Om Shanti - peace and tranquility. 13 days spent on a beach.
08.01.2017 - 20.01.2017 32 °C
Gokarna - it's a place for pilgrims and partying. Hindu's revere this spot as the place that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth). Don't ask for more explanation than that - as many people have pointed out to us Hinduism is as complicated as you want it to be and I prefer my legends simple. Suffice to say the old town holds several temples of significant importance and the town has a large dose of religious fervor in its make-up. The narrow streets are strewn with flags and offerings, flowers, cows and coconuts. Men from India's middle class (the Bramhin top caste) descend upon the town in 4x4s, desperate to show piety by switching their suits for black lungis, taking off their shirts and adorning themselves with orange paint. The cars themselves are a sight to behold; covered with flags and flower strings, and each with a small Shiva shrine attached to the front bumper. At night the devotees light fires by the beach and dance in their robes to the wailing temple music, backed by incessant drumming. Chanted prayer mantras are carried away by the warm wind and out to sea.
We light a fire too - a different beach down the coast. Rum, and experiments with the local pharmaceuticals with new friends. Talk spirals and thoughts broaden in a place where time stretches. Suddenly there's so much to talk about. India inspires conversation - philosophy, economics, religion, politics, food, culture - all the big topics are here and inescapable. They demand attention.
It's great to spend some time in one place. The constant routine of bus, sleep, explore, train and small talk can be tiring. Even a week can feel a lifetime, at the same time passing in the blink of an eye. The feeling is enhanced by good company, and the residents at Om Shanti Cafe became a dysfunctional family unit for a brief moment, until we scattered to the four winds, each called away to another corner of India, small specks travelling under a big sun.
The cafe sits at the heart of the ॐ (Om), formed by three connected sandy bays backed by greenery. Run by a warm family; mama - wise and caring, she gently takes away my coconut and shows me the correct way to cut it. Next minute she is cackling away as the next tourist to crack their head on the low tin roof walks away dazed. Papa - drunk and screeching when we arrived, he seemed to sober up occasionally to perform a Puja blessing on us. Depressing to see the effects of alcoholism, but he seems happy enough. Seca is the main man running the show. He and his brothers are the frisbee kings of Om Beach. He smiled at me twice, so I think I won him over.
The beach is populated by Israeli travelers at one end, every one else at the other. Necklace sales people traverse the two, selling the same stuff to unwilling buyers. 'Why not sell some stuff people actually want, and beat the competition?' We suggest to the 10th offer of the morning. Perhaps not at our most tactful, but he seems to take the idea on board.
Sea is flat and blue, as you would imagine. Flat as a pancake in the morning, with a light breeze whipping up some chop later in the day. Not a soul at 9am. I swim across the bay and back, muscles relieved to be doing something. Flying fish follow, and then overtake, their silver sides glisten and sparkle with spray and salt. The water is cold enough to clear away the cobwebs of the night before.
One evening in the sunset dolphins arch lazily through the water. Other evenings are spent with cards, a naughty milkshake, or a juice box carton of old monk rum, welcome after six sober weeks on the road. Still we can't stay for ever, Mumbai is calling and we must answer. From Om Shanti to oh shitty, to the big city we go.