At an altitude of 598m, sophisticated Pune (sometimes anglicised as Poona) is Maharashtra’s second-largest city. It lies close to the Western Ghats (known here as the Sahyadri Hills) on the edge of the Deccan plains as they stretch to the east. Capital of the Marathas’ sovereign state in the sixteenth century, its rulers were deposed by the Brahmin Peshwa family. Thanks to its cool, dry climate, Pune was chosen by the British in 1820 as an alternative headquarters for the Bombay Presidency. Since then Pune has developed into a major industrial city and is one of India’s fastest-growing tech centres.
The best travel tips for visiting PunePune, recently voted India’s most “liveable city”, has a couple of spiritual claims to fame. Koregaon Park is home to the famous Osho ashram, while on the outskirts is yogarcharya BKS Iyengar’s illustrious yoga centre.
City'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 old Peshwa part of town, by far the most interesting to explore, is located 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.
Signs of prosperity abound, from multistorey apartment blocks and gated estates, to coffee shops, air-conditioned malls and hip boutiques. 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.
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Best things to do in PuneFrom the Osho International Meditation Resort to the Tribal Museum, here are the best things to do in Pune.
#1 Browse a sublime collection of arts and crafts at Raja Dinkar Kelkar MuseumAside from being a celebrated Marathi poet published under the name Adnyatwasi, Dinkar Gangadhar Kelkar spent much of his life travelling and collecting arts and crafts from all over the country. In 1975, he donated his collection to the Maharashtran government to create a museum dedicated to his son Raja who died aged only 12.
Housed in a huge old-town mansion, the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is a wonderful potpourri in which beauty and interest are found in artistic and everyday objects. However, the scale of the 21,000-piece collection means only a fraction is shown at any one time.
Paraphernalia associated with paan, the Indian passion, includes containers in every conceivable design: some mimic people, animals or fish, others are egg-shaped and in delicate filigree.
Also on show are musical instruments, superb Marathi and Gujarati textiles and costumes, domestic shrines, puppets, ivory games and a model of Shaniwarwada Palace.
#2 Catch the sound-and-light show at the imposing Shaniwarwada PalaceIn the centre of the oldest part of town only the imposing high walls of the Shaniwarwada Palace survived a huge conflagration in 1828. The chief residence of the Peshwas from 1732 until it was captured by the British in 1817.
The building has little to excite interest today, though there’s a sound-and-light show in English. The entrance is through the Delhi gate on the north side, one of five set into the perimeter wall, whose huge teak doors come complete with nasty elephant-proof spikes. The interior of the palace is now grassed over, the seven-storey building entirely absent.
#3 Explore the Gandhi museums inside leafy Aga Khan PalaceIn 1942, Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and other key figures of the freedom movement were interned at the grand Aga Khan Palace. It is set in quiet leafy gardens across the river, 5 km northeast of the centre.
The Aga Khan donated the palace to the state in 1969, and it is now a small Gandhi museum, typical of many all over India. It has captioned photos and simple rooms unchanged since they were occupied by the freedom fighters. A memorial behind the house commemorates Kasturba, who died during their imprisonment.
#4 Seek out the dance masks and Worli paintings of the Tribal MuseumThe Tribal Research and Training Institute, which runs the Tribal Museum, is dedicated to the protection and documentation of Maharashtra’s forty-plus tribal groups.
In total they number around ten million and the museum’s photos, artefacts and outdoor dioramas serve as an excellent introduction to this little-known world. Highlights include the wonderful collections of dance masks and Worli paintings.
#5 Find solace at Osho International Meditation ResortSet amid 28 acres of landscaped gardens and woodland, this is the ashram of the now-deceased New Age guru, Shri Bagwan Rajneesh, aka “Osho”. It comprises a dreamy playground of cafés, marble walkways, an Olympic-size swimming pool, spas, tennis courts and clinics, with a shop selling Osho paraphernalia.
Courses at its multiversity are offered in a variety of therapies and meditation techniques, alongside more offbeat workshops. This eco-friendly bubble follows a strict door policy, with security beefed up following the revelation of visits to Osho by Mumbai 26/11 conspirator David Headley, and in the wake of Pune’s own attack in 2010.
If you’re interested in taking a course, you must take your passport to the Welcome Center, where you’ll have to take an on-the-spot HIV test in order to register. You’ll also eed two robes (maroon for daywear, white for evenings), on sale at the ashram’s “mini-mall”.
Who was Osho from Pune?Nearly 50 years have passed since Bhagwan Rajneesh, also known as Osho, attracted a following as a New Age guru. Mixing elements from Buddhism, Sufism, sexual liberation, Tantric practices, Zen, yoga, and more, the first Rajneesh ashram was established in Pune in 1974. Westerners and some Indians flocked to the ashram, adopting Sanskrit names and a distinctive attire of orange or maroon cotton clothing and a bead necklace with a photo of the guru.
