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Shanivar Wada in Pune

Thursday, April 12, 2012

After exploring Aga Khan Palace we decided to explore Shanivar Wada, the second place on our itinerary.
We consulted some local people and, taking their advice, hailed a rickshaw to Shaniwar Wada. It took us around 30 minutes to reach Shaniwar Wada and cost us Rs 80.
Shanivar Wada

There was a huge crowd outside the fort. We wondered if they were all there to see the fort. It turned out that they were all college students out there to celebrate Tie Day and Saree Day.
I was amazed at the sight of the fortification. The huge door with spears at the entrance made the door even more amazing. Within the main door, there was a smaller door to let people in.
Having bought ourselves an entry ticket of Rs 5 to view to fort, we saw a cannon up ahead. It was still intact. We immediately ran over to get a picture.
Cannon inside the premises

There is a huge garden and some broken down structures in the premises. There were a few cannons mounted on rocks on the inside of the fort.
There is a one floor structure above the main entrance. It has two bastions next to it. We climbed up the staircase and onto the first floor. This was like a French window but with no glasses mounted on it. It has been beautifully carved out of wood and polished but has not been touched over the years. The roof was made of wood. 
View from the Bastion

The bastions had small holes in them, through which guns could be mounted for the purpose of shooting at the enemy. They also had small windows cut out in the rocks, which I guess is for the people to see where the enemy was coming from.
From here on the outside we could see the city in front of us and on the inside we could see the garden, the broken down structures and the fortification of the entire place.
There were many such bastions across the fort, and many other doors, like the Narayan Gate, Mastani Gate and Khidki Darwaja, which are currently closed to the public. The doors or Darwajas, as they are called, have the old locking systems installed on them. Even the locking systems were huge as the door was huge. These locking systems on the doors used to protect Shaniwar Wada from outside invasion.
Garden inside the premises
The entire fort is square-shaped and is placed right in the centre of the city with the walls in good condition and a road running around it.

We then started to survey the walls of the fort. The stone walls were so broad that four people could have easily walked hand in hand on it without falling down on the inside.
There are many staircases, narrow and steep, which bring us up to these walls all across the inside of the fort. The walls were used to protect the fort. Secondly, there were rooms built within the walls of the fort. These rooms have now been closed and are guarded by locked iron gates.
Walls of the Fort

I saw a lot of couples hanging around in Shaniwar Wada. Maybe all these are locked to protect the Wada from insiders, caught in the act.
There were two huge circular pillars which were built on two of the bastions. They seemed to have been added recently. As there was no guide at hand to talk about their history, I could only make speculations.
After walking and exploring the fort via the walls, we then came to the ground to explore the garden and the broken down structures around it.
Hithakshi and Me

I don’t know what this was used for, whether it was used to tie the horses or used as a stand for the fire torch, but these were placed all over the fort.
At the entrance of the garden there was a board put up giving information about the famous events that had taken place within the fort. There is one plaque which provides information about the family tree of the Peshwas who had built this fort.
Broken down stuctures in the premises

A special show in the evening showcases a musical garden to spectators. I haven’t seen it but I guess it is similar to the one I saw in Brindavan Gardens in Mysore. Much smaller though.
We then checked the structures all around it. There was an empty water tank which was meant to provide water to a thousand people staying here.
Beautifully crafted Balcony above the main entrance of Shanivar Wada

That took us back in history. What this place might have looked at that time. When one stands on the walls, one can see grounds all across the fort and houses away in the distance and now houses, shops have cropped up all around the fort. A tiny road separates the fort from civilization.

Just imagine what would have happened if the government had taken an early step in restoring these structures before they collapsed. Then we might have got a glimpse of some of that ancient glory. Hopefully, the belated attention will safeguard whatever remains from collapse and destruction.

It took us around 1½ hours to view this fort in its entirety. Outside the fort there was a huge statue of Shivaji Maharaj put up on a podium. I guess reality shows are held here with the Shaniwar Wada in the backdrop as the stage was being removed and so were the chairs put around it.

