Gokarna, India

Gokarna lies between a broad white-sand beach and the verdant foothills of the Western Ghats, 230 km north of Mangaluru. It is one of India’s most scenically situated sacred sites. Yet this compact little coastal town remained largely “undiscovered” by Western tourists until the early 1990s. It was then, when it began to attract dreadlocked and didgeridoo-toting neo-hippies fleeing the commercialization of Goa, some 60 km 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.

The best travel tips for visiting Gokarna

This vibrant Hindu holy town is blessed with atmospheric temples and exquisite crescent beaches and is ideal for serious unwinding.

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 Shiva was reborn from the underworld after a period of penance through the ear of a cow, or go-karna, thus giving the town its name.

Gokarna is also the home of one of India’s most powerful shivalingas – the atmalinga, which took root here having been carried off by Ravana, the evil king of Lanka, from Shiva’s home on Mount Kailash.

It is said Ravana’s brute force distorted the shivalingam to resemble the shape of a cow’s ear – another theory behind the town’s name.

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Gokarna, India © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Gokarna

From the Temples to the Beaches here are the best things to do in Gokarna.

#1 Take a glimpse of Atmalinga in Shri Mahabaleshwar

Enshrined in the mediaeval Shri Mahabaleshwar temple, the atmalinga (or pranalinga) is regarded as so auspicious that a mere glimpse of it will absolve a hundred sins.

Pilgrims to the religious site traditionally visit the beach first so they can shave their heads and take a ritual dip in the nearby sea, followed by a puja at the Shri Mahaganpati temple, a stone’s throw east of the Mahabaleshwar shrine, to propitiate the elephant-headed god Ganesh.

Foreign tourists are not allowed into the inner sancta of the main two temples but the parts you can visit are still extremely atmospheric.

#2 Duck into the 300-year-old Bhandikeri Math

One interesting holy place all visitors can get into is Bhandikeri Math, a short way east of the bathing tank. This three-hundred-year-old temple and learning centre has shrines to the deities Bhavani Shankar, Uma Maheshwari and Maruthi.

#3 Head to Kudle Beach, Gorkarna’s glorious sweep of sand

While Gokarna’s numerous temples, shrines and tanks are the big draw for Indian pilgrims, most Western tourists head for the beautiful beaches to the south of the more crowded town beach.

Kudle Beach is the longest and broadest of Gokarna’s shoreline, with decent surf too, though the water can be dangerous. This wonderful 1km-long sweep of golden-white sand sheltered by a pair of steep-sided promontories is now punctuated by dozens of restaurant-cum-accommodation ventures.

#4 Check out remote Half Moon and Paradise beaches

If you’re happy to pack your own supplies, Gokarna’s two most remote beaches lie another thirty-minute walk over the rocky hills. Half Moon and Paradise beaches are mainly for intrepid sun-lovers.

If you’re looking for near-total isolation – a sense of Goa perhaps thirty years ago – these are your best bet.

Paradise beach in Gokarna, India © Shutterstock

Paradise beach in Gokarna, India © Shutterstock

Best areas to stay in Gokarna

There is a better range of guesthouses than genuine hotels in Gokarna. As a last resort, you can nearly always find a bed in one of the spartan dharamshalas dotted around town. From the tranquil beachfront locations to the lively town centre, here’s where to stay in Gokarna.

Around Mahabaleshwar Temple

Gokarna is well served with guesthouses and you can almost always find a bed in one of the spartan dharamshalas dotted around Mahabaleshwar Temple.


For a sea view, there are plenty of basic options on Gorkana’s main beach whilst travellers looking for a more luxurious location should seek out the swanky hotels in and around Kudle Beach.

There’s an increasing number of options at the beaches, from basic huts to swanky resorts. Prices can double over the Christmas/New Year period.

Browse the best hotels in Gokarna.

Best restaurants and bars

From beachside shacks serving fresh seafood to bustling streets with lively bars, these are the best restaurants and bars are found in Gokarna.

Town centre

Gokarna town offers a good choice of places to eat, with a string of busy “meals” joints along Car St and the main road.

Kudle Beach

The beaches now have a plethora of places offering travellers’ favourites. Look out for the local sweet speciality gadbad.

View of Kudle Beach in Gokarna. Karnataka. India © Shutterstock

View of Kudle Beach in Gokarna. Karnataka. India © Shutterstock

How to get around

From bicycles to auto rickshaws, it is easy to get around Gokarna. Here’s how to do it.

By bike

Bicycles are available for rent from a stall next to Pai Restaurant.

By auto-rickshaw and taxi

Auto-rickshaws and taxis will take you to Om Beach, while auto-rickshaws take you along the paved path that goes almost all the way to Kudle Beach.

What is the best time to visit Gokarna?

The best time to visit Gokarna is during the winter months, from October to March, as the weather is pleasant and comfortable. The temperatures during this time range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F), making it ideal for beach activities and sightseeing. The humidity is relatively low, and the skies are clear, allowing for enjoyable outdoor experiences.

Visiting Gokarna during this period also coincides with the festive season, including Diwali and Christmas, which means the towncan be crowded, especially during weekends and holidays. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of October-November and February-March when the tourist numbers are relatively lower.

The summer months from April to June in Gokarna can be hot and humid, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C (95°F) or higher. The monsoon season from July to September brings heavy rainfall to the region, which can make it challenging to enjoy outdoor activities.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

How many days do you need in Gokarna?

If you're in Gokarna for beach time, you'll only need 2-3 days here. This allows you to pick between sweeps of sand like Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half Moon Beach, or Paradise Beach and spend each day basking in the sun.

If you have an inclination towards temple visits and cultural exploration, consider adding an day to your itinerary to visit Mahabaleshwar Temple, located in town.

Add an extra day or two if you want to use Gokarna as a base for trekking along the picturesque coastline or venturing into nearby hills and viewpoints.

How to get here

Most travellers will arrive at Gokarna by train or bus.

By train

Gokarna Road railway station is 9 km inland but buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws are available to take you into town.

By bus

The KSRTC Bus Stand, 300m north of Car St, is within easy walking distance of Gokarna’s limited accommodation.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 07.06.2023

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