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Travel India: Places to Visit in Pune

Building with attached temple against blue sky and crescent moon

Pune was always known for its educational institutes and its cultural scene. In the last decade or so, it has also developed as an IT and industrial hub. However, no matter how much it ‘ develops ‘, Pune is still a small town at heart. From its traffic chaos and small airport to the mandatory afternoon siestas and green spaces in crowded areas, it is charming, infuriating, and contemporary all at once.

Historical monuments are nestled along busy streets filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants that serve International and modern cuisines; tradition and adventure go hand in hand here. This is the land of the proud Marathas, with plenty of monuments to commemorate the legacy within and around the city, where bigger forts welcome trekkers and day-trippers.

Things to See in Pune

Pune is best explored at leisure, in the unhurried way of a true Puneite. So take it easy and plan a maximum of two places a day. Here are just a handful of places to visit.

Aga Khan Palace

This was one of the first places we visited because it was close to where we were staying. The palace was built in 1892 by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III. It was built as a way to provide employment to locals who were suffering through famine. The beautiful architecture is best admired from the peaceful lawns. There is a memorial to Gandhi in the yard. This is because, in 1942, he, along with his wife, Kasturba, Sarojini Naidu, and Mahadev Desai, were all under house arrest at the palace for two years. Some of the rooms act as a museum housing artefacts from their time here. It’s a quiet place to spend an afternoon.

Shinde Chattri

This small temple memorial tucked away on a busy street, is dedicated to the 18th-century military leader Mahadji Shinde, the Maratha army commander-in-chief under the Peshwas. It is a small compound and is rarely crowded with tourists. The beautifully carved structure is impressive, and the colourfully painted hall inside still retains some of the splendour of the olden days. The coloured window panels let in a sunlight stream, lending an almost nostalgic feel to the place. 

We also met a couple of kittens that call this place home and were entertained by their antics for a long while.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Temple

Although I’m not religious, I do appreciate the serenity of a temple complex, especially a well-maintained one such as this. The temple sits on a pedestal surrounded by beautiful green lawns, its carved sandstone exteriors gleaming in the evening sun. Photography is not allowed inside the temple to avoid an accumulation of selfie-taking crowds. It is beautifully decorated inside with elaborate idols in their own mini temples.

Katraj Jain Temple

We chanced upon this place by accident. We saw the sign for the temple, and since we had time, we went to explore. We parked near the pristine Jal Temple, made with white marble and surrounded by what was supposed to be a moat but was empty that day. I can only imagine how lovely it would look surrounded by water. We went inside the main temple complex, thinking it’ll be a quick tour, but were surprised by the enormity of it.

Also known as Aagam Mandir, it is lined with gorgeous corridors, walls, floors and ceilings. Each section has a shrine dedicated to one of the various Jain Gods. The shrine for Lord Mahaveer is made up of five metal alloys (panch-dhatu), weighs 5,000 kg, and is 12 feet tall! 

The temple is on a small hill and offers a panoramic view of the sprawling city all around.

Pataleshwar Caves

Dedicated to Shiva, this 8th-century rock-cut Hindu temple is a monolithic excavation of a rocky hillock. You climb down to the clearing where a large circular Nandi mandapa graces the entrance to the cave. The caves are made of basaltic rock, and their stark stone pillars are intimidating and graceful at the same time. There is also an active temple inside the caves for the devout.

Mahatma Phule Mandai

You might think, what’s so special about a vegetable market? Housed in a Colonial Era building, this sprawling market is overflowing with colours and conversations. We came here during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, and the building opposite the market is where you park and explore the Ganpati mandaps on foot during the festival days. The burst of colours in the market and the fresh produce is therapy for a foodie!

Dagaduseth Halwai Ganesh Temple

Said to be one of the most popular temples during the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities, it is always overflowing with people who have come to seek blessings. The temple is over 130 years old and was funded by a sweetmaker. 

Birla Ganesh Statue

You need to climb a whole bunch of steps to get to it, but the view is worth it. On the outskirts of Pune city, this gigantic 72 feet Ganesh statue is visible from the highway itself. There’s not much else to do here. This is more of a pit stop on the way to Lonavala or the Japalouppe Equestrian Centre nearby.

man praying in front of large ganesh statue

Things to do with Kids in Pune

For younger kids, any neighbourhood park is a great opportunity to run around and explore. Almost every neighbourhood would have at least one. These are some of the other places our son enjoyed.

Okayama Friendship Garden

Pune-Okayama Friendship Garden also called the Pu La Deshpande Udyan, or Japanese Garden, is one of the largest gardens in Pune. The manicured lawns and numerous water features are soothing, especially in the mornings. Two other themed gardens are beside it, each with a minimal entry fee. They are all great for an evening walk; however, you don’t really enjoy the garden’s purpose as you’re not allowed on the grass and have to keep on the paved pathway. There’s a children’s play area just outside which was fun for our son as he finally got to run around and play.

Raje Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Udhyan

For those of us who have young kids, or are kids at heart, do make a stop at this park. Not only does it have a play area, but it also has a functioning toy train (in the evenings), which is super fun.

