PUNE—A Dweller’s View*
by Jayant Deshpande
une has a climate and physical setting that are the envy of many in India, and from abroad. It is blessed with a pleasant climate that comes from its modest elevation (~1800 ft.) and its situation inland, about 100 miles from the Arabian Sea. Summers have become hotter over the years, but the rest of the year is relatively pleasant, as are evenings all through the year. During the monsoons, with the haze filtered out by the rain, the light affords clear views and gives everything a well-scrubbed look. Some of the ranges of the Western Ghats, assorted hills and ridges dot the high plain on which it is spread out. It sits plumly as the gateway to the Deccan plateau, which begins its gradual downward tilt towards the east. Both its semi-arid to arid climate and the Great Basin-like topography remind me of the American southwest. And curiously enough, Las Vegas; obviously not because of its casinos but because of the bony, forlorn mountain ranges and spurs that stand in the background in that arid landscape.
From Hanuman Hill, a craggy mound of lava rock—a few hundred feet in height—behind Fergusson College, one can look down on this sprawling city, snugly fitted into the fingers of plain that form a crude glove between the many hills that dot the landscape. One can see housing developments creeping up their barren slopes. If one ignores the Pacific Ocean for a moment, the view can give one the impression of being somewhere in Southern California: the dry breeze, cool or warm depending on the season, the sparse vegetation on the slopes, forlorn hills and mountain ranges in the distance, and a city spread out below. The hum, din, and roar of the city is clearly audible at the top. It idles away like a motor, murmuring to itself. I can’t help feeling that from a distance, and from high up, all cities look and sound much the same.
Vetal Hill, at the center of a ridge running roughly north south, is the highest point within the city(~2300 ft)—unless we consider the twin crests of Gokul-Vrindavan beside the Katraj Ghat that rise to 3500 ft or so. These crests take on the shape of a slumbering elephant lying half-buried in the ridge. The Vetal temple and its pujari lie perched on top, and peacocks and other fauna inhabit the dense tree cover on its slopes. This summit offers spectacular views of the terrain on the outskirts of Pune and beyond. The ugly scar of an illegal but now abandoned stone quarry lies further along the ridge. Katraj Ghat cuts through the middle of a system of mountain ridges running west-east that flank the city on the south, beginning in the west with the popular summit of Singhagad, its Sphinx-like profile visible from just about anywhere in Pune. Singhgad is the eminence that broods in the background, presiding over the city. These ranges look denuded, bald, bereft of the life-giving green of forested slopes. In contrast, the city proper, especially the north side, looks like an oasis.
To the north, near Dighi, sit a landform that from a distance looks like a mesa and a dinosaur-shaped one beside it, huddled, looking like prehistoric creatures. Like abandoned relics hibernating on the periphery of the city. Long lost souls.
* Revised & updated—first appeared in City Beat (a Pune weekly) during 1999-2000
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