First Published on August 13, 2015
He tugged his precious atmalinga over and over to separate it from the ground but true to Shiva's words, it remained stuck to the ground. He looked around to find the celestial cows disappear into the ground. Realizing that he had been tricked, he tried to catch the last of the vanishing cow but all he managed was one single ear. Cursing...he left it and walked away to his miserable fate. What remained formed the confluence of two rivers and gave the place its name - Gokarna
Along the West Coast of India, in Karnataka, lies this sleepy little town called Gokarna. Gokarna literally, means “Cow’s Ear”. I know it sounds funny and you would wonder why this name. It partly stems from the legend that I have shared above and partly, from its location. Originally a Hindu pilgrimage center, it is now, an important tourist destination – not just as a temple town but its lovely rocky beaches and hills. The place is now a popular alternative to Goa and naturally so – when you check out the best things to do in Gokarna.
In this Gokarna travel guide, I will not only share the key places to visit in Gokarna but also, give you a sample Gokarna itinerary for 3 days. In addition to that, you will find tips on the best time to visit Gokarna, where to stay, what to eat etc. Don’t miss the epic Gokarna story included in the post. That is definitely bound to increase the temptation of planning your own Gokarna trip. So let’s get started.
- 1 Where is Gokarna?
- 2 History of Gokarna | The Gokarna Story
- 3 What to do in Gokarna? | Best things to do in Gokarna
- 3.1 1) Beach Trekking in Gokarna
- 3.2 2) Visit the famous Gokarna Temples
- 3.3 3) Relax with a massage
- 3.4 4) Become a Foodie
- 3.5 5) Embark on a few day trips from Gokarna
- 3.6 6) Yoga by the Beach
- 3.7 7) Experience the Star-Studded Sky
- 3.8 8) Indulge in some water sports in Gokarna
- 3.9 9) Get bitten by a photo bug
- 3.10 10) Shopping in Gokarna
- 3.11 11) Experience the stunning Gokarna Sunset with an evening cruise.
- 3.12 12) Discover the salt fields of Sanikatta
- 4 Gokarna itinerary for 3 days
- 5 Pin This
- 6 Common FAQs for Gokarna
- 7 What is the best way to reach Gokarna?
- 8 What is the best time to visit Gokarna?
- 9 Which is the best place to stay in Gokarna Karnataka?
- 10 How many days are required for Gokarna?
- 11 Travel and Photography Tips
- 12 Booking Resources
Where is Gokarna?
Gokarna is a pretty beach town in Karnataka, located by the Arabian Sea. It is around 140 km from Goa which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. The town is at the confluence of the Gangavali and Agnashini rivers and it is this delta that is shaped like the cow’s ear. If one were to look for a more logical reason for the name Gokarna – then you have just stumbled upon it. The town is surrounded by loft hills that literally lock each of the sandy beaches of Gokarna – creating a very peaceful and secluded shore experience – quite unlike the beaches of Goa.
History of Gokarna | The Gokarna Story
The Gokarna story goes back to the mythological tale of Ramayana. The demon king Ravana of Lanka came to India to get an Atma linga from Lord Shiva for his mother. He did severe penance and pleased by his efforts, Lord Shiva gave him the Atma linga to take back to Lanka. But that came with “big conditions apply” 🙂 . Lord Shiva clearly instructed him to walk with the linga and never leave it on the ground. Not even for a few seconds. He warned him that once it touched the ground, it would not be possible to dislodge it. And so, the mighty King of Lanka walked back home.
In the meanwhile, the other Gods appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them stop Ravana. They feared that with the Atma Linga, he would become unstoppable and even more fearsome. Lord Vishnu hatched a devious plan with Lord Ganesha to stop Ravana. It was known that Ravana was very religious in praying at dusk. And so, he used his celestial weapon – the Sudarshan chakra to hide the sun and create an image of the sun setting. Ravana fell prey to that and looked around for help to hold the Atma linga while he performed his evening pooja. Enter Lord Ganesha in the form of an innocent cowherd.
