Off the Beaten Track in India: Pune
5 months ago I stumbled off of a plane and stepped right into a completely different world – India. Fresh out of high school and looking for adventure, I found myself in the country I had always dreamed of, but in a city I’d never even heard of: Pune (Poon-eh).
Now, almost half a year later, Pune is where I call home. The chaotic streets and rickety rickshaws hold a special place in my heart. I spend my days teaching English and art to 8th grade students, speaking a little bit of broken Hindi, and devouring as much of India as I possibly can before I have to leave. They say that the trick to surviving in India is to laugh when you want to scream – and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
Pune is a growing city, but still a bit of a hole in the wall, not a typical tourist stop on the India itinerary. Here you can get a taste of what it is to be a local and live the Indian adventure you’ve been dreaming about.
How to Get Around
India is infamous for it’s crazy cow scattered traffic, and let’s face it – it can be a little bit scary if you’re not used to it! But no fear, Pune has many ways to get around that are just another part of a day in the life.
Rickshaws, tuk-tuks, autos, ricks, whatever you wanna call them – they’ve got a bad rep. Personally, I love rickshaws! They add a little kick to even the most mundane of days (there aren’t many of those in India). Catching a rickshaw is just like hailing a taxi – and just as easy. You just tell the driver where you want to go, and hop in. Here’s a few things you should know about taking rickshaws
- Rickshaws run by meter – they start at 18 rupees (about 25 U.S. cents) and each extra kilometer costs about 12 rupees. A 5 kilometer ride will only cost you about $1 USD! On that note, always carry smaller rupee notes with you when traveling by rickshaw. Nothing larger than 100 rupee bills.
- ALWAYS go by the meter! If a rickshaw driver refuses to go by the meter and asks for more, say no and/or get out of the rickshaw! There’s plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of rickshaws on the road. If you’re a foreigner, there’s a good chance this will happen to you a lot. But don’t let this discourage you from riding in ricks – it’s well worth a little haggling.
- If pollution bothers you, bring a scarf or something to cover your mouth and nose. Rickshaws are open air which makes for the best view, but also makes for some occasional dust and fumes. To avoid this, it’s best to carry a scarf or jacket in your bag so that you’re ready to battle the smoke if the need arises.
- Music adds to the experience and enjoyment. My favorite thing to do is jump into a rickshaw, put my headphones in, and observe the magic that is India. Just load up your phone or iPod with your favorite songs and sit back, pretend you’re the star in a Bollywood film, and relax
- Please keep all body parts inside of the vehicle and hold on.
Buses are a great way to get around in Pune, and also another exciting transportation experience. The local buses are easy to spot, they’re red and usually pretty filled with people. Once you get on you just tell the attendant where you want to go. They will only cost you about 15 rupees and can take you all over the city! Tip : The buses don’t exactly stop.. they slow down to give you a chance to run and jump on. Good luck 😉
That’s right, there’s Uber in Pune! If you’ve got a smartphone, you can download the Uber app and hail a cab to wherever you are with the touch of a finger, flick of the wrist. Super easy and almost as cheap as rickshaws!
Pune is famous for being the city of 2 million bikes. It’s one of the easier and faster ways to commute, but only really possible or a good option if you’re a local. So if you’re considering coming to Pune to live, work, or study, a motorbike is probably the best option for you. Otherwise, stick to rickshaws, buses and taxis!
What to Do
Pune is a pretty happening city – with over 9 universities and 100 educational institutions it’s been nicknamed ‘Oxford of the East’. All those colleges means there’s a big population of young students and a lot to do!
There are tons of cool cafés, bookstores, and restaurants to relax and meet people in. Markets galore, palaces, temples, yoga, Pune has it all! Here are some the coolest places in Pune.
Sheesha Cafe is the first place I fell in love with in Pune. A relaxed jazz cafe with cushion seats, magic carpets hanging from the ceiling, Turkish coffee, and of course, sheesha, it’s a great place to curl up or chill with friends.
Tell your rickshaw driver to take you to ABC Farms, Sheesha Cafe.
High Spirits is one of the most popular places in Pune, and for good reason! Here you can find great local bands, and meet people from all over the city. A rasta mural and a weekly schedule of themed nights make High Spirits a great place to spend an evening, any day of the week. Sundays are cookouts and . Follow them on instagram to see what events are coming up!
Tell your rickshaw driver to take you to ABC Farms, High Spirits.
BookStore in Pagdandi
Although a bit out of the city, this place is well worth the rickshaw ride. A hole in the wall for sure, this bookstore offers healthy vegan baked goods, snacks, and smoothies. It is full of books about India, travel, social issues, and even some little homegrown hipster pamphlets.
