Pune, also known as Poona is a historic city presently more popular as an expanding IT hub in India. It is an evolving city, with busy streets, growing real estate, enlarging city limits, flourishing shopping centres, buzzing educational institution and its trendy youngsters yet it also has pretty gardens and green patches, cultural institutions, ancient structures with its religious and traditional people. This is my new hometown and I have frequent guests from my native place who come to meet as well as tour the city. So today I take my readers to a Pune city tour as I take my guests.
There is a general misconception among outsiders and even some of the Punekars (as the dwellers of the city love to be known) that there is not much to see within the city but a long list of places in the outskirts and in the surrounding districts. When you talk about the city they generally point towards commercial places like the water park, shopping malls and eateries while I try to look out for places with some history or other esthetic value. So I decided to write this post with a list of the places that I find interesting and I hope my readers too will consent.
Let us start the Pune city tour from the centre of the city, in a religious way with the darshan of the rich, gorgeous, old and famous Ganapati of the Dagdu Seth Halwai. Dagdusheth Gadve was a sweet maker from the state of Karnataka who later settled in Pune. To overcome the mental state of depression following his son’s death, he constructed the Ganapati idol and established the temple in the year 1893. He gained fame and took over ‘Halwai’ as his surname. The original Halwai shop is seen near the temple with the name “Kaka Halwai” and its branches spread across Pune.
No city is complete without its history so let give a brief introduction to the city before taking my readers to the next destination. The earliest history of the city dates back to the 9th century during the reign of the Rashtrakuta rulers. The major and most noticeable period of history was during the Maratha rule of which the Peshwas have a major contribution to the creation of many buildings and temples.
Post-independence, this historic city and the once capital of the Peshwas saw a rapid transformation and development. The Pune University, the National Chemical Laboratory, the National Defence Academy, the Film and Television Institute of India and many other major educational and cultural institutions were set up. Later on, many industries developed and now it is a major IT hub in the country.
Being an ancient city, the old city area has the remnants of many historic structures. The old ‘Wadas’ (residential complex) with the typical architectural style then prevalent can be seen in the areas. Some are of historic importance being the residence of some eminent personalities while others belonged to some wealthy people of the time, some are well maintained while some are in its ruins just like any other old Indian city.
Now let me take you to the next location of Tulsi Baug, with historic as well as commercial interest attached to it. The Tulsi Baug is an immensely popular destination this day being a market area with stores of every possible item to lure the passerby. From vegetables to fruits, from jewellery to clothes, from food to household goods, from puja items to toys, it has all. Apart from the shopping area, this ancient place is also famous for the Tulsi Baug Ram temple.
Tulsi Baug is famous for and it got its name from the Tulsibaug Wada which has the ancient Ram temple built during the Peshwa Era in the year 1761 by Naro Appaji Khire who was known as Tulsibaugwale. This Ram temple was built beside the Wada along with other temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva. The Ram Temple and the adjacent area remains intact similar to the ancient times. The Ganapati adorned with glittery jewellery resides in the heart of the market area and this place sends a vibe of typical Maharashtrian culture and heritage.
Pune was the capital of the Peshwas and they were the de facto ruler of the Maratha Empire for more than a hundred years, so they had an indelible impact on the region. Since Balaji Vishwanath Bhat, the Sixth Peshwa to the Maratha Empire it has been a hereditary affair. The Bhats (Deshmukh) were Maharashtrian brahmins and were highly religious and in their course of the reign, they constructed many temples and religious places.
Our next destination is one such temple known as Talyatia Ganapati in the famous Saras Baug. The Saras Baug used to be a huge lake in ancient times which dried up in due course of time and is now a sprawling garden of large trees. The Talyatia temple was so-called because the temple used to be within the lake. It was again commissioned by Nanasaheb Peshwa and was used for planning military strategies against the Mughals and the British Empire.
Parvati, the adjacent hillock is again associated with the Peshwas and it also has a temple on it. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao purchased the hill to build a Shiva temple after his mother was cured of a severe injury. The Devdeveshwar, the main temple was built of black stone and was completed in 1749. Parvati Hill has 103 steps that lead to the top of the hill and provides a panoramic view of the Pune city. The last Peshwa of the Maratha Empire, Baji Rao II watched the battle between his army and the British army in the year 1817 where the Marathas were defeated. The hill also has a museum which displays different items used by the Peshwas.
Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum exhibits the collection of Dr Dinkar G. Kelkar. The museum was established by him and later donated to the Government. The next destination is the famous and the iconic monument of Pune – the Shaniwar Wada. The fort was built by Baji Rao I (the minister of Shahu Maharaj), as his residence. Pune, being the capital of the Maratha Empire the Wada became the seat of political affairs during the Peshwa rule.
The construction of the fort was started with stone as the primary building material in 1730. Later with the objection from the Shahu Maharaj (sighting the reason that only kings have the privilege to build their residence with stone) the plan was scrapped and the remaining seven-floor structure was built with brick above the stone base. The rich embellishment of teak was added on ceilings, doors, windows and other places. The construction of the fort was completed in the year 1732. During the consecutive rule of the Peshwas, many additions like the construction of the outer bastion, gates, fountains, court halls took place.
