Bilaspur has always been known as an important city for the Indian Railways. But very few have thought of the place an extended weekend destination from Kolkata. A pleasant town, there are no dearth of things to do in Bilaspur. In this blog, we want to present Bilaspur as an alternative weekend getaway from Kolkata and list a number of Bilaspur tourist places before you.
Bilaspur – the only things I knew about the place was that it was an important railway station on the way to the paternal home of my father in Nagpur. The next thing I knew was that it was quite important in connection with Indian railways, because my uncle often visited there due to work. Incidentally, he worked for the South Eastern Railways. So Bilaspur often flitted in and out of discussions in our house, but somehow we never visited the place. After all these years, I had the opportunity to visit Bilaspur with some fellow bloggers and explore the city and around.
Bilaspur – from the past to present
Bilaspur is the main city of the district of the same name located in the state of Chhatisgarh. The city is said to be almost 400 years old and was under the control of Kalachuri dynasty of Ratanpur. The city was named after a fisherwoman named “Bilasa” during the 17th century. At that time the town was merely a fishing village. infact, even today, a major portion of the fishes in the market comes from Bilaspur.
Bilaspur was once a Maratha territory came under the management of East India Company in 1818. Railways arrived in Bilaspur between 1880 – 90 in the form of Bengal Nagpur Railways.
Bilaspur and the Indian Railways
The Bengal Nagpur Railway was formed in 1887 in order to upgrade the Nagpur Chattisgarh Line by extending it via Bilaspur to Asansol. This was done to provide a shorter route from Howrah to Mumbai than the longer route via Allahabad.
Did you know, before independence, railways in India were own by private players? Each section of the railways was own by a private entity and they were responsible for the operation of the railways.
Bengal Nagpur Railways was not thought of as a major part in railways in order to connect the important cities of the Indian sub-continent. But gradually, it became the more popular route between Howrah and Mumbai (as it was shorter) and later as the major trunk route from Howrah to Chennai.
In 1944, the management of Bengal Nagpur Railways was taken over by the Government of India. In 1955, Bengal Nagpur Railways were separated from the combined East Zone and named as the South Eastern Railways.
The Bengal Nagpur Railways (BNR) and later South Eastern Railways (SER) had its headquarters at Gardenreach in Kolkata. And I am saying all these because I have a close connection with the place. I grew up in the Railway colony of Gardenreach. The red building of the BNR Headquarters was a place where I had visited many times in my childhood. As I mentioned before, Bilaspur had been a place where my grandmother worked before settling down in Kolkata (Yes, she is my role model. She had a job away from her family at a time when women were not even allowed to work!). My uncle visited the city a number of times for work. They always used to talk about the place and thus Bilaspur had always been somewhere in my subconsciousness.
Later in 2003, South East Central Railway (SECR) and East Coast Railway (ECR) was carved out of South Eastern Railway. Bilaspur is now the headquarters of SECR and remains one of the most important parts of the Indian railways. Infact, a majority of the profit generated by Indian Railways comes from SECR.
Bilaspur – a smart city
Bilaspur has been selected as one of the Indian cities to be developed as a Smart city under the Smart Cities Mission of the Government. We could see the glimpse of a smart city in their efforts to keep the city clean. Proper roads were being made and some roads were in good condition. It is a work in progress.
Bilaspur – a potpourri of cultures
This is one of the best things that I found about Bilaspur – a place that has embraced different cultures. Being a Bengali myself, I knew that there are a lot of Bengalis residing in Bilaspur. Durga Puja is a grand celebration in Bilaspur.
Bilaspur had a high concentration of Anglo Indians during the past as they worked in the Railways. Some of them have remained back in the city thus forming a strong Anglo Indian community there. We had an experience of the fun and revelry in the Anglo Indian community on the last day of our stay. We had attended a Ball and Dinner at the Masonic hall in Bilaspur. It was almost a similar experience we had at Bow Barracks in Kolkata! Apart from the Bengalis and Anglo Indians, Bilaspur also has Sindhi population.
All these communities make Bilaspur an exciting cultural hubspot. The cuisines of Bilaspur thus have the flavour of all the communities and worth exploring.
Some interesting facts about Bilaspur before you check out the tourist places in Bilaspur
- The Bilaspur High Court is the largest High Court in Asia. Bilaspur is known as Nyaydhani or Law Capital of the state. Interestingly, the High Court of Chhatisgarh is situated in Bilaspur and not in its capital, Raipur.
- The Headquarters of Southeast Central Railways is in Bilaspur. SECR was the highest origination freight earner in Indian Railways in 2018-19 at Rs.23,298 crores. SECR is one of the highest profit-earning regions of the Indian Railways.
- Bilaspur is the 4th longest Railway station in India.
- Bilaspur is the headquarters of Southeastern Coalfields Limited (SECL).
- Bilaspur is known for an aromatic variety of rice named Doobraj. Bilaspur is also known as the rice bowl of India.