Ravana appealed to the young cowherd to hold onto the linga while he finished his prayers. The cowherd aka Lord Ganesha in disguise agreed but with one condition that he would call out to Ravana thrice if he wanted to leave. As you might have guessed, Lord Ganesha tricked him, called him thrice while he was performing the pooja and very deliberately dropped the linga to run off. At the same time, Lord Vishnu cleared the sky and Ravana realized he had been tricked.
True to Lord Shiva’s words, the Atma linga got embedded in the same place while the cows began to disappear. Ravana tried to stop one of the cows by holding onto the ear but failed. The earpiece remained to become the confluence of the two rivers and the Atma Linga now resides in a temple that naturally, is one of the key Gokarna attractions.
That is the epic Gokarna story that draws numerous Hindus to this town. In the later years, some of the beaches were used as trading ports by royalties like Tipu Sultan. You can, in fact, get a glimpse of these shores in the next section on the best places to visit in Gokarna.
What to do in Gokarna? | Best things to do in Gokarna
Gokarna is often referred to as the offbeat cousin of Goa. While there are plenty of similar experiences to Goa, it also, is uniquely different from it. For one, it is definitely less crowded and not so touristy which makes it easy for any traveler to feel relaxed. The plethora of Gokarna attractions ensure that your day is filled with fun and excitement – but at the same time, the place allows you to pace these out. Here is a complete list of things that you can consider when planning your own Gokarna itinerary.
1) Beach Trekking in Gokarna
Beach hopping sounds like the most obvious? Am sure. But there is a slight difference here as you really have to trek (not walk) to the beaches in Gokarna. Gokarna is situated amongst the hills and the beaches are literally enclosed by the jutting cliffs. There is no option but to actually climb and descend these hilly rocks to go from one beach to another – which is actually, where the fun and excitement lies.
There are two major beach trekking routes in Gokarna. The first one called the Gokarna beach trek is a 10 km trail that covers the five major beaches in this town. These include Gokarna beach, Kudle beach, OM beach, Half Moon Beach and Paradise beach. The 2nd one is a shorter trail that takes you from a slightly lesser known beach – Belakan beach to the Tadadi Lighthouse. The trail takes you past the Agnashini river to the Arabian sea.
Gokarna beach trek
Of these, the most popular in the list of things to do in Gokarna for solo travelers is the Gokarna beach trek. For one, it is quite easy and light for all trekkers. And the 2nd reason is that the trail is not very secluded – making it safe for solo trekkers. It is a great way to explore the key beaches of Gokarna. You can even stop at each of the beaches and enjoy the various activities that are available there.
Another advantage of this route is that you do not have to walk both ways. If you are tired or want to try something different, you can opt for a boat ride to all these beaches as well. :-). Boat rides are available on Kudle beach as well as OM beach and you can either choose to go with a crowd or hire one exclusively for yourself.
Here are the key beaches of Gokarna that you can explore through the Gokarna beach trekking route.
Gokarna Beach is in the main town and is quite popular amongst the locals and the pilgrims. Shivratri is one of the main festivals celebrated in this town and the celebrations are held on this beach. The beach is not preferred by tourists. A nice beach nonetheless. However, I would recommend beginning your trek with the next beach – Kudle Beach, which is one of the main tourist beaches in this town.
Kudle beach – one of the most popular beaches of Gokarna
Circled by hillocks and dotted with rocks, Kudle beach is a pleasure to spend time on. The beach has a lot of shacks and small inns. You can trek up the little rocks along the way and feel the waves splash onto your toes. Not a bad idea to perch on them and stare out of the sea. I totally enjoyed doing the same myself. Trust me, it is a calming sensation 🙂
From the Kudle Beach, you have to trek up a hill and descend down to the most popular beach in Gokarna – OM beach. Named after the serene “OM” symbol of the Hindus, this is not just popular with the tourists but also, amongst the locals. This beach has limited food and restaurant options. This is where you will find numerous water sports activities.
