I started walking from the hostel on the so-called “Five Beach Trek” at 7 AM, a full hour later than what the manager had told me. “You have to start at 6. It gets hot very fast after that!”
I spent a few minutes chasing a peacock trying to get the bird, the light, and my camera to agree on a good photograph. The world was not cooperating with me today. That, or I needed coffee.
Kudle beach was the first of the five beaches and as I reached it, I was thinking of sunset the previous day. I had gone for a walk along the Main Beach (not one of the five beaches on this trek). I sat on the sand for more than an hour watching kids and grown-ups playing. I had felt a great calm and I had smiled to myself a lot as the sun went down.
Today morning, however, my mind was agitated. I walked by two kids playing soccer. The ball came to me and I kicked it back to them. Encouraged, they sent it my way again. I kicked it back again and hurried on before they passed to me again, even though what I really wanted was to stay. The beach was hot, my shirt was stuck to my back, and I didn’t have enough water to spend time playing with them.
At the fork in Om beach, the next stop on the walk, a shack was opening for business.
“A coffee and a milkshake?”, the guy confirmed as I ordered. I nodded and sat down to wait. A couple beside me was eating omelets and sandwiches. A group of four boys was expressing their collective disappointment in the lack of “happening” things in Gokarna. “We should have gone to Goa like I told you guys”, one of them said.
These guys are so full of themselves, I thought to myself. The couple with the omelets looked quite content, and that infuriated me. Where was my food?
I walked up to the counter. “Cancel my order”, I told the guy and walked out before he could answer.
I continued along Om beach, and then into the forest again, not stopping to get into the water or to take pictures, except one of a lizard that was poking its head out of the bushes.
My mind was very busy with the lack of water in my backpack, my missing kindle, and the sweat. It was getting hot alarmingly fast. I tried to get something to drink at another shack, and was told that they only serve their room guests. What a silly thing to do, I thought.
I rushed through Paradise beach and Half Moon beach, ignoring everyone on the way. I reached the fifth and last beach in about an hour and a half. One hour less than what the manager had said, I thought to myself with some pride.
There was a man in the water. White skin, white hair, maybe fifty, and enjoying himself. He seemed to be having a better time than me.
What’s wrong with me today?
The beach itself was disappointing. It was hardly a few metres in width and a narrow road lay just beside it, threatening to take over the sand any day.
I sat down for a few minutes, looking out at the man playing in the sea, and then took off my shirt and walked into the Indian Ocean. The water was warm, but I immediately felt refreshed. The feeling of suffocation quieted down, leaving me calmer.
As I started walking back, I met Valentine, a traveller from France. He had been in Gokarna for a few months, oscillating between tents on Paradise beach and shacks on Om beach, going where his friends-for-the-time-being and the weed took him. He was very impressed that I was choosing to walk back and not take the bus. “There’s a bus?”, I asked him and we laughed.
I pestered a kid along the path to let me taste the fruit he was plucking off the tree. “You just suck on it,” he said, handing me one. It was sweet, juicy, and very fibrous.
“You have a lot of positive energy”, Valentine told me, “the girls must really love you.”
“Where are these girls? I have to find them!”, I said, laughing.
I walked with him to Paradise Beach where he was camping with about ten other people. The others were playing in the water, passing a coconut to each other. They were hugging each other, splashing water, and jumping around, as if everything else was out of earshot, and the world was just them, right here and right now.
There was a small tea stall by a coconut tree, and the guy running it was happy to talk in Kannada. “These kids, they come here and play like mad people. Then they leave all their beer bottles on the beach and go off”, he said, handing me my tea. “They don’t dirty their country, they come here and dirty ours”.
He lived in the village I had just walked from. This beach was always full of these folks, he told me. They just stayed here for months at a time, hanging out, making friends and love, eating, reading, and playing in the water. “It’s much more crowded in December. You should come back then”.
“Do you want to take a boat ride to Om beach?”, a boatman shouted from near the water. “Only five hundred rupees”. We haggled amicably for a bit, settling on two hundred if he could get someone else to come along for the ride before I finished my second tea.
Right up to December last year, he had fished. His insurance had run out first, and then his fishing license expired. It was too expensive to renew them, the insurance especially. The companies were always raising the rates. As the fishing became harder, the boats stayed the same and the fishermen took more risks. “I don’t make as much money ferrying people, but it’s easier. You know, you can see dolphins now if you come on the boat.” I laughed and shook my head. The tea was over.
“Come back in December”, he said as I got up to leave. Then you can see the dolphins sitting here on the beach!”
“You’re already leaving? Why don’t you stay for lunch?”, Valentine asked me. I smiled and shook my head.
The sun was shining fiercer than in the morning, but it bothered me less. I stopped at every beach to get wet. The waves were playful, pushing me down when I tried to stand up and letting me dive underneath as they broke near the shore.
Leaving Om beach, there were steps going up the way I had come, and to their left was a sign pointing along the rocks. “Danger!”, it warned me. “For local fisherman only.”
The path by the rocks started off timidly enough. There was a trail, thinner than the stairs, but still proper and easy to follow. There was even a shack about ten minutes in. Then I decided to turn left, away from the trail, which meandered back into the forest. The sea is pretty and it’s better to keep it in view, I thought.
At some points, the waves were crashing against the rocks, so I had to time my steps so they came in the lulls. Crabs scurried away to make way for me and I had a strong urge to sit and watch them for a bit.
Suddenly there was no way forward, and to my right was this huge boulder.
The way I see it, I turn back or I climb up.
The climb would have been a V2 maybe, a route I could have done easily. But here, I was getting scared. There was no mattress below me, only the waves smashing against the rocks.
Near the top, the next hold was in reach, but if I committed to the move, I would lose my path back down. In another world, at another age, or maybe just on a cooler day, I would have reached out without hesitation. Today, I gave up.
I felt like walking back on the same path would not just be wrong, but humiliating. So I turned left into the forest at a random point. Keep the sea on your left, and all will be good, I told myself.
In five minutes the sea was gone and I was in the middle of a dense thicket of eucalyptus trees. The ground was very slippery with newly fallen leaves, and I couldn’t walk without slipping and. I was flinging myself from tree to tree, holding on for dear life.
When the trees finally cleared out, I noticed my towel was wet with blood. My hands and feet were hurting. Even worse, the sea was now to my right.
Fuck! Why is the sea on the right? How long have I been walking the wrong way?
I decided to play it safe and just keep walking till I found the trail, even if it meant retracing my steps. In half an hour, I was on the trail, and I seemed to be far closer to the hostel than I thought I would be.
Just before I got back to the hostel, I stopped at a restaurant and asked for a lassi. I played hide-and-seek with a girl who told me her name was Nagashri and that she was in the first grade. I sat there for a few minutes, tired and content, thinking about my restlessness in the morning and how much difference getting lost, getting hurt, and getting wet had made.
What would happen, I wondered, if I jumped into the sea and became a fish? If one moment, suddenly, I just disappear, my thoughts turn to sand and the memory of me in people’s hearts fades away?
Nothing would happen, obviously, another voice in my head answered.
If people are the sum of their experiences, what am I?
I am sand, heavy in the water and light in the wind.
I lay down on a hammock, and the orange sky peeked through silhouetted trees.
I settled in to read my novel.