Industrial metropolis. Renowned education hub. Decades-old defence bastion. Pune dons many hats, but not merely the ones in mint-condition. For centuries it has stood as a point of convergence for the Hindu and Buddhist faiths; being the home of the Peshwas, it’s also one of the last Maratha strongholds in India. Why is it then, that a shiny Symbiosis decal is all that outsiders choose to notice? As students and young professionals keep trickling in, the city bears a stimulating yet comfortable environment that lies somewhere in between the stifling speed of Mumbai, and the laid-back attitude of Kolkata.
If you’re in Pune for a day, following the usual tourist trail of heritage buildings (and trust me, there are a lot of them) might not be all that interesting. However, 24 hours can be enough to get as close as possible to the Puneri experience.
Start your day off early (between 7.30-8AM) outside Shaniwar Wada, the former seat of the Maratha Peshwas. We’d suggest to avoid buying tickets to go inside, as the fort’s looming walls only contain manicured gardens. Instead, try a walk-by on Shaniwar Peth with a cup of chai and a camera. Exploring all the surrounding main roads (Peths) via a photowalk is a great idea—Pune has seventeen of them, named after days of the week or the Peths’ founders. At the absolute heart of the city, this trail is dotted with eateries, aristocratic homes, traditional shops and heritage buildings.
The Dagdusheth Halwai Temple is a gigantic Ganesha temple within the area that’s usually jam-packed with pilgrims bustling outside to catch a glimpse of the 126-year idol. Not far from this temple is Shukrawar Peth, home to the Mahatma Phule Mandai–Pune’s largest and oldest vegetable market, housed in a Gothic style
structure built in the late 19th-century. Strike up a conversation with any of the vendors, and you’re likely to find out their entire family history all the way back to the British Raj! Most storekeepers are friendly and accommodating to those who visit this heritage site, but be sure not to bother them between 1-4PM: Punekars love their afternoon siesta.
At a leisurely pace, this micro-trek can last two to three hours. By the end of it, you’re likely to be famished–which is when Bedekar’s Tea Stall comes to the rescue. A legendary joint serving authentic Marathi breakfast and snacks, this restaurant on Narayan Peth is a ten-minute walk from the Mandai. They are most well-known for their misal, served with sliced bread instead of a pav.
P.S. If you can’t handle spice, make sure to instruct the waiters beforehand–the zing in the gravy can be potent, and no amount of buttermilk will immediately soothe an aggravated palate!
Once you’re done with breakfast, head to the Lokmanya Tilak Museum, bang opposite Bedekar’s. Housed in Kesariwada (where Tilak once lived) it’s an expansive memorial replete with photographs, personal belongings and journalistic paraphernalia. Not only is this the iconic spot from where Tilak founded Marathi newspaper Kesari in 1881, but the courtyard is also believed to have witnessed Pune’s first Ganeshotsav–initiated by the freedom fighter as a step toward communal harmony.
History buffs might also want to visit the Pataleshwar Caves on Jangli Maharaj Road. After all, you don’t get to spot 8th -century Hindu temples in the middle of traffic often. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the rock-cut site has a peculiar alignment, with a pillared pavilion (mandapa) for the guardian-bull Nandi in front of the cave. Inside the cave lies three sanctums, with the central one reserved for Shiva, the Destroyer. Despite being a protected monument, Pune’s oldest temple is very much active, with devotees thronging to the ancient structure during Shiva Lingam pujas to anoint the lingam with ghee and yoghurt. Entry is free, so photographers needn’t worry about additional charges for their gear–but make sure to carry a wide-angle lens to capture the site’s majestic architecture! A GoPro would also suffice.
If you haven’t gotten engrossed in snarky conversation with a Puneri yet, chances are you’ve made it till lunchtime. From JM Road, travellers can try two different options depending on their mood–continuing with legendary joints, or splurging on fine dining.
