Cultural Tour Of Pune (old city, pre 1750), conducted by ChaloWalks
Tour description by Maya Tate
I had a great experience on my tour of the Culture of Pune, lead by Mr. Rashid Ali. Right off the bat, you can tell this will be quite an interesting experience. Although, he says, Pune is not the biggest tourist destination, it has got quite a lot of culture hidden between forests of cement. He explains that as he gives the details and the (religious) backgrounds of the places, he is quite willing to acknowledge other explanations given by the tour group. After a short car ride, we arrive at our first stop, the Junglee Maharaj Temple. This temple is the final resting place of Junglee Maharaj. It also contains a box with his footprints embedded in it. To give you an idea of the story behind him, but without spoiling the fun of listening to the story from an experienced mouth, I will give you a timeline of sorts. Junglee Maharaj was a huge man, 7 feet tall, and an imposing figure. Through penances, he had attained special powers. He would use these extraordinary powers to cause mischief. People would scatter in his path. Then, one day, he saw a sage he thought to be an ideal target for his tricks. However, no matter how hard he tried, he could not do anything to the sage. The sage turned, and Junglee realized the sage was of a much higher spiritual level than he. He asked the sage how he had avoided these tricks, and the calm sage turned and told him not to use his powers for mischief. Junglee then went and meditated in the jungle in which the temple now stands. When he came out, he was called Junglee Maharaj. Do you know the reason people ring a bell when they go into a temple? Take a guess! Mr. Ali will be sure to ask you.
Second stop, the Pataleshwar Caves. This is really a temple inside of ancient caves. The Pataleshwar Caves are a huge, cavernous space, all hand chiseled out of the igneous rock that forms the Deccan plateau. The inside of the temple is a bit smoky from all the sweet smelling incense. Make sure you see each and every room, because there are some pretty darn amazing idols inside! There really isn't much more culture that I can explain without screwing up your brain for good, so I'll leave that job to Mr. Ali.
Next, we took rickshaws to Kumbharwada, a charming little potters village. The village, Rashid will point out, is quite safe. The people there love pictures of themselves and their children, however, do NOT take pictures of the washerwomen. Don't. Anyways, it was quite an amazing experience. Mr. Ali knows the names of almost all the villagers, and he will introduce them to you when he is showing you their work. Be sure to pay attention to the evidence of Muslims and Hindus living harmoniously together which Mr. Ali will point out, as it is a contrast to what one reads about India. There are stacks on stacks of pots, fired, and some of them painted. One woman was putting a sort of whitener, made of Plaster of Paris, tree gum and water, on little Lakshmi figurines. In another place, we saw a woman that had to make, whiten, and hand paint 10,000 of those figurines by the end of the next month! Alone! She was very kind and courteous, and spoke excellent English. We continued walking for a bit, taking a good many pictures, and then we were off to our next stop, the Idol Makers.
The Idol Makers make some darn impressive statues and idols, particularly of Lord Ganesh. They can be Huge, or they can be small. They are all made in molds, then hand painted in a rather stinky smelling but glossy finishing paint. If you look carefully, you will notice that one of Ganesha’s tusks is always broken. Ask, and perhaps Mr. Ali will tell you the story. One shop in particular has hundreds of statues, huge and small(ish). The owners are a charming family of about 6, but they do not speak much English. Take a moment to look around and admire their handiwork, because you will soon be leaving to another destination...
A local street market! Again, do not take pictures of any of these people. You will walk down a huge road filled to the brim with fruits and vegetables that shine like jewels in the sun. Mr. Ali may ask if any of you are Veg. If you are, or if you are squeamish, I would recommend speaking up, because you may go to a meat shop. All I will say is, it’s quite cool, but.... well, I’ll let you discover that particular part on you own. Heh. Well, take it all in, and don't strain your ears too much, because there is a noisy treat in store for you.
Welcome to: The Tambat Agli Metalworkers Village! Tambat means copper, but there is aluminum and steel work as well as bronze and brass, alloys of copper.This village is quite the noisy one, as one might expect. Rashid will most likely point out one particular worker, who has the fastest and neatest of hits on the pots he makes. The metalworkers hit the pattern on to the pot on an iron pole of sorts, so that the pattern hits itself at itself, in a way.The pots themselves are beautiful, not to mention the handiwork that they make. He will probably show you how they are made. It is quite interesting. A sheet of heated copper is put on a metal lathe, then pushed against a mould with a stick. It is then taken off, and a pattern is hit onto it. One particular man makes a type of hit on the pots that only 5 people in all of Poona can do. He, says Mr. Ali, is the master metalworker. If you get to visit his shop, I suggest possibly buying something. I myself bought a little trinket box, just because of the hit work on it. The guy is really a nice, kind, jolly fellow, and if I knew Marathi, I would probably be able to say a lot more about him. In his office, if you did happen to buy anything, are some pictures of things he worked on or made, like a fountain, and a Ganpati Crown. At this point, I, being younger than everyone else by a good many years, was beginning to get quite tired. My happiness was quite fading. However, Mr. Ali cheered me up for the time being with a delicious cookie/bar/cracker/brownie that Jan Ali made. Mmmm. Well, after some more time admiring the work, (and one or two more brownies), we finally left for our next stop, a wada, or mansion.
There isn't much to write about this, because you are not allowed to enter. I don't even know who owned it. In the entrance, a little ways back, you will see a wooden structure. This, I believe, is the family temple. Look closely, and you might see the family crest(?) on the entrance of the temple. It is quite a nice one. Also on the grounds, but that requires a little more hard viewing, you will notice that there is an apartment building. This, I thought was just a bit funny. Anyways, we are moving on to our last stop, the Kusbapeth Ganesh Temple.
The Kusbapet Ganesh Temple was the first temple to be built in Pune. The story goes as such: When Shivaji was a little boy, he was living at Lalbaug, with his mother, Queen Jijabai. One day, Queen Jijabai noticed that some herders were doing puja to a rock. When she asked why, they replied that it looked like a Ganpati. She was impressed with their dedication, and so ordered a temple built on that spot so that they could do puja properly. It is also the start of the Ganpati Procession. The rock looked a bit like a shapeless lump, no offense, although they had painted it and enhanced it to look a little more Ganesh – like. It's almost a bit like the eggplant seeds and toast that look like “Jesus”. But still, quite an interesting story, and a beautiful temple. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed!
It was at this point that Mr. Ali and we decided to end the tour. We had asked so many questions and talked so long with so many people that we had run out of time. Plus,I was getting very tired, and he had to go pick up his daughter from school. We did not get to see the Tulshibaug Market and Ram Temple, which I had seen on another occasion. In all, I had a great time! Thanks Rashid, and have a great time to any one who goes on the tour!
Cupertino, CA, USA and Aundh Camp, Pune