Serendipity is amazing. And more so when you are on a No Reservations trip. For the recent Gokarna trip, apart from the train tickets, we had not booked anything. The idea was to arrive in Gokarna and then play it by the ear. It turned out to be one of the best ways to experience a place. With no fixed itinerary to define our time in Gokarna, after breakfast we set off on the Great Beach Trek traversing the hillocks overlooking the sea, we walked comfortably between Om and Half Moon. But the harsh afternoon sun and a fast depleting water supply meant that we struggled to finish the final stretch. However, a quick round of electral and some rest under a thorny bush later, we made the final push and arrived at the shores of Paradise.
Paradise beach until a few years ago was home to guesthouses and shacks owned by the locals of the nearby Belekan village, belonging to the Uttar Kannada district. However, they were all demolished owing to the CRZ violations, so now apart from the remnants of broken down walls – nothing much remains at Paradise. During the season, many travellers set up camp here under the shady groves of coconut palm and practice the art of doing nothing. We found ourselves in the company of only our boatman who was waiting for us (to take us back to Kudle). The coconuts on the trees all around were tempting and we even tried to bring a few down but all in vain. When Satish, our boatman walked up to us and asked if we wanted coconut water. We nodded our head vigorously and he took us to the northern end of the beach where a man in his fifties greeted us with a sickle in one hand. He hesitantly told us that he could get us the coconuts but for Rs. 40, if only the price was agreeable, he would climb up the tree. We could have paid the double if he asked for more, and with our nod he deftly climbed up the tree and threw down 10-12 coconuts. His assistant opened up the coconuts and we kissed the orifice to drink in the elixir of life or so it seemed.
Narayan, spent a few years in Bombay (we discerned this from his Hindi) returned to Belekan to marry off his sisters and look after his ageing mother. He was one of the owners of one of the many shacks that stood where we sat. But after the demolitions, he started selling fruits and coconut waters to the tourists who wandered to the shores of Paradise. He insisted on charging us for 8 coconuts when we had had 9. A discount, during a time when the season hasn’t began must come from a person with a big heart. We politely declined and savoured the delicious malai that came with the coconut. Courtesy of the malai, we could delay lunch by a few hours. Satish took us back to Kudle.
That same evening, we decided to walk down to the main town. To witness the contrast that Kudle and Gokarna are. After visiting the Atma Lingam at the Mahabaleshwar temple, we walked down towards the beach. Gobi manchurian stalls lined one side of the beach while on the other, there were many pilgrims, visiting the beach after taking darshan at the temple.
We turned around and noticed a board that simply said ‘Home Fish Meals available one minute walk’ We unanimously decided to follow the arrow and walked down an empty road, not sure of what to expect. After exact two minutes, the same board appeared and pointed us to a cluster of homes. At the entrance of the Honni household, stood two ladies who welcomed us in and said that they would be glad to serve us fish thalis in an hour or so. We agreed on the number and trooped back towards the bus stand in search of filter coffee (which we found at Pai Restaurant). Bolts of lightning kept streaking the night sky the entire evening and a cool breeze began to blow as we wandered around the lanes of Gokarna. An hour passed quickly and we found ourselves caught in a heavy downpour. We took shelter at a travel agency and the good folks there called up two autos.
We crammed ourselves in and reached the Honni household. We splashed muddy water as we ran through a slushy gully to reach the dimly lit courtyard of Honni’s. We were ushered into another room where two tables stood in the dark. We settled down and three kerosene lamps were lit. Under another lamp, the chef at large – Mrs. Honni fried surmai and bangda which was being marinated in a mixture of chilli powder, salt and other spices. The matriarch of the family sat on the floor and started plating up the food. A big bowl of rice, another bowl of bright saffron fish curry (mandeli or anchovies), home made pickle and the fish fry. Simple, wholesome and absolutely tasty – we didn’t talk much throughout the meal. We devoured the simple fare and had more helpings of fried fish. Within half an hour, we were done and we sat contentedly, allowing the heady meal to lead us into food coma.
But our autos were waiting to take us back to the hilltop of Kudle, so after thanking the family profusely, we took a group photo and set out into the night. The auto rickshaws made their way noisily through the silent, narrow streets of Gokarna to reach the hilltop where we tried to identify Aquarius and Orion and spent a quiet few moments under a starry sky. Serendipity had ensured that this day would remain etched in our memories for a long time to come.
Photo courtesy: Team Breakfree and Rachit Rawat
Title Courtesy: Aamna Khan
Text by Rushikesh Kulkarni