Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | January 1, 2013

India: Prisons and funky fortresses in Pune

Aga Khan Palace: As prisons go, quite a pleasant one

The Aga Khan Palace: As prisons go, this is quite a pleasant one

According to one popular guidebook, Pune is inhabited “by a cheerful and happy population”. A friend of mine who lives there rolled his eyes when I told him that, but Pune (either Poonay or Poona) is a pleasant city, though the traffic is a bit wearing.

In the upmarket enclave of Koregaon Park there are cafes, restaurants and one of the nicest streets I’ve seen in India – there are plants, a footpath, it’s like being in the Australian suburbs. It’s also where you find some upmarket houses. I tried to enter one, thinking it was a boutique hotel. Who calls a house “Nest” in funky letters with a guard sitting by a designer gate in a little brick office?

There’s also the Osho International Meditation Resort, which is all polished grey stone and black bamboo. It looks very minimalist chic, boutique hotel, and apparently there is one in there but no one would let me see it.

The favourite word at Osho International Meditation Resort is no. No, that’s not possible, no you can’t come in, no you can’t do that. Fittingly, from the outside it looks like a glossy fortress. If you pay upwards of $30 and have an HIV test you get a meditation pass. The media person doesn’t seem to like talking to the media, so all I can say is that this place seems very overrated, not to mention unfriendly and unco-operative.

Public Relations people are especially unskilled in India. They really don’t want to do their job, even when someone is making it easy for them. I emailed one PR woman in a large hotel and it took her about ten days to reply with a two-minute email, saying she wanted to know more about my request, by which time that window of opportunity had closed.

The guru who founded Osho is associated with free love, hence the HIV tests – if you feel that having sex will help you meditate, then you must! Someone I know meditated a few times at Osho, and he thought it was OK – there was a concert one night – but he didn’t have sex with anyone.

Some articulate and well-dressed kids tried to scam me for money outside the Cafe Coffee Day, where I retreated for their reliable caffe latte, but as soon as I said I wasn’t going to the supermarket they disappeared. They said they were hungry, what they wanted was me to buy them stuff they could return for cash. I don’t think so.

Then I went to the Aga Khan Palace (R100, no HIV test to get in, no professional beggars), which was built by the Sultan Aga Khan III in 1892. It’s a grand colonial building now best known as the place where Mahatma Gandhi was interned by the British for about two years after his Quit India resolution of 1942. A shrine containing his ashes, and that of Gandhi’s wife, along with his loyal secretary who both died at the palace are in a garden at the rear.

Shrine for Gandhi: Where the leader's ashes were laid to rest

Shrine for Gandhi: Where the leader’s ashes were laid to rest in the palace garden

Visitors can see rooms where Gandhi and his entourage stayed, and there are some exhibits, but the presentation could be better. The palace is a bit run down, but it played a significant part in history, and anyone interested in Gandhi’s career and achievements would probably find it worthwhile. Plus, there are several acres of attractive gardens.

The same guide book lists Osho as the “top attraction” in Pune, so once I’d loitered outside that and seen where Gandhi was interred, I thought it was time to move on. In between I managed the 60km trip to Lonavla, which is not much of a town really, but it is full of chikki shops – toffee full of nuts that in another place I would call peanut (or cashew – kaju) brittle.

I rather like chikki, though bite it the wrong way and you could break your teeth. I was also rather partial to the dried fruit roll in various flavors that is sold in slices. Sweets! India never fails on the sweet front, except in Bengal where they taste too much like milk.

Bag of chikki in hand I was ready to board a bus for Bombay.

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Responses

  1. India is a fascinating place by the sounds of it, I was supposd to go about 5 years ago to see some ‘living God” who has since died …….forgotten the name. Almost got there again to teach tribal kids when I hit my bump in the road and couldn’t afford to go anywhere!!!! Still trying to FLATTEN that bump in the road…….lol

  2. Only India would have a ‘living god’ who goes and dies … Hope that bump is under control soon and you can get here. it is a fascinating place. Not as relaxed as Penang (except in little pockets), but there is so much to see and every part is different, it is impossible to categorise. Where are you now? Hope everything is well. Happy New Year


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