- Kosa silk is woven in and around Bilaspur. This is a soft silken handloom and is the favourite of many saree loving women of India. Just like in Chanderi and Benaras, I was quite interested to know more about the Kosa Silk of Bilaspur.
Why should Bilaspur be a weekend destination? – Bilaspur Tourist Places
As travellers, we are always on the lookout of various destinations where we can spend time away from our daily schedule. We usually get a lot of questions about where people can visit for a weekend and may be adding a couple of days. Bilaspur can be a good destination if you add a couple of days in our weekend itinerary. The place can be easily reached by train from Howrah and you can plan a trip around the Bilaspur tourist places.
Places to visit in Bilaspur
Bilaspur is more of an experience. There is a number of places to visit in and around Bilaspur. History, nature and wildlife and religious tourism can all be done around Bilaspur. Here is a list of places to visit in Bilaspur that can make a great trip.
Ratanpur is located about 20 km from Bilaspur city on the Bilaspur-Ambikapur State Highway. An ancient city referred to as Ratanpura found in the inscriptions of the Haihaya Kings, Rantanpur finds mention even in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Haihaya (also known as Heheya) was among the many kingdoms ruled by the Yadava kings in ancient central and western India and finds mention in the epics and Puranas. It had its capital at Mahismati on the banks of Narmada River (presently Maheswar in Madhya Pradesh).
The importance of Ratanpur gained eminence during the period of the Kalchuris. The Kalchuris are said to be the descendants of the Haihayas and were one of the prominent Kshatriya clans ruling various parts of Medieval India. As per an inscription, Kalchuri King Ratnadeva I shifted his capital to Ratanpur from Tummana (present-day Tuman) mainly because of its strategic geographical location. There is another interesting legend that says the King had been instructed by Goddess Mahamaya when he spent a night under a tree near the Mahamaya Temple. History is so interesting when you see it as stories rather than a subject. A small story about a place makes the place fascinating and makes me totally glued to the place.
Well, much of the history of Ratanpur. Present-day Ratanpur is known for the Mahamaya Temple and the ruins of the Ratanpur Fort.
The Mahamaya Temple is one of the most visited places near Bilaspur. It is believed to be one of the Shaktipeeths where the right shoulder of Goddess Sati fell. The present temple is, however, a recent construction standing on the place of the ancient temple.
There is no clear information as to when the temple was built or who built it. Probably King Ratnadev had built the temple when he shifted his capital to Ratanpur. However, a shrine must have been present at the place and the King later built a temple around it.
There are 2 statues inside the Garbhagriha (inner sanctum) – one of Goddess Mahamaya in the form of Mahisasuramardini (the demon slayer) and the other is of Goddess Saraswati. The statue of Goddess Saraswati is often overlooked if you do not look at it carefully. There are some other shrines also in the temple complex.
There is a pond behind the main shrine and opposite the pond is the Kanti Deul. There are two temples and these are reconstructed on the original plan by the ASI.
The ruins of the Ratanpur Fort is just a few steps from the Ratanpur Bus stand. In all probability, the fort could have been constructed during the reign of King Ratnadeva I. The fort is built on a plateau, quite unlike other forts that are usually built on hill tops. The main entrance of the fort is known as Simha Dwar, followed by the Ganesh Dwar. There is a statue of Lord Ganesh near this gate. The fort complex lies beyond the Ganesh Dwar. There are a number of temple ruins inside the fort complex.
Khuntaghat Dam or Kutaghat Dam
Kutaghat Dam is one of the best places we had visited near Bilaspur. Situated 35 km from the city on the same way to Ratanpur, this is more of a picnic spot. The dam is built on the Kharung River. The place is absolutely breathtaking during the monsoons. When we reached the Dam, it was all hot and humid. We were totally tired. But soon, the weather started changing dramatically. We could see the clouds from a distance and soon it started raining heavily. Not only the weather cooled, but the whole place also took a different look.
Do you know, crocodiles are found in large numbers in the river?
There are a beautiful garden and a rest house maintained by the irrigation department. We also heard that another private property has come up where you can stay for the night.
Malhar is another small town only 30 km from Bilaspur known for its archaeological significance. Ruins of temples dating back to 10th and 11th century has been excavated from here. Malhar was once an important centre of the Kalchuri regime. Once in Malhar do visit the Dindeshwari Temple, Pataleshwari Temple and Dewari.
Devrani-Jethani Temple at Talagaon
Talagaon is another small village located confluence of Shivnath and Maniyari Rivers. Tala is particularly known for its Tantric practices. Devrani Jethani Temple is the most important attraction excavated from this village. The name Devrani Jethani Temple had piqued my interest. The thought came to my mind why would a temple be named such!
