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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: the essence of India

Video: the essence of India

When Paris-based production company Bed & Breakfast reached out to us with a video that so perfectly captured the essence of India in all but a minute, we c…

04 May 2017 • Colt St. George insert_drive_file Article
In pictures: the little-visited treasures of South India

In pictures: the little-visited treasures of South India

After a week-long whistle-stop tour of central India's least-visited attractions, travel writer and photographer Lottie Gross shares her favourite photos. In…

07 Mar 2017 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

The Himalayan Queen, the Grand Trunk Express, the Deccan Odyssey… the very names of India’s trains are evocative of timeless style and old-school adventure…

09 Feb 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month