The trip from Hampi to Gokarna sounded easy. A straight shot on an overnight bus, and we even booked far enough ahead in advance to get a sleeper cabin. What could go wrong?
We should have known it wouldn’t be that easy when we showed up to take the tuk tuk to the bus station and the first guy we talked to happened to have a ticket for the exact same seats as us. In response to our inquiries, the bus guys gave us various answers ranging from there’s two busses leaving, to no problem don’t worry, to your bus left early and you missed it. Clearly they are all full of shit.
Eventually we made it on the bus and were given a different sleeper cabin that happened to be unoccupied. The bus left two hours late, but hey, at least we were on it and had a sleeper. Happiness and contentment returned. Next thing we know, it’s 2 am and the bus is stopped and the lights turned on. “What’s going on?” people asked. “You have to get off the bus” we were told. “Why?” we asked. “You have to get off the bus” he repeated. “But why?” We have a direct ticket to Gokarna! No answer. After much tired confusion the bus guy said the bus is broken. Well, I guess that makes sense, these things do happen, after all. We all got off the bus and found that we were parked next to another bus full of tired and confused people. In the meantime, the bus guys were switching all the luggage between the two busses and refusing to answer any more questions. It turns out the bus was not broken, they simply lied to us about it being a direct bus when we bought the ticket, and were continuing to lie to us about the situation as they were forcing two full buses of people to switch buses with each other at 2 am! Dicks! Eventually we all realized we had no other recourse at that time and switched buses. Off we go, and finally got back to sleep. For two more hours. Then the bus stops again and some guy comes on saying “Gokarna, Gokarna”. Luckily I woke up and said we’re going to Gokarna. “Come, come”, he said. Yes, it was another unexpected bus change at 4 am.
We drove for an hour and got dropped off at the bus station at 5 am. I tried to sleep on a bench, but Jen managed to find a tuk tuk to take us to the beach. We slept on the beach for a few hours until the guesthouses started to open up. I was pretty grumpy by then, and not feeling great. That turned into a full on case of Delhi Belly with all the fun exorcisms and expulsions that entails. Pretty rough 24 hours. Finally though, now we are at the serene and sublime beach at Gokarna. My health improved after a few days and we have spent the last week working on bettering ourselves. Running, squats, and yoga to strengthen our bodies, and meditation and books to improve our minds. Not only is it good practice, but we are trying to get in better shape for the Himalayas and some long-distance trekking. Timing for the trekking is a bit tricky as we have to be done with Nepal before the monsoons start in the summer. Before that, we wanted to visit some places farther south in India, spend a month in Sri Lanka, do some volunteering with Mary Brinson’s friends in Hyderabad, and visit north west India where the Dalai Lama is living. Sadly, even with a 6 month trip it seems there is still not enough time to do everything.
We have decided to save Sri Lanka for another trip, after further discussion. It’s small, so hopefully we can visit on a future so-called normal vacation that the corporate titans deign to bless us with so infrequently. On the one hand it’s great that wi-fi is so prevalent, but on the other hand everyone here has a phone and/or computer so the connections are really slow. Usually only email and Facebook work, which is nice, but not at all helpful when it comes to researching destinations and plane tickets. We might have to hike into town and go old-school at the internet café. That was the only option last time I traveled. The more things change…
Life here in Gokarna is pleasantly slow. In the morning cows amble by the guesthouse restaurant, peeking their large oval heads through the entrance, hopeful that someone will offer a chapati or a banana. More often than not they are rewarded with blank stares back or sometimes a bark from the local semi-wild dog. The cows lumber on, unperturbed. I’ve seen them do better in town, especially on market day when they can sneak a mouthful of fruit while passing by on the street. For that they get a yell or a swat with a small stick, but it’s worth it.
We walk the mile into town every other day or so for fruit, water, and other necessities that are cheaper there. Not that we spend a lot here at the guesthouse. We upgraded from a thatch hut with sand floor to a concrete bungalow with our very own bathroom for $10. A meal costs around $2, and the culinary selection is surprisingly diverse for such a small place. Pretty much all the guesthouses offer a selection of Italian, Chinese, Tibetan, Israeli, and of course Indian food, both vegetarian and non. And they generally taste pretty good at that. I often wonder how the supply lines run to allow these remote guesthouses on the beach, none closer to a road than 200 meters through farmland, to all be fully stocked and ready to cook you a creamy mushroom pasta or a palak paneer with naan any night of the week. At around $20 a day for the both of us to eat and lounge in paradise, I’ll take it. One dish they specialize in here is gobi manchuri. Apparently somewhere near here once lived a Chinese man wanted to create a Chinese dish using local ingredients, and by now even I know that there’s cauliflower aplenty around here. The cauliflower is cut into thumb-sized pieces, breaded, and fried. Those are added to a fiery red sauce and heated together. The result almost, with my eyes closed, tastes like buffalo chicken wings, my favorite.
We actually had our first gobi manchuri when we stumbled upon a festival in town one night. There were food vendors and we had two small plates of the gobi and a cup of exotically flavored corn, a small tasty meal all fur under a buck. They had a few performers of varying abilities, but one was an accomplished sitar player, so I finally got to hear some sitar music I’d been hoping for. We declined the camel ride on offer and walked back along the water on the beach under the stars.
Whether south to town or north past the fishing villages (if a few thatch huts is a village) along the beach, we walk at sunset nightly. Everyone, it seems, has the same idea and there’s good people watching. The Indian groups and families are fun to watch as they frolic and laugh in the shallow waves, fully clothed. It’s clear that they have rarely, if ever, been to the ocean before. Their joy is infectious. There’s hippies on the beach doing yoga or practicing to be a fire dancer. There is a surprisingly huge number of naked white babies on the beach. It never occurred to me that this would be a popular Russian family vacation destination. Funny.
We have also done a few day walks to the neighboring beaches – Kudle Beach, Om Beach (it is shaped like the symbol for OM) and the last tiny one Half Moon beach. Each beach is a little smaller and simpler in regards to accommodation with Half Moon beach being just one guest house with mud and thatch huts and no electricity. The bay was gorgeous for a swim and a rest before we headed back to Gokarna. The beach we are on (Middle Beach) is 4 miles long so it makes for a great stroll in the mornings and evenings. The ocean is surprisingly warm, high 70s, but not at all clear. Great for swimming, but no snorkeling. After a dip we usually make generous use of our hammocks, reading contentedly in the shade. (Jen bought a new hammock for $3 here – what a deal!!) Paradise, really. Hard to believe 2 weeks slipped by already. If not for the inevitable monsoons, we could easily let two months slip by. Alas, onward we ride. Next stop Kannur.