15/10/09 - 14/10/10
My main reason for coming to Gokarna was to see Jog Falls, the highest waterfall in India. I had not factored in just how much I would love Gokarna though. It plays host to hundreds of Hindu pilgrims each year and has a vast and beautiful beach bordered by tall palms and tucked away guest houses, shimmering ocean stretching out forever towards the horizon, clear warm water and hardly a manmade object in sight. Facing perfectly west, every night the sun deliquesces down the sky and evaporates through the horizon.</p>
<p>I’d arrived with Inga but we had decided to stay at neighbouring guesthouses – I opted for the stone bungalow with fan and attached loo, she for the mud and palm hut. The people at my guesthouse are lovely. An easy, jocular atmosphere permeates our lazy afternoons spent chatting, eating and drinking fresh fruit juices, swimming and a doing a whole lot’ a nothing.
<p>We had a beach party. Fish was bought from the morning market, vegetables were bought from the evening market, alcohol was bought from the bottle shop, I made a spicy paste for the fish and we barbequed everything on banana leaves.
<p>So passed the days, suddenly, and at the same time very slowly, I had been in Gokarna a week. Inga had left already and I needed to think about doing the same. But first I really wanted to see Jog Falls. Currently out of season, they are not in full flow; apparently during monsoon they are spectacular. However, I had been told that they were still something to see.
<p>Having (I have just this second realised) that I read the Lonely Planet wrong, I was under the impression that it took just one hour to get to Jog Falls. In my defence I was told at the bus station that it only takes one hour and its says 45 minutes in Anna’s Russian guide book.
<p>Yesterday at 10.30 am I waved goodbye to the people having breakfast and promised them photos of waterfalls by suppertime. I arrived at Jog Falls at approximately 4.15pm. Having fallen asleep, as I always do in cars etc; a lasting effect of having been driven around until I fell asleep as a baby, I woke up at about 3.00pm to the bus creaking, groaning and choking its way up the steep road. I was squashed, as you always are on Indian buses, up against the window. Looking out at a huge climb ahead of us and a largish drop to the side of us. The boy next to me helpfully informed me that we would be at Jog Falls in two hours and it was 200km away. </p>
<p>My brain chugged into gear as slowly as the bus. I know that sunset is at about 6.00pm, because we sit on the beach and watch it everyday. If it has taken me this long to get here, I am guessing that it’s the same on the way back. How ridiculous to go all this way and not see the falls. How will I get back? If I have to stay somewhere, I have no money and no passport. Oh shit. </p>
<p>We stopped, as usual, 10 minutes from the destination for everyone to take chai, go to the loo etc. We stopped for about half an hour, time I increasingly didn’t have. </p>
<p>Then, as is also usual in India, someone helped me. A nice young guy, from Bangalore who immediately told me his name and that he works in IT. Who then asked if I was alone and if I was married, reported back to the growing crowd of men my answers, yes I was alone and no I wasn’t married, which was discussed briefly amongst them. He then told me that I could not return to Gokarna the way I had come, luckily at nights the treacherous roads are closed. I would need to go another way: from Jog Falls to Sagar to Sirsi to Kumta to Gokarna. I could expect to reach Gokarna at about 10-11.00pm. He said I had time to look at the falls but whatever I did be out of there by 5.00, because after that – no more vehicles. </p>
<p>My options were not great ones. Firstly, I don’t like Indian roads especially at night. Secondly, once I reached Gokarna I would have to walk about fifteen minutes down a dark deserted beach – not a good idea. Lastly, and as I have briefly touched upon, I hadn’t bought any money with me, apart from 700 Rupees or my passport or guide book. Mainly because I was only going for a couple of hours, and I was already walking down the beach when I remembered; I did however have credit cards.</p>
<p>I got to the falls, my mind so full of what my next step should be I couldn’t really appreciate how beautiful it was. Even though there is hardly any water, the imposing height and grandeur of the falls is apparent. I knew I had to; I took a couple of photographs looked at a monkey or two and made my way back to the entrance desk. I needed to get to an ATM, an internet cafe and possibly a hotel for the night. There was a hotel nearby, with TV and a restaurant for 500 rupees. I agreed to have a look and very quickly disagreed to stay. </p>
