Gokarna is a strange old beach town south of palolem. However, the two beach paradises are very different.
For one thing Gokarna is much less trodden, has much less tourists and much less capacity for any extra prospective tourists. It makes for a very small and strangely insular group of young Israelis and Europeans, ageing hippies, and in general, partially or completely insane individuals – drawn in by it’s gritty yet relaxed charm. Attitudes are lax here; you can show off your greased abs whilst hula-hooping in front of a crowd of people or else withdraw from social situations completely and live a life of muttering to yourself in solitude. You are hidden away from civilisation, or at least you feel like you are, with only bamboo huts and palm trees surrounding you.
At first, it’s hard not to be slightly unnerved by the unhinged atmosphere that lingers about the place. We lived opposite a huge, wild-haired man, who despite living on his own, could frequently be heard bursting into fits of chuckling and unintelligible conversations with himself. He could be seen drifting off into an almost sleep-like state at the dinner table, only to snap back to reality with a jump and mutter of “efemphup” or “nehmehma.”
However, there were plenty of activities aside from the fascinating people watching, such as swimming with wild dolphins or taking a walk around the bay to one of the ‘deserted’ beaches. However, far from being deserted, they played home to incredibly tanned and hairy travellers who looked surgically attached to their hammocks.
It was only after starting a fire on the beach under the stars one night and suddenly having all of the straggling travellers drawn to us like moths to the flame, that we started to understand why so many people seem unable to leave the place. Nearly every country in Europe had it’s representative, with a few Israelis and of course Indians. Even the cows joined us one by one, each person and animal adding to the strange and interesting bunch; the likes of which you would never expect to see in the same place at one time. Our week long commitment to the Om Beach family paled in comparison to the residents who had stayed for months, and some had no plans to leave at all.
The diversity amongst the people that have come together, careless of whether they have just met or how they ought to behave, is something worth coming to Gokarna for (despite the terrible food and the prospect of being trampled by cows on the beach).
They introduced us to the wonders of disturbing the plankton at night. For some wonderful reason, at night the plankton (tiny little sea creatures) glow in the dark when disturbed, and so if you swim out into the sea, with every arm and leg motion, hundreds of little glowing specks flutter around your limbs like underwater fireflies – there is no other way to describe this phenomenon without reverting to magical fairytale language. What made this better was the clear sky in which you could see thousands of stars, making the sea look like a continuation of the sky; and swimming around in it is the nearest I will ever get to space travel. I could have stayed out there all night if I hadn’t turned into a cold prune or else realised that I’m actually quite scared of being stung by a jellyfish.
And so I think we got off on the wrong foot with Gokarna, or else missed the point for the first half of our stay. It did seem like a refuge for the insane, but then you realise this only adds to the character of the place and if you’re not there to meet people, then you may aswell head to Palolem – or else sit back and enjoy some of the most interesting people watching of the Indian beach scene.