Gokarna is one of seven sacred Hindu pilgrimage centres in India. It is located on the western coast of the country in the state of Karnataka, which is the seventh largest state in the country by area; and the eighth largest by population. Karnataka’s vast and verdant land offers an array of attractions, including the coastal turf of Karavali, the Western Ghats of Malenadu and the Bayaluseeme range, which is known for its plains of the Deccan plateau. Yet, perhaps, one of the most interesting and enchanting places to visit in Karnataka is the small, remote, fishing village of Gokarna.

For almost six months of the year, once the rains have ceased and the tourist season has commenced (from about November to February), it transforms itself into a hub of avid sun-seekers, itinerant artists and troubadours, migrants from nearby Goa and old-world hippies, some of whom have been coming to this Lord Shiva pilgrimage site for over 20 years.

A harmonious hybrid of history, seafront views, and shopping

According to ancient legend the 4th century Mahabaleshwar Temple, situated in the centre of town facing the Arabian Sea, houses the Atmalinga (a symbolic manifestation of Lord Shiva himself), which is said to bestow great blessings upon all those who are lucky enough to catch sight of it.

Gokarna is also renowned for other temples including those built around the Kotitheertha (a man-made lake used for ritual bathing), as well as those dotted around town and its immediate locality. Some of the most popular temples include the Maha Ganapati Temple; the Bhadrakali Temple; the Tamra Gauri Temple; and the Venkataramana Temple.

Whatever your religious beliefs and inclinations, these places of worship are worth visiting for their sheer beauty and the experience of seeing the ancient art of traditional Pūjā (a Hindu prayer ritual, usually performed by the temple priest). Today these remnants of the past coexist alongside various attractions, designed for the influx of tourists that visit Gokarna each year.

A beach to suit every visitor

The winding roads that lead to Gokarna through rocky mountains and towering palm trees pass by the Gangavali and Agnashini rivers along the Karwar coast, which forms Gokarna’s seafront. There are five beaches in total here: Gokarna’s Main Beach, an open golden stretch of sand flanked by cafés, snack shacks and restaurants; Kudle Beach, known for its magnificent sunsets, evening handcraft market and bhajans; Om Beach named so because it is shaped like the OM symbol; Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach both of which boast equally as beautiful sea views and white sands, and are mostly inhabited by long-term visitors.

Swimming, cycling, surfing, shopping at your leisure

This small, picturesque, town surrounded by beaches and temples also boasts an array of other attractions. There are several motorbike and bicycle hire shops; boat trip rentals; surfing lessons; yoga and massage centres; a weekly vegetable market; and a Library, housing no less than 35,000 books. And then, of course, there’s the shopping which in Gokarna is integral to its charm and attraction. The streets of the main town are lined with small and big shops, selling everything from religious artefacts such as bronze statues, paintings, incense and postcards to brightly coloured knick-knacks, t-shirts, harem pants, embroidered camel leather shoes, and handbags.

All this is sold at each seller’s discretion, therefore, don’t be shy in bargaining. It is customary here. While Gokarna may have less to offer in terms of a night-life it makes up for it with its history, bucolic appeal and the locals, who are not only tourist-friendly but are also helpful and keen to keep their guests happy by adhering to the old adage, which stipulates that “guest is king”.