The name Belgaum may not strike chord with most people in India living outside Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Belgaum, or Belgavi, as the city is now known, stands on crossroads of two major Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Belgavi is a historical city. It is also the headquarters of an eponymous district that is home to several tourist attractions. Unfortunately, the city remains largely ignored by tourists.
Why this plight?
There are no major reasons why Belgaum rarely finds mention in tourist maps and itineraries. Some of the main causes however are, the city has no air link. The nearby Sambra airport is primarily used by Indian Air Force, which severely restricts civilian flights.
Dabolim International Airport of Goa is nearest to Belgavi, located some 125 km away. There is also a shortage of high quality accommodation facilities for tourists. Local transport within Belgaum is rather erratic, despite a lot of improvements over the last few years.
However, for ardent travelers keen on exploring new places, Belgaum is an ideal destination. You can visit some of the lesser known attractions of India.
Tourist Attractions in Belgaum
Within the city of Belgavi, there are several tourist attractions that have interesting history. Visiting them is fairly easy in a cab or auto-rickshaw since the city is relatively small. Alternatively, you can hire a scooter or motorcycle from any local agent to embark on your exploration.
The imposing Belgavi Fort is one of the major landmarks of the city. Built in 1200 by Jaya Raya or Bichhi Raja of the Ratta dynasty, it served various rulers including emperors of Vijaynagara. Over centuries, the fort came under control of Yadava and Hoysala dynasties Khilji rulers from northern India Bahman sultanate of BijapurMughal emperor Aurangzeb, Marathas of Pune, Peshwas of Pune.
It was captured later by King Hyder Ali of Mysore who also ruled over Belgaum. The fort also served legendary king of Mysore and national hero, Tipu Sultan and later, the British. India’s ‘Father of The Nation’, Mahatma Gandhi was jailed at Belgaum Fort for leading a freedom movement.
Located within ramparts of Belgaum Fort is the famous Jain temple, Kamal Basti. The temple boasts of architecture from the Chalyukyan dynasty era around 1150 to 1210 AD. Pillars of the temple support an intricate pendant shaped like a 72 petal lotus. This outstanding feature lends its name to the temple.
Several intricately carved statues of deities and great saints of the Jain religion that date back to the Chalukyan era can be seen in the temple premises. Kamal Basti is a miracle in itself since it was left untouched by all Islamic and British invaders who captured Belgaum Fort.
A visit to any city is not complete without a visit to its local market. The main market area of Belgaum city is called Khade Bazar.
Here, you can find everything from expensive smart phones to cheap footwear sold by pavement vendors. However, Khade Bazar is also famous for its myriad stalls and restaurants that offer food from various cuisines of Karnataka and the adjoining states, Maharashtra and Goa.
The strong Islamic influence is made visible through scores of joints selling sizzling kebabs and biryani. On select days, tribal folk from villages near Belgaum converge on the market to sell handicrafts and forest produce such as honey, wild berries and medicinal herbs.
Tourist Attractions around Belgaum
The small town of Jamboti is located about 20km from Belgaum city. Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation runs scheduled buses from Belgaum to Jamboti. Any visit to Belgaum is incomplete without a day trip to Jamboti. Located within short distance from Jamboti are the very scenic Varapoha waterfalls, from where Goa’s Mandovi River originates. Jamboti is also home to several ancient temples including Habanhatti Swayambhu Hanuman Temple and Sri Pavanai Devi Temple.
In recent years, Karnataka government has taken initiatives to develop Jamboti and the nearest town, Khanapur, as tourist attractions. Hence, you will find a lot of tourism infrastructure in this area.
Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary
Located about 10km away from Khanapur, the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Wroughton’s Free Tailed Bat. These species of bat figure in the critically endangered list of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) and International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The only places where these bats breed are the Barepede caves in Bhimgad forests. The Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to several other exotic fauna including King Cobra, extremely venomous Kraits, tigers, leopards, sloth bears, wolves and foxes, wild dogs as well as elephants. Hunting in the sanctuary is strictly prohibited under Indian Wildlife Protection Act. The sanctuary is patrolled by forest rangers.
Additionally, you can also see several rare trees, plants and shrubs that are uncommon to other parts of India.
Also called Halasi or Halshi, the town is about 17km away from Khanapur and 40km from Belgaum. Halashi is a very historic township. It was called Palasika in ancient times or around 5th Century AD. Halashi was ruled by the Kadamba dynasty who also reigned over Goa.
Halashi is famous for its ancient temples. The most famous shrine in this town is Bhoo Varaha Lakshmi Narsimha Temple that was built between 500AD and 600AD. Despite its age, the temple is wel maintained and is a great surviving example of Kadamba era architecture. The temple houses some very rare idol of Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu. One idol depicts him in reincarnation as mythical swine or ‘varaha’, carrying the Earth or ‘bhoo’ on its tusk.
Another statue of Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as Narsimha can also be seen at this temple. Additionally, there are several intricate carvings and idols of other Indian deities, especially Goddess Lakshmi alongside incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Planning Your Trip
Traveling to Belgaum or Belgavi is fairly easy by road. A large number of reputed private bus operators alongside Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation and Goa’s state-owned Kadamba Transport Corporation run scheduled buses from major cities and towns to Belgaum.
The city and district enjoy very pleasant weather except during monsoon season from June to September. Due to the large number of operators, it can be confusing to book a ticket for the right price. Here, you can use the popular Indian travel portal, RedBus, to get tickets for journeys that suit your time and budget.
Additionally, You can visit bargain sites like CouponWaale where you can get Redbus coupons which can help you to further lower the bus fare without any extra effort. This is how you can plan your trip smartly and within your Budget.
Shopping in Belgaum
Everyone is fond of shopping for stuff to take home as memories of a holiday. Belgaum is most famous for a sweet called ‘Kunda’. You will find a lot of sweet shops around the Central Bus Terminus of Belgaum that sell this sweet made from high quality milk procured from dairies around the city.
These shops also sell ‘Karadant’ which comes from nearby Gokak. ‘Karadant’ or ‘Karadantu’ means fried gum. Hence, the sweet is actually edible resin fried in pure ghee and garnished with cashew nuts, almond, pistachios and walnut bits.
Another location to shop in Belgaum is the Karnataka state arts and handicrafts emporium, Cauvery. You can buy excellent incense sticks made from natural products and sandalwood and other exquisite collectables at Cauvery. A word of caution: Several stores that use names such as ‘Kaveri’, ‘Caveri’ and other permutations and combinations have sprung up over Belgavi.
They have signboards that can mislead you into believing it is a showroom of the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation, a government enterprise. Often, these imposters sell low quality stuff at high prices to unwitting tourists.
The Karnataka government is striving to develop Belgavi or Belgaum and its periphery as tourist destinations. Hence, the area is expected to witness a tourist boom in coming years. Therefore, the right time to visit Belgaum, which lies on crossroads of Maharashtra and Karnataka is now. Belgaum may be an ignored destination so far.
However, its attractions within and outside the city make it an ideal tourist getaway. As explained before, getting to Belgaum is not much of a hassle. Getting around the city is fairly easy if you hire a cab or auto rickshaw.
Do not forget to take pictures of the giant statue of Kittur Rani Chennamma that adorns the circle in Belgaum’s Ravivar Peth, before departing from this wonderful city.