Mumbai may be the capital of Maharashtra, but it's Pune that's considered to be the cultural capital. Located about three hours southeast of Mumbai, Pune holds much of the state's heritage with a lengthy and mixed history dating back about 2,000 years. Notably, the city's architecture and customs have been influenced by 300 years of Islamic rule (from the early 14th-17th centuries), the transformative reign of the Marathas (from the early 17th-19th centuries), and the British period (from the early 19th century to the mid 20th century). Iconic Maratha warrior and king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj grew up in Pune. He formidably fought against the Mughals and established a separate Maratha kingdom. Pune really flourished in the 18th century when it became the Maratha capital under the Peshwas—who led the Maratha Empire—and political center of the Indian subcontinent. The city was also a center of social reform and center of nationalism during the Indian Independence Movement to oust the British.
Pune isn't on the tourist trail, but it's worth visiting to gain an understanding of Maharashtra's multifaceted background and traditions. These top things to do in Pune encompass that and more.
Retrace Pune's History
Only have limited time in Pune but want to cover as many of the city's important historical attractions as possible? Pune Magic's full-day A Journey Through History tour is the best way to do so conveniently. It includes the 8th century Pataleshwar Rock Temple, Dargah of Shaikh Salla built during early Islamic rule, Lal Mahal where Shivaji lived, Kasba Ganpati temple founded by Shivaji’s mother (the deity is regarded as the guardian of the city), Shaniwar Wada fort palace built by the first Peshwa Baji Rao I, administrative buildings and military areas in the British Cantonment, Tulsi Baug and Mahathma Phule Mandai markets, and Aga Khan Palace where Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders were imprisoned by the British in the 1930s.
A colorful 45-minute open-air sound and light show is the main attraction at the remains of Shaniwar Wada fort palace, which was the residence and office of the Peshwas, in Pune's Old City. It tells the tale of Peshwa Baji Rao I and the golden period of the Maratha Empire. Unfortunately, there's no English narration, though. The show in Marathi starts just after sunset at around 7 p.m., depending on the time of year. The Hindi show follows at about 8 p.m. It's held every day except Tuesday and costs 50 rupees (70 cents) per person. Tickets can be purchased at the monument.
Admire the Unusual Architecture of Shinde Chhatri
If you're interested in Maratha history, don't miss visiting Shinde Chhatri as well. This unusual, lesser-known monument honors Mahadji Shinde, who excelled as Commander-in-Chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas from 1760-80. He's credited with reestablishing the power of the Marathas after they were defeated by the Afghans in the Third Battle of Panipat. The monument complex consists of a Shiva temple built by Mahadji Shinde in 1794 and the adjoining cenotaph built much later in 1965 by one of his descendants, Madhavrao Scindia, on the spot where he was cremated. Its architecture is a most interesting blend of European and local styles. Inside, the gloriously ornate and captivating interior features paintings of the Shinde family and a statue of Mahadji Shinde.
Shinde Chhatri is located in Wanowrie, on the southeastern outskirts of Pune, and is included in the government-run Pune Darshan bus tour. The entrance fee is 25 rupees for foreigners and 5 rupees for Indians.
Learn About the Indian Independence Movement
The Indian Independence Movement had its roots in Pune with many prominent freedom fighters living there, including Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. While Mahatma Gandhi is best known as the "Father of a Nation," Lokmanya Tilak is regarded as the "Father of Indian Unrest". The new Swaraj—Journey of Freedom Fighters museum has a whole section about him. It has been set up in freshly restored Nana Wada mansion, built in 1780 by the chief administrative officer of the Peshwas, near Shaniwar Wada. Bal Gangadhar Tilak's home, Kesari Wada in Narayan Peth, also has a museum devoted to his life. Towards the end of the Indian Independence Movement, Mahatma Gandhi led a successful strategy of non-violent protests and the withdrawal of cooperation against British authority. Part of Aga Khan Palace, in northeast Pune's Yerawada, has been turned into the Gandhi National Memorial museum. You can see the room where he stayed, rare photos of him and events during the freedom movement, and his personal effects. There are also shrines of his wife and secretary, who died at Aga Khan Palace.
Museum-lovers can quickly fill in a day at Pune's museums. In addition to those mentioned above, there are many more to visit. The remarkable Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum features a delightfully diverse assembly of thousands of rare artifacts, many of which were used in Indian households, privately collected by just one man. It includes traditional musical instruments, war instruments, and royal fashion dating from the 15th century. The Vikram Pendse Cycles Museum has a vast array of bicycles. Head to the Tribal Cultural Museum to find out about the lives of Maharashtra's tribes. Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railways will delight children and railway enthusiasts with India’s only miniature city. Those interested in spirituality will appreciate the state-of-the-art Darshan Museum at Sadhu Vaswani Mission, dedicated to showcasing the life of Sadhu T L Vaswani. Pune also has an excellent National War Museum (open daily except for Tuesdays), with armored vehicles and a military parade every Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Wander Through Pune's Oldest Neighborhood
Pune's oldest neighborhood, Kasba Peth, is located next to Shaniwar Wada. Much of it is still frozen in time, untainted by modernization. The chaotic and colorful markets, old-world communities (such as basket makers and potters), temples, and historical sites are fascinating. The neighborhood is quite big. So, for the most comprehensive and insightful experience, ideally, take a guided walking tour such as this one offered by Chalo Heritage and Nature Walks or this one provided by Pune Magic.
