Yana came recommended for its natural rock formations, some of them resembling human faces. My hotel concierge in Gokarna was not sure if it was worth my time, but I headed out anyway.
Located about 53 kms (33 miles) from Gokarna, the drive took me through villages, with the last 10 kms (9 miles) on a half mud track, half road through forests. It was shaded and cool in the peak summer, cannot imagine what it would like in the rains.
Had to park my car at the start of a 30 minute hike through forests to get to the rock formations. A kiosk at the parking was well stocked with sodas, ice creams and snacks, and I sensibly ate a bit and hydrated myself well.
The walk itself was beautiful. Bar a few tourists and pilgrims, it was silence all around. Broken every few minutes by a loud, long whirring sound – like those of a toy car with a pull-back spring mechanism. I would later learn it was coming from an insect, Cicada.
I was under a tree canopy throughout, with streams running along and small waterfalls making for additional features. The water flow was not high, but everything changes during and after the monsoons.
I was hoping to see rock formations of a stature I had seen in Jordan recently, but these were much more modest. But interesting nonetheless. There are two jutting out vertically – named Bhairaveshwara and Jagamohini shikharas (peaks) respectively. These are made of solid black crystalline limestone.
Be prepared to climb up about 260 steps at the end of the forest trail to get to these formations.
Once again, a religious legend and temple have come up here. The story goes that demon king Bhasmasura performed penance to eventually gain a boon from Lord Shiva – the former got the power to burn and reduce to ashes whosoever’s head he placed his hand on.
Ungrateful as the demon king was, he decided to test the powers on his benefactor himself. Lord Shiva took refuge with Lord Vishnu to protect himself, and to seek the latter’s help.
Lord Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini, and enticed a smitten Bhasmasura to a dance competition. In one of the moves, Mohini placed her hand over her head, and Bhasmasura did so likewise unwittingly. Only to be reduced to ashes himself.
The taller peak thus got named Bhairaveshwara (after Shiva) and the other one Jagamohini (after Mohini).
Look up and you will see many beehives dotting the undersides of these peaks. Thankfully, there were no buzzing (and biting) bees around.
Devotees say the fire was so intense as to have blackened the rock formations. And the loose black soil came from the ashes – further proof of what happened a long time ago.
Talking of black soil – get ready for very dirty feet, shoes, socks, clothes and even your cameras. But only if you decide to hike through a cave passage at Yana, with its stalagmites and stalactites, above the temple complex.
You have to take your shoes off at the entrance of the compound itself – and walk around on the dusty ground. The cave itself is a 900 steps walk up – and another 100 down. Tread carefully lest the sharp edges pierce your feet.
The caves smell of bats – do you feel nausea easily? When you stand in the middle, look up and you will see openings at the top revealing the sky above. If you are scared to be alone in near-claustrophobic conditions, take someone with you.
It is a fun hike but not what you see at the end – whatever touched the ground and cave walls will be covered in a very strange kind of black dirt. Good reason for you to minimize contact.
Advisable to carry a soap along – and request the shack selling coconut water and other snacks outside the temple to be allowed the use of the water tap. You will really need to scrub your hands and feet well. When back in the hotel, store your clothes away in a separate bag.
I also refreshed myself with fresh coconut water at this shack.
Interestingly, some groups of young boys (late teens / early 20s) chatted me up, curious to know who I was and what I was doing with all my cameras. And they wanted group photographs with me. Flattering! I was like a foreigner to them.
If you are in the area, I would recommend a trip to Yana. And take a picnic along. Take a break along the forest trail and enjoy the beauty and serenity around. And keep an eye out for rare birds and common monkeys (the latter will try to join your party).
And do take care to be back to the car parking well before sunset. Not a good idea to be in the forest alone.
Ajay Jain is currently on the Great Arabian Sea Drive, starting from Delhi and following the coastline all the way from Gujarat down to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Follow all updates on:
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