I will always remember the first time I heard about Om Beach. It’s a memory from a time when life was all about crisp uniforms, polished shoes, worrying over my handwriting and memorising convent choir songs. After having spent all day with our teachers trying their best to make us girls stay quiet, the ride back home in the school van would give us ample out of control chitchatting time. Yesterday’s match, Sachin’s century, the newest ARR song, word building games and window seat politics. Quite happening! One such conversation introduced me to a sea shore shaped like Om. I thought my friend was fibbing. I asked her again, but how can a shoreline be in the shape of Om. The innocent Tamil girl in me was imagining the Tamil word form. It didn’t even strike me to question her back then to explain the formation. But her conviction made me believe that such a place could exist. As I grew older and my geography, common sense and exposure to Hindi got better, it struck me! It’s just one of those little things that make me chuckle. While that memory has always been my number one reason to visit Gokarna someday, the hiking trails from one beach to another was a compelling second.
And just like that years later, like how things that are meant to be, come to be, Gokarna too happened; as a sudden let’s just go plan.
After a hauntingly beautiful bus ride through the Maharashtra-Karnataka border, we (the husband and I) got dropped off at Kumta. We quickly freshened ourselves up and took a local bus to Gokarna and in half hour, we found ourselves amidst vegetable vendors transporting fresh produce and sleepy auto drivers, passing the buck as to who would drive us to our stay.
We got off at Om Beach and had to climb down and walk a bit to our Airbnb stay. I wasn’t prepared for the sights that awaited me this early in the morning. The fisherfolks at work, the rocks and the crashing white waves. Transfixing. It took us quite an effort to keep our eyes off the sea and find our way to the cottage. After breakfast, we spent the entire day beach bumming and walking up and down the Om stretch, from the Shiva rocks to the Parvathi rocks and beyond. The beach was quite empty and most of the off-season visitors like us were chilling at Namaste Cafe. While I’ve heard so much about the place coming alive during the season, the beach shacks that are a steal deal, the off-season trip did have its own charm. For one, we had the beach, the rocks, the cosy sit-under-the-tree spots all to ourselves. My favourite spot is the one with two huge brown rocks forming a gorge on the shore through which the water splashes in. I even tried walking in between the rocks with the slight fear of getting my healthy frame stuck. Om Beach is filled with many such delightful spots.
The only bummer though was the police guard on duty. He made it a point to hold us off from hiking to Paradise Beach, for which I was so looking forward to. The high tides were covering the shores completely and we simply gave in and headed to Kudle Beach instead.
The thing about Gokarna, and probably the entire stretch from Karwar down to Kumta, is the cliffs that rise up from the shore. You find menacing rocks, hill terrains and really narrow shorelines. This is just perfect if you love both the mountains as well as the beach; like a place inspired by dreams.
Kudle beach, we were told is a 15-minute hike from the Om Beach. I swear to God I have no clue how it happened, but we lost our way and found ourselves climbing rocks and cliffs. The menacing views and the howling waves were scary, beautiful and addictive. At one point we knew we were completely off track and made our own path through the bushes and the rocks, taking turns with the camera and the water bottle as we needed our hands to climb in some places. It took us about 40 minutes, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had being lost.
Finally, we reached what seemed to be the Gokarna Cliff, after which the path was pretty straight. We even saw a few workers down the hill, with some road laying work happening. Topographically speaking it’s a brilliant place, although the waters weren’t as clear. The big plus was that the beach was almost abandoned, barring the two guys who were trying hard to surf. We found a sweet spot between the rocks and settled ourselves facing the waves. After long random conversations and being completely tanned we decided to walk back. It was only while returning that we realised there’s an easy path that takes you right down to a park area from where you have steps running down to the Om Beach. But trust me this is a really boring walk compared to our lost pathway along unnamed cliffs.
Led by our feet, we traced the shorelines through the day and again by the moonlight. And just like that two days passed us by like a dream. The monsoon drizzles were on and off, but even that couldn’t keep the sun’s heat away. When it was time for us to leave, we left behind a bit of our hearts, just enough to make sure we visit again.
We rode away from Gokarna, but the trip was far from over, as we had another dream destination to check off our list. Last monsoons it was Athirapalli falls, this time around the mighty Jog Falls. Being the map hoggers that we both are, we knew we’ve been hovering our cursor over this place far too long to miss it, having come this far. Jog falls is just about 110 kms from Gokarna. Throw in the Mirjan Fort en route and it makes for a perfect day.
