India // Karnataka //


Among India’s most scenically situated sacred sites, GOKARNA lies between a broad white-sand beach and the verdant foothills of the Western Ghats, 230km north of Mangalore. Yet this compact little coastal town – a Shaivite centre for more than two millennia – remained largely “undiscovered” by Western tourists until the early 1990s, when it began to attract dreadlocked and didgeridoo-toting neo-hippies fleeing the commercialization of Goa, just over 60km north. Now it’s firmly on the tourist map, although the town retains a charming local character, as the Hindu pilgrims pouring through still far outnumber the foreigners who flock here in winter.

A hotchpotch of wood-fronted houses and red terracotta roofs, Gokarna is clustered around a long L-shaped bazaar. Its broad main road – known as Car Street – runs west to the town beach, which is a sacred site in its own right. Hindu mythology identifies it as the place where Rudra (another name for Shiva) was reborn after a period of penance through the ear of a cow from the underworld.

Gokarna is also the home of one of India’s most powerful shivalinga – the pranalingam, which came to rest here after being carried off by Ravana, the evil king of Lanka, from Shiva’s home on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.

More about India

20% off ebooks

Subscribe to the Rough Guides newsletter and get 20% off any ebook.

Join over 50,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month.