Asha works for a company called Pune Magic, which arranges for customized tours to famous sites right around Pune. While we certainly have read about the history and sites in guidebooks, the lack of reliable public transportation makes seeking them out as a family quite difficult. There’s nothing like having a personal and knowledgeable guide to help unravel the often complex and colorful history, culture and people of this area, all in the comfort of a large, air-conditioned vehicle with a good driver. Asha also spoke excellent English, having lived in the United States for a number of years back in the 1960s, an asset since none of us speaks Marathi or Hindi.I’m going to simply list where we went and what we did in chronological order:
Aga Kahn Palace:
This is the place where Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and Gandhi’s personal secretary, Mehadev Desai, were imprisoned by the British during the Quit India movement (the movement seeking independence from England) in 1942. The museum was truly amazing, with personal effects and artwork depicting Gandhi’s work, life and beliefs and contributions toward the betterment of India.The palace was built in 1892 by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Kahn III to help provide food and other necessities to the poor in the area.
Kasturba and Desai both died during their time here, a lush palace but imprisonment all the same. Their ashes are interred here; as are Gandhi’s. It was quite moving to see the monuments. The palace and grounds were virtually empty of visitors when we were there; I’m not sure why. I have many more photos and once I can figure out now to do a photo gallery in WordPress, I’ll post them.
This family memorial, known for its exquisite architecture and elaborate carvings, dates back to the late 1700s. It contains a memorial dedicated to a great soldier, Mahadji Shinde, commander in chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas in the mid-1700s.
It also includes a temple to Lord Shiva, with many elaborate carvings. When we visited, a devotee came in with a tray of food for the god. As we watched, Asha said to Rachel, who was complaining that she was hungry, “just like when you get hungry, the gods get hungry too, so at lunchtime someone comes to feed them.”
This memorial is located in what appears to be the middle of a fairly simple and traditional neighborhood, complete with stray dogs and laundry hanging out to dry on the line. Along one back corner of the building was one of the most ornate circular staircases I’ve ever seen. The grounds were clean and the building appears to be very well preserved.
This museum is the private personal collection of the late Dr. D.G. Kelkar, a poet and dedicated collector who traveled extensively all across India. Elaborate door carvings, tapestries and saris, swords and guns, puppets, traditional Indian instruments such as the tabla and shehnai, many oil lamps, numerous family temples, artifacts and artwork in ivory and brass, and a fascinating replica of the palace of Mastani (half Hindu, half Muslim), the famous concubine of the first Peshwa ruler, Bajiroa I. There are just too many items to list, and all were fascinating to examine. This museum is worthy of an entire morning or afternoon just lingering and browsing; we’ll definitely come back.
Shaniwarwada fort and castle:
Built in 1730, this imposing stone structure in the center of the oldest part of the city was the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when they surrendered to the British. Photos on the Internet and guidebooks show well-kept and clean grounds but sadly, when we visited it was overcome with trash. The local government is working on a solution to improve municipal waste collection. For now, this is a huge problem in Pune overall.
An impressive statue of the first Peshwa mounted on a horse, Baji Rao, faces out to the city on the grounds in front of the fort. A fountain and light show apparently occur at night; we’ll have to come back to see it sometime, as Asha said it was very beautiful. While I felt sad about the level of trash around what is considered to be Pune’s most famous monument, this was well worth the visit.
If you’re wondering, Shaniwar in the local language Marathi means “Saturday” and wada is the name for a group of dwellings in a complex. Construction apparently began on a Saturday; thus the name.
This series of hand-dug rock cave dates back to the 8thCentury in the time of the Rashtrakutas, the earliest rulers of Pune. Our guide told us it was dedicated to Lord Shiva, the most powerful and complex of the Hindu deities, the destroyer of life. (But since Hindus believe in reincarnation, a life destroyed also means a rebirth, so Shiva also a creator).
It was amazing to me to see this ancient temple nearly empty of worshippers, right off a very busy road. Unlike our recent visit to Chaturshringi Temple, which was packed with devotees with offerings of coconuts, rice and flowers to the goddess Durga, there were very few worshippers here. Perhaps it’s the just the time or day of the week that we happened to hit it, but it was very peaceful and calm. A small group of teen-agers were hanging around in the circular rock pavilion in the center of the hand-dug pit, but only a few people were actually making visits inside the temple to pray and ringing the bells outside before entering.
Jangli Maharaj Temple:
This is one of the rare temples in India dedicated not to a god, but to a human being. Jangli Maharaj was a famous ascetic, a person who renounces material comfort as an act of religious devotion. Asha, however, called him an “herbalist” who helped many people. Perhaps both are true. He died in 1818, and the temple is in his honor, with an artists’ depiction of him (shown with very long arms reaching past his knees) along the back wall.
A very friendly elderly man greeted us and showed Brian how to bow down and touch his forehead to an orange satin or silk cloth draped over something inside the temple. Our guide didn’t seem to like this elderly man, so I avoided talking to him and instead focused on what Asha had to say. The elderly man seemed fairly focused on Brian anyway.
In the afternoon we had lunch at a restaurant called Kybher Restaurant, in Deccan. The food was fine, but the big excitement was Robin experienced a complete failure of the men’s toilet—it literally fell apart when he flushed. I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until we were home (the kids were all laughing, and I shushed them without really knowing what the issue was) so I wasn’t able to report this to the manager. I’m sure they found out later!
After a day of visiting temples, we all need to wash our feet before climbing into bed tonight; shoes are removed before entering temples.