Monday, January 09, 2017

Visiting In and Around Belagaavi (Belgaum)!

This year, Souji got busy with her Montessori training, and we had to plan for a short year end outing (4 days including commute). With most of the exotic places already covered, and the big ones needing longer travel days, we decided that we should explore those areas which are not frequented by tourists, but have a whole lot to offer!

Belagaavi, earlier known as Belgaum, (and still widely used) is one of those places, that is truly blessed with a beautiful weather all round the year, natural water resources, green landscapes and a Language, Culture and Food that shares the boundaries of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Exploring in and around Belgaum was chosen as the obvious choice for our visit as it met our needs.

We booked our to-and-fro railway tickets 2 months in advance and the hotels a month in advance.

28th Dec, 2016, Wednesday:
We boarded the Rani Chennama Express to Belgaum from Bangalore Central at Night.

29th Dec, 2016, Thursday:
We arrived at Belgaum City at 8:30 AM and headed to Hotel Hanuman Lodge, which became our home for the next few days. The rooms were quite neat, well maintained. Fortunately, we got a corner room so we had huge windows which offered a great views of the main roads. The location of our hotel was very convenient as we had ATMs, Food Shops, Medical Services, Taxi and Auto services right at the junction. The rooms were spacious, and well maintained.

The first thing we did after piking up the keys from the reception was to hire a Taxi to take us to Kolhapur Mahalakshmi Temple, about 120 KMS from Belgaum. (Actualy, visiting this temple was not in our plans, but the front office person suggested that we do this and we kind of bought his plan ;-))

We refreshed ourselves quickly and had a quick breakfast (came complimentary with our stay).

Here is where we got to taste the Belgaum's version of Uppit (Upma), Shira (Kesaribath). The taste of Uppit was just divine. We have not had such good Uppit in years. The Crispy Vaadas are another best that one should not miss while at Belgaum. And we tried Uppit across many hotels during our stay at Belgaum and every other time it tasted as good as the first one. I can happily concede that the Uppit @ Belgaum is one of the best Uppits I have tasted till date. Enough of Uppit now :-)

Our taxi driver arrived on time and we started towards Kolhapur by 10:00 AM. Kolhapur is in Maharashtra. We passed through the towns of Hattargi, Sankeshwar, Nippani before entering Maharashtra and then into Kolhapur. On the way, we crossed River Ghataprabha, which looked majestic and huge!. These areas being the flat plans, the water spreads flat and wide and as far as the eyes can see. Some times, one wonders whether it was a River or a Sea!

We reached Kolhapur by noon and immediately got into the Queue. Because of the holiday season, there was long winding queue. It took us about an hour and half to get the Darshan of Mahalakshmi, the main goddess of this temple. The temple structure itself was quite beautifully carved in black stone. Some of the figurines on the walls seem to have been spoiled, but overall, a nice temple to visit. By the way, this temple has no strict dress codes as long as one is decently dressed. No restrictions such Only Dhotis / Pyjamas / Sarees. Jeans, Shorts, Skirts etc.. are all allowed :-). We were done with our visit to the Temple by 2:30 PM.

On the way back from the temple, one can see the street side vendors selling the famed 'Kolhapuri Chappals'. Footwear, the size of mini Key Chains to the monstrous sizes - 6 foot tall(for decorative purposes) adorn the walls of these shops. The area in and the Temple is quite festive and colorful.

Our Taxi driver (Vishwas) suggested that while we were at Kolhapur, we visit the 'Gandhinagar' area, which houses a lot of Wholesale Garments shops. Apparently these wholesale stocks arrive directly from the mills of Mumbai before it reaches the Markets of the other towns. So we drove to the Gandhinagar area, and checked out a couple of shops. Souji was more than happy to start shopping on Day 1 of the tour itself and picked up whole lot of dress materials from here.

We left Kolhapur city by 3:30 PM and headed back towards Belgaum. 30 minutes into our drive, we glanced upon a huge reservoir near a town called Kaagal. The blue water was very enticing and demanded that it be visited. We asked the locals about this place. (Our experienced driver himself did not know much about this ;-)). Further enquiry with the locals, we got to know that they have Boating facilities there and that was a good enough reason for Pooja and Ruchir to visit this place!