Half Moon Beach
Next beach in the line of the trekking order is the Half Moon beach. The beach feels a little like a lagoon. This has far lesser options of restaurant and shacks and is quite secluded. It is in fact, one of the most peaceful beaches in this stretch – especially since it does not have much to do
The last beach in the beach trekking route of Gokarna is the Paradise beach. Also, called the Full Moon beach, this is the furthest from the main town. It is quite popular with campers and foreign tourists. In fact, at one point, any one was allowed to pitch a camp and stay here but in the recent years, the camp sites have become commercial and you will in fact, have to rent one from the operators here.
Paradise beach is a great place for people who like water sports, especially kayaking. You can end your Gokarna beach trek here and spend some time enjoying the shacks. From here, you can even hire the ferry I mentioned and get back to one of the more popular beaches like Kudle beach or Gokarna beach. You don’t have to hike back all the way.
Belekan beach to Tadadi Lighthouse trek
The Tadadi lighthouse trek is a comparatively shorter trail that begins at Belekan beach and takes you past a lovely lighthouse. The route is known for its hill-top views. In fact, you can get onto this trail from the Gokarna beach trek itself. Belakan beach, also, referred to as God’s own beach, is accessible from Paradise beach. The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that from Paradise beach to Belakan beach, there is no ferry. Hence, you will have to walk back on your own.
2) Visit the famous Gokarna Temples
Originally a temple town, there are a few ancient temples around Gokarna with a fair amount of history and significance. The key amongst these places to visit in Gokarna is the Mahabaleshwara temple, within the main Gokarna town. This temple is home to the legendary Atma linga which gave Gokarna its name. Built in a typical Dravidian style, the temple has a pedestle with a hole through which the devotees can see the top of the Atma Linga.
Visiting this temple gives you a very serene feeling. The deity here is over 1500 years old. While you are at visiting temples, you can even visit a few others – Aadi Gokarneshwara temple, Ganapati temple, Koti teertha etc. All these are within distance from each other and are connected to each other – either by way of rituals or legends.
For example, the Ganapati temple in Gokarna was built at the spot where Lord Ganesha vanished after setting the Atma Linga down on the ground. The Ganesha idol here has a hole, which is believed to be the hurt that he got when Ravana tried to stop him and ended up giving him a blow. The Koti Teertha temple is actually a pond that is used by disciples to cleanse themselves before entering the Mahabeleshwar temple in Gokarna.
3) Relax with a massage
Most of the hotels and resorts as well as inns on the beaches offer you massage services. The most popular are the Kerala Ayurvedic treatments. You can opt of a regular full body massage or go specific based on your preferences. From a head massage to a foot massage, these massage centers have quite a few options on their menu. A very soothing experience. especially with the waves giving your a background music score 🙂
4) Become a Foodie
With the shacks on the beaches and good local restaurants, the foodie in your is bound to spring out. From Italian pastas to Indian Thaalis – these food places serve your the best. Don’t miss out on two places in particular – the first being in the main Gokarna town called Prema restaurant. This is a non-descript place, with a shabby looking board. Initially, I mistook it for a store but don’t go by the looks. The menu here completely defies its appearance – It has everything from Israeli bread to Pastas and Indian Thalis. The food here is absolutely mouth-watering and AMAZING. So much so, that we ended up going here on two of the 3 days in Gokarna.You have to try out the homemade icecreams and GADBAD here. Check out the Trip Advisor reviews here.
The other must-visit place is by the OM beach – Namaste Cafe. This place has an amazing view of the Arabian sea. The food here is a mix of Italian and Indian. Personally, I felt that the food was much better and tastier at Prema Restaurant but there is no beating the ambiance of this place. I would recommend an evening here for sure, as the place is beautifully lit and while you wine and dine here, you can hear the vibrant sea in the background and feel the sea mist on your face.
Incidentally, staying and dining at the Namaste Cafe is one of the key things to do in Gokarna for a solo traveler.
5) Embark on a few day trips from Gokarna
There are plenty of places close to Gokarna, each unique in its own way. These places can be covered as day trips from Gokarna. I have shared a few of these in earlier post and you can look up those details in the links added to those destinations.
- Karwar – While you can do a day trip to Karwar from Gokarna, I would highly recommend a stay there. However, if time is of essence, then you can head there in the morning, explore the lovely Mangrove beaches around River Kali, spend some time on Kurumgad island or just enjoy the Devbagh beach.
