The Uttara Kannada district is a perfect picture of nature’s bountiful landscapes dotted with amazing waterfalls, spiritual temples and wonderful beaches. Uttara Kannada or North Kanara, located on the western coast with a 140 kilometer coastal line has varied geographical features with thick forests rich in flora and fauna, perennial rivers. Tourism in Uttara Kannada had initially capitalized on the holy shrines that dot the entire district. Besides Gokarna, Banavasi and Murudeshwar are the other sacred pilgrimages for Hindu devotees. The landscape is a visual delight with plenty of green cover all around.
Going back in time, Uttara Kannada was part of the great Kannada empires that had noticable influences on the rest of Karnataka. After being a part of the Kadamba empire from 350 – 525 BC, Uttara Kannada came under the dominions of the Chalukya dynasty. Then a succession of dynasties such as the Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara Empire ruled over this land. Uttara Kannada was the site of the Third Anglo-Maratha War in 1818.
Gokarna, at its very heart is an idyllic and laid-back temple town courted by the Arabian Sea on one side and the Western Ghats on the other. It is primarily known for two reasons: its beaches and temples. Beyond the temples and beaches Gokarna lives on in the two streets that run through the town. For most of this time, Gokarna has been a village of farmers who grow brinjal (eggplant), basale, spinach, tondekai, red harive and fisherman. For most of its time it had one single distriction: a temple that is believed to contain the soul of Lord Shiva. Gradually, Western backpackers started to make their way to Gokarna in the 1990s and 2000s. Lately, there is steady influx of both Indian and western tourists into Gokarna and the locals are trying to catch up with the rapid modernization.
For those who are looking to pack in more than just beaches on your visit to Gokarna, Yana is a perfect getaway. Yana is famous for the towering twin rock formation that brings in visitors by the droves. It is known for the unusual karst rock formation. It is a part of the Sahyadri Mountain range of the Western Ghats. It is considered a biodiversity hotspot of the Sahyadri hill range and unlike anything that is there anywhere in India (or even the world).
The first sight that catches your eye as you enter this peaceful and seaside town is the majestic statue of Lord Shiva perched atop the Kanduka Hill overlooking the Arabian Sea. Murudeshwara is the home to the second tallest statue of Lord Shiva in the world. The height of the statue is about 35 meters (123 feet). Though there are a plethora of things to do in Murudeshwar, the spiritual town’s biggest draws are the revered Murudeshwar temple and the heart-shaped Netrani island offering excellent scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities.
One of the not so well known places in the Uttara Kannada district is the Mirjan Fort. What seems to be a peaceful (and slight neglected) place today was once a busy port. It is located about 20 kilometers from Gokarna and 12 kilometers from Kumta.
There are many version of the origins of this fort. According to one version, the fort was built in 16th century by Chennabhairav Devi, Queen of Gersoppa, a subordinate of Vijayanagar kings. Rani Chennabhairav Devi was also known as the Pepper Queen. Spices such as pepper, nutmeg, saltpetre and betel nut were the major exports of this region. The Pepper Queens’s reign between 1552 – 1606 is considered to be the longest in the history of female domination in Indian history.
The Om Beach that traces the is shaped like the Hindu symbol ॐ is the most popular of Gokarna’s Beaches. Om Beach which is tucked between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea attracts tourists from all over the world because of the beautiful white sand and the lovely rock creations. The beach also hosts small cafes, fishermen boats and eateries along the coastline. You can also enjoy traditional water sports activities here: banana boat ride, bumper boat ride, dolphin spotting, fishing trips, jetskiing, speed boating. You are sure to bump into sun burnt hippies, western backpackers, red robed Buddhist monks, yoga enthusiasts and Indian nomads strolling on this beautiful beach. With multiple cafes popping up along the Om Beach you are bound to see foreign travellers head to escape the crowds of Goa. The infrastructure on the Om Beach has gradually improved over the course of many years.
The half-moon-beach is a small underrated beach which lies close to the Om Beach. There are plenty of rocks and small patches of sand. The sand is clean and sparkles. Numerous huts in the classical coastal style of construction line the beach giving it a traditional look. The half-moon beach can also be accessed by boat from Om Beach.
Once you are in the half-moon beach, all you can see is the infinite ocean in front of you. And the thick and luscious jungle behind you making you feel as if you are surviving on an uninhabited island. IT is not as popular as the other beaches of Gokarna. But if you are looking to enjoy some sun and the beach in solitude, this is the place for you.
To get to the Half Moon beach, walk towards the southern end of Om beach and walk up a narrow passage that leads to Dolphin cafe. The Dolphin Cafe has a beautiful view of the entire cost of Om beach. Right outside the case, you can see a white sign board indicating directions towards the Half Moon beach.
Kudle Beach lies between the Gokarna main beach and the Om /beach. It offers a quiet and serene atmosphere as it is not as crowded as the other beaches of Gokarna. Many locals prefer this beach as it is usually not invaded by large groups of tourists. It is usually deserted in the non-peak months i.e from March to October. The sea is calm and usually safe for a swim although one needs to be careful about the sea currents. During the peak season, the locals put up temporary food shacks popup on the beach. You can either simply enjoy the sunset, practice yoga, talk a walk along the shore, enjoy the beauty of fluctuating tides or simply contemplate life while you are at Kudle beach.
The coastal highway runs from roughly north–south along the western coast of India, parallel to the Western Ghats. It connects Panvel (a city south of Mumbai) to Kanyakumari, passing through Karwar, Murudeshwara, Udupi and Mangalore.