X is for eXtreme, eXcellent, eXtraordinary

We are almost at the end of the April 2015 AtoZ Blogging Challenge and the letter X is almost always eXtra challenging!! I am writing about gardens in Pune and I think the tedkis (hills) of Pune some of which have reserve forests on the top are truly unique to this city. 
These tekdis offer all of the adjectives in the title of this post: 

eXtraordinary: Pune is blessed with two rivers and importantly also has many hills located right inside the city limits. They can justly be called as the lungs of the city! We have the Vetal Tekdi (which is the highest), Hanuman Tekdi (which has the Gokhale Smarak Stambh), Parvati temple which is atop the Parvati hill, the Parvati Pachgaon forest area, the Tukai Tekdi and Durga Tekdi. The changing landscape over the seasons is a visual treat!


eXcellent: the hills are excellent places to exercise – for a walk, jog or even train for long treks in the Himalayas. In fact, March and April are months when one commonly sees many walking up and down the hills with huge backpacks, as they gear up for their outings in June or July… The tekdis are also home to some indigenous tree species that are either uncommon or are simply not seen in the city. Some of the trees are Ganer (Cochlospermum religiosum ), Bartondi (Morinda pubescens), Salai (Boswellia serrata), many species of the Capparis Genus. Regular walkers very commonly sight Peacocks on their morning walks on the Vetal tekdi as also a variety of birds…  What bliss… 

Acacia sp

Alangium salvifolium
Gardenia turgida
Dichrostachys cinerea
Dolichondrone falcata
Evolvulus alsinoides
Flower of Watakaka volubilis

eXtreme: They are an example of extremes of human intervention. Some hillocks have been almost flattened as they have been razed to make way for buildings and concrete jungles all under the name of development. Simultaneously, other hills have been ‘saved’ by peoples movements and resistance to the same ‘development’.  There are umpteen examples of organisations who have taken up ‘greening’ of the hills or who spend their Sunday mornings cleaning up the waste or folks who daily take up some water to water new plantations! 

Pune, hills, plantations
 Morning walkers fill up such bottles and carry them up to water saplings to help them survive the harsh summer heat

The most surprising part of these tekdis is that despite their obvious presence, a large number of people are simply unaware of this wonderful natural beauty. I know of people who have lived over five decades in Pune and still have not gone to any of the our tekdis… 

The tekdis should be a must-visit place in the itinerary of every nature lover visiting Pune. 

PS: Location Map here

U is for Udan

The Udan Biodiversity Park and Sensory Garden is a one of its kind garden in the city, one that I have already written about earlier. As the name suggests, Udan is both a sensory garden and focuses on biodiversity as well. Do read about its excellent sensory elements here.

The site of this park used to be an abandoned and overgrown plot with a nullah at one end. Naturally it became a dumping ground of sorts, an eyesore and generally a unhealthy place. As part of its CSR initiatives, the Zensar Foundation (Zensar is an IT company that is located close by) partnered the PMC to develop this plot into a biodiversity plot. They recruited experts who reused a lot of rocks and soil from the area to create something unique. Specially chosen plants helped attract butterflies – these provided them food and also a place to lay eggs.In fact the garden layout itself is in the shape of a butterfly! 

The rocks have been artistically placed to create a wonderful fountain and a waterfall. Medicinal, aromatic and flowering and indigenous species have been planted and some are specifically to encourage kids to explore their sense of smell, touch, sight and taste.

The high point is the small but thriving shrub of Frerea indica – a species that has been brought back from brink of extinction. 

A stark reminder of the damage to the environment is in the form of a ‘graveyard’ with placards for species that have become extinct. 

In fact, there is a small nursery where the gardeners are happy to give visitors saplings of plants in their garden. For free. I came away with Marjorum and Basil saplings that are happily growing in my balcony. 

A park that every Punekar should be proud of!

Entry: Free
Time: 6AM to 10AM and 4PM to 8PM
Parking: On the road
Location Map here

J is for JJ Garden

J is for JJ Garden and strangely I actually ventured into this garden because of the highly popular Vada Pav stall (some label it as the best) located at the park gates. Vada Pav is a typical Maharashtrian fast food and is a deep fried potato patty eaten sandwiched in a Pav (can be loosely described as bun). Cheap and satisfying food of the first order which can be eaten on the go at any time and any place! 

