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 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 cappuccino bars, air-conditioned malls and hip clothing stores.

The full-on traffic and ultra-Westernized city centre may come as a shock if all you know about Pune is its connection with India’s famously laidback, New Age guru, Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho (1931–90). The spiritual teacher founded his ashram in the leafy suburb of Koregaon Park in 1974 and, although its activities nowadays generate a lot less publicity than they did during Rajneesh’s lifetime, the centre continues to attract followers from all over the world. It was at least partly due to Osho’s enduring popularity with foreigners that the nearby German Bakery, Koregaon Park’s erstwhile hippie hangout, was targeted for a Mumbai-style terrorist attack in February 2010, which left seventeen dead and around sixty injured – a huge shock for this normally peaceful little enclave. Pune’s other main claim to spiritual fame is the presence on its outskirts of yogarcharya BKS Iyengar’s illustrious yoga centre – a far more sober and serious institution than the Osho ashram.

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.

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