Sometime very early in the morning, my friend woke me up and told me to look at the sky. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the most beautiful full moon I had ever seen. I gaped at it for a while before slipping back into deep sleep. Later that morning, I almost dismissed the memory as a psychedelic dream, except that the friends with whom I was camping on a deserted beach in Karnataka also remembered the sight.
Our group of 12 had started our trek the previous day in a village called Belikeri, near Ankola. Standing in the shade of an abandoned building, I could see the ocean spread vast and wondrously blue in front of us. The balmy ocean air soon filled with the stench of drying fish. When my friends had first suggested a beach trek, I’d wondered about the monotony. How different could the ocean look over 20 kilometres and two days? I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the ocean didn’t change much over the two days, the coastline did—and how.
The moment I set foot on the beach, my instinct was to take my sandals off and feel the sand between my toes. The sea breeze kept us company as we walked, and the sound of the waves was like a mellifluous background score to my thoughts. The landscape was marked with hills and cliffs extending into the ocean, forming beautiful bays and coves. When the beach sometimes turned into a mass of boulders, we took to trails on adjacent cliffs. After the flat perspectives from the beach, each view from a clifftop warranted a few minutes of silent admiration. From one such vantage point, we even spotted some playful dolphins splashing about in the water.
As the afternoon heat soared, we halted five kilometres from Belikeri at Bhavikeri, one of many, tiny fishing villages that dot the coast. We waited out the worst bit of the day in the shade of a shack with fishing gear all around us. An old man was painting his boat with cashew oil to preserve the wood. There was sand all over me and I could taste the saltiness in the air and on my face. Later that afternoon, we reached a place where a wide stream met the ocean. With our backpacks held high, we waded across.
Strange patterns dotted the shore on the next beach. Little balls of sand were arranged into intricate designs, created by the aptly named sand bubbler crabs as they scoured the beach for food. The setting sun made the ocean sparkle in shades of gold and silver. As it turned dark, we stumbled our way through the hills, with only the moon for light, to reach the secluded Honey Beach, where we camped for the night in a shaded cove.
The next morning, we found it difficult to take even a single step towards Gokarna, our next destination. The beauty of the place had put us in a lazy mood, and we ambled by the shore for a very long time before finally setting off. We walked for about an hour and climbed another cliff, to be treated to the breathtaking view of the River Gangavali joining the Arabian Sea. Across the raging river was Gokarna. We walked towards Manjungani Jetty and took the ferry to the bank on the other side.
At Kuddle Beach, we walked along the coast one last time before taking a delirious dip in the ocean. I rejoiced in leaving my footprints in the sands knowing they would be washed away soon. I left with memories of falling asleep to the lull of the breaking waves, being overwhelmed by the serenity of the ocean, discovering deserted, pristine beaches, and witnessing the most surreal moonset I’d ever seen.
Ankola is a small coastal town located in Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada district. Belikeri, 10 km from there, is the starting point of the trek. From Belikeri beach, the trail follows the coast until Gokarna. The route goes along sandy shores interspersed by moderate climbs over hillocks. There is a major stream crossing on day one and a big river crossing on day two. The stream can be forded by foot or by boat, if required, but River Gangavali has to be crossed on a ferry. Honey Beach, 10 km from Belikeri, is a good place to break on day one. For those who don’t want to pitch tents, Honey Beach Cottages (www.honeybeach.in) has beach-side rooms and villas.
Length 22 km
Pristine Sands and Grand Beach Views
Expect deserted, unpolluted, palm-lined beaches. The clifftops provide good vantage points to enjoy grand views of the Arabian Sea. Being on the west coast, evenings will be dramatic with the sun setting into the ocean.
There are several streams and rivers to be crossed along the trail. Some places might require a boat or ferry while streams can be forded by foot.
While it may appear easy, walking on the beach is quite tiring. The hard wet sand can prove painful to the heels after a couple of hours, while dry sand makes you slip. Despite the urge to walk barefoot, walking in shoes might prove a better idea. It can however, get irritating, especially when the shoes get wet by the waves.
Summer (April-May) is awfully hot and the peak of the monsoon (July-Aug) is extremely wet. The pre-monsoon (June) and winter (Nov-Mar) seasons are good times to trek along the coast.
Carrying good sunblock is essential, as is a cap and a large water bottle. It may be a good idea to mark the trail on maps and load it onto a GPS-enabled phone.
Since these beaches are not on the tourist circuit, there are no lifeguards. Do not venture too far into the sea. While camping, keep in mind the rising tide and crabs that come out by night. Camping on higher ground is advisable. Since all these routes pass by fishing villages, you can exit the trek anytime you feel tired or are running out of time. The trails are well marked for the most part, but it is best to inquire with locals if you think you’re lost. Their first response will be to tell you to take the bus instead, but they’ll eventually relent. While passing fishing villages, it is better to walk on the road because the beaches can be dirty. Start early in the morning and rest in the afternoon to escape the heat.
This route extends from the Ankola-Gokarna trek, towards the coastal town of Honnavar. The trail starts at Gokarna Beach, and includes climbs over many high cliffs and hillocks. On day one, there is a major river crossing over the Aghanashini river. Head to Tadadi port to catch a ferry to the other side and continue the trek along the beach towards Sangam Beach for the night. The backwaters near Kumta village, where the river meets the sea, is difficult to cross. Head towards Kumta fish market and join the beach again to continue towards Honnavar. There are no resorts on this route, so camping by the beach or in a fishing village are the only options. Don’t miss the huge colony of sea gulls on Kumta Beach.
Length 45 km
Bekal, famous for its fort, is a small coastal town in Kerala. The trek starts from the beach adjacent to Bekal Fort, proceeding south towards Kasargod, skirting along Kappil Beach, crossing Uduma village and heading towards Chambrika Beach. There are backwaters to be crossed but no cliffs on this this one-day trek. Camping is not allowed on these beaches but there are numerous resorts lining the coast in Kasargod.
Length 8 km
Appeared in the June 2013 issue as “Sand Trails”.
is an itinerant freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys purposefully getting lost in the mountains and going to faraway corners where Google Maps fail. She tweets as @i_wanderingsoul.
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