Pune cantonment, food, foodie, vada pav

Hey, this post about gardens not food so lets enter the park. Unlike others we have visited so far on the A to Z tour, this one is managed by the Pune Cantonment Board. 


Pune cantoment, quotes, gardens, parks
Trees have motivational quotes.  This one says “Happiness lies, first of all, in Health: George Willian Curtis”
Oriental style gazebo

The park trees have boards with interesting motivational quotes – though I dont know how many people even bother to read them. I saw a lovely Soap nut tree bearing fruit as also really big Banyan and Tamarind trees. For some reason there were large Putranjeev (also called Child life tree) – but their pretty drooping green branches more than made up for downsides of the garden. 

Located as it is in the hub of the commercial area, the garden is quite noisy but the kids playing there did not seem to mind it one bit! The garden could be better maintained and it has scope to be a wonderful resting spot in this very busy area of Pune.

Entry: INR 1 single entry ticket
Parking: In adjoining lanes
Rest rooms: No
Location Map here

Go(a) Off The Beaten Track

Been there, done that… Determined not to let those words discourage me, I began to put together a series of ‘new’ things to do in Goa. Extensive research guided me to add ‘new’ to ‘heritage’ and I had an oxymoron of humungous proportions!

Every place has its unique history that is reflected in its food, architecture of its homes and buildings, customs and traditions and its music and dance. These are then the best ways to experience a place either as a first time visitor or on repeat visits. Hence our heritage walk in Goa.
I am a firm believer of that the best way to ‘see’ a place is through the eyes of local people who are passionate about it. This led us to Cholta Cholta as “All tours are conducted in English and are led by local experts who support walking and learning” (quote from the website).

* From the 10th
century AD, Goa
was successively ruled by the Kadambas, then Muslim rulers who were the
from Bijapur and then the Portuguese. At all times, it remained
flourishing trading centre and had sea-links with far flung Arab nations

and later with the south-eastern
nations. The movement of goods and people and rulers and
administrations from these regions influenced homes, buildings and the
of Goa. Its architecture,
crafts, arts, homes, names, religious practices are an interesting
amalgamation of these.*  

But lets come back to the Panjim church, which is where we started. This church  with its imposing staircase dominates the square and can be seen from afar – even at night from the river cruise! As we sat on the steps our narrator’s words painted a picture of Panjim as it would have been. The buzzing of vehicles died down as we were transported in time.

Well-entrenched a few hundred years ago, we walked out and turned into the lane next to the Altinho hill and stopped to admire the majestic staircase that leads up to the Palace of the Archbishop
of the Goan Diocese. Many generations must have gone up and down these and still do but a
survival instinct in busy traffic forced back into the present moment. 

Walking tour, Goa, Panjim

The walls adjoining the street were festooned with colourful
Bougainvilleas and Madhumalati (Rangoon Creeper) adding another touch
from colour palette. The view from the top would be stupendous for sure
but we had to hurry to keep up with our leader… we were on a walking
tour remember?

The buildings in these parts were not the modern high rise structures
rather small one or two storey homes with sloping tiled roofs set in small winding lanes. We were
in Fontainhas the so-called Latin quarter of Goa. Every structure was of
a different colour which were natural dyes we learnt. So it was turmeric or indigo which was the secret of the fascinating colourful homes. Many of these have been restored to their old glory for people to live in or have been turned into guest houses or art galleries.  

Many families continue to use old and priceless crockery and furniture and artifacts
on a daily basis.  Wow! Its antiques like these that serve as a bridge
between our past and present and allow us to effortlessly time-travel
across hundreds of years. Those who are able to enjoy the
best of both worlds are incredibly lucky.

Goa, Panjim

Heritage homes, Panjim, Fontainhas

Besides other unique features, we noticed the shell windows and tiled ceramic name plates at the entrances. Shell was a wonderful material for windows as it gave privacy plus diffused light. The tiles were typical Azulejos art which is a Portuguese craft of painted and glazed ceramic tiles. Artists have kept this art alive in Goa.

archietecture, Panjim
Shell windows

Goa, Panjim
An example of Azulejos art but this image is not from our walk of Fontainhas

The chapel dominates the square and would have been an activity hub in
the years gone by. Street planning was not conspicuous in this charming
quiet neighbourhood. 

