Pune Tues 7 to Sat 14 & Tues 14 - Fri 17 July 2009
It was a getting late and very rainy when we finally hit the outskirts of the City of Pune (pronounced Poona) in Maharashtra. This is a large (4 million) cosmopolitan city and whilst it was in a strategic place on our way to Mumbai part of the reason we were stopping off here was to catch up with a friend we had made. Matthias a German engineer met us whilst in Goa and we had a chat to him about the car. He kindly asked us to look him up when we hit Pune and then very kindly invited us to stay. Matthias has a gorgeous penthouse apartment overlooking the city and in the driving rain it made a very pleasant alternative to camping!
We still had to find it however and this was far easier said than done. Asking for directions in India is never simple! We also had to stop to fill our water tank and find an ATM - and we managed to do both - stopping a passing water truck and at the same time meeting some very kind guys from the local university who escorted me to the bank whilst Andrew was filling the water - thanks guys - your picture on the web as promised!
All in all this made us even later and we seemed to be going round in circles. Eventually a kind soul we asked - acknowledging but it was nigh on impossible to explain clearly - went out of his way to guide us home by motorbike. We were really grateful as without him we might still be driving round in circles it was a very involved route!
Finally we got to Matthias's lovely unit and after a drink collapsed into bed as it was now almost midnight. Hoping to have a good night's sleep I didn't as I woke up every hour with pains around my face. Thinking this was a potential tooth problem - I am a veteran campaigner of many such problems - we made a dentist appoint first thing. This turned out to be a red herring and whilst the dentist was very good she reckoned I actually have infected sinuses - no doubt due to all the pollution. Armed with anti- biotics we set off again!
Pune seems to be quite an affluent town though having its fair share of slums and beggars as ever sadly. It has quite a few expats - most of them engineers like Matthias - as it is a big centre for manufacturing particularly for the car and IT industries.
Having done with the dentist we went for an explore. First off we went to visit the Osho Meditation resort. When reading up about Pune on the way here I was intrigued to find this was the setting for this infamous centre. Andrew hadn't heard of him so possibly there was far more press coverage in the UK than Australia but the leader Osho (aka Bhagwan Shree Rajineesh) was the guy who famously earned himself the tabloid epithet of "sex guru" for advocating sex as a path to enlightenment. He then left to live in the states and built up another centre from which he was unceremoniously evicted in 1985 and charged with fraud before being deported to India.
I remember seeing the press at the time of this eviction and he owned an enormous fleet of Rolls Royces - shown lined up on a field. After remembering all this we were both a bit intrigued to have a closer look.
The centre - described pretty accurately in the Lonely Plant as the "Armani of Ashrams" is in the leafy up market northern suburb of Koregaon Park - which by lucky coincidence is where Matthias lives! Whilst we didn't really have the time - or the money- to do a full on meditation course - which involves quite a bit of money as well as a compulsory on the spot HIV test - we decided to do one of the tours for only 10 rupees which take place twice a day.
It was a beautiful premises and whilst Osho himself died a few years after his return to India his movement still seems to be going strong. The devotees all wear robes - maroon in the day white in the evenings - so they are easy to spot and there are a great number of them encompassing a diverse mixture of ages creeds and colours.
At the beginning of the tour you see a presentation about the centre - which seems by the accents to be aimed at the American market - and it really does look like a gorgeous luxury resort - a swimming pool a top class restaurant a night club and up market shops etc We then had a (silent) walk around the centre which was very nice with several water features and then back to the book shop full of books by and /or about Osho. The people we met at the centre did seem very nice and kind. We saw no signs of orgies and I'm prepared to think that the "sex guru" thing might have been built up by the tabloid press in feeding frenzy mode. The Rolls Royces are a bit hard to explain away though - not very spiritual!!- but I didn't really like to be confrontational everyone was so welcoming. We then went and had a look around the centre's nearby tranquil park. The centre owns 40 acres of prime real estate in the immediate area which is very up market - a lot of old colonial mansions - so it is certainly still very wealthy. All in all very interesting - have a look at their site www.osho.com
After this we went for a really nice lunch at the nearby German Bakery - which was chock a block with devotees!
The other thing we were interested to see in Pune was the Ghandi National Memorial. This was housed in the very lovely Aga Khan Palace. When after in 1942 he delivered his "Quit India" resolution in Bombay the British interned Ghandi along with his wife and secretary this is where they were taken and kept for almost 2 years. There is a very interesting display on his life and the rooms he occupied whilst here. Sadly his wife and secretary both died during this time and their ashes are in memorial shrines in the lovely gardens. W e remembered the balcony of the palace from the Richard Attenborough "Gandhi" movie as parts of it were filmed here. It was really interesting.
So we enjoyed a very pleasant couple of days in Pune. It was really nice having a good place to work on the website as often whilst on the road it can be a bit challenging both getting everything charged and finding a quiet place to work so we really enjoyed it. In the evenings with Matthias we sampled the local cuisine - Indian Italian and Iranian which were all really good there is a very high standard of restaurants here. We had noted on the news that there had been bad flooding in Mumbai -and were concerned about driving there. We were starting to think we'd miss it out on our trip though this was really disappointing as I so wanted to go. Matthias suggested we go up on the train (only 3 hours) and leave the car safely in his compound.
This was a fantastic idea and we set out to book a ticket. This can't be done on line and you have to go a few days in advance to ensure getting a seat. Matthias travels a lot by train and he advised us to book 2nd class as in first class which is just about the same only with air conditioning - you can't see the views which are apparently very nice on this stretch. So for the princely sum of 76 rupees (around $2 Aus) each we took the train to Mumbai on the morning of Saturday 11 July.
It was a bit rainy on the way but we did see some lovely green hills and waterfalls. It was very friendly on the train and a constant frenzy of activity chai and dhaba (or snack) wallahs everywhere. One of the Muslim gentlemen in our picture told Matthies very solemnly that he should have a chai as it was far better for you than alcohol! It was 7.30am - we weren't about to crack open a beer!!
As I write now it is Tuesday 14 July and we are safely back from Mumbai and plan to stay here a day or so to update the website and do some other jobs prior to heading off to the caves at Ellora and Ajanta a "must see" on the road north.
I'll detail our Mumbai trip on the next page but just by way of a sneak preview the rains came down with a vengeance which made our journey back much more eventful than the one there!! The major river in Pune the Mutha had filled up whilst we were away - as shown by our "before and after" snaps. I'll try and get an update of our adventures in Mumbai on before we continue our journey north. Thanks so much to Matthias for his hospitality and making our stay in Pune so very comfortable. We're a bit spoilt for the Toyota now!!!