BELGAUM, INDIA - Lose yourself here to find yourself
January 1, 1970
My first travel article had to be about a place that is the love of my life and my muse. A place for which my heart and soul harbour a primal love that goes beyond words. It’s the kind of love you feel for the mother that birthed you. That place is Belgaum – a quaint little town in Northern Karnataka where I grew up.
Belgaum was once known as Venugram, a romantic name which means ‘Bamboo Village’. When I was growing up, Belgaum always reminded me of Malgudi from the book Malgudi Days by R. K. Narayan (if you haven’t read it, it is a delightful collection of unusual short stories and you might like it!) People in Belgaum are a close community, living an unhurried, yet a rich life in the peaceful town. Time moves slowly here because you are aware of every minute passing you by. What people love and treasure most about Belgaum is its salubrious and leafy climate all through the year and the diverse yet loving community.
So, apart from being extremely dear for all of it’s residents, I think Belgaum also makes for an absolutely wonderful spot for a staycation. It is the perfect place for you to get away from the hectic city life where you don’t feel yourself breathe.
Where is it located?
[single_map_place] Belgaum [/single_map_place]
Belgaum is situated at an idyllic spot on the map. It is at the cusp of borders of three states – Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Nestled in the foothills of the luscious Western Ghats, the place is dressed in jaded greens and tranquil air for most part of the year.
What to see?
In the city itself, I would suggest you to visit the Belgaum Fort, one of the oldest forts in Karnataka, whose history can be traced back to the Ratta and Rashtrakuta dynasty.
Inside the Belgaum fort, lies a beautiful Jain temple called Kamal Basadi, a beautiful poem of Chalukya architecture. It is made of black basaltic stone and the inside of the temple tower depicts a breath-taking inverted lotus.
Right beside the Kamal Basadi is the Ramkrishna Mission Ashrama. The famous philosopher, Swami Vivekananda, had stayed at Belgaum for 9 days. The place where he resided is converted into a spiritual ashrama. The ashrama radiates peace and calm in its quietness and I have always found my visits there spiritually nourishing.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the mystical Kapileshwar temple in the old city. Also known as ‘Kashi of the South’, dating back to 1000 AD, it is arguably the most ancient temple in all of Karnataka, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Rent a scooter and ride around in the Camp area. This area is controlled by the Indian Military and it is the greenest place in the city. It also happens to be my favourite place. There are old buildings of the British era to explore and sinuous roads with burgeoning trees at the side to accompany you. You can also visit the Military Mahadev and the Hindalga Ganapati temples in Camp. Both are extremely clean and exude a peaceful aura. Also visit the stately St. Mary’s church in Camp.
Visit the spice market and local market in Ganpat Galli. You’ll get the freshest organic vegetables in Shahapur in early mornings. Belgaum is famous for its own version of handloom sarees called Belgaum sarees with ‘kasuti’ embroidery. Do visit the saree shops in the main market to buy some of these splendid fabrics. The best place I have found is Virupaxi Sarees in Khade Bazaar.
What else am I going to love about Belgaum?
Apart from giving you the break you might need from the hustle and bustle of big cities, Belgaum is close to several beautiful destinations drenched in the beauty of nature. You can hire a cab, pack a picnic and have a day’s trip to any of the following destinations:
Vaijnath and Sundi Waterfall
Around 27 km away from Belgaum, on a beautiful hill, the serene temple of Vaijnath is located. While you drive to the top of the hill, you’ll see beautiful expanse of farms on both sides of the highway and green forests as you climb the hill. The Sundi waterfall is situated a few kilometres’ drive further away from the temple. In the monsoons, the milky white waterfall falls from a height of about 50 feet. It is completely safe to play in the waterfall as it isn’t too forceful nor is it too voluminous.
You can also trek to the top of the waterfall and see the stream bubbling across stones to fall over the small cliff to form the Sundi waterfall. At the top, you’ll see light green cashew trees and fields of grass. People seldom go there, so you’ll be guaranteed a crowd-less serenity.