Goa, Panjim

We walked out toward the riverfront through an area which seems to have planned streets and road side drains. The quaint overhanging balconies protect pedestrians from rain and sun! This area still has shops of the ‘old’ trades – Typewriter repairs for example! The narrow sidewalks had local vendors who sold fresh Papayas, Tomatoes, Bananas and bunches of Tirphal which is spice specially used in Goan food. 

Very soon we had reached the Tobacco Square so named because Goa was a trading hub for tobacco despite tobacco cultivation certainly not being in the vicinity. We then moved past the summer palace of the Sultan of Bijapur (Idalco Palace) to the Abbe Faria Square and the home of Mhamai Kamats. The municipal garden named after Garcia de Orta (who was a physician and naturalist) was up next with its very thoughtful layout of stores. Our walk ended at the Cafe Tato with some authentic  Goan breakfast.Yummmmm

Panjim, garden, goa
Municipal garden at Panjim

Each of these places has a very interesting tale and some of which is in Cholta Cholta’s book called ‘Cholta Cholta’.

A memorable walk down memory lane and well off the beaten track! 
Truly a walk to remember.

*Disclaimer: I am not a historian so this post is quite likely to have
overlooked several important events. Do refer to more learned resources
if Goa’s history is what you are looking for.*

**Disclaimer: I have no interest financial or otherwise in  Cholta Cholta .

Go Off The Beaten Track in Goa

Goa. This city state is invariably associated with sun-sand-beaches-partying. At my stage of life, most of us have been there more than once so a repeat visit demands something different.

But what?

That’s the question I asked myself before our recent visit to Goa. The typical touristy sites (tour of North Goa and South Goa) had already been ‘ticked off’ in our earlier visits and another visit did not seem warranted (except the Shri Shanta Durga Temple). Hence we put our brains together with those of Google Baba and found that Goa had so much more to offer than the above mentioned ‘attractions’.

Waves, Sun, sand, goa
Unbeatable Beaches

While I would not like to suggest an itinerary, I will share some spots in Goa* that we found most interesting. I had always been struck by the brilliant yellow, blue, brick red coloured homes and buildings in Panjim so architecture seemed to be a good starting point. That is what took us to ‘Houses of Goa‘ an interesting museum by Arch Gerard da Cunha. Built to resemble a ship, it is set amid lush greenery and has an eclectic collection of Goan homes through the ages. The display over three floors is even more interesting and showcases western influences on homes. There are old photographs, models, beautiful artifacts and heirlooms, computer displays that give an in-depth perspective of the ‘how and why’ of traditional houses. Sketches by Mario are an added attraction. Admire the old tiles, notice the intricate grills and railings and climb up a quaint winding stairway for a lovely view from the gallery at the top. Learn the difference between an Entrada, Veranda and Balcao and what makes Hindu and Catholic Goan houses so special! The museum is located at Torda, Salvador do Mundo in Bardez and give yourself at least an hour to explore it. Entry fee was Rs 25 on Sundays and Rs 100 on weekdays. They do have a small cafe and the staff is more than happy to help. If architecture is your cup of tea, put this museum on top of your list.

Houses of Goa, north goa
A pillar made of grinding stones
heritage goa houses
Interesting displays

Houses of Goa, travel
View from the top floor

Not the museum kind? 
Then simply drive around the interior roads along the Mandovi or Zuari River. The almost pot-hole free-roads meander amid hills, paddy fields, ponds, as a tiny village appears suddenly, well camouflaged in the surrounding foliage. It disappears even before you can whip out your camera unless you are able to coax your driver to stop. Walk around the local market or village fair, chat with the local vendors and pick up some fresh Tirphal. Tirphal is a typical spice used in Konkani cuisine. The best option is to simply sit under a tree and watch the world go by. Time seems to stand still and the tranquility in the surroundings imperceptibility infects you. Suddenly you may ask yourself ‘What For this rat race?’