If you’re on a budget, catch an auto to Fergusson College–iconic haunts Vaishali, Roopali and CafÃ© Goodluck all lie on the same road snaking past this heritage institution. Embark on a light-lunch trail, sampling filter coffee and dosa from Vaishali, butter idli from long-time competitor Roopali, and finish off with lassi or pudding from CafÃ© Goodluck, one of Pune’s many Irani-style restaurants.
Alternatively, travellers may unwind at Le Plaisir in Deccan Gymkhana. Known for their sinfully good European fare and deliciously indulgent desserts, it’s quite understandable if gluttony sets in at sight of their menu. Their small plates, risottos, pasta and chocolate Ã©clairs are quite popular, having garnered an almost fanatical following; reviews are said to fall short of the actual experience. It goes without saying: if your budget is flexible, Le Plaisir should be on the list.
Pune Okayama Friendship Garden on Sinhagad Road is your next stop after a long and lazy lunch. Also known as the Pu La Deshpande Udyan after the Marathi writer, it’s one of the largest green areas in the city–but surprisingly, many aren’t aware of its existence. With an entry fee of Rs 5 per adult, it’s an easy way to breathe in the quiet goodness of a verdant landscape; the garden is home to a natural canal, a huge assortment of trees and flowers, an artificial waterfall, colourful fish and turtles in small reservoirs, and a Japanese bridge.
As evening sets in, Fergusson College road comes to life. A 20-minute ride from the Okayama Garden, FC Road is a must-visit for bargain shopping, eating and general merriment. Dabeli is a typical item you’re likely to find on the streets–a lightweight evening snack similar to a vada pav, it’s a spiced potato patty topped with tamarind, crunchy bits, and pomegranate, sandwiched within a pav.
Pune has a thriving nightlife culture; coupled with a relatively safe travel atmosphere for women and solo revellers, a diverse array of clubs have opened doors. Koregaon Park is the upscale area of choice for most youngsters, with well-decorated lanes and landscaped surroundings. Publiq, Unwind, Persepolis–there’s no end to the bars, lounges and clubs dotting the area. Penthouze is a new entrant that has upped the ante, with its rooftop location offering splendid views of the glittering Pune skyline. One could also pick a more relaxed night out near the airport in Viman Nagar, at the newly opened Scribble CafÃ© and Bar. Their butter chicken lasagne and Burmese khao suey are great comfort foods to tuck into after a long day in the sun; the restaurant also holds several standup comedy, karaoke and live music events throughout the year, so you might just get lucky on your stop-over.
Punekars love their mastani all around the year–end your day on a delightfully sweet note, with Sujata’s signature mango mastani topped with ice-cream and dry fruit. Despite a full stomach and and a day packed to the rafters with the sights and smells of this city, we’re sure you’ll want to return for round two.
Getting around: Pune’s public transport infrastructure is not as well-developed as Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. Public buses ply on specific routes that might be slightly inaccessible for newcomers, and auto-drivers often decide fares for shorter routes based on a traveller’s appearance. Ola Auto is the city’s most dependable option, with a very low cancellation rate.
What to Wear: Pune has grown significantly hotter in the past few years, so it’s best to carry a scarf and sunglasses in the summer. Light jackets, coats and socks suffice for the winter. The Mandai area, though tourist-friendly, is still slightly conservative, so dress accordingly.
Additional areas of interest: Irani CafÃ© (for chai and bun-maska), Juna Bazaar (antiques market open on Sundays and Wednesdays between 11am-5pm), Camp area (quaint locality with old British buildings and peaceful atmosphere), Bal Gandharv Rang Mandir (Key auditorium for Pune’s vibrant theatre scene; show listings in various languages are available online)
Take back: Buttery Shrewsbury from Kayani Bakery. If you’re unable to make time to visit the shop, Dunzo is a cult-favourite mobile application that’ll deliver a pack to wherever you are for a small fee.
Additional tips: We’ve created a map with all locations in our feature plotted down with coloured markers. Travel landmarks familiar to most locals and public transport operators have also been added. You can go through the map here.
Note: Budhwar Peth is a red-light area that might be unsafe post sunset. For your convenience, it has been marked in yellow.