This October I celebrated two years since I first discovered my nerve to travel solo. So to humour myself a little more, I decided it was time to take off on yet another solo trip; the previous one being a good six months ago.
Destination: Om beach, Gokarna.
Gokarna (meaning cow’s ear) is situated along the western coast of India in the state of Karnataka. It’s known for its temples and stories from Hindu mythology. Though that has been overshadowed by the sun-and-sand along these seven beaches — Gokarna, Main, Kudle, Om, Paradise, Half Crescent and Nirvana.
It’s about 160 kilometers south of Goa (takes about 3 – 3.5 hours) and 680 kilometers from Mumbai.
Om beach is located south of Kudle beach (which is south of Gokarna beach) and earns its name because of its shape.
Getting there: As it’s that time of the year right after the monsoons, taking a train along one of India’s most scenic routes is a ‘must-do’. The train journey from Mumbai to Gokarna is an overnight one that takes about 13 – 13.5 hours and costs INR 500 (approx). The station to alight off is Gokarna Road. Autos and taxis are available right outside the railway station and charge around INR 300 for a distance of 15 kilometers. Bus tickets could cost you upto INR 2500 one way between Mumbai and Gokarna
Stay: Om beach offers some good options for one to stay at. I opted for Namaste Café – which if not for its rooms then definitely makes the cut for the upper deck at its restaurant that’s mostly reserved only for patrons staying at their hotel.
Raison d'être: To do nothing. Period.
#GenuineKoshchhans: What does ‘do nothing’ even mean? And how do ‘you’ do nothing?
‘Doing nothing’ on the train: A confirmed window-seat ticket is the stuff the traveller in me digs at. Sights and sounds from both inside (courtesy: co-travellers, vendors) and outside the train (courtesy: nature bedecked after the rains) kept me well occupied during those 13 odd hours.
A train journey (the more you do them, the more you’d agree with me) are an insight into the lives of the average Indian family – I, for one, was surrounded by two senior citizen couples off to Karwar for a break from city life in Mumbai #Respect;
A young couple with their year old kid who my heart went out to because of the ‘humidity-unfriendly’ clothes he was made to don #SighParenthood;
And two RAC (Reserved Against Cancellation) gentlemen one of who I let have my berth during the day as they’d otherwise have to share one seat throughout.
While the vendors kept me omnoming, it was Mother Earth who had me torn between staring agape at the green carpet cover stretching over land, plateaus and hills dotted by wild flowers of every size and colour only to be enticed by butterflies.
That’s when I wrote in my diary: Train journeys are about fleeting memories. You can either sit in anticipation to get that one good click or you could sit back soaking in the entire landscape with your every pore but no click!
‘Doing nothing’ at the beach: Frankly speaking, this is the most easiest of all. For the three days I was at Namaste Café I realized I’d worked out a routine (a realization that dawned on me much much later) – wake up, head to the upper deck at the restaurant that overlooked the beach, stay put and head back to the room post dinner #Easy (Not quite however if you are wired and plugged in to a task list on a day on day basis. Easing into this state of liberation can then pose somewhat to be a challenge.)
Armed with nothing but a book to read and a diary to write in, the sound of the sea and the breeze I realized were my most critical muses.
Inspiration, however, even for a solo traveller on a ‘do nothing’ mission, is incomplete without the people. My intention behind this solo trip (and refusing company from everyone who wanted to tag along) was to enjoy some downtime i.e. get far away from the maddening crowd. Little did I realize that as the timing coincided with a long weekend, I inadvertently ran straight into this maddening crowd! #FML
So I entertained myself watching almost everyone indulge in selfies, group-selfies, posing when being photographed by this ‘being’ with a DSLR #DSLRHaiTohMainPhotographerFailMoments
And it wasn’t all that bizarre either. On Day 1 just as I was getting used to the throngs of people on the beach sometimes howling in general when not howling back at their already howling kids (yes, we Indians are a noisy bunch) and the numbers around me at the restaurant, being the only solo person in there at a table when everyone else was scrambling for space to sit, I was approached by two 35-something men on whether they could join me at my table. This moments after I’d WhatsApp’d my mother that I really wanted to have a beer without drawing any (let alone unwanted) attention towards myself. Of course I decided against the beer myself soon after. Back to the two at my table I decided it was alright to have company. Interestingly enough it turned out quite well with conversations only veering around places we’d travelled to and places we wanted to travel to. I think what took me by surprise was when the waiter at my table enquired with me whether these two were being a bother and if I wanted them to move #GoodSamaritan
So besides chatting up with other fellow travellers and conjuring up wisecracks in my diary to share with my folks later, doing nothing also included perching myself on a little rock high above the sea only to be lured by the waves crashing at the bottom. Equally important was the time spent in pigging on all the food and sea-food in particular the restaurant had to offer.
And I observed. A snippet from what I penned then:
She hears them converse. They talk about business to an unseen face over their phone or about politics to the face in front of them as they scroll down their phones.
She sees kids frolicking in the sand sometimes stumbling over their own feet bawling crazily much to the annoyance of their already embarrassed parents.
Someone’s stirring sugar crystals at the bottom of their chai (tea) cup. Another’s still trying to get that selfie perfected.
She drowns those distractions in the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. But these people around her – they seem happy as if delighted to be let out of a prison. The prison of monotony mayhaps? The rigour of a regime? Following the diktat of the norms no one knows who wrote?
Will their shiny happy images redeem them from this spell?
It’s alright to be uncomfortable on the first day of your solo travel – even if this isn’t your first solo trip. Find a corner that’s less ‘happening’ if it’ll help you ease a bit.
People around you may not be used to a solo traveller. Whether in the train (or any other local transport) or the restaurant and hotel, come prepared to be ‘watched’. And if you’re a solo traveller with a pen and paper/diary then even more so. Be assured its harmless watching, mostly out of curiosity. That’s why you need to be at ease with yourself before dealing with everyone else’s uneasiness.
Be aware nonetheless
Budget travel is an option you can consider even when travelling solo. Even when you’re a female travelling solo. Gokarna was just that for me. Disclaimer: This only works well if you’re prepared not to be treated like a princess (applies to both male and female solo travellers)
Keep your sense of humour handy. Always. Even when there are delays. Especially when there are delays – whether with a room being provided, your food order coming through or even transportation for that matter
Staying put translates into being a known face in the vicinity. Some may use it as an opportunity to strike a conversation with you. Depending on whether the conversation is initiated before or after a couple of beers, use your discretion to indulge in them. While I mentioned the good guys in my post above, I had to tell a seemingly tipsy fellow off (for the obvious reasons)
Don’t forget you’re out to’ enjoy yourself’ – it has no definition for a reason. So do as you please