Nature lovers will enjoy the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary which is open all year round. Visit a workshop of the Azulejos artists who make the typical blue painted ceramic tiles. Their creativity and intricate work has to be seen to be believed. 

azulejos, souvenirs, ceramic tiles, goa

Take an amazing ride on the river ferry. Look out for the mangroves and keep your binoculars handy to spot birds along the marshland. One simply drives a vehicle right on to the boat which takes you across the river. We paid Rs 10 for our car on the Chorao-Ribander ferry and it was free for two wheelers and people. How cool is that…

Mandovi river, goa, mangroves

Mandovi ferry, goa
Vehicles drive up the ramp onto the boat which then sails across the river

If you have time on hand, then drive up to the Tiracol fort situated at the northern tip of Goa. Love cashews? Then a visit a cashew factory should be on the cards. This is not always possible as officials are not keen to entertain tourists. But we got lucky and you, dear readers, will get an e-view of some nutty processing.

But I shall leave that for another post. 😉

Go! Get away from the screen. Goa is waiting for you!

*These spots are in North Goa.

Potholed Wonders

Somehow I have noticed that when people say ‘I love travelling’ it usually means foreign exotic destinations. Ask such people about something in their own city and one is more often than not likely to get a blank look. But of course there are exceptions!!

I admit I too had not done much ‘sight seeing’ of significant places close to my city, or indeed in the city itself. Something that I have been consciously working to overcome over the last year or so. This post is about one such wonderful place that I visited recently.

Potholes usually evoke images of roads riddled with holes and pits with traffic mayhem all around. So when I read about possibly several hundred years old naturally formed potholes near Pune which are geological wonders themselves I just had to go there… 

Natural potholes, geological wonders Pune
Natural potholes seen near Pune

These are at a place called Nighoj about a couple of hours drive (approx 90kms) from Pune. The road is excellent except the last part when one has to lurch across the country roads to actually reach the river bed. We are going to see potholes remember?? Jokes apart, these are formations in the bed of the River Kukdi.  The irregular jagged ‘holes’ or craters seem like a canyon and open up suddenly as one trudges along the hot rocky river bed. Despite seeing some amazing photographs in a magazine, the sight took my breath away.

These potholes are formed in the layered basalt rock of the river bed and extend for quite some distance and were about 25 feet wide and deep where we stood. The depth may be more in other parts according to reports. Being the peak of summer, the river had hardly any water, thanks also to the dam that is built on it. This showcased the full glory of the potholes and made them easily accessible as well. 

Dam wall visible in the distance

The holes are shaped like a pot being wider in the centre

Geological wonders

A huge plus was that the river bed was very clean. There were a couple of temples on both sides of the river and a Laman Jhoola built across it. One can see the potholes slowly end and the river bed gets the usual flat appearance downstream.

Pune, Geological wonders
Temples and Laxman Jhoola

The area is home to the uncommon Capparis decidua. En route one passes several pomegranate fields as well as onion fields enroute where the harvested onions are stored in makeshift huts called ‘Kandyachee chaal’ कांद्याची चाळ (depending on the season you visit).

Kandyachee chal, pune
कांद्याची चाळ

 We were very lucky to see a colony of Swifts. It was a beautiful sight to see the birds feed their young ones. A binocular is a must!! Their nests are washed away every time the river fills up and they rebuild them again the next year. Tip: Keep utter silence so as the birds are not scared off.

Colony of Swifts

If you are in Pune with half a day to spare do visit this amazing place.The famous Ranjangaon Mahaganapati Temple is located close by on the main Nagar Road and can be easily added to to the itinerary.  
Happy travelling!

Sacred groves (Nandivli)

I have written before about Devrai or Sacred Groves. I had the opportunity to visit one more recently with none other than the Patriach of Botany in my city. He gave us some more insights about Devrai which I would like to put into my own words.

