Places of interest around Pune: Pune is surrounded by many pilgrim centres which are often visited by devotees. Private arrangements for transport to these places or having your own vehicle, are the best means of getting around. Government run buses, private tour operators also are available. Pune Darshan and Paryatan are two facilities by private operators who run AC buses for tourists throughout the year. Charges are around Rs. 100/- and cover most of the places within Pune city.
Alandi (23 kms from Pune) is synonymous with the Saint Jnaneshwar(also written as Dnyaneshwar). A township on the banks of Indrayani River, it is also called as Devachi Alandi. Jnaneshwar, the author of Jnaneshwari, a well-known commentary on the Gita, lived and attained samadhi in Alandi at the tender age of twenty-one. Himself a yogi belonging to the Natha Sampradaya, his commentary in Marathi is highly revered and sung all over Maharashtra. Places of interest and worship are the sacred samadhi of Jnaneshwar Siddhabet in Indrayani and the temple of Vithoba-Rakhumai.
The state of Maharashtra boasts of some great temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh. A tour of 8 of these temples situated around Pune is considered to be auspicious. Collectively, they are called the Ashtavinayak temples. Eight (Astha) naturally-formed sculpted stone statues have been housed in these temples at the places where these statues were first found. The Astha Vinayak temples are within the range of 20 to 110 kms of each other.
Shri Chintamani (Theur - 25 kms from Pune City on Pune-Solapur highway)
Shri Siddivinayak (Siddhatek - 99 kms from Pune City on the banks of Bhima river)
Shri Moreshwar (Morgaon - 64 kms from Pune City on the bank of Karha river)
Shri Maha Ganapati (Ranjangaon - 53 kms from Pune City on Pune - Nagar highway)
Shri Vighneshwar (Ozar - 85 kms from Pune City on Pune-Nagar highway)
Shri Girijatmak (Lenadri - 96 kms from Pune)
Shri Vinayak (Mahad - 81 kms from Pune in Raigad district on Pune - Mumbai highway)
Shri Ballaleshwar (Pali - 112 kms from Pune, in Raigad district)
Bhimashankar is the temple containing one of the five Jyotirlingas found in Maharashtra. Nana Fadnis, an eminent statesman of the Peshwa days, constructed the beautiful Shiva Temple at Bhimashankar. The wooden entrance of the temple is beautifully carved. On MahaShivratri day, over 20,000 devotees attend a special religious fair. Bhimashankar is endowed with beautiful scenery and an all-around vibrant atmosphere. Besides the Shiva Temple and the dense forest surrounding it, you can also visit Bombay Point, Gupta Bhimashankar: the origin of Bhima River, Hanuman Tank and Nagphani Point. Many Naga sadhus are found to inhabit the dense forest beyond Gupta Bhimashankar.
Dehu (30 kms from Pune) is an age-old town on the river Indrayani. The famous poet-saint Tukaram was born and brought up in Dehu. Abhang Gatha, his eternal creation has a proud place in Marathi literature. The old temples of Shiva and Vishnu, Tukaram Vrindavan -- the birth place of Saint Tukaram are places to see.
About 40 km from Pune, Karla is the site of some of the best-preserved Buddhist caves. These caves dating back to 160 BC are the largest in the country with Viharas (dwelling caves) and Chaitya halls. The biggest Chaitya cave is perhaps the best-preserved cave of its kind in the subcontinent. A semi-circular `sun window' filters light in towards the cave's representation of Buddha a dagoba, protected by a carved wooden umbrella. The 37 pillars, which form the circumambulatory aisles, are each topped with teak beams said to be original. On the sides of the vestibule are carved elephant heads which once had ivory tusks.
It may be speculative, but, Swamiji must have had Karla in mind when he discussed the architecture of Belur Math with Vijnananandaji and others.
