This world is a brilliant place. There always will be someplace to go, someplace to see. There will always be a destination left out unseen for the lack of time and many other such reasons. There are places that attract us with the promise of glamour and then there are those that lure with history, there are yet others that use their scenic charms to entice travellers to their shores.
The Metropolises of the world are competition to each other. They try to outdo each other: they shimmer and they pulse, but to some they hold no appeal. There are those that crave the elusive sense of calm relaxation for when they travel. They search out the little cities that make up for their lack of glitz with their thoroughly grounded, gregarious charm.
Pune is one such city. Nestled in a corner of the Deccan Plateau, Pune city, or, informally, Poona has been around since roughly 937 A.D. The city has been at the centre of the Empire of Maharashtra’s own King of Kings- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has been the seat of the power of the Peshwas of Maharashtra and still plays an important role in the governing of the state of Maharashtra.
Over the years, Pune has built a reputation for itself as the “Oxford of the East”. The city is dotted with educational institutions and many of them also double up as historical sites. There are schools and colleges in the city that have been founded during the 19th century and they still stand and impart knowledge even today. Some of the most prominent of these are the New English School, the University of Pune, the Deccan College and Fergusson College: built in the days of the Raj, standing tributes to the late Victorian-Gothic architecture.
Pune, also being the stronghold of the Maratha history and culture, is home to monuments like the Lal Mahal where Chhatrapati Shivaji grew up and the Shaniwarwada fort that was constructed in the early-18th century as a tribute to the aspirations of the Peshwas to one day, rule the Mughal Empire from Delhi. These beautiful, ancient sites stand testament to the fighting spirit of the Marathas that once ruled this land. In addition to these steadfast megaliths, Pune is also home to the relatively famous Pateleshwar Caves built during the reign of the Rashtrakuta kings. The mute hulks of stone echo with a calm beauty that has become a paradoxical trademark for this city of ancient stereotypes that are slowly fading away.
History has seeped into many facets of city life. With the history has come the distinctive culture of Pune and Western Maharashtra. The older parts of the city are fascinating by virtue of the colourful melange that they represent today. The heart of the city with its labyrinthine alleys and curious shops is where avid shoppers and bargain-happy voyagers must make their way into at least once in their lifetimes. Though if you are not a local you are at the risk of being conned out of a lot of money and so you might want to have a friend with you as a guide and interpreter.
However, Insular Pune is but one of the many faces of this charming city. Now, a hub of the Information Technology industry, there has been a lot of change in the manner of Puneri thought and action. Today, there are more indicators of an urban culture blazoned into the map of the city than ever before. National and international chains, malls and department stores have all crept up and making their presence felt. Similarly, the city is a hotbed of good cuisine. Apart from the usual McDonald’s and KFCs, Pune has a lot to offer in terms of both native and multi-cuisine restaurants. The traditional meals, the most famous of which is vada pav, are as available as Chinese fast-food and chaat and it is never too hard to find a restaurant or a hotel for every occasion and travel budget. There is also no lack of other entertainment factors like lounges and pubs, discotheques and clubs, multiplexes and theatres, Pune being a hearty contributor to the art of theatre dramatics and the thriving regional classical music culture.
However, the nocturnal hot-spots are basically concentrated in the Cantonment area and the posh suburbs of the city.
Pune boasts of the Rajneesh Osho Ashram and at the same time, of Parvati temple. There is no religion or mysticism left unheard of. The Osho Teerth Park is a famed attraction for those interested in the subtle nuances of landscaping and the Butterfly Garden is also well known. The city makes for a stark study in cultural differences with foreign population very nearly equalling that of the local Marathi speaking population.
Pune is connected to a number of other Indian cities, including the Metros, by rail and road. The availability of flights to certain locations still poses a problem to many a weary traveller but flights to the nearest international airport in Mumbai are available. The public transport system consists of buses and auto-rickshaws. Though the fares for the latter are on the steeper side, they are infinitely more popular. Buses lose out in popularity because of the irregularity and unreliability of the service.
The people of the city are generally liberal but in certain parts, they are known to cling to orthodox beliefs. Essentially a peaceful city, Pune has all the charms of a haven for retired folks combined with the young beat of a growing Metropolis.