On the west coast of India, the state of Karnataka has a spectacular 300-kilometer-long rocky coastline dotted with pristine white sand beaches. The most popular are Murudeshwar, Kumta, Malpe, Gokarna and Maravanthe.
Along Karnataka’s coast, the olive ridley sea turtle nests from October–December; it’s the only species of sea turtle known to nest in this area.
Murudeshwar is famous for the world’s second-tallest idol of Lord Shiva (123 feet tall), visible from the Arabian Sea. its pristine beaches are unbeatable. This small, attractive town is bound by the Arabian Sea and the foothills of the Western Ghats, and is a great place to visit year-round. Excellent rail and road transportation connects it with the rest of India.
Kumta is a sleepy township with a pristine beach located between Murudeshwar and Malpe. It features a daily outdoor market on Main Street along with several temples, including the Shanteri-Kamakshi Temple. It’s not mentioned in many guidebooks, but well worth the stop for less-crowded beaches.
If you plan to stay here a couple of days, be sure to visit the Nirvana Nature Resort – more ashram than resort on a secluded beach with no shops, restaurants or other tourist facilities. Just local fishermen. This is a place where you can do a lot of meditation without interruptions.
Malpe is another village with unspoiled beaches. It’s considered a hidden gem by Indian tourists. If you stay at Malpe for a day or two, be sure to visit St. Mary’s Island, accessible by ferry from Malpe port, and spend several hours there exploring the area and the beach.
The tiny, remote village of Gokarna on the coast of Karwar is famous for the 1500-year-old Mahabaleshwar Temple, considered as holy as Shiva Temples in Kashi and Varanasi. There are many idyllic beaches here, and the big event in Gokarna is the Shivratri, held in February and March.
The picturesque seaside town of Maravanthe, with its virgin beaches on one side, Satuparnika River on the other, and mountains in the background, is where you’ll find the Turtle Bay Beach Resort. Bound by the Arabian Sea, it offers scenic nature walks, crystal-clear water for snorkeling and swimming, and turtle watching during the nesting season. For the budget conscious, there’s a budget cabana, a hut with a double bed and table with shared toilets.
We explored the turtle hatchery at the corner of the beach. The small 6x10’ space is enclosed by a simple bamboo fence. Visiting during turtle season, you’ll see little flags marking the spot and date where eggs were laid. Once they’re laid, the caretaker digs them out and buries them in the hatchery to protect them from poaches and animals.
We were able to see many of the hatchlings as they were gathered up in a large straw basket, taken to the beach and released into the water.
Overall, I found people in southern India friendlier than in Mumbai or the north.