Post Card Diaries

Leonie Tollefson - India


December 4, 2018

Aside from teaching and traveling, I’ve kept myself very busy by exploring my new home of Pune! During Diwali break a few weeks ago, I went on a little walk up Parvati Hill with my host family, where I came across some beautiful watercolor postcards of Pune, made by Bhaskar Sagar. They feature the most historic places in Pune, and I made it my mission to tick them all off my list. In the process, I stumbled upon so many other fantastic, beautiful places, so here’s a little list of my favorite spots in Pune (so far).

Shaniwar Wada used to be a beautiful palace, before a fire in 1828 destroyed most of it. What’s left is the ruins in the middle of Pune and many stories of how haunted the fort is. As most tourist attractions in India, it costs way more for foreigners to get in (25 Rs. Indian/ 300 Rs. Foreigner). I was so close to getting the Indian price, that is, until I opened my mouth to reveal my American accent and inability to lie. Walking through the beautiful grounds, I learned a lot about the history of the palace and the Peshwa rule in Maharashtra from all the little signs, and you can bet I read every single one despite the poor and oftentimes confusing English translations.

While walking along the streets, especially with my lighter complexion friends, we are constantly getting asked to be in people’s selfies. Sometimes I notice people just snap a photo from afar. I’ve even been asked to hold a baby for a picture. It used to annoy me a bit (I almost threatened to charge some people for a photo!), but that’s life when you move to a country that’s not yours. I’m taking up space in a place I inherently don’t belong, and Indian people have been nothing but welcoming, so I don’t mind a selfie every now and then.

Mandai Market is the biggest vegetable market in Pune, but during Diwali season, it is also full of clothing, bags, lots and lots of marigolds, and all sorts of Diwali decor. It is also extremely crowded. Walking through the market, I had hoards of men asking if I wanted to buy a pair of jeans. I’m not sure why I looked like I was in desperate need of a pair, but I heard “Pshh Ma’am, want some jeans?”, at least 25 times that day. The market is absolutely beautiful though, and I loved browsing through all the jewelry and gorgeous Indian clothes. It’s quite large and winding, so we got lost many times in our attempt to see the whole thing.

I’ve already started telling the story of Parvati Hill, where my post card journey started. It’s a small hill in the center of Pune, with a beautiful temple and Peshwa museum at the top. A quick 10-minute walk and you’re at the top, seeing stunning views over Pune. The truly spectacular sight is the colorful temple at the top, and a poem by Sri Aurobindo sums up the experience perfectly. After I read it, I developed a minor obsession with Aurobindo and his philosophy, and I highly recommend looking it up! It’s fascinating. The museum taught me a lot about the rise and fall of the Peshwa family, and I loved seeing the preserved clothing and artifacts.

The Pataleshwar Cave is an underground Hindu temple in Pune, that dates back to the 8th century. It is definitely worth the visit. It’s amazing how well-preserved the cave is for it’s age! I could feel that I was in a special place.

Just a hop and a skip away from Pune University, is the beautiful Chaturshrungi Temple, atop a giant staircase. We came just after Diwali festivities, and there was still intricate colorful rangoli designs scattered about. The walk up is fun, with so many little bridges and random pathways scattered about. Surrounded by trees, you can hardly believe you are near the center of the city.

Aga Khan Palace is a one of a kind place in Pune. It’s majestic, and holds a great deal of history. It was originally built to help with the famine crisis in 1892 by employing 1000 people, and then in 1942-44, it was used to intern Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba. Later, it was donated to the Indian people in honor of Gandhi and his philosophy. The grounds have a beautifully maintained garden, and there is a memorial to Gandhi and his wife there. Inside is a little museum about Gandhi, with paintings, poems, and real artifacts from his life. I really could have spent all day walking around this beautiful place. It costs 300 Rs. for foreigners and only 25 Rs. for Indians, but I’d say it’s worth it!

The ISKCON NVCC Temple, AKA the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, New Vedic Cultural Center, is an exquisite Hindu temple dedicated to Krishna in Pune. It’s only open during certain times of the day, and the indoor walls are covered with paintings of the story of Krishna. Watching the unveiling of the Gods is extra special, and draws quite a crowd. Right next to the temple is a food court with great food, and even brick-oven fired pizza! Yum! It’s by far one of the nicer temples in the city that absolutely needs to be seen!

Even though I’m in India, I had to have a Thanksgiving dinner. Everything Expats, a local club for foreigners living abroad in India, hosted a delightful Thanksgiving party with all the fixings, and it even made it into the Pune Times! Find me in the article! There was a fun photo booth, and I finally made some Indian friends!

As much as I’d love to be traveling to a new city every weekend, being in Pune for so long (3 months already!) has allowed me to feel deeply connected with the city. I can navigate around, manage to communicate somewhat, and I’m even a regular at some restaurants and cafes! It also makes me care so much more about what I’m doing here. I’m not just a fleeting guest volunteering for a few days and leaving, I’m a living and working member of my society here. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more comfortable just being myself here, from not worrying a bit when I walk on the streets alone, to trusting my rickshaw drivers to take me to my destination without tracking their every move in maps. It’s absolutely amazing what a few months can do, and I’m so excited to keep exploring Pune, and head to the rest of the postcard locations!

With love,
Leonie

For more pictures and the full blog post, visit my personal blog www.livingcuriously.blog <www.livingcuriously.blog/>.






Leonie Tollefson