As parents to two kids (aged 9 and 3), my wife and I are constantly faced with the predicament of how to keep the kids engaged and entertained over weekends and holidays.
Now our idea of ‘quality time’ with kids is not taking them to the movies or the endless mall trawl which is the norm nowadays with city dwellers. Beyond the time that we spend at home it’s also an opportunity to for us to take the kids out in the open and allow them to experience things in the real world.
This conscious effort to find something ‘different, fundamental and inexpensive’ led us to explore the options that Pune has to offer. I thought it would be a good idea to share this list with others who want to take their kids out for a more holistic experience rather than killing time at the malls and the artificial world that it propagates.
This list is created without any assumptions about the awareness level of the readers on this topic. Hence, there will be some usual suspects there along with some which are lesser heard of. Nevertheless, let’s get to it:
- Taljai – Taljai is a morning walker’s paradise and a bio-diversity hot spot. It is a government protected green zone which encompasses the hills running from Parvati at one end and Taljai tekdi at the other end. Put on your walking shoes and go for a walk in this oxygen zone. Kids will love seeing the trees everywhere, butterflies, millipedes, birds and peacocks. If you are very lucky, you may see rabbits too. Carry your own water even though they have public water taps in some sections of this park. You can take your vehicle right up to the main gate of this park via a very well laid out curvaceous road. You cannot take vehicles beyond the gate of the park and there is sufficient open parking space there. In the mornings, you will see vegetable and fruit sellers near the park gates and by evening the same place turns into a mini chowpaty. Taljai Mata temple is also to be seen near the gate. There is also the ruins of a dilapidated bungalow called Thube bungalow along side the road leading up to Taljai hill. As kids playing cricket in the open grounds near Taljai, we used to know this place as ‘bhoot bangla’. There is also a small artificial lake there which has a huge plaster of Paris installation of an elephant and a few ducks enjoying the lake’s water are a pleasant sight. There are other such hillocks around Pune like Vetak Tekdi, Hanuman Tekdi etc. but I love Taljai for the diverse experience that it provides.
- Parvati hill – Parvati is synonymous with Pune. Well laid out steps right up to this hill are an exciting challenge for kids of age 5 years and above. At the top of the hill are a few temples and a vantage point from where you can see far into the horizon of Pune city. There is also a museum at the top which is worth a look with items like weapons, coins, clothing from the Shivaji to the Peshwa era.
- Saras Baug – Another landmark of Pune, Saras Baug is in the heart of the city and has wide open lawns surrounding an elevated land mass which houses the Peshwa era Ganapati temple. Other than a visit to the temple itself, the green lawns offer the opportunity for kids to run around and play games like frisbee. The artificial water body around the temple houses some fish life like the colorful Moi fish and some other varieties. There are some turtles too in this water. These can be a pretty sight for kids. There is a Peshwa museum behind the Ganapati temple. For a nominal fee you can see the exhibits inside. The chowpaty alongside Saras Baug offers traditional rides for kids like merry-go-rounds, giant wheels, horse rides to name a few. Then there is paav-bhaji, bhel and other fast food available to snack on after all these activities. This chowpaty used to be a place known for it’s food in the past, not so any more but it will at least not leave you hungry.
- Peshwe Park Adventure Centre – This park is behind Saras Baug. It was the first zoo of Pune city and I have many memories of seeing animals like sloth bears, leopards, orangutans and others here. Since the space here was limited, the zoo was shifted to Katraj and this place was converted to a kid’s adventure and scientific park. I would highly recommend this park for kids in the age bracket of 5-15 years. There are a lot of adventure and skill based activities here for kids and these have been designed for different age groups. There is a nominal fee for entry to this park but it is totally worth it. Some of the games and activities have well explained scientific reasoning outlined in the boards put up next to each activity. What I like about this park is that there are attendants for each activity and they make sure that the proper safety precautions are in place for the activities and also guide the kids on how to perform the activities. The place is also very well maintained and clean. The Phoolrani toy train offers rides for a fee on a circular mini track. This toy train is a legacy of the Peshwe Park zoo and was an absolute hit with the kids back in the time. Glad to see that it is still chugging along carrying the kids from another generation. The Peshwe Park lake existed since the times of the zoo but the boating activities which were offered here earlier are no longer available. There are also a few buildings which provide an insight for kids into different scientific principles.