We started early around 7 and our first stop for the day was the Mirijan Fort near Kumta. Growing up, my only visual reference for a fort was the song Uyire from the movie Bombay. Although the one that comes in the song, is the Bekal fort in North Kerala, Mirjan Fort came close enough. It was everything I’ve always imagined a fort to be. Long stretches of walls, gone green post the monsoons with tiny plants growing through every crack. Abandoned, melancholic and vast with echoing stories.
The architecture of the fort manifests both Portuguese as well as Islamic designs. The round bastions are characteristic of the Indian Mughal forts of the 17th century, while
the tall square watchtowers along the southern walls belong to the 16th century Portuguese era.
We explored the fort ruins wall to wall walking through several touch me not plants. We spotted a huge circular well, hidden passageways and steps that lead down presumably to the well, Hindu deities under a large tree and an open square which I overheard from sudden company to be a mosque or some sort of a prayer hall. I also climbed up the watch towers hoping to spot the sea at some point, but in vain.
After spending a good hour and a half at Mirjan, we were all set to speed away to Jog falls. We grabbed a quick yet heavy breakfast on the way to keep our energies up. We reached Jog Falls close to noon. It was quite a long drive and the roads were surprisingly empty. We reached and the view that greeted us was simply magnificent.
Jog falls is the second highest plunge waterfalls in India. Although my random memory reminds me that according to my 7th std textbooks, Jog falls was the highest. I wonder how the drop happened. The signposts along the way refer to the falls as Joga, Jogadagundi, Gerosoppa or simply as the World Famous Jog Falls. Jog falls as a whole refers to four waterfalls – Raja, Rani, Rocket and Roarer, rather Raja Rani Thirudan Police as in my head! Together, these four streams create magic. Magic that is not enough to be just seen and photographed from the numerous viewpoints. They pull you closer, and the closest you will ever get is by climbing down 1400 steps to the bottom of the falls. A task which most of the tourists skipped, don’t ask me why. In fact, a bunch of guys were climbing down, when one of their friends, this loud-mouthed girl came running down telling them that it’s not worth it and the view would probably be the same. The poor guys turned their back on the most beautiful sight they’d have probably had that year. Tough luck!
The climb down is easy, takes just about 25 minutes. And the reward is a stunning piece of nature’s artwork that you’ll find yourself gaping at widemouthed. I felt like I was in one of those nat geo videos that make you feel really tiny. Tilting your head 90 degrees is the only way to spot the top of the falls. The Roarer is named so for a reason. The roar silences your thoughts, your words and your very existence. All your hear is the Sharavathi river flowing down with all her might. The water magically disappears by the time is reaches the bottom. For all the water that flows, there’s just a small rain puddle below. The entire time I tried following the water trail to see where the water disappears. Some hit the rock, some turn into mist and some just escape my naked eyes, glueing my eyes to its trail even more. The water sprays do reach you, not in an obvious way, but in an invisible misty manner. The landing area is secured with a high fence and three super strict guards who weed off any kind of monkeying around. Inspite of the fence, it provides the best view of the Jog one could ask for.
The only thing beautiful enough to distract your eyes from the falls are the tiny birds circling the falls. These are the only beings you spot from down below at that height. They look like the glittering winged keys as in Harry Potter. In fact, I thought they were insects only to be corrected later on by our telescope guy. Watch out for this guy. He’s the one who can show you the breezy pink orchids in between the falls dancing to the water’s tunes, and the rock formation that looks like Lord Hanuman’s face on a closer look. He usually is around the view point area. The upward climb took us just over an hour, and it was quite a task, but for an experience that was totally worth the effort.
It was time for us to leave, as we had tickets for the night bus from Honnavar to Pune. We reached Honnavar well ahead of time. The trip at this point was turning out to be endless 😀 we headed to the closest beach to catch the sunset. The quiet and clean Kasarkod beach, not to be confused with Kerala’s Kasargod. The Kasarkod Eco beach is a clean flat stretch with crispy white waves. We spent an hour here waiting for the Karnataka sun to set and bid us goodbye. Needless to say, like a true Arabian Sea sunset, the sky colours were in different colours, a bright blue, a dreamy pink and lavender and a gutsy grey, aptly summing up the scenes from our trip – the beach, the fort and the falls 🙂