Shaniwar Wada was so named as the foundation of the structure was laid on a Saturday (Shaniwar in Marathi) and Wada means a residential complex. The seven-storied structure was the official residence of the Peshwas till 1818 when the Marathas were defeated by British East India Company in the Third Anglo-Maratha war. The upped brick structures could not stand the force of the British artillery and it collapsed leaving behind the base of the fort. Further damage was done by the fire incident in the year 1828 resulting in the ruins of the glorious structure that stands today narrating the story of the past.
Lal Mahal which was thought to be very close to the Shaniwar Wada was again another important structure in the Maratha history. The original Lal Mahal was built by Shahaji Bhonsle, the father of Chatrapati Shivaji as a residence for his son and wife. The Mahal was famous for the encounter between Shaista Khan and Shivaji where Chatrapati Shivaji along with his troop in a sudden stealth attack defeated Khan, chopping off his three fingers. With time and subsequent attack, the Lal Mahal was destroyed by the end of the 17th century. With the exact location of the original Lal Mahal unknown, the new Lal Mahal was built by the PMC in the vicinity in the year 1988.
Now leaving behind the heart of the city and going towards Shivajinagar, nestled within contemporary commercial buildings lies the Pataleshwar Cave Temple, concealed from the world. This basalt rock-cut cave temple was sculpted during the Rashtrakuta Period in the 8th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is still in use with the Shiva Linga being worshipped on a daily basis. The complex is interestingly located below the ground and the road level concealing it and giving it the name of ‘Pataleshwar’ (Lord of the underground).
The Shiva linga is located in the central rectangular cell of the other three cells carved out in the rocks, while the round Nandi mandapa with an umbrella-like roof supported by pillars lies in the centre of the circular cave complex. The circumambulation path around the cave shows the incomplete part of the temple. The faultline in the rocks or probable unavailability of resources has to lead to the unfinished temple which is now maintained by the Archeological Survey of India with its office in its precincts.
Our next destination is the famous Hindu temple called Chaturshringi. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Chaturshringi with the premises housing temple of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha. It is believed to be built during the Peshwa rule but the legend says that this temple was constructed by a rich and prosperous merchant named Durlabhsheth Pitambardas Mahajan. He was a pious devotee of Goddess Saptashrungi. Once in his dreams, he got the instruction to unearth the statue of the Goddess and establish it in a temple there. He followed his dream and thus the Chaturshringi temple was built.
The Mahadji Sindhe Chhatri in Wanowrie is yet another attraction in the city of Pune yet not known to many. Mahadji Sindhe is also known as Mahadji Scindia was the ruler of Gwalior and also served as the commander-in-chief in the Maratha army during the time of the Peshwas. He played a key role in the increase of the Maratha Empire. He built a Shiva temple in Wanowrie in Pune, he was cremated near here and later a magnificent structure was constructed on this place to be known as Shinde Chhatri.
With many such locations, some famous and some not so famous, some seen some unseen, now I am taking my readers to the last famous location within the city, the Aga Khan Palace. This is a gorgeous and lofty monument built by Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III in the year 1892. He was the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili religion and one of the founders and the first president of the All-India Muslim League (AIML).
The palace has a close association with India’s struggle for freedom. After the Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi, his secretary Mahadev Desai and Sarojini Naidu was confined here under house arrest from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944. During this span, Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai died here.
The palace houses the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi and a small museum with a couple of rooms displaying the daily items and furniture used by Mahatma Gandhi and some old photographs. It is the favourite destination for photo shoots these days. On any fine day, you can spot various photographers along with their models, some posing for pre-marital some for pregnancy and some in a child photoshoot in different corners of the beautiful lawn and garden of the palace.
Apart from all these interesting spots, Pune is home to the fashionistas, you can find youngsters in the latest attire and hairstyle anywhere around. The jazzy shopping malls around are the one-stop destination to watch for the latest trends. Pune is also a food lover’s paradise with a wide range of cuisines (from Continental to Indian to the very local Maharashtrian) available in different restaurants across the city.
Even in this busy, happening and ever-evolving cityscape, you find tiny patches of gradually diminishing greenery. These are my personal favourites and I love to walk around in such places. The canopy of the age-old Banyan trees shades the road, and other species like the Fountain tree, the Rain-tree, Gulmohar, Frangipani, Amaltas, Jacarandas adds colour to them. These tiny patches are a haven for a variety of Avian species. You can be lucky at any point to spot a pair of Indian Grey Hornbill gliding above your head. (Read my post on birdwatching from my balcony.)
The festivals are a great time to be in the city, form Ganesh Utsav (read my post on Ganesh Utsav) to Palki to Dahi Handi to Diwali, every festival is celebrated with equal enthusiasm. The historical city of Pune is a smooth blend of history, culture, heritage, tradition, food, fashion, nature, wildlife and the lovely people of Pune – the Punekars.