A Walk on Pune's Taljai Hills

By Rutuja Bhagwat - May 09, 2018

Looking at the branches above as Himalee perfectly captures the intertwined shadows

My mom had preplanned of staying at the Pune House since the last time we were in Pune, two months back. And when mom talks about staying there, it automatically means I’m included in the plan too. I was frustrated to stay in Pune frequently and do nothing but attend a family event and then spend the remaining days either buying groceries or relaxing. I wanted to explore my birth city and revisit the historical places to understand its richness from a different point of view––perhaps, the point of view from a 24-year-old's eyes. For instance, the last time I had visited Shaniwar Wada was around 12 years back, in the summer of 2006, as a part of one of the summer camp excursions. 

I enlisted the places I wanted to visit and absorb their rich flavours including the interesting structure of the Pataleshwar temple, the breathtaking view from Sinhagad fort, the dancing of goosebumps at Shaniwar Wada, and bringing back memories at Saras Baug. I planned my entire Pune stay, including the dates. The itinerary was ready.

The plan was on paper: I was to reach Pune by night on the 2nd of May. Next morning, I would climb the Sinhagad fort and then relax. Next day, I would cover Shaniwar Wada, Lal Mahal, Pataleshwar temple and Aga Khan Palace. Then on Saturday, I had plans of a road trip to Lavasa with my cousins (for early brunch) and then the following evening at Agent Jack’s Bar with my first set of friends. Finally, on Sunday, I would try for a meet up with my Instagram buds and then on Monday, spot animals at the Katraj Zoo (and if time permits, then visit an aunt who stays near to the zoo). 

However, out of the places jotted down, I could make it to the Saturday's events only; i.e., I explored Lavasa city and spent an amazing evening with someone I knew since 1996. Yes, that's right!

I had planned on touring Pune through the Pune government's Pune Darshan service that takes you to about 9-12 important locations in an AC bus. But unfortunately, the official website was under construction and the booking link had a glitch. We contacted the helpline and they advised to book the tickets offline from their ticket counter at Deccan or Pune station. Neither of this was possible so we had to give up the plan of touring Pune.

Posing amidst aesthetically pleasing walls. Captured outside Taljai Mata temple

This did not disappoint me much because I was happy to explore at least few places and meet people whom I knew since decades. 

The Sinhagad plan was not entirely canned but was tweaked a little. Instead of this huge fort, we went to the Taljai hills. I was going with Himalee, a brilliant tomboy I had met in a summer camp more than a decade ago. When I was planning on Sinhagad, she popped up in my head and I immediately invited her for this hike up the fort. 

Himalee lives in Pune and seeing her agility, intelligence, and love for nature, I thought she would be a perfect partner to hike. I got in touch with her and she happily agreed. While discussing the timings, she suggested leaving at 5:00 am for the best results. I flinched; 5:00 am was beyond imagination early. I requested her to leave from Swargate at 6:30 am but she explained me the possibilities.
We discussed and she made sense. From Swargate, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach Sinhagad and then the hike up top (along with a breather for photographs and relaxation) consumes a total of two hours. So when calculated, if we left from Swargate at 6:30 am, we would reach the foothills of the fort by 8 am, reach the top by 9:30-10:00 am and then descend down by 11:00-11:30 am. The timings would have been suitable if the weather was decent. It's summertime and the city is hit with prickling sunshine at 8:00 am. It would have been highly insane to start climbing the fort by 8:00 am.

However, for me, leaving from Swargate at 5:00 am meant drawing unnecessary risk. My house is in Kothrud and the distance between my house to the Swargate bus depot is about 30 minutes. So in order to reach Swargate at 5:00 am, I had to leave the house by 4:30 am, which is excessively early since I had no private vehicle or a cousin to drop me off. Also, I was shaky about getting a cab that early in the morning. 

Himalee understood and proposed a new place. She told me about Taljai hills and on seeing the pictures, it took me back to the trail with my cousin to the Vetal hills, which is similar to this one. (Though Vetal hills have an added quarry that boosts its likeability over the former one.) I nodded and found the place decent. So the plan was finally in its place. We settled on Taljai hills and were to meet each other at 7:00 am before the Taljai Mata temple. 

