I woke up this morning to a voice rising and falling in the distance. I hadn’t heard it on previous mornings but since yesterday was Muharan, a major muslim holiday, I assumed that it was related to that. Like a cloud, the beautiful male voice floated dreamily through the air. The melody seemed quite sophisticated, using the minor scales typical of the muslim holy calls to prayer.
Rahul thought it might be better for me to have a car to tour the city so instead of Kumar the tuk tuk driver, I met up with Vishal the car tour driver. We toured the city’s major sites. Rahul said this was called Darshen or viewing.
The first place we went was an immense palace call Aga Khan. The great Indian civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in this palace from 1942-1944. There is a memorial with his ashes onsite as well as those of his wife who died while incarcerated with him there. It also houses all of Gandhi’s personal possessions at the time of his death, which included only basic necessities like a bowl, cup and spoon. I was reminded that even a simple man can have a profound and meaningful impact on society.
Next we went to Pataleshwar Cave temple, dating back to the 8th century A.D. The temple is carved out of a single rock. Also in this area is a shrine that is 150 years old that pays tribute to an ascetic who consolidated both Muslim and Hindu faiths. Upon approaching the shrine I took my shoes off but kept them with me remembering a story that Rahul had recounted to me about getting his shoes stolen at one of these shrines. But I guess shoes are not allowed on or off of your feet and I caused quite a stir by insisting to keep my shoes. I relented when they promised to keep them in a place where I could see them at all times. Actually, I have no problem taking my shoes off, I just wasn’t ready to part with the waterproof Keens that I had so carefully chosen for our long journey. There is something powerful about being barefoot on stone stairs that for many centuries have been touched only by bare feet. The stone becomes impressively smooth in the same way that moving water can imprint on rock over a long period of time.
After that we went to the Parvati Hill and Temple where you climb 108 stone stairs to the top. I imagine that you can get a good view of the city there but with all of the air pollution here I wasn’t able to see much. The shrine, I was told by one fellow visitor, was to “the goddesses.” I was shown the line for women, separated from men, to pay respects to the main shrine. I observed many traditional depictions of the goddess Parvati around the room and was struck by the resemblance to Tibetan Buddhism iconography. There is no denying that Tibetan Buddhist deities are really Hindu gods and goddesses in disguise.
We followed that with a visit to Shaniwar Wada, the most popular monument in Pune. Shaniwar Wada is a royal palace that was built in 1746. It was the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire until 1818 when the Peshwas surrendered to the British. It burned down in the late 1800’s.
I was walking around the grounds when a couple of young girls, maybe 14 or 15, came up and asked me in english where I was from. I said I was from America and then, in a sudden thrust of bravery, I decided to practice my Hindi. I said, “Me Amrike hum” which means “I’m American.” We all broke up in spontaneous laughter. I really enjoyed that moment of connection.
We went to a museum where I viewed rare artifacts from all over India. One of the highlights was a room that was rescued from the Shaniwar Wada palace when it burned down. It was reconstructed to show it’s original state. Here is a photo.
Touring around the older section of Pune proved to be a tour of street shrines of every type, size and color. Ranging from the colonial period to ancient, the majority of them were in reverence to Ganesh. Ganesh is the god with the elephant trunk. Here is a picture.
Here are a few photos of a temple in Mumbai that I haven’t posted yet.
Rahul and I went to dinner at his friend Sunit’s home. His wife, Mrudula, cooked a traditional Maharastrian Thali. It was a feast that included delicious stuffed baby eggplant, dahl, and assortment of breads including chapati, bhakri (sorghum pancake) and papadam and an assortment of pickles and chutneys. It was the first meal in India that I’ve eaten entirely with my hands, which is the traditional way of eating in India. Here is a picture of what a thali looks like.
Dinner was followed with a dessert of fresh fruit which included Sitaphal, Chicku (which tastes a little like pear) and pomegranate.