Not All Who Wander are Lost
I’m not one for new year resolutions, but 2017 had been a relatively unproductive year for me as far as photography was concerned, and I had resolved to remedy that in 2018. When January went by without my troubling the shutter count on my camera, I knew I needed to do something. And as is so often the case, it was one of those ‘just up and go’ decisions. I realised that if I kept looking for reasons for not having enough time for photography, I wouldn’t ever have enough time for photography. So, I just decided I would go. And that was that.
Gokarna. A laid-back seaside hamlet tucked into the northwestern corner of Karnataka, a little south of Goa, where the Western Ghats tumble right into the Arabian Sea. A temple town, idyllic beaches, coconut palms, fishing boats, meandering rivers, dense forests, the perfect recipe for a short but satisfying photography getaway. With Dinesh for a guide. He’s grown up here, knows the place like the back of his hand, the history, the culture, the people, the lay of the land and all its secrets, and has probably made more photographs in this part of the country than any other photographer. I’d heard about the beaches here, the sunsets, the food. But a little local knowledge goes such a long way.
Gokarna. A laid-back seaside hamlet tucked into the northwestern corner of Karnataka, a little south of Goa, where the Western Ghats tumble right into the Arabian Sea.
We got off the bus from Bangalore early in the morning. I checked my phone. ‘No service’. Brilliant! It was going to be a good trip. Off the grid. After the unrelenting assault on the senses and onslaught on the nerves that is Bangalore, Gokarna, I knew, was going to be like a cold beer on a hot day. We committed ourselves to the care and hospitality of the local Jungle Lodges and Resorts franchise, and settled down to discuss the different locations we planned to visit and the photographs we planned to make over the next couple of days.
I could barely wait for late afternoon, and to set off for the beach. It had been a while since I had done any real landscape photography. Not since Ladakh last year. We arrived at the beach about an hour before sunset, and set about scouting for a good location for some long exposures. This is my Arcadia, these are my Elysian Fields. Looking at the world through a tiny rectangular window with my left eye closed. Looking for that perfect frame, that perfect composition. I was just happy to once again have a shutter button under my finger, the sun upon my back, the wind in my face, and sand between my toes. But sand was not what we were after. It felt good, certainly, but we wanted more – rocks, crashing waves, colour, drama. Thankfully, Gokarna has a bit of everything.
I saw a jagged outcrop on the edge of the water that I thought would be just right, but it really was a little island with a narrow channel of about 6 feet of shallow sea water separating it from the rocky peninsula that connected to the mainland. However, the tide was rising, and it was only a matter of time before the outcrop would be submerged, and the narrow channel would be transformed into a deep, raging torrent of churning surf, making it impossible for me to return to safety. Plan B, then. I found another spot I was reasonably satisfied with. It was still at the water’s edge and exposed to the ocean waves, but at least afforded an avenue of retreat, should things get a little too precarious. Crabs of all sizes scurried across the rocks and into the little pools of water trapped between them. The bleached, salted, crusty remains of thousands of barnacles clung on tenaciously to the rock faces, defying the waves that washed over them during every high tide. It wasn’t easy getting there, and it was only going to be harder getting back. I knew I would have to find my way out of those rocks after dark. Clambering over wet, slippery rocks with ocean spray blowing against them is dangerous enough. Add darkness and a few kilos of valuable camera gear to the mix, and things get significantly more hazardous. Still, I was there for the pictures, and come hell or, er, high water, I was going to get them.
Everyone loves a pretty sunset, and Gokarna has more than its fair share. However, this time the clouds eluded us, so the sky didn’t have that extra punch that one always looks for in landscape photography. But good things come to those who wait, and it is after the sun has disappeared beneath the horizon and most folks have packed up and have started heading home that the fun really starts and the magic begins. The twilight afterglow. The blue hour, that ephemeral sliver of time when the sky, the land and the sea are awash in surreal magentas and pinks that gradually fade to purples and blues.
Arabian Sea sunsets, exquisite as they are, are not all that Gokarna has to offer. We explored the Gangavali river with its little bends and pools, the Aghnashini estuary and the fishing community along its banks, and, of course, the streets of Gokarna itself. This little town has so much to offer the street photographer, from temples and tattoo parlours to street-side cafes and graffiti- and mural-covered walls, from hippies and priests in the narrow lanes to Italian and Russian and French tourists haggling with shopkeepers displaying merchandise with prices conveniently listed in rupees, dollars and euros. I realized I could easily spend a month here and not do the area photographic justice.
I spent most of my weekend in Gokarna with the venerable Nikon 28 mm f/2.8 AI-s mounted on my camera. I’ve written more about this lens in another post, and the more I use it, the more I respect it. This little beauty is a marvel of optical engineering, a design that’s almost 4 decades old, and it never ceases to delight and amaze me. That it is a fully manual lens, replete with lots of chrome, clicking aperture stops, painted aperture indicators, a proper DoF scale and a wonderfully damped focus ring, makes using it all the more gratifying.
I’m so glad I decided to make the trip. What a fantastic way to spend a long weekend! Oh, and the food! The good folks at JLR spared no effort in making us comfortable, and we thoroughly enjoyed the delectable culinary delights they prepared for us with local ingredients and the fresh catch of the day. Dinesh’s familiarity with this beautiful part of the country was the difference between a bunch of pretty seaside snapshots and some challenging and immensely satisfying landscape, seascape and street photography in varying terrain and conditions. Thanks, Dinesh. Let’s do it again.
Gokarna was just right. In every way. It got me out on the road again, with my trusty Nikon, meeting good people, making new friends and doing the things I love. I know it’s going to keep calling me back. Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash must have known how it feels.
On the road again
Going places that I've never been
Seeing things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again
Here we go, on the road again
Like a band of gypsies, we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way
And our way is on the road again
I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again