- Japalouppe Equestrian Centre – This is an interesting place off the old Mumbai-Pune highway near Somatne Phata. It is basically an equestrian center which provides kids and adults horse riding skills through their different residential camps. However, they also have half day and full day activities where you can feed animals and birds. They also have a petting zoo where kids can interact with animals like rabbits, cows, dogs, turtles etc. This is an unbelievable experience for kids of this generation who find it hard to get off the TV and their iPad. Breakfast is covered as part of these day packages. The horse riding at the end of these half day, full day activities comes at an extra cost but is totally worth it. If your kid really takes to horse riding, you can consider enrolling him/her into a formal horse riding course at the center.
- 7 wonders park – This park in situated in Shivdarshan area near Sahakar Nagar and is formally known as Yashwantrao Chavan Park but is known more popularly as 7 wonders park. This green escape has miniature replicas of the 7 wonders of the world. All these replicas are pretty accurate with the level of detailing and make good backdrops for pictures with the kids. There is also a small closed auditorium where you have a sound and light show.
- Kelkar museum – I remember my school trips to this museum and how I was fascinated seeing all the pieces of history in this museum which was my first visit to a museum of any kind. Kelkar museum is situated off Bajirao road and has the largest collection of historical art and artifacts in Pune city. There is a section of Mastani Mahal where actual remnants of Mastani Mahal are used to create an imagery of that time.
- Shaniwar wada – This Peshwa era construction was the residential palace of the Peshwas. It features prominently as a symbol of Pune city including local government logos. While the external facade of the building is still in place, the internal structure and ornate construction is long gone – mainly due to a fire which engulfed this place during the British rule. Regardless of this, as you enter the main gates of Shaniwar wada, your kids will be transported back in time especially after the movie Bajirao Mastani was released even though the movie itself was not an accurate representation of the Peshwa history. Even then, there are numerous signboards and pointers to the existence of gardens, fountains and residential areas which existed at the time when Shaniwar Wada was in it’s full splendor.
- Katraj Snake Park – As mentioned earlier, the Peshwe Park zoo was relocated to Katraj Snake Park since this park is much larger in area and provided more spacious enclosures to the animals as compared to the cramped spaces of Peshwe Park. Katraj Snake Park is called as such because they have a dedicated section for reptiles and more specifically – snakes. They have open air pits for snakes which are enclosed by walls high enough to prevent the snakes from climbing over and low enough for visitors to have a look at them.Children will not only get to see snakes through their own eyes but get to read information about venomous and non-venomous snakes. Since this park is huge, be prepared for walking at least a couple of kilometers. They also have battery operated cars for which you can pay a fee and hitch a ride from one end of the park to another. Other than big herbivores like Neelgai, Indian wild buffalo, Sambar and others – they also have a very good variety of big cats including white tigers. This park also offered boating in the expansive Katraj lake in the past but I guess they have stopped the boating activities in the last couple of years.
- Blades of glory – This is a unique museum dedicated to cricket lovers. If your kids love playing or watching cricket, this is the place you should get them to in Pune. This museum is located in Sahakar Nagar and is surprisingly not known to a lot of Pune citizens. They have personal cricket gear of cricketing legends, signed bats by each of the World Cup winning captains, bats signed by triple centurians etc. They keep adding to the collection and it gets interesting every year. So do head to this place in the heart of town for a special experience with India’s unofficial national game.
- Shivaji Maharaj Musuem of Indian history – This is a fairly new museum dedicated to the greatest son of Maharashtra – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This museum has been setup by an India-loving foreigner and is a must visit for Shivaji fans. Other than artifacts related to the life and times of Shivaji Maharaj, there is a great deal of information about Indian history in general. It is situated near Pune airport at Lohegaon and will be a treasure trove for kids if they are interested in history and even otherwise.
- Sinhagad fort – This is the closest fort for Pune city dwellers and the best part is that you can drive your vehicle right up to the fort which has sufficient parking spots too. This fort is known for the legendary fight put up by Shivaji’s commandar Tanaji Malusare against the Mughal occupation of the fort. The ramparts of the fort are still in place and the water tanks created on the top of this fort still supply fresh water all through the year. Be prepared for a good amount of walking as you explore different parts of the fort. Pitla bhakri, taak, bharlele waangi are some of the delicacies that you can sample when at this place, prepared in a typical rustic fashion by the local villagers. There is also a small museum of sorts at this fort where you can for a fee, read and enjoy artistic renditions of Shivaji’s adventures many centuries ago. It also has some neat inscriptions and designs in brass to add a different twist to the story telling experience. This place is magical in the monsoons and a must visit for every Puneite.
