We made it back to the guesthouse and had a thali, smoked some chillums, and played some music. Eventually we were tired enough to try and sleep through the noise of the kitchen next to us. It was difficult but we managed.
The following morning, we decided that it was time to take the journey to Om Beach. Even the little Indian lady told us, “You go Om, now.” So, Karim moved to his own room, and we packed up after some basic beachwear shopping. The best beachwear here is the lungi, a type of sarong that is usually tied around the lower waist below the navel.
We walked for an hour, following the beach path we had visited the night before. The two of us carefully traversed up and down the narrow paths carved into the volcanic terrain by centuries of grazing holy cows. Across the cliff top, burnt black stubs of wild grass and bamboo shoots were starting to regrow into a rich, tan forest of ten-inch reeds. The polka dotted landscape of cow pies made for an additional challenge in navigation.
Kudle Beach to Om
Arriving to Kudle Beach, we see Karim, Ted and Cammy, whom we had met at the guesthouse, so, we stopped for a rest. Kudle Beach was nice, but Om is our destination. The time for sunset was nearing. Karim joined us as we began our climb up the next cliff top. He then split off to celebrate the sunset at another cliff top temple, and we climbed the final peak where, at last, we could see Om Beach.
(photo Donna Howley)
Om Beach, in the true shape of an Om, is beautiful. As we made our final descent, we were greeted by fascinating, craggy, lava rock formations and a herd of local cows. Continuing down the top of the Om, weaving our way through lave formations and brush, we saw the first chai shop. Beyond the mid-section of the Om we could see eight more scattered along the beach. Ted and Cammy had told us the big, round chai shop was the place to be. We looked for it, but ended up landing somewhere else.
We rented a straw hut on the beach for ten rupees, about 30 cents. After settling in, we walked up the beach where we joined Karim for a thali at another chai shop. Donna looked at this paradise and realized, we could easily get caught here. For us, it could be our ‘Zipolite’ of India. We really didn’t want to get caught.
None the less, we spent three nights on Om. One night in the grass shack, one night in a four-unit mud hut, and one night behind someone else’s hut on a mat. We avoided the popular round chai shop until the last day. Of course, we were readily accepted.
‘Escape’ from Om?
We were almost out of money, but money exchange could be made on the trip out of town. So, we climbed the sheer cliffs in the hot afternoon sun, and Donna joked that Om didn’t want us to leave as the thorny bushes grabbed at our clothes. We realized we had started, but not finished, coconut bowls. Also, I had been tricked into playing “Hotel California” on the violin. We were aware that both of these omens were signs that the trap was there. As we pushed through the maze of a path up to the top of the cliff, Donna exclaimed, “We made it! We’re escaping!”
We returned to Gokarna with the plan to return to the guesthouse and leave early the next morning. But we were tired. It was difficult to keep moving around on Om so we wouldn’t get caught. But, here in Gokarna, we could get a cold shower, a hard bed, and an early start in the morning. We stopped at restaurant to pick up snacks for the AM bus ride. As I was making the purchase, Donna looks out into the street. Who would she happen to see but, Runar. He is a friend who always has a special message from the ‘universe’ for us.
After a happy reunion, we caught up on the news as we dined, and then went for a chai. Runar looked us over, and after a few minutes asked, “How long have you been on Om?”
Runar said, “Acha! Go back and rest. You have been traveling long and hard. Go back and rest. Study. Now is not the time for you to leave.”
Well, that blew holes in our plan, but we knew he was right. I knew this was the case and hadn’t really wanted to leave, but Donna didn’t want to get caught, so I went along with leaving anyway. Runar was probably the only person that could convince her to slow down. When he says something, she listens. Donna then admitted, “Yeah, I’m tired.” We said goodnight to Runar and checked into the guesthouse.
Her plans to get up early were blown when we slept in late. Still, we tried to catch a bus to Karwar, but got there too late. The Gokarna bank was also closed so, no money exchange. We had only $50 cash which we wanted to save back in case of an emergency, and travelers checks. This was not an emergency. We figured we had enough to get back to Karwar, and Om, plus enough pocket money for meals. There was also the option of keeping a tab, going on the book, at the big round chai shop we had initially avoided. We were readily accepted there and had seen it for the trap it was. We stepped back into the trap willingly. We needed the rest.