Rajneesh's unique approach to fulfillment appealed to many early followers. His rejection of Christianity and emphasis on liberation through sex struck a chord. He assured his devotees that material comfort was not to be shunned. Soon, satellite ashrams appeared across Western Europe, attracting an estimated 200,000 devotees in 80 countries by 1980.
To protect themselves from perceived threats, the organization created Rajneeshpuram, a utopian community on 64,000 acres in Oregon. Media attention increased as Rajneesh, now wealthy, faced accusations of tax evasion, drugs, fraud, arson, and a conspiracy to poison individuals. Although he claimed ignorance of these activities, he pleaded guilty to immigration law violations and was deported in 1985.
Rajneesh attempted to resettle in various countries but ultimately returned to Pune, where he passed away in 1990. An inner circle was appointed to manage the group after his death, but the organization shifted its control to Zurich and New York. The Pune ashram struggled financially and had to rebrand itself, leading to shorter stays for visitors.
Osho's popularity among foreigners had an unintended consequence when the German Bakery, a former hippie hotspot in Koregaon Park, was targeted in a terrorist attack in 2010, resulting in casualties. Despite the tragedy, the café reopened in 2013, symbolizing the enclave's resilience.
Best areas to stay in PuneTop-end hotels are springing up all over Pune, but there’s a chronic shortage of budget and mid-range places, which explains why prices are high and vacancies like gold dust: book as far in advance as possible.
OshoIt is possible to stay inside the resort at the pricey Osho Guest House.
Koregaon ParkThis vibrant spot is known for its upscale restaurants but it’s also a popular choice for both business and leisure travellers.
Deccan GymkhanaSlap bang in the middle of the city, Deccan Gymkhana offers a range of high-quality accommodation options as well as some good guesthouses.
HinjewadiThis expanding IT and business hub on the outskirts of Pune has a number of modern hotels that cater to business travellers.
Browse the best hotels in Pune.
Best restaurants and barsPune’s affluent young things have money to burn these days, and new, innovative places to eat and drink open up every month to relieve them of their tech salaries. Booking is advisable at the smarter places at weekends. In addition, several of the hotels have good restaurants
Koregaon ParkThe largest concentration of new restaurants are found up at the eastern end of Koregaon Park.
FC RdCutting through Deccan Gymkhana, FC Rd features numerous Indian restaurants and good-value cafes.
Camp (MG Rd)One of the coolest stretches of road in the city, MG Rd has lots of food options, including fast-food chains and dessert shops.
How to get aroundFrom buses to bikes, it is easy to get around Pune. Here’s how to do it.
Pune has an extensive network of local buses operated by the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML). Auto-rickshaws are a popular mode of transport for short distances in Pune. They are easily available and can be hailed from the roadside. Haggle before setting off.
The first section of the Pune metro may only comprise five stations and 12 km of travel, but it’s a great way of cutting between the city centre and its cooler, student areas.
Various taxi services and cab aggregators like Ola and Uber operate in Pune. Pune has introduced dedicated cycling tracks in some areas, promoting cycling as an eco-friendly and healthy mode of transport. Ask at your hotel for wheels.
What is the best time to visit Pune?The best time to visit Pune is the October–February period when it is typically hot and dry. Temperatures ramp up from March to May, when it can get uncomfortable, and thunderstorms are not uncommon. The monsoon generally hits in June and lasts till September, with July being the wettest month.
Find out more about the best time to visit India.
How many days do you need in Pune?Most travellers will only spend 2 to 3 days in Pune. This is enough time to visit the Aga Khan Palace and the Tribal Museum and mooch about a bit. However, if you’re planning to visit Osho, it’s worth booking a course for a week or two to get the entire experience.
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How to get herePune is very well connected, but demand for seats on planes, trains and buses far exceeds supply; book onward transport as soon as you can.
By planeLohagaon, Pune’s airport, 10 km northeast of the city centre, is a major hub, with regular direct flights to cities throughout India. It’s a 15–30 min journey to/from the city centre, depending on traffic.
By trainPune railway station is in the centre of the city, south of the river. It is one of the last stops for numerous long-distance trains to and from Mumbai, so rail services are excellent – despite many of them departing in the early morning. Some terminate at Dadar or (worse still) Kurla, so always check first.
By shared taxiFor Mumbai, 24hr shared taxis leave from agencies at the taxi stand in front of Pune railway station – they’re quicker than the buses, but only take you as far as Dadar.
By busPune has three main bus stands. If you’re unsure which station you require for your destination, ask at the enquiries hatch of the City Bus Stand or at the MTDC counter at the railway station. More comfortable private buses depart from offices throughout Pune; tickets can be bought from travel agencies in Koregaon Park.
City Bus Stand Next to the railway station is split into two sections, one serving Pune itself (with signs and timetables only in Marathi), the other for destinations south and west. Regular buses to Mumbai (via Lonavala) also leave from here.
Find out the best ways to get to India.