A perfect example of cosmopolitan India, Pune—the ‘Oxford of the East’—lies nestled amidst the Sahyadri Hills, on the Deccan plateau. Due to its cool, dry climate it once served as the ‘monsoon capital’ under the British regime. Today, it has developed into a key industrial center. Regarded by many as the city that epitomizes modern India, here buildings from the colonial era lie side by side with new-age eateries; museums that hark back to the bygone era co-exist amicably with funky discotheques; and old forts share the limelight with the charismatic Bhagwan Rajneesh’s Osho International Meditation Resort.
Even though Pune has existed for over 1600 years, its history is inexorably linked with that of Chhatrapati Shivaji – founder of the Maratha empire; and to the Peshwa, the Maratha armies. Shahaji Bhosale, father of Shivaji, was one of the foremost developers of the town, who played a crucial role in its reconstruction, especially after it was raided by the Sultan of Vijapur during 1630. Shivaji, who moved into Pune alongside his mother Jijabai, carried on his father’s legacy, after he was crowned ‘Chhatrapati’ in 1674.
However, with the defeat of the Peshwas at the hands of the British in 1817, the city came under the administration of the Bombay Presidency and a large military cantonment was set up here.
The land of renowned freedom fighters and social reformers, such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak (‘Lokmanya’ Tilak), Jotiba Govindrao Phule (Mahatma Jotiba Phule), Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Pune played an important part in India’s social and religious movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With Mohandas Gandhi being imprisoned at the Yerwada jail a number of times, Pune found its way into the map of India’s struggle for Independence. It was also at the city’s Aga Khan Palace that Gandhiji’s wife and his long-time secretary and aide breathed their last.
In the post-Independence era, Pune witnessed the establishment of the National Defence Academy (NDA) – the premier training institute for the Army, Navy and Air Force cadets. The 1970s saw the city making its mark as India’s leading engineering center, especially in the automotive sector. Similarly, the 1990s brought in a lot of foreign capital leading to the flourishing of the IT sector and other businesses, like food processing and floriculture. Two other feathers in the cap of the city are the construction of the six-lane Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which will eventually be extended to Bengaluru; and playing host to the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.
The commonest mode of public transport in Pune is the auto-rickshaw (three-wheelers). Pre-paid autos are available at some specific spots of the city, such as the airport, railway station and the Swargate bus depot. While catching an auto from any other part of the city, it is advisable to ask the driver to travel by the electronic fare meter. To understand how the actual fare is calculated based on the meter reading, ask for the Rate Chart or the Tariff Card — a sheet of paper that all auto drivers operating within the Municipal Corporation limits of Pune are supposed to carry with them. Also, by law, no extra amount can be charged from the passenger unless it is past midnight.
The second most popular form of transport is the local buses, which travel to almost all parts of the city. There are three major bus stands in the city, namely, Pune Station stand (for destinations such as Mumbai, Goa, Belgaum, Kolhapur, Lonavla and Mahabaleshwar); Shivaji Nagar (for traveling to Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad and Nasik), and Swargate (to Sinhagad, Bengaluru and Mangalore). Other important bus stands include Deccan, Kothrud, Hadapsar, Nigdi, Katraj, and Corporation. The bus fare depends on the distance traveled.
The Pune Darshan (Tour of Pune) tourist buses run by the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) sport an attractive look, and have comfortable push-back seats. Two such buses, each with a seating capacity of 35, run everyday – one from the Pune station terminus, and the other from the Deccan Gymkhana terminus. The city tour lasts from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Traveling by car in Pune is not advisable, primarily because of the congested traffic. Also, maneuvering through the narrow lanes takes special skills. However, there are a number of car rental agencies in the city, which offer on hire a wide variety of cars, ranging from the Tata Indica and Indigo, to the Honda City, Toyota Innova and even the E-class and S-class Mercedes Benz.
From winding alleways lined with makeshift shops to chic malls; from the unique Osho robes and chappals available at Koregaon Park to the ubiquitous branded goods; from gypsy women vending Rajasthani clothes, and Kashmiris trading in ornaments - the experience of shopping in Pune is as varied as the items on sale. Wade through the crowded bylanes of Laxmi Road to pick up jewellery and sarees. Pick up knick-knacks and gift articles from M G Road. Drop in at the nearby Fashion Street, whose 450-odd stalls offer leather goods, fashion accessories, footwear and readymade garments at throwaway prices. To shop for furniture, the best place to be is Bajirao Road, while Tulsi Baug located on Bajirao Road itself, with its wide variety of women's stuff that do not burn a hole in the pocket, is a haven for female shoppers. For the bargain hunters, Juna Bazar (open only Sundays and Wednesdays) - a well-known second-hand goods and flea market located near the railway station - is a must visit. While Deccan Gymkhana area has a number of shops specializing in fixed-priced suiting, shirting, toys, steel and plastic articles; near the Garware bridge at Deccan itself lies Hongkong Lane, where haggling is the norm that can influence a price reduction of as much as 40%. There are a number of wholesale markets, as well, such as the ones at Nana Peth and Bhavani Peth (grain, oil, steel, wood and automobile spare parts), and Market Yard (grains, flowers, fruits, etc.). Exclusive and upmarket boutiques can be found at Koregaon Park, Fergusson College Road and Dhole Patil Road. The recent advent of malls such as India Bulls, Lifestyle, Pune Central 2, Magnet and Kaakde Malls, among many others offer a one-stop shopping experience laced with entertainment.