- Pu La Deshpande garden – This garden is situated on Sinhagad road and is named after the famed Marathi author, playright and satirist. The unique part about this park is that it is a Japanese themed park and hence is also called Pune-Okayama Friendship garden symbolising the friendship between the two cities. It has beautifully landscaped gardens and is an island of peace in this busy part of town. Kids will love to see the beautiful flowers and landscaping and admire the miracles of nature.There are also artifical water bodies here to add to the excitement.
- Joshi’s museum of miniature railways – This attraction is in Kothrud next to Sangam press. It is a personal collection of miniature railway carriages and engines. Other than presenting the history of trains from different parts of the world and more specifically the Indian Railways, the biggest attraction of this place is the miniature city setup in one part of the musuem. This miniature city setup has all the installations that a regular city would have with train stations, hills, business centres, flyovers, people, houses etc. In a pre-programmed routine, a set of trains move around the entire track with all bells and whistles along with the rest of the characters playing their part in this well coordinated act. Kids will be thrilled to see this whole city come to life. The place has run down a bit over the years but is a one time visit for sure with the kids.
- Sambhaji garden – Sambhaji garden situated on Jangli Maharaj road is a favorite place for morning joggers and walkers in this part of town. It has expansive lawns and gardens which are pretty well maintained. The unique feature about this garden is that it hosts an aquarium in it’s premises. For a small fee, kids can experience different varieties of fish and sea life. Though this aquarium is not as expansive or varied as the Taraporewala aquarium in Mumbai, it is the best one in Pune city. During Diwali, there is a special attraction at Sambhaji Park. A competition for the best built toy forts takes place during Diwali time. This tradition is unique to Maharashtra and more specifically Pune. You can see miniature replicas of some of the famous forts of Maharashtra.
- Lal Mahal – Lal Mahal is close to Shaniwar Wada and is situated in the older part of Pune city. It was built by Shivaji’s father Shahji Raje for his wife and kids. The original Lal Mahal was spread over an expansive piece of land and the current structure which stands there is on a fraction of the original land. It may not be able to stake claim to it’s originality but nevertheless is good experience for kids to imagine how life would be during those times of Shivaji.
- National War Memorial Southern Command – This War Memorial near Ghorpadi area of Pune Cantonment is unique in that it was entirely funded by contributions coming from citizens of this country. I still remember ads asking for donations to this War Memorial in the Indian Express and the names of contributors which was published every week. The main memorial itself is huge and awe-inspiring and it is decorated with lamps and special lighting on special days like Kargil Vijay Diwas and other events close to the armed forces history. You can also see a Mig 23 permanently displayed there from the 1999 Kargil War along with a miniature of INS Trishul warship. Children will surely feel a sense of patriotism and pride as they visit this memorial. They will also feel a sense of gratitude for the armed forces and the supreme sacrifices made by them to keep the nation safe and secure.
- Indian Tribal Museum – This small museum is situated in Koregaon Park, Lane 8. For a very small fee you can step into the world of our tribal community. There are some simulated scenes of tribal life and the kind of efforts they have to make to survive. There are displays of tribal art in this museum which can make the kids think of art in a radically different tangent. This visit will more importantly instill a sense of diversity in the minds of kids and they will learn to appreciate how this diversity can make for a rich cultural fabric of our country. Though there is not much walking around in this museum since it is small compared to other museums, it will well be worth the visit.
This list does not claim to be comprehensive and there may be several other places worth mentioning which I may have missed out or I may have not visited personally. Kindly mention these places in the comments so that the list can be further strengthened.
Even though the original intention of this article was to highlight places of interest for kids, I am sure that each one of these places would be equally interesting to adults too.
All of these places are easily accessible from Pune City and hence I have not made a mention of the other wonderful places in the outskirts of Pune city. These attractions outside Pune City deserve a different blog and hence you will not see them here.
I have intentionally not mentioned commercially operated places here and there are plenty of such places in Pune. I wanted to make a mention of places which don’t cost a lot of money and have some unique attraction for the kids.
I have also not added personal pictures against each one of these places because I didn’t want to add to the length of this article.
Hope this list is helpful to parents and other adults to keep their kids engaged, entertained in a healthy and inexpensive way.