Pune or Poona, as locals call it is not only, the second-largest city of Maharashtra but also, the ninth most populous one. Although, what makes Pune a fascinating tourist destination is that it exhibits a deeply rooted history. A history that emphasises on the 18th-century reign of Shiva Ji and the Peshwas marking the significance of the Maratha Empire. Thereafter Pune began to make a name for itself through its cantonment triumph, educational institutes, pilgrimage sights, political centres and iconic architecture. So when I first flew down to this ravishing cultural capital of the state, I knew I had to tour everything from the British-era charm to the epitome of spiritualism. If you are planning to visit Pune anytime soon then here’s a list of 5 best places that will introduce you to this colonial turned cosmopolitan hub, like never before.
1. Aga Khan Palace
The first sightseeing spot I chose to visit in Pune was the Aga Khan Palace. Unlike the Mughlai tone of its name, this place contributed a great deal to the history of India. Even though the palace was built by Sultan Aga Khan in the 18th-century to facilitate the poor, it got its recognition due to the 1942 Quit India freedom movement. During the freedom movement, the palace has turned into a prison for both Mahatma and Kasturba Gandhi. (Along with, other freedom fighters such as Mahadeobhai Desai and Sarojini Naidu) Most importantly, Kasturba Gandhi breathed her last at Aga Khan Palace which turned this place into her permanent memorial. Apart from the deeply implanted history it flaunts, Aga Khan Palace also features 16-acres of manicured gardens, worth soaking.
Entry Fee: INR 25
Best Time to Visit: 9 AM – 5:30 PM all through the week
2. Gandhi National Memorial
While you are at the Aga Khan Palace, you might as well tour the Gandhi National Memorial Museum. Luckily, the ticket to Aga Khan Palace entitles you free admission to the museum which is thriving with Gandhi Ji’s possessions and pictures from the time of the Quit India Movement. A bizarre sense of nationalism takes over when you first sight the belongings of the freedom fighters. It’s as if, someone had put on display, a collection of national romanticism, steeped in sorrowful legitimacy of the unity.
3. Shaniwar Wada Palace
A tour to Pune is incomplete until you have paid a visit to its 17th-century ruins of the Shaniwarwada fortress. Built by the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire, Wada has an interesting, tale to tell its visitors. Legends have it that ‘originally’ this seven-storied historical fortification was to be built ‘only’ in stone. However, the people of Satara complained to the King after completing the first floor, saying that a stone monument can only be sanctioned and built by the King and not the Peshwas. After which, an official statement was issued, to the Peshwas announcing that the remaining construction shall conclude in bricks. Ninety years later, when the Wada was attacked by the British, the top 6-floors tumbled in no time, wherein the stone base with its teak gateways and granite ramparts remained intact. In the present time, the stone base still, remains intact for you to observe and admire.
Entry Fee: INR 5
Best Time to Visit: 8 AM – 6:30 PM every day
4. National War Museum
Pune is widely famous across India for its military base and cantonment area. Which, is why a trip to the National War Museum topped my travel bucket list. And I’m glad I made it to the museum because no other place in Pune evokes the sentiment of patriotism, like this one. The National War Museum in Pune fosters nationalism by making you think about all the Indian martyrs who sacrificed their life in Kargil war. Let’s say this war memorial not only, makes you identify with the sacrifices of the army but also, helps you support the military interests of India. Located on the Prince of Wales Road in Pune, this remarkable War Museum features independence war struggle through its Mig 23 BN and inoperative frigate INS Trishul used in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani and Portuguese-Indian war. The museum was ‘essentially’ built-in 1997 and has been rated the best, ‘war memorial’ of India. By visiting it, you get a chance to salute the efforts, uniforms, arms and mementoes of the Indian army.
Entry Fee: Free + Free Parking
Best Time to Visit: 9 AM – 5:30 PM
5. Empress Botanical Gardens
Pune is a city full of pleasant surprises. After traversing through its historical wonders and museums full of cultural heritage, I took a diversion to look into its agricultural revolution. Owned and managed by the Agri-Horticultural Society of Pune, Empress Botanical Gardens is an 18th-century estate celebrated for its rare plantations, flora, and fauna. This well-landscaped botanical garden stretches out on 39 acres land exhibiting flower power of its kind. Many people are said to visit this garden to attend shows and programs that generate environmental awareness. In particular, I enjoyed watching the picturesque stream that ran all along the park.
Entry Fee: INR 10 per adult
Best Time to Visit: 9:30 AM – 6:30 PM
The high-spirited metropolis of Pune is thriving with history, art, musical enclaves, spiritualism, and laissez-faire. And in between, there are some cool breweries, restaurants and malls! Since Poona is also flourishing with academic institutes and business centres, representing a perfect balance of the ancient and the modern, it’s visited by thousands of people every day. In the end, the blend of colonial-era charm with modernism is what makes Pune a worthwhile place to explore.