I have heard so much about Pune in Maharashtra from friends and friends of friends that I went for a short visit. Its a nice-ish place, polite retired person's city. As compared to Delhi it was hot, about 34 degrees in January, which made me worry about what the summer would be like.
Not unlike Bombay the roads are terrible..and make all conversations turn into grunts! Not unlike any other city, Pune has malls by the tonnes, since I dont like the Mall concept of hanging around trying to look cool, I did not appreciate this aspect of the city either. Not unlike other cities flyovers seem to be coming up in every corner of Pune. Local people moaned about the 'bad traffic' in Pune, they really must try the South Delhi to Gurgaon trip at 8am to know about bad traffic where you might just move about a km in one hour..maybe!
The armed forces base at Pune makes is clean and green in many places. IT and related sectors offices like T Systems office and other such glass buildings makes a visitor like me wonder what Pune looked like before the IT boom hit it.
Suburbia of Pune is built in the same way as any other city suburbs, inconspicous, badly designed (externally) buildings and housing societies in dusty areas seem to be visible everywhere. With a growing population the housing market is huge, but badly organised. They seem to lack planning in terms of design and infrastructural backbones! One such example is that Thursdays are powerless days for some reason in most of Pune. Immensely frustrating for a so called developing/ developed city! Pollution is high in the city and most of it is dust! The CNG concept has not reached this city yet..and it shows.
What I did like were the well hidden local markets and forts, statues of the Maharashtrian fighters, old curved stone bridges which are sinking into a very dirty river. Old architecture is easy to see if one looks up, wooden carved balconies and jharokhas, parapets carved out of stone. But the best thing was the plethora of temples..to all kind of dieties from Dagru Sheth to Hanuman with Chatursringi in between. The temples are gorgeous and a Ganpati can be found just about everywhere. Exteremely nice for people like me who enter every temple that is open!
What else is nice about Pune is the amount you can eat, and drink..at not a sky high price like Delhi. Food and people stuffing their faces at all times of the day was very clearly visible in Pune. Like all cities in South and West India..fresh flowers that smell heavenly are easily available, so if you are the kind that likes a Lei in the hair that freshens you all day..Pune shall not disappoint, whats unique though is that the flower girl or lady shall be only too happy to weave flowers into your hair for you, something I was keen to get done...everyday!
The drive from Pune to Bombay via Lonavala was my exercise in learning Marathi. Drive Slow, Speed breaker Ahead, Do Not Stop in the Tunnel, Observe Lane Rules, Tunnel Ahead, Food and Fuel Ahead, Speeding and Tyre Bursting Causes Accidents..etc etc...all written in Marathi..so now I know how to talk to a traffic cop in Maharashtra! I have got the 'ahe' down to a pat! The funny head nod in a half clockwise and half anti clockwise shake which can mean - yes, no and whatever is something I need to practice in a mirror!
All in all it seems like a quaint laid back place full of new money and little infrastructure to support its booming population. Had I not been used to living in a huge Metropolis for most of my life I would have probably liked Pune. Its too small, too slow and too focussed for its growth on IT to make it interesting to anyone else. It lacks the 'life' that is there in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and other bigger cities in the world. And now (post the IT boom) it seems to be hiding the 'old world charm' that accompanies most small cities in India which are steeped in history.
Old Pune might have been nice, this in between stage where its a wanna-be city with is flashy malls and glass tower blocks, stunning temples but no place to walk, big cars and narrow roads, leave Pune in the middle of nowhere.