March 12, 2010 / 8:45 AM / 9 years ago

Sleepy India town wakes up to tourists, business

GOKARNA, India (Reuters Life!) - German tourist Oliver Krupke has travelled to India every year for the past three years, but it’s not the Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa or the bustle of Mumbai that keep bringing him back.

For the 33-year-old, the perfect holiday lies in the sleepy beach town of Gokarna, some 125 kms (78 miles) from Goa, India’s beach capital.

“This might not be the most beautiful beach in the world, but the people and the peace here are like no other,” said Krupke, adding that on his way to Gokarna, he had to stay for a day in Goa and hated it.

Gokarna, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, has four famous beaches — the Om, Half-Moon, Paradise and Kudle.

And it would appear that these low-profile beaches on the India’s western coast are stealing a number of tourists from its more famous neighbor Goa, as more and more foreigners look for the anti-thesis of their often busy city lives.

With its blend of spirituality and tolerance, Gokarna has been steadily building its popularity with tourists.

While the town of holds religious significance for Hindus, the beaches draw people from all over the world.

As the sun goes down, the shacks — the numerous makeshift lodges that dot the shores — don’t start pumping loud party music. Instead, people gather wood to light bonfires in the evening, which they huddle around and jam with mandolins and guitars on the dimly lit beaches.

For tourists looking for more traditional accommodation, there are also a number of motels further away from the beach. And if the lure of the city becomes too strong, you can always go to Goa for a few days.

“I came here after a lot of my friends recommended this place. Beaches in Europe are more beautiful, but this place helps me relax,” said Ludwik Ballton, a Polish home builder, who was staying at one of the many beachside shacks.

As word-of-mouth recommendations increase, traffic through Gokarna is increasing by the day, and business in and around the town is booming.

In 2009, the number of foreign tourists visiting Gokarna rose 9 percent, according to the state tourism department.

When Ganesh, who runs a shack and who declined to give his full name, came to Gokarna eight years ago, guests were few and far in between. Now, business is so brisk, he often has to decline boarders.

“If you have stayed here for two days, everyone knows everyone else. Most of my foreign guests stay here for weeks on end, though Indian visitors are generally here only for the weekend,” said Ganesh, adding that repeat visitors comprise most of the crowd in Gokarna.

Another shack worker on Om beach who goes by the name of “Rambo” also reported more visitors, adding that he and his peers expect even more tourists to come this year.

Goa’s image has taken a beating recently, largely due to a spate of crimes against foreign tourists as well as rising prices and over-crowded beaches.

The resulting media coverage of the crimes has lead to security fears, chairman of Goa Tourism, Ralph DeSouza, said. Interim 2009 official figures show a 3 percent drop in the number of foreign tourists to the former Portuguese colony, and 2008 saw a decline of about 10 percent.

All these factors have helped the allure of lesser-known destinations such as Gokarna. But as the town becomes more and more on the tourist track, it could also become a victim of its own success.

“If these beaches ultimately start brimming with people... and they already are... we would move further along the coast, looking for other places,” said Polish tourist Ballton.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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