Back before Goans began to vacation in foreign countries like USA, UK or the Gulf, back when the winding roads through the Western Ghats were in better conditions, Belgaum was the ultimate holiday destination. It was the quickest an’ cheapest getaway by train, by bus, by road, or for the healthiest person- on foot. They’d be off in the wee hours o’ the morn an’ be back by evening that same day after a boat ride at the Belgaum fort lake or enjoin the circus or shoppin to their heart’s content at Khade Bazaar, returning with their shopping bags burstin with clothes, electronics, toys, bedspreads, dry red chillies, kunda (a famed local sugary sweet treat), mouthwatering masala crusted roasted peanuts/ crackling green, spicy channa (chickpeas), etc. Or they’d stay at a lodge and enjoy the cool climate for a couple more days. An’ if they visited durin Ganesh Chaturthi (the festival is celebrated in full swing ere by people o’ various religions), they’d only return after payin respect to the elephant headed God in his various avatars at the beautifully decorated pandals that lined the busy streets an’ after stuffin themselves with sweets galore! 😋
In fact, I’ve been visitin Belgaum with my family ever since I was a lil tyke who hadn’t even started school yet. Of course, back then, it was still called Belgaum. Now, it’s called Belagavi, just like Cochin became Kochi/ Ernakullam an’ Bangalore became Bengaluru (or was it the other way around? Anyway, my point is Indian cities/villages change names faster an’ more frequently than the Doctor changes faces!😆) I guess, the Indian govt focuses more on unnecessary makeovers an’ name changes rather than actually lookin after the welfare o’ the country, eh?
Well, let’s not get into politics any further an’ lemme tell ya bout my memories o’ Belgaum/ Belagavi. The climate is chilly during the day an’ extra chilly at night, but isn’t sooo chilly that yer fingers freeze an’ fall off. It’s changed a lot o’er the years. I remember a giant tree next to our hotel, full o’ nestin eagles an’ beehives buzzin with activity (don’t worry, no-one got stung!). That’s gone now, an’ a new building’s popped up where it once stood with its roots firmly embedded into the ground. The bees have sought shelter outside an abandoned clinic nearby, so that’s a relief to see that the creatures haven’t been fully displaced.
I also remember a sheep bein tied up to the tree for slaughter a looong time ago. I dunno what happened to that poor creature, but I’m hopin someone let it loose an’ set it free before it’d met its fate….although, that’s unlikely. Anyway, it’s a good thing I refrain from lamb/mutton dishes or I’d be full o’ guilt every time I dug into mutton biryani! (Those disheartening bleats would haunt me…brr!) I was also lucky to have witnessed a weddin procession with the groom ridin an elephant instead o’ the traditional mare. An’ to have witnessed my first hailstorm from the balcony o’ my hotel, as I sheltered from the large hailstones that rained down upon the street below (Don’t worry, no-one got hurt!)
A lot’s changed at the hotel where we regularly stay at while we’re ere too (It’s sorta been like a second home to us ever since I could crawl an’ my bro could skateboard through its halls while the amused waiters/bellboys an’ guests gaped at him!) The waiters/bellboys o’ yore who toiled ere have been replaced by brand new ones, ever since they’d married an’ settled in their native places after quittin their jobs. An’ last we heard, the sturdy, moustached, hard-working man who carried heavy steel buckets o’ hot water to our hotel room (this was before the invention o’ geysers/ water purifiers, by the way) was long gone. He’d collapsed an’ died o’ a heart attack as he rested his tired feet in the hotel library/readin room. The library/ readin room itself (where I’d sat an’ devoured my Tinkle magazines, my Goa Times, my Filmfares, my newspapers an’ the countless Time an’ Forbes magazines that were stacked up on the large desk there) has now shut shop. Not cuz it’s haunted by the ghost o’ the sturdy water-carrier (as my paranormal activity lovin self had thought👻), but cuz the blind, diabetic librarian who worked there has now been promoted to the post o’ liftman! An’ if ya do see this marvel o’ a man, you’d say he deserves a salute cuz inspite o’ bein blind an’ incapable o’ walkin properly cuz o’ his crooked feet, he goes about his job sans complaints, ferryin guests up an’ down to their desired floors just by touchin, feelin an’ pressin the elevator buttons an’ always greetin us with smiles, recognizin us just by our voices, even though our voices have matured an’ changed with age!
An’ now as I return, Belagavi/ Belgaum remains that cool getaway. Small cinema halls have grown into large multiplexes an’ been treated to name changes as well. Peter Englands an’ other fancy showrooms have sprouted up alongside once abandoned, spooky lookin roads an’ livened em up. There was a time when the roads appeared empty an’ dark with rats scamperin about in the ditches an’ street lights often flickerin eerily as we returned from a late night show at Chandan theatre (which is now an Inox multiplex, by the way). But now, autorickshaws an’ cars an’ youth/students from the nearby medical colleges/ hostels ply on the busy roads late in the evenings as well an’ this quiet place has gotten a lot noisier than it was. Now more a bustlin city than a sleepy one, if ya ask me. But, it’s still the lil place tucked away in the beautiful state o’ Karnataka that I hold dear to my heart.