gokarna's quirky residents.
If you had told me then that I’d actually enjoy Gokarna, I wouldn’t have believed you. By the time I drove on, took an incredibly difficult turn into an even narrower road to my guesthouse, slipped on omnipresent cow dung and almost fell into a gutter, I was ready to leave. I only stayed because I was too scared to drive out again. Yet, here I was, a couple of days later, seasonedly squeezing myself, walking between a car and the dreaded gutter, making way for somebody else’s arrival into Gokarna.
|A typical Brahmin house|
|An aerial view of Kudle beach, with Om beach around the|
cliff to the left and Gokarna beach around the cliff
to the right.
|An aerial view of Om beach|
Beach-bums walk the rocky promontory from Om beach to Half-moon beach, even as a person meditates under a coconut tree at sunset.
|Om Beach is popular with locals and visitors alike. And, with bovines too.|
|Tourists play 'frescobol', a Brazilian beach game akin to table-tennis, on Kudle Beach|
Om beach is most crowded in the evenings, when the glorious light tinges everything orange.
who is said to have deceived Ravana and prevented him from fleeing with the atmalinga. The boy-Ganesh statue here is unique, in that it is two-armed and in a standing posture.
An old, Indian-style barber shop has a foreign visitor. The unintentional saffron colour of the cloak reminds you of Gokarna's status as a temple town. All this makes the photograph redolent of Gokarna's duality.
Enjoying hot tea by the roadside.
I seemed to be constantly flitting between the two, my memories from both intertwining to form a crazy, unconventional holiday memory.