Saras Baug

This is a decent park with a small lake that’s great for walking or for kids to run around. The lake is home to a few tortoises and plenty of colourful birds and dragonflies. On a small hillock, there’s a small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh.

Japalouppe Equestrian Centre

It is an equestrian centre for those interested in riding horses, but it is so much more for casual visitors. We took a day package that included a meal, a tour around their petting zoo, and a pony ride for our son. Kids (and adults) get an introduction to various farm animals and can even hold and pet some of them. Our son was hesitant to touch the animals at first but then soon got comfortable with all the furry creatures.

Hands On

This indoor play area is fantastic. It’s small, so the child is not overwhelmed, but it has ample activities for the kids to enjoy for hours. You can choose to play with them, or sit at the small adjoining cafe where you can still keep an eye on them, or leave them with the trusted helpers while you finish your chores.

The Circus

Taking our son to the circus was quite nostalgic for us. The whole experience of sitting under the huge tent watching acrobats and clowns performing was great fun.

Monalisa Kalasangram

This open space has a large nursery and usually hosts farmer’s markets over the weekends and other shopping and cultural events. Keep a lookout on their Instagram page for the latest updates.

Places to Eat in Pune

There’s something for everyone and every budget in Pune. Do not miss the authentic vada pav available at every corner of the city. If you’re looking for something spicy, then also try missal pav from your local street vendor. Another speciality is the Maharashtrian thali meal, which never disappoints. 

Here are some more places to try:

  • Anna Idli: This is a chain of restaurants for your fix of South Indian breakfast of idlis and dosas
  • Brasserie Cinq: They have some delectable French cuisine, from French onion soup to tiramisu, and some superb dishes in between.
  • Cafe Goa: This tiny place serves a finger-licking good Konkani thali. Perfect for a lazy Sunday so you can sleep after a heavy meal.
  • Cafe Paashh: This is one of our favourite places. The small garden at the entrance gives you a sense of serenity, and the modern Continental and Indian cuisine looks and tastes perfect.
  • Cafe Peter: If you love casual Southeast Asian food, then this is the place to go. It’s an informal cafe which is more of a hangout spot for the young’uns. They serve up the usual pizzas and pastas as well.
  • Chafa Cafe: The food and coffee here are delicious, and the ambience is relaxed and chill. Go for some healthy, guilt-free, flavourful food.
  • Gajalee: This is a must-visit for all seafood lovers. Choose to go for a thali or order off the extensive menu. They even customised some of our dishes for us.
  • German Bakery: It’s always buzzing, so you might not get seating immediately, and there is a security screening to get in since the bomb blast inside the cafe in 2010. The desserts are mouthwatering. Now other branches have opened across the city so you can go to the one closest to you.
  • Kayani Bakery: Ever since the bakery started, there has been a line for their Shrewsberry biscuits and mava cakes. Go at 8 am or 4 pm to be assured of their availability.
  • Kerala Cafe: If you’re looking for a hearty Indian meal, then this is the place to go. Serving vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, you can opt for the thali or order separate dishes.
  • Mandala Hot Pot Culture: This tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant packs a big punch when it comes to flavour and freshness. Everything is made fresh from scratch, so reach and order before your usual meal time. The hot pot is the star of the show, but every other dish we tried was also beyond expectations.
  • Pathyam Ayurvedic Restaurant: This is a little away from the city and more of a day trip than just lunch. You’ll have to book in advance; The restaurant serves a 5-course tasting menu of fusion Indian food. You could spend a few hours roaming the gardens and say hello to the cows.
  • The Poona Project: This place has the best pizza in the city. Located inside the Phoenix Mall, it’s worth battling the crowds for.
  • Sante Spa Cafe: The cafe’s healthy vegetarian and vegan selection is so scrumptious that you will be spoiled for choice!
  • The Sassy Spoon: Go for the quirky decor and some cool selfies, and stay for the fabulous food and cocktails.
  • Savya Rasa: Yet another South Indian restaurant on this list, but one that shouldn’t be missed. They serve thalis and have an extensive menu as well. The food draws a huge crowd, so it’s better to make a reservation. Browse the antiquities while you wait.
  • Vaishali: The place to be for any college student in Pune. Casual Indian food is the mainstay of the restaurant, and it has been a staple among the students of the Fergusson College nearby.

Weekend Trips from Pune

There are so many great options for weekend drives from Pune. Trekking spots and fort ruins are some of the favourites for the outdoorsy crowd. Here are some other popular towns just a few hours away.

  • Lonavala is just 70 km from Pune and is great for trekking or relaxing. Combine the trip with its neighbour Khandala.
  • Panchgani is just 100 km away and is a favourite weekend destination along with its neighbour, Mahabaleshwar.
  • Matheran is just 120 km from Pune. 
  • Alibaug is a much smaller version of Goa at just 140 km distance with forts and temples to explore.
  • Thoseghar Waterfalls is best to visit around the monsoons, just 140 km away.
  • Kaas Plateau, near Thoseghar, comes alive in September with flowers all over the hills and is a beautiful sight to see.
  • Nasik is 200 km away and has plenty of things to see, like the historical Panchvati, Sula Vineyards, and Trimbakeshwar Temple.

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