The 400-year-old community of copper makers in the lanes of Tambat Ali, in Kasba Peth, came to Pune to make household items and weaponry for the Peshwari military. They continue to create copper vessels by hand and you can watch the process in their workshops. Studio Coppre breathes new life into the metal craft by giving products contemporary, global appeal with better finishes and designs. You'll want to keep plenty of space free in your suitcase for them! Gorgeous prayer leaves and sunflower tea light holders make beautiful gifts. The retail store is housed in a bungalow on Bhandarkar Road, in the Deccan Gymkhana area west of the Old City. It's open daily except for Sunday.
Shop for Indian Handicrafts
Who can resist Indian handicrafts? Heritage Handicraft Emporium on M.G. Road was established in 1957 and stocks an extensive range of products from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The Bombay Store next to it sells artistic Indian handicrafts and has its roots in the Independence Movement when it was set up in 1905 to promote Indian-made goods. Warsaa - The Heritage Store, inside Shaniwar Wada, is a non-profit initiative of INTACH Pune that provides a platform for Maharashtrian artists to develop and retail their products. For handicrafts from tribal belts across the country, check out the Ministry of Tribal Development's Tribes India outlet on Sonepati Bapat Marg.
Hunt for Groovy Street Art
The worldwide street art trend is present in Pune, with a multitude of murals transforming the city's walls in recent years. It started with the 2012 Street Art Project in Kasba Peth, led by local visual artist Harshvardhan Kadam. The murals are dotted through the neighborhood's lanes and alleyways, and you'll have to hunt to find them. Hint: there's a map in this article. Gavkos Maruti Mandir (temple) is a good starting point. Adjacent to Kasba Peth, the old Shrikrishna theater in the red light district of Budhwar Peth is also covered in murals painted by transgender sex workers, who participated in the Aravani Art Project.
Try Local Maharastrian Food
Award-winning Pune restaurant chain Maratha Samrat (closed Mondays) serves up authentic and hygienic Maharashtrian food in attractive surroundings. The menu includes favorites such as Kolhapuri chicken curry and Malvani-style seafood from the Konkan Coast. Choose one of the thalis (platters) to sample different dishes. The restaurant's branch at Atur House Building on Wellsley Road in Camp is the most central. Hotel Shreyas' restaurant, on Apte Road in Deccan Gymkhana, is also very popular for its authentic Maharashtrian thalis.
Foodies should join The Western Routes on one of their Pune Food Trails to explore traditional eating joints in the Old City and Cantonment areas of Pune. They conduct seasonal festival walks too.
Sample Local Craft Beers
Pune has a thriving micro-brewery scene. Independence Brewing Company in east Pune is arguably the city's finest, with an elegant open-air beer garden and plenty of beers to choose from. Order the special 150 rupee beer flight to try them all. Doolally, one of the oldest micro breweries in India, sells its beers at 1st Brewhouse (which was the country's first licensed brew-pub when it opened in 2009) at The Corinthians Resort and Club in Mohammed Wadi, south Pune. Trendy Effingut Brewerkz in cosmopolitan Koregaon Park is one of the hottest new entrants, renowned for its beers with spice and fruit infusions. There are plenty of other bars, cafes, and restaurants to hang out at in Koregaon Park as well.
The Osho International Meditation Resort in Koregaon Park has remade 12-acres of adjoining public wasteland into a lush landscaped garden with bamboo forest, walking tracks, and stream. It's not necessary to be an Osho member to visit serene Osho Teerth Park. It's open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Entry is free. You can also participate in the resort's various meditation sessions, held throughout the day from 6 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. if you sign up for a meditation pass. They're available for durations of one to 10 days, and 30 days.
Spot Migratory and Resident Birds
Being surrounded by the Western Ghat mountains, Pune attracts numerous species of birds. While many can be seen throughout the year, winter (from December to March) is when thousands of migratory birds stop at the city's water bodies on their way further south. Birders shouldn't miss the opportunity to accompany acclaimed naturalist Rashid to his favorite locations in and around Pune on this nature walk.
Attend the Ganesh Festival
India's famous Ganesh festival originated in Pune more than 125 years ago as a way to bring people of different classes and castes together, to unite them against the British rule. There's debate over who started it through—Sardar Krishnaji Khasgiwale, freedom fighter Bhausaheb Rangari, or freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak. The festival takes place in August or September each year, with beautifully decorated statues of Lord Ganesh installed on podiums across the city. The idol at Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati temple in Budhwar Peth is very popular and historical. Other top idols include those at Kasba Ganpati temple and Tulsi Baug.
Celebrate Diwali at Shaniwar Wada
Shaniwar Wada is the place to celebrate Diwali in Pune, as citizens from all over the city gather in the evening to light thousands of diyas (small terracotta oil lamps) on the first day of the festival. This tradition dates back to the Maratha Empire, when Shaniwar Wada was their seat of power and they performed the ritual there. It was revived in 2000 by a laughing club called Chaitanya Hasya Yog Mandal.
Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav (formerly Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav, and simply called Sawai) has been held in Pune every year since 1953. Legendary classical vocalist Bhimsen Joshi started the festival to honor his teacher, Sawai Gandharva. From humble beginnings, it has developed into India's largest classical music festival featuring unforgettable performances by top singers and musicians. The festival takes place over three days in the first two weeks of December each year. In 2019, it's happening on Dec. 11-13.