At an altitude of 598m, PUNE, Maharashtra's second largest city, lies close to the Western Ghats (known here as the Sahyadri hills), on the edge of the Deccan plains. Capital of the Marathas' sovereign state in the sixteenth century, Pune was chosen by the British in 1820 as an alternative headquarters for the Bombay Presidency. Pune now ranks as one of south India's fastest growing business centres, with booming software, back-office and call-centre sectors. Signs of the new prosperity abound, from multistorey executive apartment blocks and gated estates, to cappuccino bars, air-conditioned malls and hip clothes stores.
The full-on traffic and ultra-Westernized city centre may come as a shock if all you know about Pune is its connection with India's famously laid-back, New Age guru, Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho (1931–90). The spiritual teacher founded his ashram in the leafy suburb of Koregaon Park in 1974 and, although its activities nowadays generate a lot less publicity than they did during Rajneesh's lifetime, the centre continues to attract followers from all over the world. Pune's other main claim to spiritual fame is the presence on its outskirts of yogarcharyaBKS Iyengar's illustrious yoga centre – a far more sober and serious institution than the Osho ashram.
Pune's centre is bordered to the north by the River Mula and to the west by the River Mutha – the two join in the northwest to form the Mutha-Mula, at Sangam Bridge. The principal shopping area, and the greatest concentration of restaurants and hotels, is in the streets south of the railway station, particularly Connaught and, further south, MG Road. The old Peshwa part of town, by far the most interesting to explore, is towards the west between the fortified Shaniwarwada Palace and fascinating Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum; old wooden wadas – palatial city homes – survive on these narrow, busy streets, and the Victorian, circular Mahatma Phule Market is always a hive of activity.