This exquisitely carved temple dedicated to the Goddess Mahalaxmi or Amba Bai draws millions of pilgrims from all over India and is an important spiritual centre. The sanctum sanctorum houses the revered idol of the goddess and this idol is considered to be Swayambhu, i.e. not carved by human hands. The temple complex has artistically sculpted structures and houses the temples of other deities also. Besides the 'Palkhi' ritual performed on every Friday, there are enthusiastic celebrations on the Hindu festivals of Chaitra Poornima and Navratri. The temple also holds music concerts wherein renowned artistes perform during festivals.
Proximity to many holy temples and sites including the famous pilgrimage centre of Shirdi and a long tryst with India’s sacred past, has made Nashik (215 kms from Pune) a confluence for the spiritually enlightened. Mythology has it that Rama, the king of Ayodhya, made Nashik his temporary abode during the 14 years of his exile. The poets Rishi Valmiki, Mahakavi Kalidas and Bhavabhooti have paid rich tributes to Nashik in many of their works. In addition, Nashik has always been the epicentre of commerce and trade. Ptolemy, the famous philosopher made a mention of Nashik in 150 BC, leading researchers to believe that it was probably the country's largest market place.
The most prominent pilgrim spot in and around Maharashtra. In the festive months of July- August (Ashadhi Ekadashi) the famous temple of Lord Vitthal draws thousands of devotees from all over the country. For the devoutly religious, there are many other temples to visit such as the Lakshmi Temple, Pundalik Temple, The Vishnupad Temple, Tryambakeshwar Temple and Shri Ram Temple.
122 kms from Nashik is the abode of one of Maharashtra's most revered saint -- Sai Baba of Shirdi. Popularly known as the 'Child of God', Sai Baba preached tolerance towards all religions and the message of universal brotherhood.
The village of Trimbak, 36 kms from Nashik, is famous for the Tryambakeshwar Temple and as the source of the Godavari River. Trimbakeshwar enshrines one of the 12 Jyotirlingas dedicated to Shiva and this one is considered to be the main Jyotirlinga. Mondays are considered particularly holy and the priests carry the idol of Trimbakeshwar in a palanquin on their shoulders around the temple. The annual festival of Shivratri is also celebrated with great pomp and gaiety and attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over.
A beautiful Shiva temple on the outskirts of Pune, Baneshwar is a great place for a quiet spiritual getaway.
Pune or Punyanagri as it is sometimes called has a glorious past of nearly 1000 years. It is the capital of Pune district in Maharashtra state of India. Some of the places that are a must on every Pune visitors list are:
* Parvati - Hill and temples
* Saras Baug Peshwa Park and Ganapati temple
* Shaniwar Wada - The historic palace of the Peshwa
* Raja Kelkar Museum
* Agakhan Palace - famous as the place of internment of Mahatma Gandhi and his wife.
* Katraj Snake Park
* Chatuhshringi Temple - Famous especially during the Navratri festival
* Sinhagad Fort - Famous for the the heroic effort of Tanaji Malusare, a commander in Shivaji's army.
* Balgandharv Rang Mandir - famous for the Balgandharv Music festival.
A Special note on the Ganesh Festival
This festival is celebrated in honour of the birth day of Ganesh. The God of wisdom is worshipped for ten days in houses privately and also publicly in huge, decorated Pandals. The Ganapati Festival celebrations are most popular in Mumbai and Pune. In Pune, theme based decorations including giant sets and replicas of famous places of historical importance are given more emphasis whereas, idols of different sizes and beautiful features made by renowned artists is the speciality of Mumbai. The idols are usually made of clay and ornamented with bright colours. Many cultural events are organised and people participate in them with keen interest. On the tenth day, huge processions carry images of the God to be disposed of into the water, hoping for them to return early next year. When the idols are immersed in the water, people sing, "GANPATI BAPPA MORYA, PUDHCHYA WARSHI LAVKAR YA".
This festival is enjoyed by people of all ages. People visit each others' houses to have 'Darshan' of (to worship) Lord Ganpati in their house. Family gatherings, meetings with people make this festival truly a cultural and social affair. The deeply religious fervour that marks this occasion is worth visiting Pune for.