What to Not Miss on Your Next Visit to Pune

What to Not Miss on Your Next Visit to Pune
The ramparts of the Sinhagad Fort hugging a cliff face, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In part two of our guide to the multifaceted city, read about the well-kept secrets of Pune

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, following the usual tourist trail of heritage buildings (and trust me, there are a lot of them) might be interesting. In our two-part guide - the first part is here - we tell you what to not miss while you are in the city.

Sinhagad

Towering over the city some kilometres into its outskirts, Sinhagad is a wildly popular destination for local trekkers, birdwatchers, star-gazers and plain old picnickers, too. Previously known as Kondhana, this ‘Lion’s Fort’ was an important fortress during Shivaji’s reign – drive or climb to the top to sample some authentic local fare comprising pithla, bhakri, kekda bhajji and matka dahi.

Parvati Hill

Vishnu Temple at Parvati Hill

Just over a 100 steps into the sky, Parvati is easily one of Pune’s most prominent hills, and offers a glittering view of the city’s panorama. The hillock has a handful of temples built on top of it dedicated to various deities, all of which have fascinating legends attached to them. There’s also a Peshwa museum and a samadhi dedicated to Balaji Baji Rao or Nanasaheb Peshwa atop.

Ohel David Synagogue

Pune hosts what is reported to be the largest synagogue in Asia outside of Israel – the Ohel David Synagogue or the Lal Deval. It was built in the 1860s, and is a stately structure made of red brick and stone; a towering obelisk atop the building has a large clock hanging from it, and is crowned with a spire. It is a consecrated space for Indian Jewish communities from surrounding locations, and radiates a spiritual calm. Non-Jewish visitors are advised to phone ahead to enquire about paying a visit.

*Timings 6.00am–6.00pm Tel 020-26132048

 Churches

The cantonment area has wide, lovely roads, and a series of churches dating from the 19th century. You must stop by the St Xavier’s Churchwith its gothic altars and the stained glass windows with depictions from St Xavier’s life. St Paul’s Church, with its carved façade, and the archives of the Peshwas, the Peshwai Daftar, is notable.

Kasba Peth 

One of the city’s oldest localities, Kasba Peth is quite the treasure trove of little discoveries. Here, you get to walk through numerous bustling little galis that traditionally specialised in different vocations – Shimpi Ali for tailors, Tambat Ali for brass/copper utensil makers, Kumbhar Wada for potters crafting earthenware, and lots more (although their modern-day avatars are a more democratic mishmash of professional camaraderie). Also located here is the Lal Mahal, which was once Shivaji’s residence, and the Kasba Ganpati Mandir, one of Pune’s ‘Manache Ganpati’ (foremost) temple trusts.

Tulsi Baug Market (and Ram Mandir)

If you’ve got a hankering for any wild, obscure knick-knack, head to the perennially jam-packed and swarming Tulsi Baug, full of unassuming outlets of myriad specialities, nestled in the heart of the Peth areas. Also bang in the middle of this retail hub is the Tulsi Baug Ram Temple, an eye-catching feat of wood, stone and lime stucco-work.

Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park

Deer inside an enclosure at Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park

The fortunate rehabilitation of a number of captive animals from the erstwhile Peshwe Park saw them moved over time to the sprawling Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park in Pune, often simply known as Katraj Zoo. This proves to be a fascinating little visit for the wildlife-oriented – besides decently sized enclosures for a number of species of birds and mammals, the spot also houses a snake park and an animal orphanage/rescue centre. Peaceful, green environs will surround one as they walk along. 

TIP Plan your visit for a less-crowded time of the day or week.

Kirkee War Cemetery

The sombre Kirkee War Cemetery

Kirkee (present day Khadki) houses a war cemetery dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the two World Wars. The area contains two war cemeteries erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commi-ssion and holds the graves of 1,668 service personnel from World War I and 629 from World War II.

The Handmade Paper Institute

Ambedkar wrote the first draft of the Indian Constitution here. MK Gandhi encouraged the setting up of this unit and KB Joshi, a chemical engineer from the city, set up this waste management, innova-tive institute. Get your own collection of paper from here. 

*Location Near Agriculture College Compound, KB Joshi Road, Shivaji Nagar Tel 25530191, 25537383

MG Road

The bustling MG Road

The commercial nerve centre of the Cantonment area, Mahatma Gandhi Road (Main Street) is bustling throughout the week. The British set up a base in Pune in the year 1817 that grew into a military settlement. Today, the Indian Army’s Southern Command has its headquarters here. Lovely colonial buildings, tree-lined roads, Gothic churches and sprawling gardens make up this part of the city.