Return to Om
So, back in time and space as we returned to Om Beach. The long walk was still breathtaking both in beauty and on our lungs. We re-met our new friends, Stephan and Rene. She is French, and he is German but spoke English with a French accent. He really is a French soul in a German body and mind. They knew of a hut behind the first chai shop that was available.
I went to check it out and found we had a choice between two. One with a good roof, but also, lots of ants. The other was larger with a leaky roof. “When was the last time it rained?” I asked.
“Three weeks ago,” the landlord said.
“What was the average rainfall in January / February?” I asked.
“Zero. Nada, nothing,” He responded.
So, we took the larger hut and played the odds against rain, along with the other ants and critters. We dubbed it “the Love Shack.” (photo Lance)
It was a true grass shack. The breeze through the woven walls kept us cool, even in the mid-day heat. The next day, our landlords put a new ‘cow pie wash’ floor on. It provided us a dust resistant area we could sweep, even though it was built on sand. We set up housekeeping and formed a pretty regular routine of working on music, painting and writing until mid-day. This was followed with a swim in the sea, a trip to the water hole for laundry, bathing, and fresh water. The well water was potable.
There was also a good amount of time spent at either of two of our favorite chai shops. “Rama” shop had a nice view, and contacts to our future landlords. We both did a few paintings while drinking chai there. The “Delhi” shop, run by “Harsh”, pronounced “Hash,” from Delhi. He is a mix of English and Indian with lovely Indian look with fine English features and beautiful, blue eyes. Both shops offered good food and chai in a relaxed atmosphere.
Our days settled into a routine of rest, relaxation, and study. Donna painted while I worked on some new songs on the guitar. She also worked on learning the guitar and I would practice violin. Donna admitted that it was not her calling but agreed it would be nice to be able to play a few chords.
Every chai shop had a carrom board. Carrom is kind of like pool but played with checker like pieces on a card table-sized board with pockets in each corner. A game is of 25 points or eight boards, whichever comes first. The winner is the player who reaches 25 points first or leads after the eighth board. A turn consists of one or more strikes. A player wins by pocketing the pieces of their chosen color first. However, neither player can win until one player has “covered the Queen.” To cover the Queen, a player must pocket one of her own pieces immediately after pocketing the Queen.
The other thing these shops offered was “Charas.” Charas is another name for hand-made hashish. The hemp flowers are rubbed between the hands. Gently massaging them until the cannabis resin sticks to the palm of the hand. The hemp flowers are used to harvest the sacred resin 2-3 weeks before they are ready for harvest. This is when the THC content in the plant is highest. Charas is traditionally smoked in a cone shaped tube pipe made of clay called a “chillum.” Traditional chillums are still made by hand and vary in size, shape, and quality.
Whenever a mix of tobacco and charas was made and loaded into a chillum, a safi cloth was wrapped around the bottom of the chillum as a filter from ash. It is held by cupping your hand over the end and placing it between your ring and pinky finger. The chillum is then lifted to the forehead as a blessing, and one would exclaim, “Bum bolenath,” in praise of Shiva.
The chillum is then placed to the mouth over your cupped hand, using your fist to create a smoke chamber. Another person would light the chillum with a couple of matches. It is usually expected to inhale the entire mix deep into the lungs and exhale it. Holding it in would result in coughs, but directly exhaling it slowly made for a smooth experience. The “high” was different than smoking a joint and quite pleasant! We remembered that when we were in Irael, we wished for a place to just go and rest and smoke lots of hashish. We landed on Om Beach, where even the waves go “Boom!”
Late Night Music
There was no electricity on Om Beach. After Harsh turned off the boombox to conserve batteries, we would sit around a fire for many lovely evenings making music. Stephan played flute or borrowed the guitar and I would play violin. Other musicians were on the beach as well and would be drawn to the music and the fire. The jams were like a spontaneous combustion that exploded into the night.
We met so many wonderful people on the beach. Pascal and Renate invited us to stay with them in Salzburg, Austria. Honk from England, and a visit with Runar, and Kelly from the USA. There are so many interesting people and characters traveling out here on the road!
Next: (66) Raid on Om Beach