If a list of the oldest cities of India was drawn, it’s quite unlikely that the young energetic city of Pune would find a spot on it. Yet, an accidental discovery of artefacts in 2003, from the Kasba Peth area of the city, suggests that it has been established since 200 BCE. Over the millennia, Pune has gathered a long and rich history, under the rule of various empires over different periods of time—from the Rashtrakuta and Yadava empires to the Khalji and Tughlaq dynasties, then finally the Maratha Empire. Under the Maratha Peshwas, it even became the political centre of the Indian subcontinent. Today, it is India’s first high-tech city, peppered with numerous educational institutions catering to various interests, which earned Pune the moniker of the ‘Oxford of the East’. Besides heritage monuments, gardens, and lakes, it also has a thriving culinary scene and a buzzing nightlife. Ranked #1 in the Ease of Living Index, the vibrant, youthful vibe of Pune will make you feel that this ancient city has aged in reverse. By Satarupa Paul
A dose of history, ample spiritual guidance, a serene spot to reflect—the heritage monuments, temples and ashrams, and parks and gardens of Pune has something for everyone.
Perhaps, the most famous heritage landmark of the city, the majestic fort of Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732 by Peshwa Baji Rao I. It served as the seat for the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire. In 1828, large parts of it were destroyed by an unexplained fire. Yet, several structures survived—including five imposing gates, various halls of the palace, and an impressive fountain—which at present attract tourists. The Aga Khan Palace, built by Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, is another historical landmark. Constructed as an act of charity by the Sultan, the palace later served as a prison for Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, and other freedom fighters. The reconstructed Lal Mahal, originally built by the father of Maratha King Shivaji in 1630, and the striking Shinde Chhatri are other must-visit heritage monuments.
Situated in the upscale neighbourhood of Koregaon Park, the OSHO Meditation Resort is best known for the controversies attached to it. But the environs of the ashram—spread across 32 acres—with manicured gardens, and tumbling streams, make a peaceful retreat. The Gothic-style Ohel David Synagogue, built by philanthropist David Sassoon in 1867, is another sanctuary for those who wish to spend some time looking within. Other spiritual places worth visiting are the Parvati Hill and Pataleshwar Cave Temple.
A haunt of morning joggers, and a hotbed for migratory birds, Bund Garden was built in 1869 on the banks of the River Mula. The Khadakwasla Dam on the river, about 20 km from the city, makes for an idyllic picnic spot, whereas the Pune-Okayama Friendship Garden, a Japanese-style garden with pergolas built on 10 acres of land, is one of the largest in Pune.
Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum houses more than 20,000 artefacts from the personal collection of Dr. DG Kelkar. The displays at the three-storey building here include artwork, musical instruments, and writing tools as well as sculptures dating back to the 14th century. The museum at Tribal Research & Training Institute provides a glimpse into the cultures of various tribes of Maharashtra, through jewellery, musical instruments, and other artefacts. The National War Memorial Southern Command was built in 1997 and displays arms, uniforms, and war artefacts, including MiG-23BN used in the Kargil War. Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railways is a collection of miniature train models, displayed in a miniature city with a miniature railway system. It also houses a railway-themed restaurant. One of the largest museums dedicated to cricket, the Blades of Glory Cricket Museum has an impressive collection of over 30,000 cricket items, including a large collection of autographs by famous cricketers.
Located on the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, and surrounded by the hills of the Sahyadri Range, Pune is an ideal starting point for several treks. The most widely trodden path among these is the one to Sinhagad Fort, a 2,000-year-old fortress with caves, a temple, and a memorial built atop a hill at about 4,300 feet above sea level. The moderate 3-km hike starts from Sinhagad village, and takes about an hour to the top. The trail to Vetal Hill, the highest point of Pune, is another great hike within the city limits. It takes you through a forest reserve, perfect for birdwatching, while climbing an elevation of 2,600 feet to the Vetala Temple on top. Some of Maharashtra’s most scenic treks, including the stunning trails to the hilltop forts of Lohgad, Rajgad, Tikona, and Rajmachi, are also located within 100 km of Pune and can be easily done on day-trips from the city.
WINE & DINE
There are several legendary eateries in Pune, each famous for a particular local dish, while a range of restaurants, breweries and pubs serve cuisines from all over the world.
If you were to spend an entire day trying out the many well-known specialities of Pune, your culinary sojourn would quite likely begin at Cafe Goodluck. Established in 1935, this old, rundown joint has been serving the best Irani breakfast to generations of Pune dwellers. It’s most famous for keema pav. Another legendary establishment is the Dorabjee & Sons Restaurant, which has been dishing out Parsi delights since 1878. Here, among peeling walls, plastic chairs, and Formica tables, you can relish a sumptuous lunch of mutton sali, chicken dhansak, mutton paya, and patrani fish. The canteen-like cafe of Marz-O-Rin is the perfect place for a round of sandwiches, plum cakes, and coffee.
Just like Mumbai, the second largest city in the state also has its fair share of must-visit food joints. You don’t get much more local than misal pav. For the best in town, head to the tine, but highly reputed Bedekar Tea Stall. For a delicious, buttery plate of pav bhaji, head to Shiv Sagar that has been serving this Maharashtrian staple of a thick and spicy mashed vegetable curry with buttered buns, for over two decades.
One of the most prestigious addresses in Pune, Koregaon Park, has a range of hip dining options that bring the world to your plate. Botecois one of the first and few places in India to serve Brazilian food, along with contemporary European fare. For hearty German street fare, head to Mahlzeit that serves Bratwurst hot dogs, Bratkarto el doners and other specialities.
Pune has a thriving micro-brewery scene, with several brewpubs roping in night-time revellers with their freshly-crafted brews. One of the pioneers of craft beer production in the city is The 1st Brewhouse, famous for their apple cider and oatmeal stout, accompanied by their house fries served with six dips. If you’d rather lounge around in lovely settings with a sti cocktail in hand, then head to Sassy Spoon that serves an eclectic mix of European and Asian food with your drink of choice.
From vintage souvenirs and jewellery to traditional footwear and branded clothes, shopping in Pune is a jovial a air.
There are a few things in Pune that every visitor samples and buys for friends and family. The mawa cake and Shrewsbury biscuits from the iconic Kayani Bakery are among the top edible souvenirs. Another delicious goodie with a long shelf-life is the famous bhakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale. This snack of fried crispy rolls stuffed with spices and condiments, goes superbly well with tea, coffee, and even beer.
Koregaon Park and Fergusson College Road are the prime stops for street shopping, with a great selection of trendy outfits, bags, jewellery, and good quality leather footwear. MG Road, especially the area around Clover Centre, is another shopoholic’s paradise. Besides the usual street staples, you can even fi nd vintage jewellery here. The Clover Centre also has a range of stores selling beautiful fabrics and dress materials.
One of the first stores in Pune for retail designer wear for women, Studio Rudraksh is a multi-brand boutique, which showcases some of India’s top designers and homegrown brands—from Manish Malhotra, Masaba, and Tarun Tahiliani to Taan Baan and Raw Mango. Ka-sha Designer Boutique is another such store that houses handcrafted apparels and accessories, many of which are made from recycled fabrics.