The popular SGS Mall stands right opposite one of the city’s oldest institutions, Dorabjee’s depart-mental store, another old timer, perfectly capturing the spirit of Pune – heritage trying to keep pace with the changing times. The 95-year-old Dorabjee’s is a well-stocked store and a one-stop shop for all delectable goods such as pastries, cakes, cookies and sandwiches. This bustling place, which once had Parsi-style cup- boards, where groceries were weighed and packed in brown paper bags, was renovated to today’s modern bazaar look. There are three levels now, of which one is completely devoted to delicatessen, in-house bakery and patisserie. Don’t miss their impressive selection of wines and chocolates from across the world.

This small stretch of MG Road is flanked by East Street on one side and by Centre Street and Taboot Street on the other. Tucked between Main Street and East Street, Fashion Street has stalls selling all sorts of goods including clothing and jewellery at pocket-friendly prices. Walk around the area to discover some historic buildings such as the Colonial Edward Albert Library (East Street, Camp), built in 1881.

In line with fashion trends of the season, Clover Center is popular with the young crowd avoiding a visit to the malls. Western wear, handbags, footwear, lingerie, intricate jewellery – everyday clothing require-ments are catered to. Do not expect high-end quality, but you might just get lucky! The tailoring shops stock a variety of fabric and do fabulous work with embroidery and beading to create formal gowns and wedding finery. 

Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railway

A fortuitous opportunity for the diminutive but enthusiastic tribe of railway hobbyists, this gallery is just some two decades old, and displays a fascinating plethora of model trains and miniatures. It encompasses an impressive range of models from companies worldwide, including trains of several different types, as well as a ‘toy’ city layout and even a tiny circus, all filled with little human figurines. Visit for a fleeting impression of how it feels to be a giant from Gulliver’s Travels.

SHOPPING

Colourful devi idols on display at Tulsi Baug

For those looking for old-fashioned bazaars, far removed from the hip, popular places such as Koregaon Park and MG Road, the stretch of Laxmi Road in Budhwar Peth is a must- visit. Peddlers move around with different wares: new designs of envelopes to present shagun (money deemed to be auspicious) in at weddings; colourful dresses, clips, the Nauvari sari and the traditional Puneri sari. The small shops in the Tulsi Baug enclosure are great for those looking to buy utensils or silver nose pins.

Bangle shop in Tulsi Baug

A walk around the peths will yield all sorts of unusual shops. For example, the cane shops with canes for the elderly, batons for policemen and long sticks for school masters. Special shops selling wares for ‘Kanhaiyya’ – a diversity of dresses and head ornaments for your idols at home. The Juna Bazaar (or Chor Bazaar) experience on the Veer Santaji Ghorpade Road in Kasba Peth on Wednesdays and Sundays, is a must for those who like to look for their shopping treasures amongst what is counted as junk. Find yourself something vintage from typewriters and musical instruments to vinyll records, coins and telescopes. FC Road also has some stalls that sell chappals, sunglasses, clothing and various knick-knacks

A range of malls has also come up across Pune if you’re brand conscious. An interesting shop is Either Or (Sohrab Hall, 21 Sassoon Road, opposite Jehangir Hospital). An eclectic collection of skirts, hand- bags, books on poetry, slippers and kids’ wear, all inventively designed, are available here. 

WHERE TO STAY

Designed like a somewhat generic Indian palace Le Meridian on Raja Bahadur Mill Road in the centre of the city, is the grandest of Pune’s hotels. Vivanta by Taj – Blue Diamond of the Taj group, is Pune’s oldest luxury hotel on Koregaon Park Road. Other luxury hotels include JW Marriott on Senapati Bapat Road; Conrad Pune on Mangal-das Road; Double Tree by Hilton in Chinchwad; Hyatt Pune next to Aga Khan Palace in Yerwada; Novotel in Weikfield IT City Park; and The Taj Gateway Hotel in Hinjawadi. Also in Koregaon Park are The O Hotel, The Park Central; and The Central Park HotelThe Oakwood is near Goodluck Square on Bhandarkar Institute Road. Woodland Hotel is walking distance from the station at the Sadhu Vaswani Circle. Hotel Aurora Towers is next to West End Talkies on Molidena Road. Hotel President lies on Prabhat Road. Royal Orchid Central is in Kalyani Nagar. All have restaurants and other modern facilities.

