Living all my life in Karnataka, I must admit the Konkan coast has always captivated me with its natural beauty and cultural offerings. Be it a morning walk on the calm Panambur beach or a trek up the Sadashivgad fort in Karwar and Gokarna, the winds of the Konkan continue to fascinate the traveler in me. In Gokarna, I have always felt the culture is a blend of Karavali, tribal and north Karnataka culture. I believe this brings in a diverse variety found nowhere else in Karnataka. In contrast, places like Mangalore and Murudeshwara hold up the values of Kanara or Karavali region, the name given to Karnataka’s coastline. Further, being the closest to Maharashtra’s coastline, Gokarna is also part of the Konkan culture.
So do you wake up and smell Aloo Poha or Neer Dosa? No, that is not yet the trick question. You might wake up and smell Poha and Chai in your home, and have Dosa and Khara bhath with filter coffee in the nearby hotel, while across the road would be a Caucasian guesthouse serving Muesli with yogurt and orange juice! On one of my recent visits, I reached Gokarna town early morning and just as I planned breakfast, I gulped down some Chow-chow Bhath. So it is not unusual in Gokarna to find a bit of Bangalore’s Uppittu-Kesari bhath combo as well!
The Kudle Hike
From the temple town of Gokarna, a marked walking trail leads travelers to Kudle beach, the first beach down south. This is where a change of culture happens. The town beach of Gokarna beckons devotees who bathe to wash their sins and visit the Mahabaleshwara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. However, as you walk up the trail, the sighting of Caucasian backpackers increases, and you feel the surprising transition from a sacred Hindu beach to a chilled out hippie beach! Over the years, Gokarna has become a hippie paradise, inviting western travelers who are tired of exploring Goa.
On my hike to Kudle beach, I stopped to admire a small shrine; one that had always been there but almost always skipped my visit earlier. It is a simple shrine of Shiva enclosed in a hexagonal temple and painted with Hindu gods over a yellow pastel base. The part that intrigues me about these visits to the coast is these local temples and the stories each one has to say. Not far from this temple along the trail to Kudle beach is the ‘Go-karna’, meaning the cow’s ear. It is a rock in the shape of dew-drop with an entrance in the middle. The pleasant surprise is that, there are no guides stalking you to sell you this story; however, you could befriend a local and get the info.
Goli Bajjis and Mangalore Buns
In the evening, I strolled into the laid back town and sat at a small café for snacks and tea. Cafes along the beach serve pizzas, pasta, falafel, hummus rolls and grilled sandwiches. The cafés that cater only to locals make Goli Bajjis and Mangalore Buns. This is very typical of the Karnataka side of the Konkan coast. Unlike the Alu Bajjis we have in Bangalore, Goli Bajjis (or Golibaje) are mildly sweet and super fluffy fired snacks with no filling, no sambar on the side and only chutney.
And then there are Mangalore Buns. I used to eagerly wait till the evening when these are served freshly fried. Yes, they are fried, just like puris. Mangalore buns are a thick puris with bananas mashed into the dough. The taste of banana flavored – slightly sweet snack is best savored with chai. It comes close to Kajjaya, just not as sweet. Gokarna, being on the northern side of Karnataka, is a big user of chai (tea) and not coffee like us in Bangalore. Well, the variety is what we travel for!
Tell me, my friend, which color do you like?
As my trip stretched on, a young local girl approached me on the beach. She wanted to sell me beads. She was wearing a sari and hung a few hundred beaded necklaces on her arms and around a stick to sell. But the more amusing thing was her English. Not only did she speak in English when we switched languages, but she also spoke clearly using full sentences. She was not stalking me like local hawkers in tourist destinations. She was selling me what her tribe essentially makes and wears. Beads!
Her sales strategy was customized to the foreign tourist who is mesmerized by Indian culture and would not find a much of a difference in a few hundred rupees. In my view, she was educated enough to speak the language and reach out to potential customers. Did I mention it empowered a tribal woman in her living? I did my part of buying a few beads to gain the satisfaction of helping her.
Notably, older tribal women were also speaking simple English to sell fresh fruits off their handheld basket. These locals were not even dressed in proper clothes like the bead seller; they were still in tribal attire and as I guess, living with their clan outside Gokarna town limits. I felt the best form of support for a local economy is in buying fresh fruit from these hawkers. You eat fresh, leave no carbon footprint, help the local economy and pay much lesser than your stack of packed snacks.