A city with many nicknames… such as the ‘Queen of the Deccan’… ’Oxford of the East’… ‘Pride of West India’ Pune or Maharashtra’s ‘cultural capital’ as it is fondly called is one speckled with forts, museums, religious shrines and other monuments that takes one back to the glorious days of the Marathas.
A city that has a rich history, earliest references to this city having been found on the copper plate dating back to 937 during the Rashtrakuta Dynasty, where it has been referred to as Punya Vishaya a name derived from the Sanskrit word Punyanagara which means “City of Virtue”. Some of the names one can find associated with it, include the well known Maratha warrior Shivaji, Aurangzeb, and later freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak. Once famous as the stronghold of the great Maratha Empire, Pune today is renowned for its educational institutes, industries, cultural activities, and is an important gateway to some of the State’s most prominent destinations such as Shirdi, Lonavala, Khandala, Mahabaleshwar etc.
While the city is known for its scenic beauty, adding to it are the interesting attractions left behind by prominent dynasties that have ruled it over time. One such prominent attraction being Shaniwar Wada, the former palace of the great Peshwa dynasty (1730), a wonderful example of Maratha craftsmanship, it was constructed by Bajirao Peshwa-I and is known for its massive doorways and architecture. An architectural marvel in the past, today what remains are a lotus pool and mammoth gates, the only structures left, the rest having been destroyed in a fire that broke out in 1827 . Also in ruins; though once a grand palace here is Vishram Bagh Waada, a magnificent palace constructed during the 18th century.
The Lal Mahal built in 1643 AD by Shivaji’s father, Sahaji Bhonsale, is famous as the place where Shivaji spent his formative years until he captured his first fort. Here one can find statues of the Shivaji as a youth along with statues of his mother.
One of Pune’s most important landmarks, the breathtaking Aga Khan Palace was established in 1892 by Sultan Mohammad Shah AgaKhan III as a way to help the poor from surrounding areas who were hit by a famine that year. One of India’s most picturesque palaces, besides its exquisite architecture, it is surrounded by well manicured gardens / lawns.
Historically it is of importance as this was the place the British imprisoned many Indian freedom fighters during the Quit India movement in 1942, amongst them prominent names being Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba . Today the Palace houses a memorial where the ashes of Gandhi can be found.
Also located within the Palace grounds is an exquisite white marble memorial built in memory of Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba Gandhi, who breathed her last within the walls of the Palace. The Kasturba Samadhi apart from housing her ashes, also houses a state of the ‘Father of the Nation’.
Other museums here include the National Museum where items such as Gandhiji’s writing desk, his bed, Kasturba’s clothes, footwear etc have been preserved. The Gandhi National Museum also dedicated to Kasturba Gandhi is a treasure trove of snaps pertaining to India’s freedom movement.
Of the many museums one can find in the city, one of the most important museums here is the Raj Dinakar Kelkar Museum located in the heart of the city. The brilliant collection of Dr. D. G. Kelkar, the Museum houses a wide variety of artifacts which include pottery works, paintings from the 17thcentury, temple doors, etc. The tribal Museum is also an interesting visit for its unique items excavated from the Sahyadri and Gondhwa regions of Maharashtra.
The War Memorial was the combined effort of the citizens of Pune who irrespective of caste, creed and religion came together and patronized in putting up this 25 feet pillar, a memorial for all those great fighters who lost their lives during the war.
Other historical attractions here include the Pataleshwar Cave Temple, a temple carved out of a single hard rock that dates back to the 8th century and the Rashtrakuta dynasty. The massive pillars found here are similar to those found in the Ellora Caves; the main deity is Pataleshwar. A beautiful temple it is still incomplete in various areas and one can find statues of several deities here such as Sita, Rama, Laxman and many other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Another interesting find in this temple is a ‘grain’ of rice with around 5000 characters inscribed on it… thus making this little wonder secure a place in the Guinness Book of World Records!
Dehu (situated on the shores of the Indravati River) is the birthplace of Tukaram, a respected poet and saint of Maharashtra. The Dehu temple here was constructed by his son in the 18th century and is the most interesting temple here.
A climb of 108 steep steps will not only earn you a stunning view of the city but will also take you to the Parvati Hill temples and an interesting museum. Formerly a private shrine of the Peshwas built by Balaji Baji Rao, the museum here contains a treasure trove of valuables such as old manuscripts, paintings, coins, weapons etc.
The 17th century Omkareshwar temple here is another delight, which is situated on the banks of Mutha River. Omkareshwar is one of the many names of the Hindu Lord, Shiva. This temple is known for its beautiful architecture, its dome made of soft soap stone boasts of some exquisite carvings, while its tower (Shikhar) comprise of five layers with each layer representing an image of different Hindu Gods.
Another marvel from the 17th century is the Ganapati temple, on the banks of river Krishna (Sangli). It is one of Maharashtra’s most beautiful temples known for its stunning architecture & beautiful doorways.
Apart from the temples other prominent places of worship include the Osha Ashram, a meditation and yoga resort in Koregaon Park near Pune. Famous across the globe, it strives to fulfill Osho’s vision of ‘Zorba the Buddha’. Open all seven days a week, the aim is to use meditation as a means of getting rid of stress and strains of worldly life.
The St. Mary’s Church, built in 1825 for the British, is a beautiful church worth visiting for its charming blend of British and Indian architecture. Of interest here are its pipe organs used which are nearly 130 years old!
While Pune has many interesting monuments to keep one busy for a few days, also of interest here are many parks/ recreational areas within the city. One of them is the Bund Garden or the Mahatma Gandhi Udhayan, located on the right bank of the Mula-Mutha Rivers. Besides the beauty of the garden, tourists should also try the boating facilities offered here.
While the Mulshi Lake & the dam here is a perfect picnic spot known for the scenic views of the lush Sahyadri hilly terrains, and ancient forts like Koraigadh and Dhangad, the Saras Garden constructed by Nanasaheb Peshwa is a spectacular garden known for its charming fountains and lush greenery and is also home to a renowned temple constructed in 1774.
Last but not the least, this delightful destination is known for its shopping malls/ restaurants/ amusement parks and more! A beautiful destination, surrounded by hills and greenery, Pune is one of those favorite destinations one just can’t get enough of and a perfect place that has something for everyone … be it nature, culture or architecture!