On this trip, both food and water were not an issue as they were easily available. There was no need to carry packed water and food. This was an urban trek and not a rural far away from civilization trek, like the ones I usually do.
Narayan Gate

Shaniwar Wada is listed among the names of the most haunted places in Maharashtra. I had read on the internet that the Peshwas had ruled the province; Narayan, the head of the state, had been assassinated under the order of Madhavrao’s wife. The assassins chased Narayan across the fort. It is said that while running he yelled, “Uncle, save me.” It is said that even today locals hear his voice on a full moon day.
As we had come in broad daylight, we were not likely to hear his voice crying for help.
Khidki Darwaza and shelter near the walls

Family tree of Peshwas

I had told Hithakshi about this and she was against visiting this place. I somehow convinced her to accompany me on this trip stating that it is totally safe during the day.  It has to be. After all, the place is packed with people.
The Main Door
We then headed off to board a city bus to take us to Pune City. It cost us Rs 14. This trip had been a good one. Both places had been good sights. We had a few snacks and then headed off to catch a bus that would take us home. I will plan to do the other attractions in Pune, in the coming weekends. So stay tuned to my blog for those too.

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Aga Khan Palace in Pune

Monday, April 9, 2012

Aga Khan Palace and Shaniwar Wada are two of the prime attractions in Pune city. Both attract a very large number of visitors. Besides these two attractions, Pune is also home to Sarasbaug, Raja Kelkar Museum, Paravati Hill and Temple, Vishrambaug Wada, Osho International Meditation Centre, Mahatma Phule Wada, Katraj Snake Park, Konark Park, Pateshwar Caves and Lal Mahal. Pune is located at a distance of around 180 km from Mumbai and can be accessed by road, rail and air. 
Aga Khan Palace
As Hithakshi and I had suddenly decided on visiting Pune, we zeroed in on visiting the Aga Khan Palace and Shaniwar Wada in Pune.

Both of us were new to Pune. I had been to Pune earlier to visit Shivneri Fort and Sinhagad Fort, both on the outskirts of the city. But this was my first trip to view the attractions inside the city.
As we had made a last-minute decision to visit Pune, we couldn’t book tickets in advance. So we boarded the Intercity Express at 6:56 am from Dadar station on the Central line. The train, followed by a road trip, is the fastest means of transport, second only to an air flight.
Aga Khan Palace

On my previous trip to Shivneri Fort, I had boarded the Indrayani Express at 5:53 am at Dadar. I had been lucky to find a coach that was empty then, but that was not the case this time.
It was January 2012 and quite cold in Mumbai, and we were comfortably wrapped up in layers of warm clothing. I had worn my favourite camera vest which I wore on my first trip. We were hoping that the weather in Pune would be equally pleasant or else the warm clothes would turn out to be a real torture for us in Pune.
Group Picture, Hithakshi and Me

There were only two compartments reserved for people with unreserved tickets. We boarded one of them. The train was packed with people. Luckily we got a place to stand. That was it. No other movement was possible. Finally after three hours of grueling punishment (a standout journey indeed), we reached Pune at 10:00 am, just 10 minutes late.
The weather in Pune was quite pleasant. Chilly winds blew, justifying our warm clothing and making us really grateful for them. Our stomachs were growling as we had not had our breakfast. So our first priority was food.
The moment we alighted from the station we were greeted by taximen and travel agents who kept enquiring whether we wanted to go to Mumbai.
Artifacts kept on display

After having our breakfast (puri bhaji, masala dosa and Nescafe), we headed off to find the best possible means to go to Aga Khan Palace and Shaniwar Wada. I was so hungry that I didn’t waste time taking any pictures of the food. Instead I competed with myself, hoping to beat my own record in gulping food down. Hehe.
We had two main vehicles to choose from: the city bus and the rickshaw. The city bus stand and rickshaw stand are located outside the station. 
Photo of Aga Khan

After inquiring with a few locals, we decided to hire a rickshaw instead of boarding the bus. The rickshaw would take us to the place directly, which was an advantage. Since we were new to Pune, we were quite unfamiliar with the names of the places and the destination of the buses.
It took us around 25 minutes to reach Aga Khan Palace. Aga Khan Palace is situated at a distance of 7 km from the heart of Pune city. It cost us Rs 60 to get to Aga Khan Palace, according to the rickshaw meter.
The palace has two entry doors, but only one of them is open to visitors. The entry fee is Rs 5 for Indians and Rs 100 for foreign nationals. The Palace is open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. The lunch break is from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm.
Art work on display

At the entrance there is a parking lot for visitors who had bought their vehicles and a huge garden neatly trimmed with rock cut chairs for people to sit in. The garden was neatly maintained. There were a number of flowers growing there. The presence of a number of shady trees added to the beauty of the garden.
The Palace is an Archaeological Site and is very well maintained. Outside the Palace is a tombstone which gives us information on the Palace.
The Palace was built in 1892 by Sultan Mohammad Aga Khan III. The Palace was built by the Sultan to offer help to the people there who were hit by famine. The locals were employed to cater to the needs of the beneficiaries. Apparently, they were paid hefty wages.
Garments worn on display

As we walked on the ground floor amid the beautifully decorated arches, we started off by visiting the rooms that were allocated to the freedom fighters. The doors were beautifully carved and the wooden ceiling in each of the rooms presented an amazing sight.
History buffs will be interested to know that Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and secretary Mahadeo Bhai Desai were imprisoned here during the Independence movement.
These rooms have now been converted into mini museums and feature paintings, rare photos and articles used by Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and secretary. After viewing the five rooms kept for display, we headed off to the samadhis.
Samadhi's of Kasturbai and Mahadeo Bhai Desai

A point to note here is that only the five rooms of the Palace are open for public viewing and not the entire Palace.
This time I had bought my mini tripod along, as on most of the trips I am not able to take group photos. Nor am I able to get a picture of myself. The tripod served me very well on this trip and I was able to make good use of it.
Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi
We later visited the Samadhis of Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturbai and Mahadeo Bhai Desai. Kasturbai and Mahadeo Bhai Desai died in captivity at the Palace. Gandhiji’s ashes were later brought and preserved at the same samadhi.                         
Having finished the photo session and having strolled through the garden, we decided to head to Shaniwar Wada, the second place on our itinerary.

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Global Vipassana Pagoda

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ever since I had set eyes on this pagoda while on the Manori trip with Hithakshi, I had been entranced and had made up my mind to pay a visit to it.
 So I invited readers to join me on a visit to the pagoda. Sherwin and Grace agreed. We decided to meet at Bhayander railway station at 3 pm. From there we were supposed to take bus no 4 to the Pagoda.
 I reached Andheri station at 2 pm. The platform was crowded, as were the trains. I let two trains go by and finally the 2.26 pm Bhayander Fast train arrived. I had to get in this train, or else I would be late. Luckily I managed to board it.
The Global Vipassana Pagoda

Grace was already there. Sherwin and I boarded different coaches in the same train. We planned to meet at the ticket booking counter from where we were to proceed to the bus depot.
Grace, who I met on the platform, had already reached the ticket counter but there was no sign of Sherwin. So I called him up to locate his whereabouts, and it seemed as if in an instant, there he was right under my nose. I hadn’t been able to spot him a few seconds earlier.
For a change we were all on time and proceeded to board the bus that would take us to the Pagoda. We were quite disappointed on learning that the next bus would leave in an hour. We boarded the 3.40 pm bus and reached the Pagoda after an hour. The bus conductor told us that there were hourly return buses. The last bus from the Pagoda to the station was at 8.30 pm and the cost of the ticket was Rs. 13 one way.

Entrance to the Global Vipassana Pagoda

Rickshaws too ply to the Pagoda. I don’t know how much a rickshaw ride would cost.
The Pagoda is the last stop on this route, two stops prior to the Essel World bus stop.
 There is no charge to visit the Pagoda and even the tour guides are free of cost. The Pagoda, open from 9 am to 7 pm, has been built completely on the strength of donations. There are donation boxes kept all around.

The Bell

The Pagoda looks amazing from here. Some parts of the structure are still incomplete, and construction is on. We entered the premises via an entrance neatly carved and painted golden and red. There were carvings of two animals there. The carvings looked very impressive, but I could not identify the animals.
We later climbed the steps and saw two identical structures just ahead of the Pagoda. There was a sculpture of four huge men carrying a bell. The bell was poised on only one structure. We rang the bell. The sound was very loud, but strangely soothing.
We entered the Pagoda. The security check was very strict here unlike the kind done in our malls and railway stations. I was happy to see that.

Statue in the premises

The Pagoda was huge and painted golden. When the sun’s rays shone on it, it looked even better. There were steps leading right up to the topmost point on the Pagoda. Right on top there are wind chimes placed which ring with even the slightest movement of the wind. The sound of the wind chimes is very pleasing to the ears.
The design on the outside walls was repetitive. Again it was a combination of gold and red colours. The walls have been covered with stone tablets featuring proverbs.

The Pagoda has many entrances, but only entrances 7 and 8 are open to the public. The same design was visible on the doors and the walls.

One of the Doors of the Pagoda

The seating area was huge and could accommodate around 8,000 to 10,000 people. The guide who showed us around told us that that no cement had been used to seal the stones and that they were interlocked with each other via the central locking stone of the dome. The bone relics of Buddha are enshrined in the central locking stone. The Dome does not have any supporting pillars to carry its weight.
 There was complete silence in the dome so we refrained from making any noise ourselves but silently continued with our photo sessions.
Later we saw the other smaller domes which are still under construction.

Inside the Pagoda

By the time we finished our photo sessions, it was around 6 pm. We decided to wait until 7 pm hours as the entire place was beautifully lit up.
 We then visited the Photo Gallery below the Pagoda; it features 123 photos, mostly related to Buddha’s lifetimes. There is an audio clip available on a payment of Rs. 20, along with a deposit of Rs. 100.
 Later we headed to the store which sells Pagoda merchandise. By the time we were done it was already dark and the lights were up near the Pagoda.

Group Pic, from left Grace, Me and Sherwin

The pagoda shone beautifully in the dark. We got some really amazing shots.
 As always hunger struck so we headed to the food court nearby to have some refreshments there. The refreshments were priced quite high but as we were hungry we didn’t mind, not that we had a choice. We concentrated more on eating and drinking and finally decided to bid farewell to the Pagoda.
 Just before leaving, we visited a huge statue of Buddha near the food court. There were lights all around the statue. It looked amazing, especially set against the backdrop of the Pagoda looming large behind it. It was truly a beautiful sight.

A statue of Buddha near the Pagoda

 We were luckily in time to board the 7.30 pm bus and managed to bag some seats in the bus. Within a few minutes we were at Essel World and a mad mob of people rushed in to board the bus. The crowd was worse than the one I had seen in the train that I boarded to reach Bhayander. As we had seats we were lucky not to be pushed around. In an overloaded bus, the risk of a fight erupting is quite high. Finally after all the commotion, we reached Bhayander railway station in an hour.
I don’t understand why the BEST does not put in more buses for the convenience of passengers, especially the Essel World returnees.
Luckily we got a fast train at Bhayander railway station to take us to Andheri.

The Pagoda at night
The Pagoda looks beautiful from the outside and that too from a distance. When you get close to it, the flaws in it become more visible. I am not saying that the design is bad, but had the monks built it, it would have been a marvelous piece of art.

We then headed home. I had to plan and pack for the Matheran overnight trip. I had had good fun with Sherwin and Grace.
 Hope you had fun reading. Join me soon on my next travel post.

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