- Yana – This is a delight for trekkers with its fascinating rocks and caves. The landscapes here are unique and definitely worth a visit. Yana is just 45 km from Gokarna
- Dandeli – River Rafting in Dandeli is an activity that a lot of visitors add to their Gokarna trip. You can book your expedition in Gokarna itself or just head over to Dandeli, which is around 130 km from Gokarna.
- Murudeshwar – Just 55 km from Gokarna is the 2nd largest statue of Shiva. Murudeshwar is worth a visit for the sheer magnificence of this statue that stands against the blue backdrop of the Arabian Sea. You can also, plan a Scuba diving expedition when in Murudeshwar. Netrani Island – just off its coast, has more than 6 amazing dive sites to explore the underwater. In fact, you can enroll for a PADI certification here. Check out my own experience through this post on my PADI certification at Netrani Island
- Mirjan – This is just 11 km from Gokarna and worth a visit for the lovely fort. The mighty fort was built in the 16th century and has plenty of interesting structures to explore.
6) Yoga by the Beach
Do it by yourself or join the groups at various resorts like the Namaste Yoga Farm or the Swarswara resort. It is not unusual to see a lot of tourists practicing yoga in the mornings and evenings on the Kudle beach or the OM beach. You can pick from a 7 day course to a longer course while here.
7) Experience the Star-Studded Sky
The night sky in Gokarna is actually wonderful -clear and star-studded. With the cool breeze blowing on your face, waves splashing along and lovely sand below your feet, a stroll on the beach are exactly what you should do. Try lying down on the beach and counting the stars – Sometimes, meaningless tasks like this add to the charm of the place 🙂
8) Indulge in some water sports in Gokarna
Get your adrenaline going with some watersports on the Gokarna beaches. You can opt for some parasailing, banana boat rides, snorkeling or kayaking. However, note that these are available only during the peak season.
You can also, enroll yourself for some surfing classes that take place on Gokarna beach. You can choose from a variety of courses that are available in this surf school.
Scuba diving is yet another option that you should consider when looking at water sports in Gokarna. However, for this option, you will have to travel to Murudeshwar, which is just 45 minutes away from Gokarna. All the scuba diving schools and shops in Gokarna will take you there.
9) Get bitten by a photo bug
Gokarna Beaches are quite unusual with their rocky surfaces and hillocks. They look really stunning in the evening and morning light and this should contract a shutterbug in you. Take a stroll along with your camera or phone and try to capture the lovely landscape in front of you. Try your hand on catching the waves on the rocks. You can get some pretty beach pictures if you have your GoPro handy.
10) Shopping in Gokarna
Gokarna is a small town and you can literally walk and cover the entire town. You will find pretty little trinkets and bright clothes catching your fancy all the way to the Gokarna beaches. I would definitely not say no to the vibrant and colorful bags being sold in this Gokarna flea market. You can spend a little time just walking around and getting a feel of this small sleepy town.
11) Experience the stunning Gokarna Sunset with an evening cruise.
A recent visit introduced me to a different vantage point for the lovely Gokarna sunsets. This one takes you right in the middle of the Arabian sea. With misty sprays on your face, you can experience the magic of those golden rays as they slowly fade away into the water. What is more is that you get to see the beaches of Gokarna from a very different angle. And yes, you might even meet those friendly dolphins. Check out this post on the Sunset Cruise in Gokarna. It has all the details about the experience, including the price.
12) Discover the salt fields of Sanikatta
This is another discovery that I made enroute to Tadadi port (the place where the Gokarna Sunset cruise begins). The vast expanse of brown salt fields – a traditional industry of Uttara Karnataka is bound to leave you spellbound. If you are lucky, you can catch some of the villagers working here and get a tour of the fields.