We took the motor boat ride and Kids loved it. There was hardly any crowd, except for the locals. Hardly anybody knows such places exist as most of the visitors who come to Belgaum are mostly on their way to Goa and spend their time in Belgaum as pit-stop for their onward journey.

We planned for the next day's outing and informed the driver to be ready by 8 AM for our next day's trip.

We were quite tired with all the travel after a hectic day. We reached Belgaum by 7 PM and had very little energy left to roam around. We refreshed ourselves as the room and got down to the food Junction, right across the main road. The make shift Food-Junction, was a set of Shops on wheels, who come in the evening and park at a junction and offer all the fast food snacks from Dosas, Chaats, Mewad Ice Creams, Faloodas, Pav Bhaajis, Chineese Noodles, Fried Rice, and and fried stuff. Kids loved the Pani Puris, Kulfis and Vada Pavs. We were done for the day and hit the bed early.

30th Dec, 2016, Friday:
After a good nice sleep, we got woke up early and got to the next-door restaurant for the complimentary breakfast. The Uppit was waiting! An obvious first choice for all of us, along with Crispy vada and some Idlis.

Our driver arrived with his Tata Indigo by 8 AM and we set off for the days trip. The plan was to see Hidkal Reservoir / Dam, Godachinamalaki Falls, Gokak Falls, Gokak Dam and whatever other other surprises we could cover in and around these places.

On our way, we again crossed the Ghataprabha River and after Hattargi, we took a right turn towards Gokak City. First stop was at Hidkal Dam.

Hidkal Dam:
Hidkal dam was completed in 1977, with the purpose of generating hydroelectric power as well as supplying drinking water and irrigating agricultural land in surrounding areas. Total length of the dam is 10183 meters. Water from Ghataprabha River fills up this reservoir. It also has a power generation plant. The reservoir and dam areas are not allowed for General Public viewing, as it is meant only for officials. However, the view and sights from this place so Awesome that it makes me think, why haven't our Tourism development boards not-yet cashed on such wonderful locations.

We spent some time here enjoying the unending blue hues of the reservoir spreading till the horizon. An amazing place to visit.

As we continued driving we stopped briefly on the bridge, where we could see up-close the Crest Gates of the Dam, The power plant and the gushing water released into the canals. Pooja had read about Dams, Reservoirs, Power Plants as part of her school curriculum this year and she was quite excited to see and appreciate all of this in a real sense. Visiting these places served the very purpose of entertainment and learning. No amount of reading can match the learning when you see and experience them in reality and this trip definitely helped.

We took a quick Tea Break near the Dam area and then went on towards Godachinamalaki Falls. I came to know of this falls through a news paper article a few months back and was impressed by the details. I did a quick search on YouTube and was thoroughly impressed with what I saw and that is when I decided that we should make a visit to Belgaum and other falls in and around Belgaum.

On our way to Godachinamalki falls, something else was in store for us.

Hidkal Reservoir:
We drove along the reservoir bund and we got off the main road and lost our way briefly.and entered a small village. To our surprise, we came across a barren strip of land from where we could see from inside the reservoir area! We parked our car and then walking towards the bank of the reservoir. The view of the reservoir from this side was breathtaking and appeared as blue as the lakes in Ladakh's Pangong Tso, made famous via the movie 3 Idiots!

We had to walk about a kilometer to reach the banks, but the walk was worth it. Miles together of crystal clear, Aqua Blue water and nobody except the 4 of us. We spent quite some time assimilating the beauty of this place. So calm and peaceful.

There are no directions to this place, no paths, nobody to assist, but probably intended that people should not visit such places as crowds could gather and security could become a problem for the administration. Also there could be rising waters due to heavy inflow as well that could be dangerous. So anybody visiting such places are at their own risks.

We returned back to our car somehow found our roads back to the main road. This off-the-road experience, was 'full paisa-vasool' for this trip!!!

Godachinamalki Falls:
The Godachinamalaki falls is about a 45 minute drive from Hidkal Dam Area, but to get to the Falls itself, one has to trek about half a Kilomoter from the parking area. A small signboard of absolutely minuscule size, points towards a small opening into a 5 foot walking track with loads of thorny shrubs that completely masks all view into the approach. There is absolutely no road, no sign posts and just a muddy track surrounded by dry shrubs. Again, there was hardly any visitors whatsoever and one could hear their own breath while walking. Lucky few can get easily lost here ;-)

We were informed about the falls not having much water at this time of the year. And when we reached the spot, it was as expected. There was hardly any water to call it as a falls.

