Pune - city of the legendary (and controversial) Osho Ashram where people from far flung corners of the world come together to learn yoga, meditate and slip into an alternative way of living; known as the Oxford of the East for being this university hub crowded with high profile colleges and educational institutions; a city infused with the exuberance of youth and learning; a city placed in the Guinness Book for its suburb Kothrud which possesses the quickest urban growth rate; a city of industrialists, technocrats, women on bikes and equally conservative Maharashtrians who identify with undiluted Marathi pride as authentic as Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj the heroic Maratha warrior who shook the Mighty Mughal Empire with his sheer genius and tactics in combat. A city, once the watchdog of the Nationalists of the Freedom Struggle, is today evolving avatars so hyper-now!
Yet Pune above all is a city of pathfinders forging history effortlessly possessed by a spirit that is both of then and of now.
Pune is located in the state of Maharashtra in the west of India. Situated about 160-170 km east of Mumbai it is the second largest city in Maharashtra. Pune district shares its boundaries with Ahmednagar District to the north and northeast, Thane District to the northwest, Raigad District to the west, Satara District to the south and Solapur District to the southeast, the capital of this district being called Pune as well. The lay of the land can be said to be on the Deccan plateau at eastern edge of the Western Ghats - more specifically, the Sahyadri mountain range. Situated at the confluence of the two tributaries Murtha and Mula of the Bhima river, Pune at 560 metres above sea level is naturally endowed with great weather and scenic beauty, although it is fashionable about the city dwellers to frequently complain about how the weather is not as good as it used to be.
How to get there
The drive from Mumbai to Pune is about 170 km on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The roads are excellent and the feeling of escaping the congested confines of Mumbai making miles on the winding highway towards Pune is like a long awaited exhale. Lonavla, a pretty hill station located about two thirds of the distance from Mumbai to Pune, is a pleasant rest stop en route if the need to stretch your limbs for a spell appeals to you before making the rest of the journey, 66km to Pune. The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses and private buses make their way through the Ghats accessing Mumbai and other cities in Maharashtra daily.
The Civil Enclave, Lohegaon Pune airport is situated 10km from the centre of the city and the railway station. A domestic airport, it avails regular daily flights to and from major interstate cities and the metros.
Travel by train from Pune to Mumbai or and Pune to most regions in Maharashtra is quite well developed and efficient. The most important and trusted trains through and up to Pune are the Deccan Queen, Deccan Express, Indrayani, Pragati and Shatabdi – all of which access Pune from Mumbai everyday.
The name “Puna” is a derivative of Punya nagari meaning the city of virtuous deeds. Puna has been named and renamed over its colourful history of over 600 years. Earliest records from the 8th century portray Pune as an agricultural town called Punnaka. Copper plates from 758 AD and 768 AD establish that the once agricultural region later called Punya-Vishaya or Punaka Vishaya (vishaya meaning region) and was ruled by the Rashtrakutas. In the 11th century the Mughals ruled over the city and renamed it Kasbe Pune and also Punnavadi. But it is to the Peshwa rulers that Pune owes its deeply cultural, very progressive development.
The multihued history of Pune owes much to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the heroic Maratha ruler to whom the city was a dream town. Shivaji was a mere seventeen year old in 1647 when he acquired some land in and around Pune adopting a smart mix of trickery and genius. He then moved to Pune, built and lived in a palatial mansion called ‘Lal Mahal’ with his mother Jijabai. The land had belonged to the Bijapur Sultans and was adjacent to the Deccan border of the Mughal Empire. It coincided with Shah Jahan’s death and Aurangzeb’s ruthless elimination of the other contenders to the throne - his own brothers, after which he grandly proclaimed himself ruler. It had been 100 years since the last Hindu Empire existed – the era of Vijayanagara; and in the period that followed the rule of the Muslim kings - the Sultans and the Mughals had been established firmly and soundly. Then came Shivaji, having equipped his army with guerilla martial tactics which undid the Sultans and the Mughal armies. He relentlessly attacked and occupied forts along the Konkan coast and in the Western Ghats. The stories that surround the encounters between Aurangzeb and Shivaji are colourful and full of genius and humour - of course engineered and enjoyed by the wiliest of warriors himself - Shivaji. There were numerous occasions when the mighty Aurangzeb seemed to have finally captured Shivaji and readied a much awaited killing but Shivaji would somehow prove elusive by the simple genius of his escapes – he was once smuggled out of Delhi when under house arrest in a basket of confectionaries! Shivaji expanded, fortified and built the great Maratha empire in Maharasthtra ruling from Pune. By the time Shivaji died at the age of 50 of dysentery– he had proclaimed himself a kshatriya, arranged for his own coronation as king, expanded his kingdom so expansively it was undefinable - from Berar and Kandesh to Jinji and Vellore in the South and left the mighty Aurangzeb frustrated and obsessed with obliterating the Marathas - a feat he never accomplished right through his lifetime! After Shivaji, the capital city of Pune and the leadership of the Marathas passed on to Shambhaji his son. The Marathas continued to hold fort and keep the Mughals and sultans at bay until the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao at the hands of Ahmad Shah Durani at Panipath in 1761. Towards the end of the century Nana Saheb Peshwa reinstated the glory of the Maratha rule in Pune. It was only in 1818 that the British finally invaded and made Pune their Monsoon capital.