You’ll need to carry potable water and food. Wear sturdy shoes with good grips because you will need to trek down a somewhat difficult path to reach the waterfall.
Best season: Monsoons to December
To get there: Take the road out of Belgaum via Hindalga Ganapati towards Mahipalgadh. You can ask local villagers for directions.
When you get on the breathtaking Belgaum-Goa highway, hidden from the main road are picturesque places. One of them is Habbanhatti. A few kilometers beyond the village Jamboti, a right turn takes you on a winding path with fields of various produce on both your sides. You also pass through the tiny village of Habbanhatti where you can spot thatched-roof-huts and chickens running around on the road. At the end of this road you’ll find a Hanuman temple on the banks of Malaprabha river.
The river isn’t too deep unless there are heavy monsoons rains when the river swells up to engulf the temple on its banks. On other days though, you can climb on the huge rocks a little ways beyond the temple and sit on them with your feet in the cool water as it forms a magical pool as it flows by.
There are huge fields to run around and play. It is an ideal place for a day picnic. Wear waterproof shoes or slippers with good grip and soles because the rocks on the river bank are a little jagged and sharp. You’ll need to carry potable water. Food is available only in Jamboti in little restaurants, nothing fancy.
Best season: June to February
To get there: Take the road from 3rd gate to VTU via Peeranwadi. Then a right turn at 2.5km after Jamboti. Look for the board pointing to Habbanhatti.
What to eat?
Belgaum’s cuisine is a tasty hodge-podge of Uttara Kannada and Maharashtrian flavours.
The town’s signature sweet dish, Kunda, is well known in India. It is prepared with milk and ‘khawa’. The best place to eat it is in Atul Purohit, College Road or in Kalyani sweets, Camp.
Do try the solkadi. It is a zany, sour-sweet-and-spicy pre-appetiser drink made from kokum fruits, coconut milk and spices. You will only find it in Belgaum and Konkan regions, so don’t miss out.
Don’t miss the Alipak, a tasty snack at Sheetal Rasavanti Grih. Have it with sugarcane juice and believe me, you’ll come back for more.
You’ll love the pav bhaji and other chats at the street food plaza near Ramdev hotel.
South Indian and Maharashtrian breakfast and snacks at Ajanta Café and Hotel Grand.There are also fast food outlets like Dominos, KFC, McDonald’s and Subway along with other restaurants that serve continental, Chinese (the Indian version) and North Indian food.
Where to stay?
For an extremely memorable staycation, I would suggest this wonderful resort in Belgaum called Sankalp Bhumi. It is a rustic farm resort on the outskirts of Belgaum, with beautiful cottages and uncorrupted nature. The ambiance is just breath-taking, with acres of greenery around the cottages where you can relax. The food here is excellent, the best I have had in Belgaum. It is prepared by local folks living in that area and the flavours are the most authentic of Belgaum and its culture.
Eefa is a luxury hotel in Belgaum. Apart from that, Hotel Adarsh Palace, Hotel Sankam and Ajanta Hotel offer really good rooms and services.
How to get there?
- Road: Belgaum is well connected by to most of the cities. You can book an overnight bus ticket from Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. You can drive to Belgaum (only 3 hours) from Goa. Plenty of private bus services run to lots of major cities in Karnataka and the surrounding states.
- Air: Belgaum has its own airport at Sambra, which is approximately 10 km from the main city. There are daily flights by SpiceJet to Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mangalore, Hyderabad and Jabalpur.
- Rail: Belgaum Railway Station has excellent connectivity to all major destinations.
Also, if you feel like you have had your time away from the world and you need to get back into the action for the rest of your vacation, you can choose one of the happening destinations around Belgaum and it’ll be, at the most, an overnight journey there.
Getting around in Belgaum is really easy too. Bus connectivity is good. There are autorickshaws abundant and car rental companies. Now with the introduction of Ola cabs, getting around has become extremely convenient.
Many who have come to Belgaum have taken away cherished memories of it. It is not without reason that everybody who comes here falls in love with it instantly. Come to Belgaum to unravel yourself and perhaps you might stumble upon your self!