However, being there, one can imagine and appreciate how it would be during the monsoons, looking at the width of the falls and the number of cascades before the water drops further down into the gorge.

There was however, a little stream of water gushing out of a few rocky crevices and that was just enough for Pooja and Ruchir to play in the water for some time. The warm sun and the clear water was quite enjoyable.

We left Godachinkamalaki falls and headed next towards Gokak Falls. We drove past green fields of Jowar, Sugarcane, Chillies, Sunflowers, Cabbage, Cotton and many others. Looked to be a very fertile area in and around these places, mostly so because of the rivers near-by and the moderate weather right through the river.

Gokak Falls:
We reached Gokak falls area and the first thing you see is the 120 year old hanging suspension bridge across the river. It spans about 200 meters in length and recommends only 30 persons weight as the load bearing capacity at any point of time. The bridge sways as one walks on the narrow bridge and is a funny feeling when it really sways! The bridge also provides a spectacular view of the valley and the river underneath.

Ghataprabha river dives 52 meters through a horse shoe shaped water falls. A Power Plant station stands at one side of the falls and has been supplying electricity since 1887. All of its power is now utilized for the locally famous Gokak Textile Mills that is built at the entrance of the falls.

Crossing over the bridge, we climbed the hill to get a better view of the falls. It was an awesome sight. Again, we had the same feeling, that had it been the monsoon, this place would have been even more spectacular!

We crossed the bridge back and visited the famous Gokak Textile Mills, that stands right opposite to the entrance. We visited their Garment Showroom that was shop was offering discounts at factory rate for all garments and got a good deal on Kids garments, Inner wear and towels.

Our next task was to buy the famous Gokak Kardanth. We enquired with the locals on the directions to the authentic Poornima Sweets [Kalburgi] which prepares the most authentic Gokak Kardanth. We located that it was opposite the Gokak Bus Stand. Poornima Sweets [Kalburgi] is the authentic shop that prepares and sells the famous 'Gokak Kardanth' and has been around since 1904. So it was a nice experience to have bought some sweets home from the shop that made it this famous!

We started our return journey to Belgaum by 4:30 PM and reached close to 6 PM. We had an hours time with us before our batteries died and so we made a quick visit to the 'Military Mahadev' temple near the Camp area, quite close to the Railway station. 

Military Mahadev temple is Shiva Temple has been constructed within the Army Defense Area, but opened out for public as well. A very neat and clean area, [Military area]. So a lot of folks come to visit here daily. Kids also get to enjoy Mini Merry Go-Rounds and Jumping Jacks along with Swings and See-Saws and Slides. We spent the next hour till it got dark. We returned back to our hotel and thanked our Driver Vishwas for his services in the past couple of days.

In all the hectic activity, we forgot to have lunch during the day and the kids were hungry like hell and so were we! We refreshed ourselves in a jiffy back at our hotel. We then hopped into our regular restaurant and made sure Ruchir and Pooja got something to eat for starters. Later, we enquired with the locals on where we could have the most authentic 'Belgaum Jowar/North Karnataka Meals', and got to know that he best one was just 100 meters away from where we were!

We visited the 'Basaveshwara Mess' and ordered the Regular Jowar Rotti Thaali. We love North Karnataka Jowar Rotti meals and we have had meals in many hotels across Bangalore. But have to admit the we had the the tastiest Jowari meals ever, hands-down! Absolutely delightful taste, variety and quantity that was served here.

With tummy full and sagging eyes, it was lights out by 9:30 PM.

31st Dec, 2016, Saturday:
Another beautiful day and another round of Lip-smacking Hot and piping Uppit for breakfast! Yay!!!

Our return journey was at 6:50 PM and our room booking ended by 9:30 AM. So we checked out of the hotel by 9 and kept our luggage at the reception. The plan was to roam around the Belgaum town and explore the culture attributes of the City, the old town, market area, the people, the dresses they wear, the day-day life and things like that.

Before to that, we visited the 'Kamal Basadi', a Jain temple which was built in 1204 AD. It gets its name by the Ceiling carved like a Lotus. This temple is covered under the Historical Monuments  of Architectural Society of India (ASI) and is one of the famous land marks to visit while in Belgaum. Kamal Basadi temple is a full black stone structure supported by huge Pillars of enormous size. It has a huge 'Ranga Mantapa' which probably was used for dance and musical performances. Mahavira's idol inside the temple is well carved and very peaceful.

We spent an hour at the temple and later took an Auto Rickshaw to 'Khade Bazaar'.

Khade Bazaar is one of the oldest bazaars in town and hosts a lot of small shops as well as the big and upscale ones, selling everything under the sun. Very busy and that day being a Saturday and the last day of the year 2016, the crowd was everywhere.

We walked from one end of Khade Bazaar to Ganpath Ghali and then to Maruthi Ghali. We roamed around all the streets. The wholesale markets offered fresh vegetables and flowers. The vivid colours of Rangolis, the smell of the spices, the fragrance of Dhoop and Agarbhathis filled the morning air. And not to miss the dust and dirt from the busy streets ;-) It was a quite a sensation. We shopped for some local stuff here as well.

Our next activity was to buy the famed 'Belgaum Kunda'. A sweet made of Khova. By this time, we had made our homework on where to shop for the most Authentic Kunda at Belgaum. As one can imagine, the town has every other sweet shop selling Kunda and claiming theirs is the most authentic.

On College Road, there is a shop by name 'Atul Purohit' and this shop, most locals believe, is the most authentic Kunda maker in the whole of Belgaum. Most of the folks concurred on this shop as the most authentic Kunda maker of Belgaum even while a some of them claim that it is 'Camp Purohit'! People swarmed this place like bees!

Anyways, we tasted the sample of Kunda, and it was awesome! That is what mattered the most. We packed a KG of this treasure for back home.

It was 2 PM and we were all hungry! Not really hungry, but hungry for having one more lunch at Basaveshwara Mess! So took an Auto Rickshaw and reached there. The food was as heavenly as it was the previous night. Loved it.

We walked down lazily towards our Hanuman Lodge, which was at a walk-able distance from 'Basaveshwara mess'. Our plan was to spend some time at the reception till about 5 PM and then go to the railway station for our train that had to depart at 6:50 PM. We refreshed ourselves at the hotel and relaxed for a while at the reception itself.

I did a quick check on the internet just to make sure that our train to Bangalore was on time. My friends, had warned me prior to our travel here that the trains arriving from north would generally be delayed by an our or two. Upon my enquiry, got to know that our train was delayed by 5 and half hours and was expected to reach Belgaum by 12 midnight!!! This was not expected at all!!!

We had to spend another 9 hours at Belgaum, with all the luggage at hand and without a hotel reservation! So we had to scratch our head and plan on what next to do. We took an Auto Rickshaw to the Railway Station, and deposited all our big bags at the Railway Station Cloak room and freed ourselves from carrying the load. Military Mahadev temple was near-by to the Railway Station and Kids loved the mini-amusement park within their campus. So we walked to the temple and Kids had a good time playing there. We also discovered that this place also had a mini-zoo! Emus, Deers and Ducks!

We spent time till about 7:30 PM in the evening and then headed back to the railway station. We went straight to the AC Waiting Room to find out that apart from the 4 of us, there was not a soul around!. A huge AC waiting hall, fully furnished with AC, Sofa Sets, Mobile Charging Units, Spic and Span Rest rooms! This was better than our Hotel where we spent the last couple of nights! What else can one ask for?!?!

We spent the rest of the evening there and tracked our train all the time. Few other families joined us later at the AC waiting room. The train got delayed even further and was finally scheduled to arrive at 1 AM in the morning.

At the stroke of mid-night of Dec 31st, we celebrated the arrival of New Year of 2017 at Belgaum's Railway Station, along with a few strangers! This made it very interesting for us as we were never outside of home during the New Year and this was the first time and it was so much different! This will definitely will remain with us for a long time to come.

Finally our train arrived at 1 AM and we boarded our train. The rest of the journey was peaceful and we reached Bangalore and finally home by 3 PM in the evening.

With that, our small little year-end trip ended with a loads of sweet memories from Belgaum! Wishing you all a Very Happy and Exciting 2017!

Here are some photos that we took during our trip.