Next morning, I booked an Uber at 6:30 am and surprisingly, when it was dot seven, I reached the temple. I called Himalee and she told me she was near the foothills and would reach in five minutes. Meanwhile, I set up my tripod and shot some videos and clicked a couple of pictures. This was my first time in Pune with the tripod and it felt strange. People looked at me and few even thought I was crazy. Well, I am crazy.

Himalee and I.

The plan was to spend some time on the hills with Himalee and then explore the historical places alone. For the same, I was in a pair of jeans and a dressy top that looked completely out of the place. While everyone was dressed in tracks, I was looking like I was meeting a boy for a date. 

In about five minutes, Himalee arrived. She looked exactly the same! I had seen her twelve years ago and not even her hairstyle differed! The clothing, the temperament, the walk, the posture, the hair, the speech...everything was unchanged. She was the same Himalee (even appearance-wise) whom I had met more than a decade ago. I noticed her side bag, her floaters, her glasses, and exchanged a wide smile. 

We started walking and came across many fitness enthusiasts ardently walking. This is one of the aspects I love about Pune. Since your job is in the same city and you don't have to travel on a train for an hour to reach your office, life becomes easier. You can walk, jog, hit the gym, take Zumba classes, and have plenty of time to focus on fitness. Therefore you will also find people in their tracks and shoes, walking and laughing chaotically, but happily, in laughter clubs. (Not that you won't find anyone on the jogging tracks in Mumbai!)

We exchanged our stories and narrated our careers. She told me how she freelances in Japanese teaching and translations and how she has visited Japan twice. In fact, she lived in Japan for a year while pursuing a course there. I always admired Himalee's bank of knowledge, and learning that she was attempting her last stage of Japanese language later this year, blew my mind. 

We reached an end that displayed a breathtaking view of the city below. From here, you could see Parvati temple and the hill beneath it. You could see the river and the bridge. Himalee recounted the story of 1961 floods when the whole city was washed out. People migrated from older areas of the Peths and sought refuge in the other side of the river. The areas like Kothrud fall under the newly built parts of the city.

We continued walking towards the exit and discussed about the impending trek to Sinhagad. I realised Himalee was right. It was too hot and sunny even at 8:00 am. That's when I requested her to cancel this dreamy trek and I am sure she heaved a sigh of relief. I invited her for breakfast at the Cafe Goodluck and she agreed.

Climbed up a skeletal tree. Thought of giving a different facial expression this time

We reached the Taljai Mata temple, the exact spot where we had met in the morning. There she hung her side bag on a bike and took out a set of keys. At that moment I understood, Himalee rides a bike! I happily sat behind her and we started towards the cafe.

Before breakfast, she had some chores to do. Her mother was fasting on the account of Chaturthi so she had to buy bunch of bananas and a garland on the way. On nearing her building, I announced I would sit on the bench in the periphery of her society. On that she insisted me to come up as her parents wouldn't appreciate a guest sitting below like this. I think I didn't have a choice so I accompanied her.

Himalee told me about how her building is old and that it is on the verge of redevelopment. In fact, on entering her house I realised how soon this process is to start. They've begun with the shifting and her living room was full of boxes ready to be moved.

I sat on a chair and exhanged a smile with her mother, who was seated on the floor. Her mother offered me Pepsi Cola and my childhood memories came rushing by. The flavour was lemon, I suppose.

We wrapped things up and drove towards Cafe Goodluck. I had heard a lot about this place and how one must have Bun Maska here whenever they visit the city. I entered the cafe and the interiors instantly reminded me of the Iranian restaurants back in Mumbai. Same style of covering the table with a cloth and then adding a glass on to it. Goodluck even had menu card on the display between the sheet and the glass.

Scrumptious breakfast of Bun Maska, Cold Coffee, and Bread Butter Jam @ Cafe Goodluck

I was thirsty and craved for something cold and refreshing. So we ordered two tall glasses of cold coffee, a bun maska, and for Himalee, a bread butter jam. The food was delicious and no wonder, people appreciate the place. On our way, we parcelled tomato omelettes and onion uttapam, and my gosh, they were scrumptious too!

I bid her goodbye and thanked for taking me around. I sat in an auto for home and smiled thinking how marvellous travelling is and how beautiful it is to meet people.

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