Well, legend has it that these two temples were built for the wives of 2 royal brothers. The temples are in a dilapidated condition. The Jethani Temple has completely fallen. Stones that had once been the structure of the temple now lie all around. The ceiling has also fallen down due to gravity. But you will see various intricate carvings on the stone, clearly showing the artwork of the period.
The Devrani Temple is still standing. It has a base platform and a flight of stairs leading to the main shrine. This also has intricate carvings on stone all around.
Rudra Shiva Sculpture
Just outside the Devrani temple, a unique statue of Lord Shiva is placed within an enclosure. The monolithic figure is almost two metres high made of red sandstone and is known as Rudra Shiva. The figure has various animals figures sculpted on his body.
The jatamukut or headgear has coils of a snake. The nose is like that of a chameleon. The ears are made of peacock while the chin is made of crabs. The arms are like that of elephant trunk and the fingers are like the mouth of a Panchmukhi Naag (Five-faced snake). It is said that these animals are associated with various astrological signs. It is as if the figure contains all the 12 astrological signs. This one is really a unique structure in Tala.
Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary
Another very interesting place near Bilaspur is the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary. The forest area extends over 557 sq km and is a part of the Achanakmar- Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve. Located about 60 km from Bilaspur city, the forest is quite a beautiful place with a variety of flora and fauna. You will get to see varied wildlife there, though tiger spotting cannot be guaranteed.
We did not visit Achanakmar Tiger Reserve as the place was closed for monsoon. Instead, we went to Belgahana on the fringes of Achanakmar.
Trips around Bilaspur – Chhatisgarh Tourism
Even though Amarkantak technically lies in Madhya Pradesh, the place can be visited from Bilaspur. Amarkantak is located at an altitude of 1000 metres and is known as “Teerthraj” or the king of pilgrimages. Amarkantak is the meeting point of the Satpura and Vindhya ranges. The Narmada, Sone and Johila Rivers emerge from here. You can visit the temples and the waterfalls at Amarkantak.
Amarkantak is about 120 km from Bilaspur and can be reached within 3-4 hours by road.
Mainpat is a virgin hill station in Chhatisgarh having undulated green valleys, dense forests, beautiful waters and a few very interesting attractions. The place is termed as Shimla of Chhatisgarh and very rightly so. The place also has a large number of Tibetan population whose influence can be well seen in the place. I had actually not imagined that I would see fluttering prayer flags in the heartland of Chattisgarh! There is a Tibetan monastery at Mainpat.
The most interesting places in Mainpat are however the Ultapani and Daldali. Ultapani is a unique place where the water flows against the rules of nature. We all know that water flows from a higher altitude to a lower altitude. In Ultapani, the opposite happens. There is a small stream of water which flows in the opposite direction. If you put a strip of paper in the water, you will see the paper flowing in the opposite direction.
At the same place is another wonder – Magnetic Hill. Just like in Ladakh, here too, if you put the car in neutral, then the car will seem to move from a lower height to a higher height. Aren’t these just wonderful? You can experience the Magnetic Hill without having gone to Ladakh.
Another interesting place is Daldali or Zalzali. Here the landmass is just like a trampoline surface. If you jump on it, the surface vibrates and the land seems to bounce. This is really a natural wonder.
Mainpat is located about 250 km from Bilaspur. We recommend staying for at least a night at Mainpat.
Where to stay in Bilaspur?
There are a number of hotels at Bilaspur. We were hosted by the Aananda Imperial, Bilaspur, a 4-star luxury hotel in the heart of the city. The hospitality is one of the best and they will never give you any reason to complain. All the trips in and around Bilaspur can be arranged by them on request.
How to reach Bilaspur?
Bilaspur is well connected by railways from all the major Indian cities. From Kolkata, you can take any Mumbai bound train to reach Bilaspur.
The nearest airport is at Raipur. Bilaspur is about 120 km from Raipur and it will take around 2.5 hours to reach Bilaspur from Raipur by road. You can also take a train from Raipur to Bilaspur.
What is the best time to visit Bilaspur?
Autumn and winter months (October to February) are the best time to visit Bilaspur. During this time the weather will remain pleasant without the scorching heat of the summers.
Things you should buy from Bilaspur
Bilaspur is known for its Kosa silk. So you can buy saree or scarf made from Kosa silk.
You can also get Doobraj rice from Bilaspur. It is one of the premium rice varieties in India.
There are places about whose attractions we know from before. But it is a different experience altogether to discover an old destination in a new way. Bilaspur, if promoted well can become a great destination for tourists. Because Chattisgarh holds such secrets that we cannot even think of now. It needs to be discovered.
What do you think of Bilaspur as a destination? Do let us know in your comments below. If you liked the post, please share it. Pin it for a later read.
Disclaimer: We were invited to Bilaspur, Chhatisgarh by the Aananda Imperial Bilaspur to explore Bilaspur and around. We travelled by train from Kolkata to Bilaspur and back and explored the city and surroundings with Aananda Imperial Bilaspur. The views in this article are, however, completely ours.