Tell your rickshaw driver Pagdandi, Regent Plaza.
Also a bit far out, but worth it – there’s a great rooftop cinema in Aund called The Lost Plot. Inside
Tell your rickshaw driver Seasons Apartment Hotel, Aund.
Tulsi Baug Market
Looking for a crazy Indian market? Look no further than this market in Tulsi Baug. Crowded alleys filled with clothing, jewelry, scarves and handicrafts galore, this market is one to remember!
Tell your rickshaw driver Tulsi Baug Market.
One of the largest attractions in Pune is Osho ashram.
Tell your rickshaw driver Osho Ashram, Koregoan Park, Lane 1.
Aga Khan Palace
Pune may be a modern city, but it’s not without it’s own history. Built in the 1800s, visiting Aga Khan palace is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon in Pune. Fun Fact – Gandhi was imprisoned here for 2 years!
Tell your rickshaw driver Aga Khan Palace, Kalyani Nagar.
ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) is one of the largest religious institutes worldwide, and their new temple in Pune is a gorgeous place to visit. Go in the evening to see the temple come alive with devotees!
Tell your rickshaw driver ISKON Mundir, Katraj Kondhwa Road.
KP! The most happening place in Pune. Full of the trendiest shops, restaurants and cafes, you could easily spend a few days just exploring this part of Pune. 7 lanes for you to discover! Some of my favorites include Naturals Icecream Lane 7, Cafe 108 Lane 5, and Yogi Tree Lane 1.
What to Eat- and NOT to Eat
Eating the local cuisine is a must for any true traveler. Pune has everything you could dream of – all the tastes, textures, and savory smells that India is famous for. Although it can all be enticing, you should probably take it easy tiger – Delhi belly is not something you want to catch during your trip. Street food is a risk, but if you’re up to it, here’s a few things you must try while here!
Chai is the lifeline of any Indian. A glass of chai in the morning, a midday cuppa-Chai, afternoon, evening, you will see people drinking this sweet steamy tea at all times. There are chai stalls in every nook and cranny of Pune, and on every restaurants menu. Feeling a little worn out from a day in the city? Kick back into gear with a shot of chai for under 50 cents!
Poha is a great breakfast, or anytime-snack of flattened rice with veggies, chilies, and spices.
Pani-puri is one the more interesting Indian eating experiences – it’s basically a fried hollow shell, filled with different chutneys, vegetables, and flavored waters. You stuff the little fried ball with whatever you want, and put the whole thing in your mouth – with one crunch there is an explosion of flavors and textures. Not something you want to miss out on! Be careful with buying pani-puri on the street- since it’s got water in it, you should make sure the stall only uses bottled water for the flavored waters inside.
Vada Pav – the Indian street version of a veggie burger! A simple fried potato patty served inside of a bun with some spices and maybe some fresh coriander.. Vada POW!
Idli is not native to this part of India (it’s from south India) but is a popular food here! It’s basically a round cake made from fermented rice and black lentils. Served with sambar (vegetable stew) and various chutneys, these soft little snacks are a great Indian food to try.
The indian version of a crepe, this one is easy to love. Savory and served with coriander, coconut, and tomato chutneys, dosa is one you can’t miss out on. Try a cheese paper dosa, or a masala dosa.
Stay away from street food like sliced fruit, salads, and cold juices, or basically anything that isn’t steaming hot.
5 Important Hindi Phrases to Know
- Meera nam _____ hai = My name is _______.
- Apka nam kya hai? = What is your name?
- _____ kaha hai? = Where is _____? This can be used for anything you’re looking for. Need a bathroom? Say “Washroom kaha hai?” Looking for someplace in particular? Just say the name of the place you’re looking for and add “kaha hai” at the end. Simple and extremely helpful for a newbie in India/
- Bahut mahenga bhaiya = Very expensive brother! Bargaining is a culture here in India. Whether you’re shopping at a market or negotiating with a rickshaw driver, throwing this little Hindi phrase out there will prove that you’re not just any average tourist!
- Sukriya = Thank you!
Always a good thing to know when you’re traveling. Friendliness goes a long way in India!
Pune is definitely worth a visit, or a long term stay.
You can easily fly into Pune airport from New Delhi, or take a 3-4 drive from Mumbai!
This article is only a tidbit of all there is to discover in Pune. Pune is famous for it’s outlying hill stations, old forts, and hiking spots as well. With a bit of your own research, Pune could become your next adventure destination.