Belagavi or Belgaum 📍
My first interaction in the city: ₹250 for an auto for 2 KMs. That’s just robbery! He came down to ₹100 after I told him off. Then found another auto guy who said ₹80. (This was also high, but I was tired.)
Belagavi is the (proposed) 2nd capital of Karnataka. It is a controversial city: both Maharashtra (Maha) and Karnataka want it within their borders. I don’t understand this border dispute. 😞
Update: A journalist friend, Sarayu, gave me a few pointers here. Language is the reason for this fight. Most of North Karnataka up to Goa know Hindi. Thanks to Nizam rule and the districts that border MP and Maha. And Hindi becomes more important because Bombay is closer than Bangalore. On top of that, this region becomes strategically important because it is geographically closer to upcoming districts like Karwar. There is also a spurt of educational institutions like IIT Dharward/Raichur coming up.
Language. Almost everyone understood Hindi. Everyone knew Kannada and Marathi.
Update: Belgaum is not a prosperous region and politically weak. Sarayu mentioned that since Mumbai is nearby, Belagavis go there for work. So, they learn Hindi and Marathi. This also means that youth leave for work to other cities and mostly old generations remain in the Belgaum.
Payments. After using cash everywhere in Maha, I was surprised that barring a few auto drivers UPI was widely accepted in Belgaum. It looks like Belgaum is on its way to become a smart city.
Stay. No hostels. Multiple hotels are available, but all average or below average. I chose a hotel in the market area.
Food. The first thing was Belagavi Biryani. I tried it at a famous chain called Niyaaz Restaurant (Main Branch) 📍. I’d rate it 3.5/5. A friend (met her later during the week) mentioned that Niyaaz is over-rated.
The second thing was a dessert called Belagavi Kunda. I loved it! All the sweet shops sell Kunda. You can buy 100 grams of it for ₹20 or ₹25.
Last thing was to try the Maharashtrian thali available at indie restaurants.
Tourist Points. There are two points in the Belagavi Fort area: Kamala Basadi 📍 and Safa Masjid 📍.
Story time. After wrapping up from work, I left for the Fort area. I reached my destination after walking 3 KMs and found that it was an army area. No one stopped me from going inside. I went to the mosque. Unfortunately for me, it was inside the Army protected area. My phone said 9 PM. The guards at the entry started questioning me. They let me go only when they were satisfied that I wasn’t a bad element. Of course I couldn’t see the masjid. Apparently, it is open to the general public only during Bakrid. Afterwards, while coming out of the main area where no one stopped me while entering, another army personnel stopped me. Same barrage of questions came my way. On top of that, he checked my bag and photographed my ID. It turns out that that area becomes a no-movement zone after 9 PM. Next day I visited the Kamala Basadi and ended my tourist mode. 😅
Vibe. Most of my interaction was during transactions: shop owners, hotel folks, or auto drivers. I almost never got a polite response from anyone. They were not rude either. There was no warmth in the interaction. No one smiled. Just plain dry transaction. Belagavi is the first city where I felt like that.
Story time. When I went to Kamala Basadi after the night incident, I went by an auto. I was already apprehensive of the auto guys from my 1st night. This guy turned out to be opposite. Abdul Rashid Shaikh and I talked about my reasons of coming to the town. The ₹250 story came up. He cursed all these auto guys. And the discussion (mostly me listening) went to good and bad deeds. He then took me to the Basadi and the Masjid (only to be denied entry by the army person). He then dropped me back to the Hotel. All within ₹200. I would have paid more if I had done these trips separately. This guy also suggested to skip a few cities from my itinerary. If you are in Belagavi, call for him on +91-8880866313.
I usually stay at hostels. Staying at a hotel was an experiment. Sadly, it was a failure. As a solo traveler, staying at hostels is more enjoyable than at a hotel. And usually hostels are in the cities with multiple points to explore or with good vibes. Belagavi had none. Thus, I decided to go to the cities with hostels.
Next stop: Hampi.