“Oh, you’re Indian. Which city?” Mumbai is always my answer, only because it’s more famous. I’m going to tell you about an equally metropolitan city 150km from Mumbai: Pune. Pune, the city I call home, has something to offer to everyone. Whether you want to party, eat good food, be peaceful and meditate or just indulge in some retail therapy, Pune will never disappoint.
Pune (formerly Poona) is a beautiful city in Maharashtra, a state in the west of India. It is situated 560m above sea level. Historically significant as the birthplace of a great Maharashtrian warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, celebrated in Shaniwar Wada, a historical fortification built in 1732.
Pune, like most of India, has 3 distinct seasons: Summer, Monsoon and Winter. Summer is typically from March to June where day temperatures in April or May could go up to 40°C, and afternoons are usually spent indoors savouring juicy mangoes and watermelons.
Monsoons are from July to September or October, and spent with children jumping in puddles and animals seeking shelter under cars. Most people enjoy watching the rain from the comforts of their homes, while sipping a cup of tea. Winters are from October/November to February, but it isn’t as cold in Pune as in northern parts of India.
Once small and not as famous, Pune has grown exponentially in the past decade. It is a major IT hub and the preferred destination for most working professionals. Known as the Oxford of the East, thanks to its many famous educational institutions including Pune University, Indian Law School, Film and Television Institute of India, National Defence Academy, to name a few.
Most importantly, where there are educational institutions, there are plenty of students, and where there are students there are places to eat, drink and party. Koregaon Park, the “it” place for students has an abundance of restaurants and lounges.
Other places such as Kalyani Nagar, Balewadi High Street are now home to branches of many of the restaurants found in Koregaon Park. For all the ‘foodies’ local delicacies to try include Wada pao, a deep fried potato dumpling (wada) placed inside a bun (pao) and Misal pao, consisting of misal (a spicy curry usually made of sprouted beans) and pao (a type of Indian bread roll).
When weekends aren’t spent partying, they’re spent traveling to the many hill stations around the city. What is that, you ask? A hill station is a town located at a higher elevation than the nearby plain or valley. Halfway between Mumbai and Pune is a hill station called Lonavala. During the monsoons, you can see plenty of waterfalls from any of the multiple resorts.
Another well-known hill station is Mahabaleshwar, about 120km from Pune, in the opposite direction as Mumbai, with various tourist “points” such as Sunrise and Sunset point. Mahabaleshwar is famous for its many strawberry farms. Other getaways include scenic road trips to the many beaches on the Konkan Coast, the Indian West Coast.
Pune is also home to the world famous Osho Ashram, where Rajneesh the famous maverick guru attracted people from all around the world. An “Ashram” is a place of meditation and peace. Even today when you take a walk in Koregaon Park, you can see people from across the globe walking its many lanes.
Pune is a curious mix of old and new. There is an old-world market called ‘Tulsi Bagh’ where the vendors sell their traditional wares on the sidewalks and little kiosks and you feel transported into a bygone era. On the other hand, you have the modern shopping malls with their escalators and glitzy interiors selling global brands vying for your attention and money. After a day spent shopping, eating in the local and international restaurants, catching a good film in a multiplex is like the cherry on the top.
Pune is the perfect place for someone who wants to enjoy an Indian city without the fast-paced life Mumbai has. The next trip anyone makes to India, I hope I’ve convinced you to put Pune on your list.