Devrai is the marathi word for sacred groves, and loosely put, they can be described as forests that are protected by a local deity usually a Goddess (देवी) but some devrai have Khandoba or Mhasoba as their deity. The forest does not have a ‘temple’ in the form that we know it but it may be a simple structure made from local materials and the idol itself may be no more than a stone. Usually the offerings are flowers that have naturally fallen off trees and the blooms must not be deliberately plucked in a devrai. In fact nothing should be plucked in this forest or even taken away including dead or dry branches, twigs, leaves all of which must be left to decay there itself. The species growing in such protected forests thus get protection and thrive. Some shrubs, trees, roots etc may have medicinal properties. It is the ‘Bhagat’ who is the only person who is allowed to pluck such tree parts to help any sick villagers after offering due prayers to the tree. No one else can do so.

Sacred groves, Mulshi
Backwaters of the Mulshi Dam near Pune, Maharashtra

The Sahyadris have about 3000 devrai and the Mulshi area has up to 30 sacred groves. The Kudawale devrai near Dapoli is said to be spread over about 100 acres. These can serve as reference ecosystems which will help chose the
correct species for any new plantation, afforestation projects in
the area. It takes a thousand years or more for a proper forest to develop and simply planting a few hundred trees is not akin to creating a forest.

Dam, water, sacred groves, forests
The Sahyadri crest line near Mulshi Dam

It is such blind faith has helped protect the forests from the relentless march of so-called progress and urbanisation that has extended cement and mortar monstrosities way outside Pune. The area of some devrai has reduced and some do not have undergrowth. The latter is an indication of regeneration of the species growing there.  Lack of undergrowth heralds a bleak future for the devrai. Construction of new roads is a good thing but it may have a detrimental effect on such protected forests.

Here is a link to a Wikipedia article about devrai.

This article lists sacred groves in Maharashtra and here is one with some general information.

We recently visited a devrai near Mulshi. A tarred road to Lonavla ran through a part of this devrai. Access is by personal vehicles or an ST bus service from Pune (Swargate). As we neared Mulshi, the blazing red Dhaitee (Woodifordia fruiticosa) provided a welcome relief to the dry brown and yellow of the countryside as was the furry soft white inflorescence of the Bhamni. The weather had just started warming up and people were just about recovering from ‘Holi’. There was extensive flowering which was a pleasure and helped identification.

Bhamni: Cholebroochia oppositifolia

 We stepped out of the bus and were greeted by the sweet fragrance of the ‘Lokhandi’ (an Ixora species). You may remember the red walking sticks in Mahableshwar. They are made from this tree! Other trees specifically found in this grove were the Toran (Zizyphus rugosa). Its fruit is double the size of the usual Karwanda and is ready around the Divali festival. We were lucky to see blooming of the Waras (Heterophragma quadriloculare) , Vatoli (Diploclisia glaucescens), Shivan (Gmelina arborea), Kakad (Garuga pinnata) and Kuda. The Palas was in fruiting stage while the red blazing leaves of Baheda (Terminalia bellerica) and Kusumb gave a flaming touch to the scenery. I saw the Khedshingi with its strange looking fruit for the first time. The poisonous Hura (Sapium insigne) and Raan ghewda (Paracalyx scariosus) was a first for me as well.

My friends tell me that they could spot many varieties of birds and had an extremely satisfying bird spotting session here.

Here are some images (absolutely amateur variety!!) that I have taken during my visit to the devrai. Enjoy!

(Double click to open a new tab so the photo description can be seen)

Heritage Walk

A heritage walk in Pune! While we vaguely knew about the history of the Shanivar Wada or the gram daivat (Kasba Ganapati and Jogeshwari) we were very curious to know if there were any remnants from the time that this city arose and developed. We have read about and participated in heritage walks, walking tours of other cities in the world… Reading a book and walking along simply would not recreate history. It had to be a guided walk…

Our wait was finally over with a walk organised by Nature Walk and Creative Outdoors with Sharveya Dhongde as the expert. It was an amazing experience! He ably recreated the atmosphere of a bygone era as we visited some ancient temples that are not commonly know and recounted the related history as we went by.
The ‘walk’ began punctually which is quite a feat for Puneites who are notorious for their disregard for punctuality! This boded well for the next few hours…

