The Top Things to Do and See in Pune, India

Sinhagad Fort offers incredible views of the Sahyadri Mountains
Sinhagad Fort offers incredible views of the Sahyadri Mountains | © Arghyadip Sen / Alamy Stock Photo
Culture Trip Travel Team

​​Welcome to Pune, India, a heady whirl of modernity and history that no longer looks deferentially to Mumbai. With palaces, fortresses, temples, caves and more, this city has an identity all of its own, making it a must-visit. Here’s our pick of the best things to see and do in the second-biggest city in the state of Maharashtra.

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Aga Khan Palace

Front view of Aga Khan Palace

A little piece of Gandhi history in Pune – this palace is where the peaceful activist was imprisoned for two years in the 1940s, along with his wife, who passed away here and was laid to rest. But it’s also a regal sultan’s palace set among tropical gardens, with a tranquil atmosphere perfect for exploring its sun-dappled cloisters and examining its black-and-white framed photos. Come for the afternoon to admire the architecture and learn about India’s struggle for independence.

Osho Ashram

Painting class Osho Resort

Ashrams – spiritual retreats where students, devotees and yoga practitioners come to find peace and study the ancient texts – are spread all over India. But this meditation resort has a modern spin on mindfulness. Dancing, humming and laughing meditation sessions take place daily in a huge marquee, but there’s also a spa with a swimming pool, tennis courts and nightlife. It’s the brainchild of self-styled mystic and former exile Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Sinhagad Fort

There’s a forgotten feel to this mossy, overgrown fort, an hour’s drive south of Pune – the verdant hillside almost envelops the fort’s time-blackened battlements. Arrive mid-afternoon for a walk before sunset (it’s a brilliant outlook at that time of day), and climb its stone steps for dazzling views over the greenery of the surrounding Sahyadri Mountains. For an extra challenge, trek there from the city, and when you work up an appetite, grab something from the street-food vendors.

Shaniwar Wada

Front view of Shaniwarwada in Pune, India

This grand 18th-century stately home was the seat of the Maratha Empire for nearly a century, with an entrance arch big enough for an elephant to lumber through. Today, history buffs from India and beyond come to admire its architecture, statues and spiked gates and learn about the peshwas (prime ministers) of the past. Also, local lore suggests you avoid visiting after dark under a full moon when the restless spirits of those who died in an 1820s fire roam the grounds.

Parvati Hill Temple Complex

Temple Parvati Hill Pune Maharashtra India, Asia

While it’s just one of the thickly forested hills in this undulating stretch of countryside, Parvati Hill has a fine 17th-century temple complex to explore, with incredible views of the valley below. Stupas stand atop elegant gilded domes, and crimson paintwork trims the yellow pavilions in the temple’s tranquil grounds, where devotees leave offerings of fresh flowers at various shrines. If you look down from the edge of the complex, you’ll see Pune unfurling below you, like a map.

Lal Mahal

Lal Mahal – This Childhood Residence of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is located at the heart of Pune City.

Here’s another grand structure telling of Maharashtra’s history – Pune’s Red Palace has satisfyingly symmetrical arches, tiers and domes, all faded into a handsome pinky-red. The site dates back to the time of 17th-century military leader Shahaji Bhosale, who built it as the childhood home of the eventual founder of the Maratha Empire and national hero, Chhatrapati Shivaji. (It has since been rebuilt.) Pair it with a visit to the Shaniwar Wada, across the road.

Karla Caves

At this complex of caves, an hour’s drive northwest of Pune, you’ll find faded faces of gods and monsters chiselled into the rock. These Buddhist temples cut into the earth date as far back as 160BCE and attract visitors with their mix of natural beauty and religious art. Take an auto-rickshaw up from the drop-off point to save your legs – there are around 150 steps leading up to the cave carvings.

Iskcon NVCC Temple

A trio of head-turning steeples tops this eye-catching modern temple in the south of the city. Iskcon is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and devotees of the Hindu god come from all over to hear traditional musicians and singers, shop for ornate gifts and crafts, and eat at its restaurant. Expect bright, captivating Hindu art, including murals and statue scenes – but note that this is a working, living temple where most people still come to worship.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Shreyas Kulkarni.

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