Pune’s first synagogue Lal Deval on Moledina Road was built by the philanthropist David Sassoon in 1867.
Bund Garden was built by Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy with the idea of providing a source of water for the poor during summer. Today it is a pleasant spot to sit out an hour or two, unwind and perhaps indulge in the boating facilities. An impressive jogging track has been newly added to the garden now named Mahatma Gandhi Udyan.
The Osho International Commune
The Osho International Commune situated in Koregaon Park and its founder Bhagwan Rajneesh (Osho) need no introduction. The Osho Ashram as it is called organizes residential courses in yoga and meditation that attracts countless overseas tourists and students. The Samadhi of Rajneesh is located in the Ashram. A bit too esoteric? Pamper yourself with a walk in the beautiful gardens located in the commune premises open to the public mornings and evenings, at least. The peace you will find is palpable here!
Aga Khan Palace
Walking around and within this palace characterized by elaborate arches and expansive lawns mirroring Italian sensibilities you will be surprised when you learn that this is the place the British chose to keep Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba Gandhi when they took them into custody. The palace is literally out of a fairy tale, a far cry from a prison really!
Mahadji Shinde was the commander-in-chief of the ferocious Maratha army under the Peshwas. This is his memorial its name literally translating to “Shinde’s Umbrella”, or “Dome”; situated at Wanowrie detailed with Rajasthani architecture, it is quite spectacular.
Pataleshwar Cave Temples
Carved out of a monolithic rock, these 8th century temples are situated in the centre of the city in Shivaji Nagar and include a Shiva shrine, a Nandi Bull (Lord Shiva’s transport) and enormous pillars.
the Kesari newspaper initiated by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak is legendary in its path breaking introduction of the idea of Self Rule during the British Raj. Also on display is the first National Flag.
Once the palace of the fearsome Peshawa rulers it is also symbolic of Pune and its culture. What remains though is only the palace built in 1736, the fort built in 1827 was curiously enough destroyed by a fire the source of which nobody has discovered till date.
Parvati Hill and Temples
Atop Parvati Hill are two 17th century temples, the Parvati temple after which the hill is named, the Deveshwar temple and the Nagarkhana drum house. The Parvati temple also houses a museum where portraits of Peshwa heroes, ancient manuscripts, weapons and coins are displayed. Beautiful Ganapati and Kartikeya temples are also present on the hill. The main idol which was carved out of gold was stolen in 1932. It has been since replaced by gold plated silver idols.
It takes 108 steps to climb and reach the 17th century temples atop the hill and is today a favourite form of exercise for fitness enthusiasts!
Bal Gandharva Mandir
Named after the classical vocalist Bal Gandharva it is an institution really known for both experimental and commercial Marathi Theatre. Interesting cultural events such as exhibitions, plays, music both instrumental and vocal etc take place here.
Tilak Smarak Mandir
A building commemorating Lokmanya Tilak the great freedom fighter who was also a crusading social reformer, also houses a museum and a theatre on the upper floors.
Saras Baug is a palace built by Nansaheb Peshwa, popular today among the local Punekars for their evening walks and gathering together amidst the lush green surroundings.
A zoo maintained by the Pune Municipal Corporation is a regular zoo with a toy train ride, elephant ride, boating activities and of course wild animals in docile captivity!
The Katraj Snake Park
If you are a naturalist head to Katraj Snake Park which has recently added on a zoo to a collection of reptiles, birds and turtles.
The Film and Television Institute of India
What was once the Prabhat Studios premises is the Film and Television Institute of India on Law College Road. The institute is legendary for having produced some of the finest film and T.V professionals in the country.
The other college campuses which are sought after by students from all over the country are Symbiosis -School of Business Management, School of Mass Communications, Centre for Management, Pune University, School of Fashion Technology amongst many other schools offering specialised areas of study.
What was once the official monsoon residence of the Governor of Bombay Presidency houses the University of Pune Buildings at Ganeshkhind. The building is characteristic of the Italian Gothic metaphor with a high tower, a swimming pool and manicured lawns.
Chaturshrungi Temple, a temple dedicated to the mother goddess, attracts droves of devotees during the 9 day Navratri festival in October, which is the best time to visit the temple.
12 km away Pashan Lake situated off the road that leads to the National Defense Academy is a birdwatchers delight with a large population of residential and migratory birds.
Other Must See sites include…
• Khunya Murlidhar Temple
• Omkareshwar Temple
• The Beilbaug Temple
• Tulsi Baug
• Vishrambaug Wada
• Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum
• Museum of Arthropoda
Where to Stay
Hotels Blue Diamond
Le Meridien Pune
Best Western Pride Hotel
Holiday Inn Pune