A chance meeting with Shri Pandurang Balakawade a famous historian was an added unexpected bonus as he shared his knowledge with us – right there, outside the Kasba Ganapati. A great coincidence indeed! I made the mistake of not carrying a pen and my faithful dairy hence this post is based on my recollections. There are bound to be some gaps which I intend to correct as and when I do get correct info. Please bear with these shortcomings…

First mentions of Pune were in the 11th, 12th and 13th century literature as a tiny settlement on the banks of the Mutha River. There are references to temples, some of which still exist and are worshiped. Our walk that began at the Shaniwar Wada covered some of these sites namely the Kedareshwar temple, Kasba temple, Tambat Ali, Trishund Ganapati, Nageshwar temple, ruins of an old ‘Kot’ built by a Bahamani king and Dhakta Sheikh Salla. The Punyeshwar and Narayeshwar temples do not exist now.

In the above period, making bangles out of shells from Gujarat and a type of pottery was a predominant occupation of Punekars in that era. They traded spices and cotton cloth via ports on the western coast with European countries. The town was pretty tiny then and limited almost only to areas around the present Kasba Peth. Three major odhe (streams) flowed down from the Bhuleshwar range of the Sahyadris and through the town. Easy access to water may have been one reason for the habitation to prosper.

Some time in the former half of 1600s the city was destroyed by Adilshah of Bijapur and a donkey led plough was said to have been used to raze the city. It was only when Jijbai and her young son Shivba came to Pune with the dream to set up the Maratha empire that Pune got a second life. A golden plough was said to have been used to plough the ground to rejuvinate agriculture… Gradually the town grew as did the power of Shivaji… Prosperity came to Pune.
After Shivaji, the Peshwas contributed extensively to city development.

We got a first hand impression of narrow byelanes (called bol, ali in Pune) which were part of the ‘Peth’ development. Street planning in the later Peths is more organised and plot sizes based on use (narrow deep plots for business areas and bigger squarish plots for the then cantonment area in Sadashiv Peth). Dwellings in Kasba Peth were very close – uncomfortably so for us present day urbanites! Yet several hundred years ago it must have made sense to live close together to ward off enemies…

During their reign (from somewhere in the 1710s), the Peshwas created many lakes around Pune and redirected the three main odhe (streams) by building pipelines. This not only freed up land for construction but became a water source since the river water could not cater to the by now rising population. These masonary pipes were tall enough for a man to stand up in and exist till now.

History and growth of Pune during and after the Peshwa rule, during the British Raj and the Independence struggle is available more freely. Most vade (square residential buildings) that exist now are from this period.

It was a wonderful three hours, a journey back in time to learn how this city arose. We appreciate the organisers efforts and Sharveya Dhongde in taking us on back in time. We look forward to more such walks!

While authorities have made some efforts at restoration or protection of such historical sites more needs to be done. I have included links to some web articles with more information about places mentioned in this post. Do share any historical information or links to them so we all are better informed.




Sacred Groves (Devrai)

My first visit to a Devrai (as sacredgroves are called in Maharashtra) was both scary and exhilarating. Scary because I was walking over a thick carpet of dead leaves not knowing what lay or lived underneath with the sunlight barely filtering to the ground throughthe dense tree canopy. Exhilarating because I had the opportunity to see decades old trees that had survived Man’s relentless tree cutting due to unshaken faith in the residing deity in that forest. Some trees looked so huge that the cement statue was possibly installed later… So what came first, the idol or the trees?? 

The sequence is immaterial, the preservation of species is what matters.This has happened because according to folklore one is not supposed to take away anything from a devrai, no flowers, leaves, twigs, seeds.. nothing. That may have helped protect these trees from being destroyed in the insidiously growing cement jungle and kept it out of the clutches of the money-minded “land lobby”.

Loth, a tree seen in a devrai near Pune


The only sounds to be heard were our feet crunching on the leaves, birds chirping as they possibly discussed our presence in the devrai with their brethren(friend or foe?) and insects that set up the ocassional crescendo ending in an abrupt silence. The silence compelled us to stop meaningless discussions and focus on the beauty that lay before us.
Next time you are driving on a high way, do take time to walk through one and let the pervading peace seep into your very soul.
Visit these links to learn more about sacred groves in India and their locations: