Words: SAMARPAN BHOWMIK
Photographs: KRISHNA PRABAKAR T
Belgaum, owing to its proximity to Goa, is often just a stopover for those on their way to enjoying a holiday by the coast. However, this little city in Karnataka has a fair bit to offer visitors. To start out, there’s the Belgaum Fort, a 13th-century structure right in the heart of the city. Built by the Ratta Dynasty and later controlled by various forces over the centuries,the fort has a deep and wide moat around it, designed to keep invading armies out. The gate used for entry these days is an impressive structure with a guard chamber; on the outside, there are motifs of birds and animals decorating it. An inscription in Persian on top of the gate reads: “Jakub Ali Khan, who is a joy to the heart, by whose benevolence the world is prosperous, built the wall of the fort from its base as strong as the barrier of Sicardis.” Inside, you will find Jain and Hindu temples along with two mosques. Right as you enter the fort, you’ll see long queues of devotees in front of the dieties of Ganesha and Durga. Of the two Jain temples, the one known as Kamal Basadi was renovated by the Archaeology Department in 1996, while the other one, Chikki Basadi, is in a less favourable condition. The two mosques, Safa Masjid and Jamia Masjid, date back to the 16th century. The fort today also serves as the regional army headquarters, with some of official and residential buildings located inside. Early morning is a good time to take a stroll here.
Before you head out of town to nearby attractions, make a stop at Niyaaz, the best place for Belgaum biryani, a unique take on one of India’s favourite dishes. The curries and kebabs are also great options.
Out of Belgaum, make your first stop Yellur Fort in Rajhansgad, around 16km away (Belgaum; open 24 hours; free). There’s a paved road leading almost all the way to the entrance of the fort, so it’s easy enough to drive down. Inside, things are pretty well maintained and the temple at the centre of the courtyard is a recent addition and, hence, in good shape. If you’re lucky enough to land up there on a weekday, you’ll have beaten droves of the faithful too. There’s also a sweet- water well in the fort, and legend has it that there existed a secret tunnel to the Rajhansgad city from the fort. The panoramic view from the ramparts is lovely.
If Yellur Fort whets your appetite for forts, you’ll really enjoy your visit to Kittur Fort, around another 50km away. This fort was built by the Desai dynasty back in the 17th century and is still in reasonably good shape. Several structures such as the durbar hall, meeting rooms and bathing quarters, among others, have walls and pillars intact, and provides a decent insight into life in those times. There’s also the Kittur Rani Chennamma Memorial Government Museum within the premises. Inaugurated by Indira Gandhi in 1967, it has a collection of weapons, swords, coats of mail, shields, engraved wooden doors and windows from the Kittur Palace, inscriptions, hero stones, statues of Surya and Vishnu both from Kadrolli, Vishnu and Surya from Devarashigehalli, Subrahmanya from Manoli, Durga from Hirebagewadi, and many more antiquities.
A trip to Belgaum is like stepping back in time, revisiting the various dynasties that controlled the region and their struggles and triumphs. And, when you’ve enriched the mind with history, there’s also that wonderful opportunity to feed the soul with some mouth-watering biryani. Go forth and feed mind and soul!