At an altitude of 598m, the prosperous city of PUNE (occasionally still anglicized as Poona), Maharashtra’s second largest, lies close to the Western Ghat mountains (known here as the Sahyadri Hills), on the edge of the Deccan plains as they stretch away to the east. Capital of the Marathas’ sovereign state in the sixteenth century until its rulers were deposed by the Brahmin Peshwa family, Pune was – thanks to its cool, dry climate – chosen by the British in 1820 as an alternative headquarters for the Bombay Presidency. Since colonial days, Pune has continued to develop as a major industrial city and now ranks along with Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai as one of central/southern India’s fastest growing business centres. Signs of the new prosperity abound, from huge hoardings advertising multistorey executive apartment blocks and gated estates, to coffee bars, a/c malls and hip clothing stores. Pune also has a couple of spiritual claims to fame: Koregaon Park is home to the famous Osho ashram, while on the city’s outskirts is yogarcharya BKS Iyengar’s illustrious yoga centre – a far more sober and serious institution.
Pune’s centre is bordered to the north by the River Mula and to the west by the River Mutha – the two join in the northwest to form the Mutha-Mula, at Sangam Bridge. The principal shopping area, and the greatest concentration of restaurants and hotels, is in the streets south of the railway station, particularly Connaught and, further south, MG Road. The old Peshwa part of town, by far the most interesting to explore, is towards the west between the fortified Shaniwarwada Palace and fascinating Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum; old wooden wadas – palatial city homes – survive on these narrow, busy streets, and the Victorian, circular Mahatma Phule Market is always a hive of activity.