From my shack I walk through the concrete country road, into the very heart of Gokarna. I am still struck by the complete strangeness of this place. It only takes walking down the streets of Gokarna to once again remind me how different this place is.
The main street ends at the temple street. The temple street is a maze of buildings and narrow lanes that runs along walls of the main temple. The houses are traditional tiled roof brick houses, with little or no open spaces, their front doors opening to the street.
I walk through, breathing the pungent smell of labyrinth streets lined with rustic building, experiencing the crowds of people drifting in different directions, keeping off myself from dodging rickshaws, motorcycles, stray dogs and pies that fell out of the holy cows strolling through the streets.
There are also plenty of cows walking and laying on the street, quietly ruminating. You can see people welcoming sacred cows for their holiness. Shop owners lure me with “Come sir, buy from my shop”. The streets though unclean, to my surprise were free usual heaps of filth.
I hung around with a holy cow and her suckling calf on the streets, farnished I enter the Pai Hotel. I find almost all the space occupied by spiritual tourists and western backpackers. A western couple were generous enough to share their table. Steaming idlis, spicy sambar and coffee prepared in fresh cow milk was satiating. As I step out of the restaurant, my walkway is obstructed by a funeral procession.. Death is just another phase, and it is imbibed on the expressions of each individual in the procession.
So what else can I do in this medieval city? I head towards the ancient bathing tank Koti Teertha where pilgrims pay obeisance to ancestors. A line of pilgrims with tonsured head wait for a priest. The stench of green sluggish waters of Koti Teertha was nauseating. I climb the steep, large stairs up the holy tank and walk away through the back alleyways of Gokarna, past a huge banyan tree that looked like the abode of snake gods. Many idols of various gods with snakes around them and large carved snake idols smeared with turmeric powder filled the place around the banyan tree.
I have lost my way and I feel bit disoriented. What a place this is? A bit shaky I try to find the right alleyway to get back to the main street and a friendly priest shows me the right directions. He responds warmly to my thank you.
The main beach is a stone throw away from the Mahabaleshwara temple and facing the beach is the main entrance of the temple.
This village a quaint blend of divinity, drugs, sun, sea, sands and hills has a life of its own and a chaotic harmony prevails all around. Scavenging cows, narrow alleys, rustic buildings, friendly tribal women selling flowers, western sojourners, street teeming with devout Hindus going in and out of the temple, scent of burning incense, clinking of cymbals, rhythmic chimes of temple bells, reverberating rhythms of sacred chants, manoeuvring mopeds and scooters, Sadhus or holy men smoking charas, friendly cops cautioning the visitors to keep away from the sadhus, pious men blessing and sprinkling holy water and stalking you for Dakshina (a Vedic concept of donation or gift), beggars bugging you for alms, temple priests leisurely cycling around, backpackers loitering at the numerous tea stall lining the street, Schoolgirls in uniform hurrying to schools – Yes Gokarna is a place of contrasts and contradictions.
Yet, through all of this oddness and confusion, there is a certain charm that pervades here. Where else can you walk ancient pathways and feel how it must have been in the medieval period? Here you can get so close to the past, free from endless, self-defeating, pointless pursuit of the present.
It is surprising. This city is so old, and yet has so much life. This city is warm and welcoming as my host Mabi. With a sigh I pack my bags to forge my way homewards, thanking Mabi for his warmth and generosity, and board the rattling state road transport bus to Kumta. At Kumta awaits my luxurious air-conditioned Volvo bound for Calicut.
Gokarna is mystical, adding even more colors to vivid picture that is Karnataka. The soul-swelling beauty of this place followed me all the way home. I resolved to return one day to his peaceful paradise.