Hotel Swaroop is in the quiet Lane No. 10 of Prabhat Road with good service and locally well-known simple Maharashtrian meals. Smart Inn is in Shivaji Nagar, off Fergusson College Road. Hotel Homeland is a good bargain, housed in an old British Raj heritage structure. Hotel Chetak is near Ambassador Hotel in Model Colony. It serves only snacks. Hotel Ketan on Fergusson Road has room service. On Jangli Maharaj Road, Ginger Pune has decent rooms, Wi-Fi, and a restaurant.

WHERE TO EAT

Various cakes and other baked goods on offer, German Bakery

The hospitality sector is one of Pune’s fastest growing assets. Head to the original party district of Koregaon Park/ Kalyani Nagar/ Mundhwa to indulge in some delicious specials and cocktails at Terttulia, authentic Brazilian fare at Boteco, exciting ‘hipster’ inno-vations at Street Meat, or wholesome health food at Santé Spa Cuisine. Malaka Spice in the Lane 5 is famous for its delicious South-Asian spread. From its outlets in Koregaon Park and MG Road, Pune’s original Burger King (before the international chain with the same name entered the Indian market), now called Burger, serves some of the juiciest burgers ever. Pick anything on their menu, really.

Tvum hosts elaborate discoveries of regional Indian specialties, Café Pondi serves delicious south Indian contemporary-style, while Independence Brewing Company helps you pair curated craft beers with an ever-evolving list of food items. Flour Works has an utterly charming ambience and serves quality European and American food A short distance away in Viman Nagar, Phoenix Market City has offerings ranging from modern Japanese at Shizusan, to Pune’s first Social and gourmet dishes at Indigo Deli. The upcoming hub of Aundh-Baner-Balewadi hosts the jam-packed Balewadi High Street, which brings a whole plethora of cuisines and establishments packed under one roof (sample ramen at Kinki or Gong, or reinvented desi food at The Urban Foundry); also tucked away in Aundh is Smiley House, a tiny hole-in-the-wall affair that offers authentic Vietnamese freshness for your palate.

For more local flair, Pune also hosts the best of Maharashtrian thalis, be they vegetarian, seafood or meat – Janseva, Sukanta, Surve’s, I am Lion, and Satkar Rice Plate House are just a few examples of the same. Also, don’t forget to head to the peth areas to try homemade-style poha, sabudana khichadi, vada pav, misal pav, kharvas, mastani and many more variants of mouthwatering snacks and desserts that have their origin in the state. 

Tasty edibles to compulsorily take away include the famed shrewsbury biscuits at Kayani Bakery, large packs of light potato wafers from Budhani, and parcels of savoury bhakarwadis from Chitale Bandhu. 

Visit Garden Vada Pav in Camp to taste Maharashtra’s favourite snack, the ubiquitous vada pav. It’s just a mobile cart, but the crisp, crunchy vadas sandwiched between soft pavs are divine.

A vada pav kiosk

Vohuman Café located on Sassoon Road is one of Pune’s oldest establishments and is a must-visit for anyone travelling to the city. Order their bun maska, cheese omelette and aromatic chai and you won’t be disappointed. Café Goodluck in Deccan Gymkhana is another old-timer. Order their paneer bhurji, mutton keema fry, caramel pudding and Irani chai. Vaishali on FC Road is famous all over Pune for its south-Indian food. Love, Sugar Dough in Shivajinagar is an English-themed café that serves the best cupcakes in Pune. 

Kayani and Budhani

Kayani Bakery

Spoken about more than many historic sights in the city, Kayani Bakery (6, East Street) is a delightful gem from the past. Emigrants from Iran, Hormuz and Khodayar Irani, opened this bakery in 1955. Nothing has changed its appeal and popularity as locals and visitors continue to queue for the melt-in-the-mouth Shrewsbury biscuits (Rs 320 per kg), though much more is on offer (mawa cakes, wine biscuits and cream rolls). Do not be dissuaded by the crowd at the counter as everyone is attended to within minutes. Be ready with your cash to avoid a stern glance from the owner. This bakery is open only for several hours during the day – shuts during lunch time and reopens in the evening – so, check the timings before you decide to visit this place.

Started in 1955, Budhani Bros (682, Taboot Street) is reputed for making the crispiest potato wafers in various flavours (cheese, tomato, masala). They supply to most supermarkets in the city, so you need not make a special trip to the main outlet to grab a packet. Other snacks such as dry fruit chiwda, salted cashew nuts and peanuts are worth trying as well.

