June 21, 2016 3:21 pm
Throughout the backpacking world I’ve come across many places that have been casualties of their own beauty. As word gets out about a beautiful place floods of backpackers and tourists alike flood to see what it’s all about. I’ve often criticised the cramped dirty streets of Koh Phi Phi as more bars and hostels are forced onto the tiny island. Sometimes I worry about the untouched beauty of Koh Rong and what its future has in store for it. But for me Goa has been the biggest casualty, hurt by decades of package tourism, the sleepy fishing villages have long since been replaced by towering hotel blocks.
Although Goa does still have its hidden pockets of beauty, the northern beaches of Arambol and Vagator attract the dreadlocked Israeli crowd and are great backpacker beaches. When I was travelling through the area I often found myself wishing there was a secluded place where I could get stuck for a few weeks, get by on next to nothing and enjoy the laid back beaches of Goa’s past.
One night I got talking to a grey-haired wiry old hippie in a bar in Vagator. He asked me what I thought of India and more specifically Goa. I explained that although I was happy for the parties that come with more mainstream tourism (especially after a very quiet 2 months in North India), I was looking for a quiet beach with nothing more than a few beach huts. He explained drunkenly that Goa was the wrong place for this, and although you might have found it in the 60’s and 70’s, to find what I was looking for I’d have to head to the next state down, Karnataka, and visit Om Beach near a small town called Gokarna.
Within a couple of days, myself and few friends I’d met in Goa were in unreserved seats on the train to Gokarna. The journey was relatively short for Indian standards and we rolled into Gokarna Road mid-afternoon. A cheap Auto-Rickshaw took us straight to the beach (although we were searched by Police on the way into town so do be careful when travelling here with anything naughty). As soon as I arrived I knew it was the right place, the long curved beach had around 6 bars/restaurants on it, each with its own collection of straw beach hut accommodation. We opted for the more expensive ones at the end of the beach (still only costing Rs. 200 per night).
The next week was spent swimming, reading and talking to the handful of backpackers who made the trip south from commercialised Goa. Within a day or two I had completely forgotten what the sound of traffic was. We headed into the small town pilgrim town of Gokarna a few times but felt pretty underwhelmed and soon returned to Om Beach. The nightlife was extremely low key, most of the establishments on the beach would sell you firewood to start a bonfire. Most nights were spent sitting round the fire talking, smoking and drinking until the fire died and plunged the beach into darkness.
Om Beach is always going to stay with me as one of my favourite backpacker beaches and the only downside is that it could keep you in its curved cove for too long.