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Queen of the Deccan
"Take me down to Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” - Guns N Roses, rock group

Achal Dhruva travels to Pune expecting a sleepy suburb, instead he encounters a city bursting with energy


The grass has always been greener in Pune for Mumbaikars. One of the greenest urban areas in the country (more than 40 per cent green cover), Pune with its salubrious climate, a comparatively pollution-free atmosphere and laid-back character is popularly billed as the ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’, where over the years hordes of stressed out denizens of Mumbai have made their homes.

Window to Pune City, Shaniwarwada

‘Queen of the Deccan’, ‘Cultural Capital of Maharashtra’ and ‘Oxford of the East’ are some the sobriquets for Pune. It is a city with a glorious past, an innovative present and a promising future. The brand new umbilical cord of the Express Highway notwithstanding, Pune has finally emerged from the shadows of Mumbai to forge its own identity as a business city.

Sprawling over 400 square kilometers with a population close to four million, the one time sleepy town, nestling in the hills of the Sahyadri Range of the Western Ghats, has metamorphosised into an Information Technology-BioTechnology (IT-BT) hub, Maharashtra’s answer to Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Positioned by the state government as the latest and best IT destination, Pune in the past few years has witnessed a slew of IT parks being sanctioned, the largest of which is in Hinjewadi. The results of the state government’s efforts are slowly coming to light and in Hinjewadi all the major players have a development centre. Also a host of other international Joint Ventures have begun functioning in private IT and software technology parks.

In the ’60s and ’70s, led by Bajaj Auto and TELCO, Pune witnessed an unprecedented growth of industry with the likes of Thermax, Sandvik Asia, Century Enka, and Alfa Laval (then Vulcan Laval) setting up shop here. This inevitably led to a sprouting of ancillary industries transforming the city into a business hub.

Inside Vishram Baug Wada

However, the future of Pune was not in old economy. Last year, TELCO posted the highest ever corporate loss in India, Bajaj Auto has shifted its expansion to Aurangabad and other traditional industry has died a natural death. Along with it went the small-scale ancillary industries.

Attendant problems also cropped up with the infrastructure being stretched and rise in pollution levels.

Despite all this the city has marched ahead with vibrancy, the enormous cultural changes notwithstanding.

Kasba Ganpati Mandir

As a competitor to India’s Silicon City Bangalore for IT investments, the city does not quite clearly know how it is going to reconcile this post-modernist positioning with the traditional mindset of closing shop for three hours in the afternoon for a homely lunch and siesta. As if to accentuate this contradiction, a recent study showed that the penetration of Personal Computers (PCs) in terms of number of PCs per capita is the highest in Pune. Also the number of basic telephone connections is also higher than much bigger cities like Ahmedabad.

Pune picks up trends faster than you can blink. It is said that every time Mumbai sneezes, Pune catches a cold. The city is a favourite with marketeers for new brand launches, an everyday affair nowadays.

Bowling alleys, pubs, nightclubs, go-karting etc. have all added to the excitement of this happening city. In the past couple of years, major 5-star hotel chains like Le Meridian and Holiday Inn have set up swanky properties in the city.

Aga Khan Palace

Amidst these sweeping changes, the inner city or old Pune seems to have stood still in time with its narrow congested Wadas (as the old styled houses are called) and Peths (or localities) concealing interesting bits of history in its inner folds. A walk down the different bustling Peths, each one named after the day of the week, gives you a glimpse of a bygone era.

Shaniwar Wada, from where the Maratha empire once ruled and then waned equally fast and also where the Peshwas indulged less in administration and more in palace intrigues, is a majestic structure, especially Dilli Darwaja, the main entrance.

Located in the centre of the old city, the palace was built in 1736 and was the chief residence of the Peshwas until 1827 when it was mysteriously destroyed in a fire. Only the fortification walls with five gateways, the grand Nagarkhana and ‘Hajari Karanje,’ a 16 petal lotus shaped fountain with 1,000 heads remain. The sound and light show of Shaniwarwada is worth a visit.

Lal Mahal, Shaniwarwada

Adjacent to this grand edifice is the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, which houses the motley collection of art and allied objects of a single individual. Among the 36 sections full of antics, carved palace doors, miniatures, the Mastani Mahal is particularly famous. Mastani was the mistress of Peshwa Bajirao. Across the road is the Lal Mahal, housing a gallery of paintings on the incidents of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s life.

Another interesting site connected to the Peshwas is the Parvati Hill on Satara Road, near Swargate. The Parvati Temple on top of the hill was the private shrine of the Peshwa rulers.

The Parvati Museum next to the temple houses replicas of ancient paintings, old manuscripts, weapons and coins. Ensconced deep in the heart of the city at Shivajinagar, the Pataleshwar Cave Temple is an eighth century rock-cut temple reminiscent of Ellora. The Shiva shrine in it is an architectural marvel hewn from a single rock with massive pillars.

Closer home as far as history is concerned, the Aga Khan palace is a major landmark of the city and one connected to our freedom struggle. The beautiful palace with salons, suites and manicured lawns is where Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian National Congress were imprisoned during the 1942 Quit India Movement. It is named Kasturba Gandhi Smriti Mandir in memory of Gandhiji’s wife who expired during imprisonment.

Dilli Darwaja, main entrance of Shaniwarwada

Japanese garden of Osho Ashram

While the cityscape is dotted with such windows to the past, Osho Ashram of Rajneesh in Koregaon Park, is a pocket of the new age lifestyle. Listed amongst the most popular sights in Pune, the one hour guided tour of the premises provides a glimpse of their ‘celebration of life’ philosophy.

Besides the guided tours (two) which have to be booked in advance, the Japanese garden (open from 6-9 a.m. and 3-6.30 p.m.) developed over a ‘nalla’ by the disciples is also worth a dekko. The Ashram propelled Pune on the world map long before it was marketed to the international tourists by the colourful cultural extravaganza of the Pune Festival (Ganpati festival).

The city comes alive displaying all its myriad hues during this ten-day festival organised by MTDC, the Pune Festival Committee with the co-operation of the Department of Tourism, Goverment of India and the people of Pune.

Thrilling sports events like traditional bullock cart race, acrobatics on the ’malkhamb’, water sports, trekking, golf, cycle and motor-cross rallies, body building contest and yoga demonstrations are the main features of the festival. In addition there are ghazal nights, instrumental music concerts, classical dance performances. Film stars and celebrities from other walks of life also visit the festival.

Amidst such celebration of culture has been the emergence of Pune as an IT hub adding to this cauldron of contradictions. The influx of IT professionals and entrepreneurs will mean further growth as a ‘youthful’, ‘cosmopolitan’ city, a trend set by the large number number of educational institutes and defence establishments.

Aga Khan Palace

Nana Phadnavis Wada