AROUND PUNE

Jejuri (40 km)

Jejuri Temple

A scenic, religious town, Jejuri is largely visited by pilgrims from the neigh-bouring towns, on most weekends and festive occasions associated with Shiva. Shops here essentially stock what pilgrims seek: puja baskets, fresh flowers, and heaps of turmeric, the main offering to the presiding deity, Lord Khandoba. It’s almost as if the entire town and it’s inhabitants are engulfed by a haze of haldi (turmeric) – every deity, stone sculpture, the temple floor, the pujari’s dhoti, people’s clothes. As part of the offering, devotees throw handful of turmeric powder into the air accompanied by loud chanting. According to legend Shiva appeared as a turmeric plant to a group of shepherds and hence it is considered as an offering. Again, the residing deity Khandoba is often described as shining like gold and the sun, covered in turmeric. A popular family deity in Maharashtra, Khandoba also finds mention in folk songs. His wives Mhalsa and Banai are also identified with Shiva’s two wives, Parvati and Ganga.

A flight of 350 steps, lined with stone deepmalas (tall stone oil lamp holders), lead up to the temple. Once at the top the vibrant yellow of turmeric everywhere and the deep red of kum kum will greet you as you enter the temple premises. The main doorway has a nagarkhana superimposed on it. There are long queues along the large courtyard of people waiting for darshan; for those disinclined there are panoramic views and an oppor- tunity to picnic outside the temple complex. A fortress like structure, the shrine has 18 kamani (arches) and 350 deepmalas, a deepstambha in front of the temple and a rather imposing mandap. An ornate devali-styled nagara shikara is decorated with motifs, figurines of animals, deities and demi gods. The garbhagriha has two lingas, one of Khandoba and another of Mhalsabai. 

The older of the two shrines in Jejuri, the ancient temple of Kadepathar is peculiar for its two lingas. Getting to the temple involves a steep climb, but you will be rewarded by breathtaking vistas of the yellow flowers that dot the landscape. 

Ralegan Siddhi (87 km)

Recognised as a model village by the World Bank Group, Ralegan Siddhi transformed from being an extremely degraded village in a semi-arid region of poverty to the richest in the country. 

The village, situated within the Ahmednagar District, and at a distance of 87 km from Pune, is best known for its environmental conservation techniques. Programmes such as tree planting, terracing for reduction of soil erosion, canal digging, use of solar energy and biogas made from community toilets, have been extensively implemented here. 

The village sarpanch (elected head), Anna Hazare, has been instrumental in transforming the shape of this village over the last 25 years. In his quest to make the villagers hardworking and to get rid of all social evils, he banned the consumption of liquor and smoking tobacco. Today, this little village stands as an example for the rest of the villages in the country that are aiming at positive economic growth and sustainable development. 

Bhimashankar (110 km)

Bhimashankar Temple

If you want to walk the less trodden path, Bhimashankar is the place for you, with its stretches of sacred forests, lofty hills and the whispering waters of the Bhima River. The sacred linga and the source of the river attract many devotees. Then, there’s the rich Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Make sure to visit the exquisite Nagara-style 18th- century Jyotirlinga Temple erected over a swayambhu linga. A small trail begins behind the temple and leads deep into the heart of the forest to Guptbheema, the origin of the river Bhima. The sanctuary also offers many treks in the forest, including one to the sacred grove of Vandev. Watch out for the shekru, an endangered giant squirrel.

Where to Stay and Eat

Blue Mormon Jungle Resort is a 175-acre resort with a lake. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is served here. Ratwa Resort, about 6 km from Bhimashankar, has spacious as well as clean cottages. 

Besides the resorts you are staying in, you can also eat at the local food stalls that line the Temple Road, serving vada pav, poha and thalis.

FAST FACTS 

When to go Winters, from November to early February, are the best. The monsoon has its own charm. March to June, a dry heat singes the city, so avoid these months

GETTING THERE

Air 

Nearest airport: Lohegaon Airport. Serviced by Jet Airways, Air India and Indigo. Taxi costs approximately `300 to the city centre

Rail 

Nearest railhead: Pune Junction 

Road 

From Mumbai, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway makes driving the best option for getting to Pune  Bus MSRTCs Asiad and Shivneri bus services have ordinary, AC and Volvo, Mercedes AC seater/ sleeper coaches daily, from 5.00am to 2.30am. Neeta Tours & Travels, Purple Travels and others run run Volvo, Mercedes coaches daily.


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