Think cool Western breeze across your face as you jet down empty roads on a Vespa, a city where the lack of sunshine is compensated for by the skies in constant turmoil, the smell of baked goods wafting through unexpected nooks and the languid, relaxed pace of the city helped me jog through three years of my graduation — three beautiful, chaotic, confusing, revelatory years.
As I tumbled through the rabbit hole that is life during University, I experienced solace, friendship, heartbreak, boredom, activism, colour and the lack thereof first-hand.
Inadvertently, I experienced enough life to not be able to cull it into an article about how to experience Pune at its most beautiful and at its ugliest, but here’s a guide to 5 things to do in Pune, lived through the wandering eyes of a vagabond:
1. MG Road
Anybody who’s travelled the length and breadth of Indian cities is familiar with the name MG Road. Usually located in the centre of the city, MG Road in Pune is a maze of roads intertwining and congregating at some of the best restaurants in town.
Whether it’s simple sandwiches or home-made ice-cream at Mar-zorin, beers and football beaming from TV sets mounted on walls covered with fan art at Toons next door or just meandering through the roads, picking up obnoxiously expensive groceries at Dorabjee’s because it reminds you of a time where you weren’t a broke student or just ambling through the roads till you make a pit stop at Blue Nile for a dinner of biryani and mutton kebabs, MG road is a haunt for city lovers and haters alike.
2. June Bazaar on Wednesdays
June Bazaar at Maldhakka Chowk undergoes a fascinating transformation on Wednesdays. The laid-back alleys and quiet roads of Vir Santaji Ghorpade Path morph into a bustling flea market where over 700 vendors line the dusty footpath with their ware spread around them with noticeable pride. Men bargaining rapidly with the crowd thronging the makeshift shops, women chewing paan and calling out to customers — there is a definite order to the chaos that unfolds.
A ‘chor bazaar’ of sorts, but one whose traditions date back to a 100-year old history, this market is a treasure trove of shoes, clothes, coins and electrical appliances at a subsidised cost.
One can exchange old clothes for new ones, get a humbling bargain on a pair of old-world monocles, invest in an array of antique coins dating back to the era of Shivaji and old, gilded telephones reminiscent of ‘70s Bollywood. June Bazaar is the living example of one man’s trash being another man’s gold.
3. The festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi
Pune takes on a loud, bright colour of its own around the time Ganesh Chaturthi rolls around. The festival celebrated in the honour of the Hindu God, Ganesha witnesses processions which culminate into the kind of festivity that stops traffic on the usually busy FC Road. People get up on top of cars to dance, play the dhol, throw colour around and generally do what Indians do best — celebrate.
This throng of people can get loud and raucous but the thing to remember when you experience any new place is to be open to anything. Not bedbugs though, never be open to bedbugs. In my first year there, I plunged into the revelry and soaked in whatever it was that was making all these people so happy.
4. The little known cafes of Pune
Pune’s littered with little known secrets in the form of parks, cafes, bakeries and bars nestled in between bungalows and hidden behind timeless trees.
Whether it’s the gol gappas right opposite Hyatt on SB Road, the greasy, overwhelmingly familiar Faaso’s rolls which are a student diet staple, mimosas on the Paasha rooftop at JW Marriott on luckier weekends, momos that cost forty rupees in Viman Nagar or spending days sipping tea against the backdrop of relentless rain at German Bakery or spending evenings reading and eating the best baked goods in town at Flour Works, Pune is that perfect mix of city indulgence and village charm.
5. High and spirited at High Spirits
For the slightly hedonistic traveller, which is exactly what I was during my time in Pune, High Spirits was a second home to most of us. The kind of place where you can drink beer while meeting new people, attend the latest live music & stand-up acts in town, play foosball, table tennis or beer pong, attend a drinks inclusive barbecue on Sundays and let your hair loose, Right next door, Shisha at ABC Farms is where you should go for some authentic Iranian fare.
The famous Osho Meditation Centre is also along the same road. Visits are restricted but you can enrol in a short course if spirituality is more up your alley. Countless walks down up and down Koregaon Park road and I’m yet to be bored of it.