Pune is a city of over 5 million people which is makes it the 8th most populous city in India, behind Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. It's in the same state of Maharashtra as Mumbai on the central western coast. As Pune is on a less travelled route to India from Australia, it took 3 flights and over 20 hours in transit to get there from our home in Perth. The newly built airport in Delhi made the transit much easier than the old airport that I went through on previous visits to India in 2007 and 2004.
It's no surprise how crowded it is on Indian streets. There are literally people everywhere. It's now quite visible that some of the population are better off since the Indian economic boom as there's more cars on the road. That said, there are also lots of "two wheelers" or motorbikes on the roads there who battle for the front at red traffic lights. Fortunately we had drivers assigned to take us everywhere for our stay so we didn't have to deal with driving on India roads. A different style of driving means that's generally friendly to use your car horn to let other drivers know you're there. Many trucks have "Please use horn" painted on their back bumper bars. That makes the streets of India very noisy. Not to mention the frequent cows and other animals frequently seen on the roads!
Most of our week was spent at the office which only offered evenings to look around the city. The Osho International Meditation Resort is based in Koregaon Park. It was started by Acharya Rajneesh in the 1970s which attracted many Westerners to visit India and many have stayed in the meditation resort for a number of years.
Not far from Osho is the German Bakery. As we had several Germans in our group, we had to visit the bakery. Unfortunately, this bakery was bombed in 2010. Since this bombing, there is increased security around Pune. Upon entering any shopping centre, reasonable hotel, office or tourist site visitors must go through security, get frisked and have bags x-rayed. As I'm about a foot taller than most Indian ladies, my head was often sticking out above the security screen as I was frisked by female security staff.
India has become much more westernised in the past decade. There are plenty more shopping malls and recognisable western brands (and rip-offs) available for sale. But there's also millions of people living in extreme poverty on the streets. The "Land of Contrasts" label is obvious everywhere. Besides flashy cars are children begging at traffic lights hoping to buy their next meal.
We made a day trip to Lavasa, a hill station built between Mumbai and Pune in 2010. It was nice to get out of the big city of Pune and see some of the surrounding country. We passed through a couple of valleys of the "Western Ghats", a hill range which extends along the west coast of India. Lavasa is planned as a totally self-sufficient town but it's still under construction. It surrounds a dam which offers views across the valley. Fortunately there was a reasonable restaurant for a suitable lunch stop.
As it was August, it was monsoon season. Most days had a huge rain downpour in the afternoon and we drove back from the office through some deep, muddy puddles. This made the surrounding land look very lush and green. Our hotel overlooked the river which ranged in height from barely trickling to a large torrent following downpours in Pune and the hills upstream.
Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu "Festival of Ganesh" was celebrated after we left. It's a week-long festival where statues of Ganesh are erected around India and worshipped. The celebrations are particularly long in Maharashtra. We didn't want to get stuck in the impending traffic jams for the festival so we departed back to Perth the day before the festival started. I'm sure we'll be back to visit Pune soon.
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