<p>I was informed that the last bus to Sagar, where the ATM machines were, had left. I had no way of knowing if this was true or not, I couldn’t risk staying and getting stranded and so had to take a taxi the half an hour it would take to get to Sagar for the not so bargain price of 500 rupees. I was, by now, starting to worry about where I would stay or if it would be possible to bus it all the way home. I wasn’t in any position to start haggling prices and he knew it. </p>
<p>The view from the taxi was stunning, much of it thick forest on dark red earth. Villages and rivers, fields and valleys. I tried to enjoy it. As night fell, 6.45pm, we arrived in to Sagar. The taxi driver had said that Sagar was a city and I was hopeful of my chances of getting a room for the night. The approach to Sagar stripped me of any illusion. A distinct lack of concrete and neon told me that this was no city, a town perhaps, maybe even a big village, but defiantly not a city. </p>
<p>The first ATM machine refused my cards, twice. I had only enough to pay the driver but that was all. I considered the possibility of taking the taxi all the way to Gokarna where I had money, it would cost a fortune (probably about £15) and I would avoid it if I could. The second ATM delivered my lovely crisp 500 rupee notes which, after peeling off two; I stuffed the rest in my bra for safety. I began to feel calm again; I was more in control now.</p>
<p>The bus to Sirsi was my next goal. The officials at the bus station couldn’t have cared less that I needed a bus. I tried several times, pointing at each of the patiently waiting buses asking “Sirsi?” Head waggles and hand flicks were all I managed by way of a response. I was getting a little exasperated when a lovely young girl came to my rescue. She told me in near perfect English that this bus and this bus would be leaving in about half an hour and they both took the same time to Sirsi. I asked her about hotels in Sirsi and how it would be for a girl alone. Her eyes widened, “alone?” “Yes” I replied firmly. She looked over my shoulder as if hoping that I was lying and behind me would hove into sight, my protector and champion – my husband.</p>
<p>It wasn’t to be and so I picked the bus on the left. Thankfully I had remembered to bring a good book with me. Catch 22 helped keep my mind off the situation at hand, it’s a brilliant book you should read it or read it again. Suddenly the girl was back with the information that I would be able to find a female friendly hotel in Sirsi. </p>
<p>The last bus out of Sirsi had gone when I got there. Sealing off my options, I was staying the night. I got organised. Found an internet shop and printed off my passport, visa, a list of hotels in the vicinity of the bus station and a Google map locating said hotels. That was easy; the hard bit was finding a rickshaw driver who knew where they were or how to get me there. I am repeatedly amazed at how the taxi drivers have no idea where things are located in their own towns and cities (which are not that big).</p>
<p>The first hotel said no they had no room. I took a deep breath, returned to the rickshaw and we made our way to the next hotel. They too, were fully booked. The third and essentially my last choice was hotel Panchavati. It was about 15 minutes drive from the bus station and I really didn’t want to go any further as my bus out of there was at 7.00AM the following day. I was desperate for a room.<br />
“No room – wedding party” the receptionist said. At which point I did what any self-respecting, frustrated woman travelling alone (“alone?”, “yes alone”) in India would do. I started to cry. “Weeping? Is she weeping?” I heard. Soon there were about 10 people in reception all looking at the girl without a husband, weeping because she can’t get a room. I realised the only dignified thing to do would be to remove myself I got back in to the rickshaw, where I sat very straight backed and pulled myself together. </p>
<p>Meanwhile in reception, there was a big conversation going on about my predicament. The receptionist had started to call other local hotels and braver members of the crowd poked their heads out the door to get a better look at me ‘weeping’. The receptionist was eagerly informing every hotel in the neighbourhood that a weeping English girl, who was alone, needed a room. None were forthcoming. Just as I was starting to feel exhausted, it was now 9.00pm. The same receptionist, who had just refused me, agreed that I could have a room. Room 208, with a shower and TV and a pure-veg restaurant downstairs, mine for 300 rupees. </p>
<p>I knew that everyone at the guesthouse in Gokarna, especially Anna, my lovely Russian neighbour whose clever husband Dennis fixed my computer (yes, I really think it is!), would be worrying about me. </p>
<p>I left Sirsi at 7.30am and arrived back to Gokarna at 10.30. I have spent the day vowing never to leave Gokarna again and swimming in the fabulous sea. Tonight we are having a party, because the four boys, who went off to another beach to live like Robinson Crusoe for 5 days, are back as well. </p>