Gokarna itinerary for 3 days
Assuming you have 3 days in Gokarna, here is how you could make the best use of them. This sample itinerary allows you enough time to cover the major Gokarna attractions but is not loaded to get you tired. Depending on your interest, you will be able to modify it easily. Take a look
Day One - Start your day around 10 am and head to Gokarna town. Start with Mahabaleshwar temple and then slowly walk around to the other temples. - Head to Gokarna beach and grab a lunch at Prema restaurant. - Return to your hotel for a little rest - Around 4 pm, drive down towards Tadadi port for your evening Sunset cruise. Stop at the Sanikatta salt fields for a quick tour - Embark on your Sunset cruise at 5:30 pm - Head back to your hotel or pick one of the beaches to just spend quiet moments on the sand. Day Two - Start early for your Gokarna beach trek. I recommend starting at Kudle beach, grabbing breakfast at Namaste cafe on OM beach, continuing your journey right up to Paradise beach. - Grab lunch at one of the shacks on Paradise beach and either head back to hotel via a trek, or a ferry - Relax at your hotel with an Ayurvedic massage. - Pick one of the beaches for a gorgeous Gokarna sunset. I highly recommend Kudle beach for this. - Grab some drinks at one of the shacks on the beach. You can even opt for dinner here. Day Three - Pick your favorite water sport in Gokarna and spend the day with the waves. If you plan to do Scuba Diving, you will have to leave a little early for Murudeshwar. - If your chosen water sport is in Gokarna itself, I would recommend grabbing a meal at one of the beach shacks. It is likely this is the day you decide on one of the day trips in which case, you will have to get a meal at your chosen destination. - Most likely, you will be back by 4 pm. Relax on your favorite beach in the evening.
Well, you see, you have enough time to chillax, grab a drink over a stunning sunset and gaze into infinity. Gokarna is that kind of place where you can do lots and yet do nothing. With that I am sure you are all set to bookmark this post for your next holiday. So go on – pin this up.
Common FAQs for Gokarna
What is the best way to reach Gokarna?
The closest airport to Gokarna is in Goa. It is around 140 km by road. You can either hire a cab at the airport or get a bus to Gokarna from Goa. If you plan to drive to Gokarna from Goa, you can use this route –
Goa Airport – Margaon market (NH 66) – Palolem – Karwar – Mudga – Ankola – Madangeri – Devanna – Gokarna
If you choose to land at Mangalore airport, you can use this route to get to Gokarna by road. There are regular buses as well to Gokarna. The total distance using this route is 229 km and it takes around 4 hours.
Mangalore airport – Padubidri – Udupi – Kundapur – Marvanthe – Byndoor – Bhatkal – Shirali – Murudeshwar – Honnavar – Kumta – Mirjan – Madangeri – Devanna – Gokarna
The nearest railway station is at Ankola, which is 20 km from Gokarna town. From here too, you can hire a cab or get into one of the regular buses to Gokarna
What is the best time to visit Gokarna?
The best time to visit Gokarna is between September to April. Summers can be quite uncomfortable while the rains can really dampen the Gokarna experience in July or August.
Which is the best place to stay in Gokarna Karnataka?
Gokarna has quite a few hotels, resorts and home-stays available. Namaste Cafe is a very popular place to stay in Gokarna for solo travelers while Kudle beach resort and Om Beach resort are great stay options for families in Gokarna. There are quite a few more options besides these. You can check them out through the Booking resources section below.
How many days are required for Gokarna?
You can comfortably cover Gokarna in 2 – 3 days.
Travel and Photography Tips
- There are lots of stray dogs on the beaches. Though they are harmless, one can always be a little careful.
- Be a little careful when stepping out in the evening on the beaches. You will see a lot of tourist smoking and drinking. There is a bit of a hippie culture in some parts of Gokarna.
- Carry enough Sun Screen while here.
- Most of the Gokarna beaches are rocky and there are no safe zones marked for swimming. One needs to be careful while getting into the water. Ideally, use the help of the locals to understand the water conditions there.
- A Go-Pro along with your regular camera is ideal. The Go Pro with its waterproof properties works really well for those beach shots. What is more is that it doubles up a good wide angle lens.
- You can book your hotel in Gokarna through Booking.com using the given link.
- Klook.com has a few private tours that can be booked online for Gokarna and Murudeshwar. Check them out through the given link.
- If you use Amazon for shopping for travel or any of your home needs, do consider using this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.