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A Side Trip to Gokarna: Discovering the Universe within at Om Beach

Often cited as the top beach in India, Om Beach lies near Karnataka's important pilgrimage town of Gokarna -- about 3 hours south of Goa's Dabolim Airport. Black rocks divide the superb white sand into three interconnected bays that more or less resemble the Sanskrit "om" symbol, the Sanskrit invocation that Hindus believe created the universe. Om is but one of five lovely beaches at Gokarna -- other tempting, appropriately named stretches include Half-moon Beach and Paradise Beach. Infrastructure here was practically nonexistent a few years back, but new shacks and small "guesthouses" have been emerging every season. The good news is that this is also the setting for SwaSwara (tel. 0838/625-7131 through -7133; www.swaswara.com), one of the loveliest Ayurvedic, yoga and meditation retreats in the country, a slick, luxurious operation by Kerala-based group, CGH Earth. Set atop a cliff above the beach and sea (access to which is a pleasant stroll through lush vegetation), this yoga retreat comprises 24 Konkan-styled indoor-outdoor villas set amid 12 hectares (30 acres) of palm trees and paddy fields. Each cottage has an air-conditioned bedroom, but the open-plan living area, bathroom, and covered upstairs terrace, are open to the elements and even incorporate a small garden. There's a good pool, art studio (where you can take classes), a quiet yoga shala, and a spectacular blue-domed hall for meditation sessions (the yoga master is excellent -- see if you can stay awake through his ultra-relaxing yoga nidra sessions). There are no restrictions or routines to follow, although you can opt for a healing or rejuvenation program that involves a stricter diet and regular consultations or treatments; but that depends on you. It's a special place, where the tranquillity of the setting, the magic of the ocean, and the hands-on support from a dedicated, well-trained staff allows you to reconnect with yourself, ideally resetting your clock to the rhythm of your soul (which is what the Kannada term SwaSwara implies). You're encouraged to stay at least 7 nights; the cost is 900€ per person sharing, with all meals (the food is extraordinary) and certain activities included, and Ayurvedic packages are also available.

If, however, you're not looking to cleanse your body and mind, but simply want to be near the gorgeous beach, take a look at Om Beach Resort (Jungle Lodges: tel. 0802/559-7021 or -7024; www.junglelodges.com), which offers large, comfortable accommodations with all-modern amenities but tasteless finishes. Without the lavishness of SwaSwara or its body-tingling massage regimens, you'll have no excuse not to spend all day on the beach, where, incidentally, you can probably shack up in a simple place for even fewer rupees. Operating under the same banner is the laid-back and rustic Devbagh Beach Resort (tel. 0838/222-1603; www.junglelodges.com) in Karwar, an hour or two (depending on road conditions) north of Gokarna, where guests stay in log cabins on stilts among groves of casuarina trees. Spend your days snorkeling, visiting outlying islands, beachcombing, or lazing in your hammock.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.