Gokarna is Goa minus the cacophony, the luxe resorts, and hipster restaurants. It’s a beachtown like beachtowns were meant to be – off the grid, laid back, and idyllic. This tiny town is just what the doctor ordered for the tourist-trap-weary, who are looking instead for tranquility amidst virgin beaches.
Throw in yoga, nature hikes, Mediterranean food, and a melting pot of backpackers with fascinating back stories, and you’ve got yourself a pretty perfect holiday.
Far away from the beaches are Gokarna’s ancient temples and lively bazaars which draw the devout and acquire a life of its own during important festivals like Shivaratri and Ganesh Chaturthi.
Both sides of Gokarna, though contradictory from each other, live in harmony and balance. We head to this beach town, from Bangalore, on the road less travelled.
- Trip duration: 3 nights and 4 days
- Best time to visit: September – February
- Distance: 580 km approx.
- Driving time: 12 hours approx. (We recommend a stopover at Manipal.)
Route: Bangalore – Nelamangala – Kunigal – Hassan – Sakleshpur – Mangalore – Udupi – Murudeshwar – Kumta – Gokarna.
So there’s the regular road to Gokarna which runs via the NH4, and then there’s the road to Gokarna, which is longer, narrower and bumpier. Sometimes though, it’s the journey that makes it worth the while. Recent studies have shown that prettier, more scenic routes are more emotionally stimulating. Who are we to question researchers?
The (rewarding) longer route
The coastal highway to Gokarna – via Udupi – is home to thousand-year-old temples, majestic forts and unique museums; ensuring that we made several stops and collected several likes on our Instagram feeds. The icing on the (crab)cake is the fresh seafood. If you’re more meat-arian than pescaterian, order a plate of Chicken Kori Rotti and Kadubu Olle.
Driving on a full stomach is a challenge we are yet to take on, and recommend that you make a pitstop at Manipal. Tuck into more coastal delights, and sleep off the ensuing food coma. Besides, it’ll give you plenty of time to explore places along the way. If you’re pressed for time then drive on, but eat light, to fend off drowsiness.
Timing is everything
There’s really only one rule for road trips in India – leave early. It’s a win-win situation all around. There’s hardly any traffic while you’re exiting the city, so you’re still in good spirits when you hit the highway. Plus, you’ll reach your destination before nightfall, and that’s always a good thing.
We left home at 5:30 A.M, reached Nelamangala within 30 minutes and were greeted by 4 empty lanes of concrete, which is a welcome sight when you’re itching to cover distances at light speed. An hour later, we pulled into Swathi Delicacy near Kunigal, for an excellent breakfast and round two of coffee infusion. Recovering as we were from last night’s bender, we played it safe and ordered two butter dosas, and a plate of idlis that hit the spot.
From Hassan we took a detour to visit the ruins of Shettihali Church, a neo-gothic church built by French missionaries in 1860. Fast forward to a hundred years later, and the Indian government constructed the Gorur dam, to contain the overflowing waters from the Hemavathi Reservoir. The nearby villages were abandoned, as was the church, but it stands as it did (nearly two centuries ago), enduring wrathful monsoons and flooding. Undisturbed by throngs of tourists, the church makes a great place for photography.
Hassan to Mangalore was a four-hour joyride, thanks mainly to the Ghats and lush green vistas. We also learnt to give a wide berth to local buses due to their tendency to manically overtake everything in their way.
Post a delicious lunch at Thamboolam in Udupi – chicken kori rotti, mutton ghee roast, fried mackrel and a huge mud crab – meant we were stuffed to the gills, with our seatbelts struggling to reach the buckles. An hour of uneventful driving later, we were in Maravanthe. The drive along this stretch is truly picturesque – with backwaters to our right, the sea on our left and coconut trees all around.
The Home Stretch
Another 50 km later, we came across something we don’t see every day – a giant Shiva statue, 123ft tall, blessing us and our mini-epic road trip. If you don’t mind the crowds you can take a detour to visit the Murudeshwar Temple Complex which houses the second largest Shiva statue in the world. The largest (and currently in first place) is the Kailashnath Mahadev statue in Nepal.
The home stretch, post Kumta, is a dreamy landscape, dotted with green hills and valleys. The road twists and turns playing peek-a-boo with the sea, which disappears at will, behind hills and trees. Before you know it, you’re in Gokarna.
Where to Eat
- Stop for breakfast at Swathi Delicacy (directions)
- Stop for Lunch at Thamboolam in Udupi (directions)
What to See
- Shettihali Church (directions)
- Manipal Museum of Anatomy & Pathology (directions)
- Maravanthe Beach (directions)
- Murudeshwara Temple (directions)
- Mirjan Fort (directions)
- Mahabaleshwar Temple (directions)
Where to Stay
- In Manipal: Paradise Isle Beach Resort (directions) is by the sea and offers great views and comfort. Hotel Ashlesh (directions) located in the heart of Manipal provides clean budget rooms.
- In Gokarna: Swaswara resort (directions) is the most luxurious option, it offers comfortable rooms with loads of amenities. Paradise Holiday Cottages (directions) offers clean rooms at reasonable rates.
Our collaborators for this story – Easy Roads.